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This week’s race at Richmond marks the quarter mark of the season with several storylines swirling. This NASCAR year is shaping up as one of the most unique in recent history.

We’ve had six different winners in the first eight races with none of them Jimmie Johnson. Greg Biffle has a 15-point lead in the standings and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits fourth only 21 behind and mattering again.

Best of all, though, might be the story of Martin Truex Jr. who currently sits second in points after a dominating runner-up performance last week at Kansas.

It’s been very rare over the last decade to see a team consistently perform at a high level that isn’t part of one of the power networks of Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, Childress and more recently, Stewart.

Running a quality NASCAR operation takes a lot of money and every once in a while, you’ll see an outsider step in and perform well over a small stretch on a particular type of track, but not at the magnitude of what Truex Jr. is doing right now with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Waltrip has won as an owner twice with David Reutimann, but the victories never carried over on a consistent basis. After a 12th-place finish at Daytona, Truex Jr. has rapidly moved up the charts with one strong performance after another, on all types of tracks, to now being second in points.

His runner-up finish at Kansas last week was the fifth straight race of finishing eighth or better that includes short tracks, 1½ and 2-mile tracks.

While Truex Jr. may be disappointed about not getting his first win since 2007, he has to be plenty excited about the bigger picture, which suggests he’ll be a contender right there with the Stewart’s, Johnson’s, Kenseth’s and Biffle’s for a championship. MWR has something clicking right now and a win is definitely in their future soon. Maybe not this week, but the best guess would be at all tracks similar to Kansas and Texas, which is quite a few.

The driver we can expect to win this week is Kyle Busch, who has been rather ordinary thus far for such an extraordinary driver.

Over his career at Richmond, no one has been better. Busch has averaged a fifth-place finish in his 14 starts with three wins and four runner-up finishes. He has won this Saturday night spring race the last three seasons in a row, which is why he is the favorite to win despite the sluggish 2012 start.

Not far behind Busch in the honors department is one of Virginia’s own, Denny Hamlin who sports a second best 7.6 average finish at Richmond.

The Capital of the Confederacy gets rocking in these Saturday night races and no one gets the type of love Hamlin does, and he’s rewarded them with two wins in the fall event, the last coming in 2010.

Everything about the Richmond track suits Hamlin’s style and now he comes in fresh off a Kansas win and is one of only two drivers with two wins on the season. Look for the two Gibbs teammates to slug it out for the win.

Kevin Harvick is a two-time Richmond winner, including the last race held there last fall. Harvick rarely has a bad run at Richmond and has been right up there with Busch and Hamlin competing for wins the last five seasons.

Tony Stewart is a three-time winner at Richmond, but hasn’t had one since 2001. He won three times in his first four years, but none since, which is kind of odd. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been competitive. He’s had four runner-up finishes over that span, but only a best of seventh last fall with his new team.

Jimmie Johnson is a three-time Richmond winner, but hasn’t won there since 2008. Hendrick Motorsports has been searching for their 200th Sprint Cup win since Johnson won at Kansas last fall and it’s been hard to come by with most of the pressure on him while his teammates give little indication of helping.

One of those teammates, Earnhardt Jr., might be ready to offer support this week. He’s got three wins at Richmond and is getting close to snapping his own winless streak. It seems like an eternity since Junior last won, and because of that, the Richmond Rowdies might tear the place down if he wins.

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