1 to Go: Field for Championship March to Miami to Be Set Saturday
Coral Gables resident Montoya needs an 18th-place finish to become the first non-U.S. born driver to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (photo courtesy: Todd Warshaw, Getty Images Sport)
Fan favorite Martin, who has finished runner-up to the Champion four times, has his eyes on Sprint Cup’s biggest prize, to be crowned Nov. 22 in Miami; great seats are available for the Championship. For the sixth time this season, Mark Martin claimed the pole position in the No. 5 Chevrolet for the race at Richmond.
Martin's pole is his 47th of his illustrious career and the fourth time he has grabbed the top starting spot at Richmond International Raceway.
“I didn't really expect to sit on the pole. I hoped to be fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth; in that range,” said Martin after qualifying at Richmond. “But we got a stellar lap with a stellar race car."
Montoya travels to Richmond for Saturday night’s Race 26 needing to finish 18th or better in order to become the first non-U.S. born driver to make NASCAR’s “playoff” system. This after leading 31 laps and finishing third at Atlanta—a performance that boosted him one position in the standings and left him with an 88-point advantage over 13th-place Brian Vickers. Montoya has one Top 5 finish at Richmond in five career starts.
The former IndyCar champion and seven-time Formula One winner is looking to make history as the first non-American born driver ever to qualify for the Chase, in just his third year on the NASCAR circuit. Montoya is also attempting to give team co-owner Chip Ganassi his first-ever berth in the Chase.
Heading into Richmond, the driver of the No. 42 likes his chances to make the field for the 10-race sprint to the Homestead-Miami Championship on Nov. 22.
“I think we have learned a lot for this Richmond race with the shaker rig and testing and stuff; I think our cars have improved a lot so we should run pretty good there,” he said following the race at Atlanta. "I think people know how fast we are and our average finishes the last few races. It is about getting 10 good races in a row so we will see what happens."
If the Chase—which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22—started after 25 races rather than 26, Mark Martin would be the No. 1 seed in the standings after the reset, based on his four race wins this season. That said, the fan favorite heads to Richmond in 10th place in the Sprint Cup standings, just 69 points ahead of 13th.
In order to make the Chase field, Martin will need to finish 12th or better Saturday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has one win at Richmond along with 26 Top 10 finishes (16 Top 5s) in 47 Sprint Cup races.
“The performance we've had this year is great, and we've really been able to capitalize on that by leading laps and leading the most laps to earn those bonus points,” said Martin. “Then we had the four wins on top of that, and all of that together was able to put us back in contention."
Each driver knows exactly what needs to happen to lock into the Chase. No doubt each is aware of what his colleagues need to get done at Richmond, as well as how that could affect driving styles and alter the way a team approaches the closing laps of Race 26.
With 11 drivers still chasing eight available spots, this shapes up to be one of the most dramatic climaxes in Chase regular-season history. And once the Chase field is set, the Champion will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22.
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