While most NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers took a well-deserved break over the Easter weekend after the excitement of Talladega two weeks ago (see pictures below), some of the “usual suspects” of the Sprint Cup decided to do some driving at Nashville, including Kyle Busch, who took home the Gibson guitar after winning the Camping World Truck race (making it a true “Good” Friday night), and Carl Edwards, who got his own guitar after the Nationwide Series race on Saturday.
This week we’re back to Sprint Cup racing, where we head to Richmond International Raceway, a 3/4-mile D-shaped oval that always boasts some good racing. Tonight’s “Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400″ salutes America’s Military professionals and Heroes, but specifically Matthew (former Marine who served three tours in Iraq) and his twin brother Daniel Hansen (killed in action in February 2009). With the number of military installations nearby (OK, not so nearby Richmond but within relative driving distance of Norfolk/Langley Virginia plus all installations in and around Washington DC), it’s bound to be quite a show of support for our Nation’s heroes in uniform. I wouldn’t be surprised if tonight’s flyby included the Air Force’s premier air superiority fighter, F-22 Raptor, based out of Langley.
Best Bets: Kyle Busch (#18 M&Ms Pretzel Toyota)- Kyle has had a top 5 in the last four Richmond races, with wins in the last two spring races here. Although he qualified 20th and was 34th fastest in final practice, he has a knack of getting “up on the wheel” at these short tracks and getting it done. Kevin Harvick (#29 Budweiser Chevy)- Harvick continues to keep his name near the top of the scoring tower…with two wins, four top-fives and five top-tens so far this season, he’s found something anew with Crew Chief Gil Martin and his team, and although his 12th place qualifying spot wasn’t exactly impressive, he was second in final practice. With one win, five top fives and thirteen top-tens at Richmond in his career, he’ll be looking to stay up front, especially when the checkered flag waves.
Notables: Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Freight Toyota)- Denny has been lagging so far this season, still not getting a consistently high finish; he’s had two wins, six top-fives, and six top-tens at one of his “hometown” tracks…he rolls off 11th and was 40th in final practice. However, with two wins already this week (Thursday with his charity race and last night in the NNS Bubba Burger 250), this could be a chance for him to get out the broom. Juan Montoya (#42 Target Chevy)- JPM burned up the track earlier this weekend, not only scoring the Pole but also running fastest in final practice; while he’s only finished in the top ten at best (three times), he’s been fairly consistent this season with two top-fives and four top-tens…we’ll see if he can endure from Flag to Flag.
Dark Horses: Paul Menard (#27 Libman Menards Chevy)- while he has yet to win a race in his career, he currently has two top-fives and three top-tens this season so far (in only eight races); his new ride with RCR seems to be working well for him…he starts tenth on the grid, while running eighteenth in final practice. Dale Earnhardt, Jr (#88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevy)- Currently third in the NSC points, Dale Jr has been very consistent with two top-fives and five top-tens (including what could have been his streak-breaking win two weeks ago at Talladega); and while the 24th starting position and 26th-fastest final practice speeds aren’t very impressive, he was first in the initial practice run Friday…Jr likes RIR’s track, posting three wins, eight top-fives, and ten top-tens in his career. Could this be the week? Yes, many analysts keep asking that question as we move from track to track, but it would seem like with his current performance, it’s only a matter of when, not if.
Richmond’s banking could be a very telling surface tonight as to how the Sprint Cup standings will not only shape up for this upcoming week, but also for how the Chase for the Sprint Cup will flesh out later this year. Again as for the last few years, Richmond will host the final race prior to the “playoffs” September 10th. As fast as the track is, no telling what happens tonight as we go racing under the lights (coverage begins at 5pm on SPEED with NASCAR Raceday, and the race coverage at 7:30pm on FOX).
Talladega Recap (Tech Talk resumes next week):
What a finish at Talladega…literally a split second difference between first and second, with Dale Earnhardt Jr muscling Jimmie Johnson to a 0.02 second margin of victory. As expected, there were moments of sheer boredom as we watched the Talladega Two-Step, but when it came down to the checkered flag, it was an overall great race. The crowd went nuts when Kyle Busch smacked into the wall then finally retired from the race, and Jr Nation was jubilant as he and Jimmie ran the show for much of the race.
While many were hopeful that Dale Jr would break his 100-race winless streak, in the end it was Jr himself who made the call, telling his teammate that the duo was faster when he was pushing Jimmie, rather than the other way around. By the excitement that Jimmie Johnson showed both on the radio after the checkered flag, plus his gesture in giving Dale Jr the Sunoco Checkered Flag in Victory Lane, it would seem that Jr has a drafting partner for as long as he cares. The #48 team even remarked to Jr’s team, “We owe you one”. We’ll see how that pans out in the races to come.
The wife and I had a great time on scene at Talladega. We met some great people out amongst the merchandise haulers and campgrounds. As with previous races at Dega, our dog Ranger got all the attention. But that’s OK. Hoping to get to another race soon to get back out and visit with folks. Just hope we don’t have to contend with the same kind of traffic on I-20 due to construction. Heck, even Darrel Waltrip and others were commenting on Twitter about the seemingly endless construction on I-20 east of Dega that always seems to be present around race weekends (Follow me on Twitter: @speedglutton).