RICHMOND, Va. – Jeff Burton is one of five title contenders yet to visit Victory Lane this season. With one event remaining in NASCAR's "regular season," he has a clear game plan for Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway.
"I don't believe that it is in your best interest to turn it off this weekend because in theory (the race) doesn't count," Burton said Friday. "I believe it is in our best interest to turn it up and be on kill when this race starts."
There were several strategies emerging Friday among the 10 drivers already locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. With nothing to lose before the title-deciding format begins next weekend at New Hampshire, drivers have the rare opportunity to go for broke Saturday night.
Should a championship-contender end the night on top, he'll pocket the final 10 bonus points available to be used in seeding the Chase field.
For Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, the series leaders with five wins each, a victory would break the tie and make one of them the definitive top seed. Series points leader Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, three-time winners this season, could cut their deficit to only 10 points.
Everyone else could simply gain ground on the two leaders as they roll into the 10-race Chase.
Like Burton, Jeff Gordon is winless this season. Although he's second in the standings, he'll drop down to a tie for last with Burton, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and, assuming he locks down the 12th playoff position, Clint Bowyer at the start of the Chase.
Mired in a career-worst 54-race winless streak, Gordon wants that win Saturday night.
"We're just trying to get that all-important momentum and those bonus points going into the Chase," Gordon said. "We're sitting here with a great year so far, but definitely eager to get that win and trying to be patient about it."
For the first time since the 2004 inception of the Chase, there's very little drama surrounding the 26th and final qualifying race. Only the final two positions remain unclaimed, and Biffle needs only to finish 42nd to lock down his spot.
Bowyer has more work to do, but can clinch the final spot by finishing 28th or better. Considering it's a great track for Bowyer — his career-worst finish at Richmond was 18th in May, 2009 — he doesn't have much to worry about Saturday night.
He has a 117-point lead over 13th-place driver Ryan Newman.
"That's a pretty good pad," Bowyer said. "We've just got to go out, with any luck at all, we'll be in this thing. If we're not, I'd say it was not meant to be. This is an important race track for us. It is one of my best race tracks."
That lack of suspense surrounding the Chase field has raised speculation that Saturday night could shape up as a classic race. The "boys, have at it," policy has already spurred aggressive racing this season, and the lack of consequences for 10 drivers could inspire a go-for-broke attitude.
Harvick doesn't subscribe to that theory.
"I really think you race for wins regardless of whether you are locked in the Chase," he said. "You really go and do the same things that you would do on a normal basis. The only way you would race different is if you are racing for 12th place. You take zero chances at that point. Anything other than that at this point, I think everybody is pretty much racing the same way and that is to first try to win the race."
But there's still momentum at stake, something Hamlin gained last year with his breakthrough victory on his home track. He rode that wave of emotions into the Chase, where he hung tough with Johnson for the first five weeks before driver error and mechanical issues took him out of contention.
Hamlin believes Richmond is the key in setting the tone for the Chase.
"I think it has a lot to do with how you're going to run for the first couple races," he said. "Last year, I remember after we won this race, I had a ton of confidence going into the Chase. I think really, its a big confidence booster, but really there's 10 guys that are locked in right now that are going to do everything they can to get 10 bonus points and run as hard as they can.
"I foresee everyone is going all out this weekend."