When rumors of NASCAR's new championship format began percolating a year ago, officials at Richmond International Raceway went through a quick counting exercise.
Under the new system the top 10 drivers in the point standings after the season's first 26 races would be eligible for the championship, which then would be determined in the final 10 events. Richmond is the 26th race.
"It didn't take a genius to figure out where you were," track president Doug Fritz said. "Sheer excitement from our side."
Fritz's enthusiasm hardly abated as Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 approached, despite a blast last week from Tropical Storm Gaston that damaged a crucial road near the track that has since been reopened.
The race adds drama at a time when NASCAR is accustomed to being overshadowed by football. The standings have tightened considerably in recent weeks, with eight drivers set to compete for at least three spots.
And while the drivers have haltingly adapted to the new system, often voicing their dissatisfaction, RIR leaders happily made a series of adjustments after the format was announced in January.
The track issued nearly 450 media credentials -- about 30 percent more than normal -- hired a new public relations staff member and added more than 50 seats to the deadline media area. NASCAR is also bringing 11 public relations officials to the race, more than double its usual number.
Richmond's marketing department sold out its corporate sales inventory earlier than expected and oversold the corporate display space on its midway, forcing a reorganization of the area.
"It's jammed; it's packed," said Matthew Becherer, senior director of marketing and sales at Richmond. "The number of companies is larger than ever, the type of companies is more diverse than ever, and I absolutely attribute that" to the new points format.
While Saturday's race will be the 26th consecutive Cup sellout at the track, officials also said the increased attention has helped raise the profile of the other scheduled races this weekend. Friday night's Busch Series race, for example, is expected to set a Richmond attendance mark for that series.
"Richmond's always been a fixture on the schedule, but we're not Daytona, we're not the first race of the year, we're not the Super Bowl," said Keith Green, the track's director of public relations. "All of the sudden you put all these things in and you mix them together, and Richmond is very much in the national spotlight."
Contending drivers, meantime, have flocked to the track for testing sessions: Ryan Newman (8th), Mark Martin (10th), Dale Jarrett (13th) and Jeremy Mayfield (14th) all spent time at Richmond in the past month.
The track, a three-quarter mile oval that was resurfaced in the offseason, has long been popular among drivers, and team owner Jack Roush said it will be well-suited to the aggressive driving expected.
"Because of so much being at stake -- the knuckles going white, the jaws going slack, the eyes glazing over -- for all the things that could cause a driver to potentially get in trouble, this is one track that's less hazardous and less troublesome," said Roush, whose five-car stable includes Martin's car. "I think NASCAR really got it right here."
A NASCAR spokesman said the circuit has no plans to change Richmond's slot in the schedule, and the 2005 calendar again has Richmond as the 11th-to-last race. And while the amorphous world of NASCAR brings few certainties -- the organizing body has changed or clarified several rules midstream this season, and didn't announce the new championship format until less than a month before this year's Daytona 500 -- Fritz said the Richmond staff is hoping for the best.
"I'd like to think we'd be in this position every year," he said.
* NASCAR Note: Matt Kenseth turned the all-star International Race of Champions series into a one-star event Thursday night. Taking the lead on the sixth of 90 laps, Kenseth raced comfortably in front the rest of the way.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.