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Fri Oct 12, 2018 5:01 pm

RICHMOND, Va. -- NASCARs new win-and-in format had the potential to give one driver a shot at a dramatic last-grasp berth into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. There were 17 drivers who could have raced their way into the Chase by winning Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, but Brad Keselowski would have nothing to do with a storybook ending. Keselowski routed the Richmond field, leading all but 17 of the 400 laps en route to his fourth victory of the season. It gave him the top seed in the Chase, which begins next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. "What a night. I pulled into Victory lane and I pinched myself once to make sure I wasnt dreaming," said Keselowski, the 2012 champion. "These are nights you dont forget as a driver and you live for." Kevin Harvick was the only driver who appeared capable of challenging Keselowski, but it was early in the race when he led the other 17 laps that Keselowski did not claim. His Stewart-Haas Racing team again struggled on pit road. "Its probably the biggest thing that we have to fix in order to contend for the championship," Harvick said. The lack of on-track action meant the only drama to come out of the race was when a fan climbed to the top of the Turn 4 catchfence that separates the track from the grandstands. NASCAR was forced to throw the caution flag with 69 laps remaining. "If he wants to play in traffic, its his problem," said Denny Hamlin, who dropped two laps down because of the caution. Defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson finished eighth but was apparently suffering from dehydration when he exited the car. He first laid down next to his car, then had to be helped to a cart by his Hendrick Motorsports crew. He was taken to the infield care centre, where he was treated for roughly 90 minutes. Johnson, who cancelled his planned Sunday participation in a sprint triathlon for his foundation, said he was treated with five litres of fluids. "I got dehydrated in the car and Im not exactly sure what led to it," he said. "I started cramping when I got out of the race car and when I was cramping, I was trying to stand up and I got dizzy, so I sat back down." Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said it gets hot in the car. "I know there was a couple times throughout the race where I felt like I was cramping, as well," Gordon said. "Its hot out there. Its hard to keep your fluids." Nothing fazed Keselowski, who came to Richmond a year ago needing a strong finish to make the Chase field, but failed and was not eligible to defend his title. Now hell try to give Team Penske a season sweep -- Will Power gave the organization the IndyCar championship a week ago. "I think last year was a bit of a kick in the butt," Keselowski said. "It was enough to really push us all and find another level. We did a great job in 2012, but in the sports world youve got to keep progressing. Everyone else progressed and we didnt." There were two spots up for grab in the 16-driver Chase field, but Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle pretty much entered the race in control of their own fate. Newman never left anything to chance with a strong ninth-place finish, and Biffle slid into the final spot with a 19-place finish. "When you are that far off, it is the hardest thing in the world to drive," Biffle said. "This is the toughest thing Ive ever done in my life, drive and try to stay in the top 20." Gordon, the points leader for much of the regular season, finished second. Clint Bowyer, who needed to win to guarantee his Chase berth, was a disappointing third. "I knew coming in here, it was a long shot at best," Bowyer said. "We put it all out there. I raced as hard as we could. At our very best, we were a third-place race car tonight at my very best race track." Bowyer was caught in the middle of a scandal at this race a year ago when his late-race spin set in motion a chain of events that helped then-teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the Chase at the expense of Newman. NASCAR eventually threw Truex out of the Chase, put Newman in and added Gordon as an additional driver. He was dejected Saturday night after coming up short, but said his Michael Waltrip Racing team wasnt championship-level, anyway. "If you make the Chase, you want to compete for a championship," he said. "Truth be told, were not there right now." Tony Stewart, in his second race back since he sat out three after his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a New York dirt track, finished 15th. He would have been eligible to compete in the Chase if he won Saturday nights race based on a waiver NASCAR gave him upon his return last week. The three-time champion had cracked the top 10 but his crew missed a lug nut on a late pit stop that took him out of contention. 