Updated Sep 12, 2015 at 10:27a ET
Richmond, Va. —
With the clock about to hit midnight in the championship hopes of a number of NASCAR drivers, don't expect Cinderella to show up at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night.
The cold, hard truth is that for guys like Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Tony Stewart, the odds are exceedingly slim that anyone can pull a huge upset by winning the Federated Auto Parts 400 and racing into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at the last possible moment.
Tonight, of course, is the 26th and final race of the Sprint Cup regular season, and once the checkered flag falls, 16 drivers will be locked into the 10-race, season-ending Chase. Only those 16 will have a chance at the title.
While Richmond has produced some high drama in years past — Jeremy Mayfield won here in 2004 to make the first Chase — the numbers this time just don't support another miracle tonight.
Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won six of the last eight races and a series-high 10 overall, qualified three of its cars in the top seven.
Team Penske, the squad that won the two races JGR didn't win in the past eight, saw drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski qualify on the pole and third, respectively.
Kurt Busch, winner of the spring Richmond race, will start eighth, two positions behind his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, the reigning series champion and current points leader.
JGR, Penske and SHR have combined to win 18 of 25 races this season. The way things have gone lately, if tonight's race winner isn't from one of those three teams, it would constitute a major upset.
Still, with rain expected to delay the start of the race and perhaps affect the race distance, anything is possible. In theory, anyway.
At the back end of the Chase grid, 16th-seed Clint Bowyer is 29 points ahead of Almirola, a seemingly safe distance. In fact, Bowyer said Friday that he's more focused on making up ground on the 15th-seed Paul Menard then he is about getting knocked out by Almirola.
"It's kind of weird, nobody ever likes looking over their shoulder and worrying about what's behind them," said Bowyer. "You want to worry about what's ahead and for me in this weekend it's an attainable task to beat him (Menard) out of that."
Kahne, who pretty much needs to win to make the Chase, knows the task ahead is daunting.
"We've won here. We've ran well here," said Kahne, who qualified 20th. "We ran well in the spring. It's a great track for me and the team. It's just how much speed will we have? Going off the last five or six races, we haven't had enough speed. We haven't had the cars working the way I've needed them to work. So, that's been a bit of a struggle."
Still, never say never, as second-qualifier Matt Kenseth of JGR pointed out after time trials.
"I never went to bed here on Friday night sure of what I had for Saturday really until you get racing," said Kenseth, a three-time winner so far and one of the favorites tonight. "You never know what's going to happen here."