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The first seven races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season have provided all types of racing in one nice little gift wrapped package for all the fans to enjoy.

Even though the final 10-races on the schedule are supposed to matter more because they are Chase for the Championship events, we’ll be hard pressed to match what we have seen already and what is about to happen the next two weeks at Richmond and Darlington.

NASCAR makes a lot of knee-jerk changes and most of the time is ridiculed for it, but the changes made to the front and rears of the cars this season have backed them unknowingly into a marvelous display of restrictor-plate races.

They have created a different dimension of racing that is refreshing where we see two superstars teaming with each other for the duration of the race. Usually it’s always been about just the driver and his team, but this type of racing becomes more about alliances created and broken throughout a race that is absolutely gripping.

It’s like a tag-team wrestling match of sorts where two stars unite as one, or doubles tennis where you combine all the strengths and weaknesses of a player into one entity. Who doesn’t love the superstar duet at the top of the billboard charts?

For four races a year, I love it and can’t wait until the Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

But first we have a little race under the lights in the Capital of the Confederacy on one of the most thrilling tracks on the circuit. Richmond combines the best things about short track and intermediate type of racing where you have fast speeds with a lot of bumping and punting throughout the race.

When handicapping this race, the first thing you want to do is review what happened at Phoenix in February. Even though Phoenix is a quarter-mile larger than Richmond, the relatively flat banking is similar which is why many of the top teams use the same set-ups for each, including sometimes bringing the exact same car.

When New Hampshire rolls around in July, we’ll be doing the same thing, looking back at Phoenix and Richmond because the Loudon track falls into the same category.

Jeff Gordon led the most laps en route to the Phoenix win which stopped his then 66-race winless streak. Gordon passed runner-up Kyle Busch with eight laps to go to secure the win. Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman would round out the top-five on the day.

Busch would seem like the natural candidate to win this week just because he rarely ever finishes outside the top-five at Richmond. He’s won this race two years in a row and has eight other top-five finishes over his career. Mix in his Phoenix effort from this year and it really gives him the edge coming in.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up three positions in points to No. 3 following Talladega and he’s coming to a place that he’s won at three times. At Phoenix he finished a respectable 10th. More than anything that has led to his success, Junior’s been getting great cars and his confidence is at an all-time high with Hendrick Motorsports.

If there was ever a track to get Denny Hamlin off his 2010 hangover, it would be this one on his home track of Richmond where he’s won the last two fall events at. He moved up to 17th in points last week and needs to pick up the pace a little more to avoid the runner-up jinx.


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