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"Despite his efforts to play through it, the injury has not responded as we had hoped and Logan has made the decision to undergo a surgical procedure to repair the problem.PITTSBURGH -- The National League MVP doesnt play favourites when it comes to hot streaks. Neither do the Pittsburgh Pirates, who rode Andrew McCutchen to another win Wednesday. McCutchen homered and reached base four times and the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 4-2 at rainy PNC Park on Wednesday night. McCutchen is batting .462 during a seven-game hitting streak and has 12 extra-base hits during 10 June games. "I dont compare (career-best stretches)," McCutchen said. "Im not big on that. Im just seeing the ball hitting the ball. Im in a spurt where Im feeling really good right now." So are the Pirates, who have taken two of the first three games of the series with their NL Central rivals. Pittsburghs Brandon Cumpton (2-2) pitched five effective innings, and the offence pounded Cubs starter Jason Hammel (6-4) for 11 hits in five innings, snapping his streaks of 14 1-3 innings without allowing a run and 52 innings without allowing a homer when McCutchen hit his 10th in the first. McCutchen also had a single and walked twice. "Hes hot," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "When he gets his pitch, hes not missing." Luis Valbuena likewise continued his recent strong hitting with three hits for last-place Chicago, which has lost three of four after a season-best five-game winning streak. The games first pitch was delayed 1 hour, 38 minutes because of a severe thunderstorm that began sweeping through downtown Pittsburgh about an hour before the scheduled start time. Rain fell again during the sixth inning. McCutchens fly ball landed more than a row into the left-field seats -- but it almost became an extra-long out when leftfielder Chris Coghlan leaped into the stands. He landed in the seats and said he had a read on the ball but that a fan outmanoeuvred him for it. "Best non-catch effort Ive ever seen," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I would have went there and shook his hand myself if he caught that ball," McCutchen said. The Pirates Gregory Polanco went 1 for 5 with an RBI groundout a day after his much-hyped major league debut Tuesday. Making his sixth start of the season and fourth since being given a regular rotation spot, Cumpton allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts. On his final pitch, he struck out Nate Schierholtz swinging with the bases loaded. "Its something I need to work on, getting through the fifth and sixth innings," Cumpton said.dddddddddddd "It was a good experience, a real confidence booster for me." Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli followed with a hitless inning each. Grilli earned his 10th save of the season during what was his 400th career appearance. Hammel had won two previous starts against the Pirates this season and entered Wednesday with the second-best WHIP in the majors (0.88). He allowed 14 baserunners Wednesday. "It was rough," Hammel said with a laugh. "A lot of hits given up. Up in the zone. Obviously could have been better strikes thrown, but I battled through. It could have been a lot worse - 11 hits through five innings? Its amazing they only put up four." Hammel was spared a worse line by some poor baserunning by Pittsburgh, which hit into two peculiar double plays and had another runner thrown out at third during the seventh inning after Hammel was out of the game. The Pirates Starling Marte had two hits - including an RBI single in the fifth inning - but also was thrown out on the basepaths for the third time in two games when he was picked off third following a Travis Snider pop-up behind home plate in the fifth. The Cubs briefly tied the game at 2 in the second when John Bakers single drove in Valbuena and Nate Schierholtz scored on a groundout. Notes: Before the game, the Pirates places LHP Francisco Liriano on the disabled list because of a strained left oblique that caused him to leave his start Tuesday in the fourth inning. . The Cubs on Wednesday announced they signed their first-round draft pick, Indiana University catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber, the No. 4 overall selection, will report to the organizations short-season Class A affiliate in Boise, Idaho. . Pirates 2B Josh Harrison was removed from the game for a pinch hitter during the third inning because of discomfort in his left ankle. . A fireworks display - from the nearby annual Pittsburgh arts festival - rumbled PNC Park for several minutes during the fourth inning. . Pittsburghs Thursday scheduled starter, RHP Edionson Volquez, is 5-0 in his career against the Cubs. 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