Derby, carsDixie delights

May 2, 2006 6:10 AM

You’ve got two premiere events going on Saturday separated by only 560 miles.

In Louisville, there’s the 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby, one of the true staples of Americana sport. A few hours later under the lights, The NASCAR Nextel Cup Series takes its touring circus to Richmond (Va.), the Capital of the Confederacy.

The Derby is an institution in America, a day when just about everyone gets some kind of wager on the race. While NASCAR’s greatest event, the Daytona 500, generates a much higher TV rating than the Derby, the horses get the nod this week by an average of two rating shares over the last few seasons combined.

Richmond has averaged a 5.7 share in the Nielson ratings, while the Kentucky Derby has been a solid 8.1. The big difference between the ratings is that NASCAR has gotten those ratings on cable television while the Derby has a national TV network audience with NBC. The Derby isn’t on in Prime Time like NASCAR, but is offered in several million more homes.

Here are some differences between the two events that may help decide which one to attend if given that opportunity.

Each car has 750 horsepower and there are 43 in the field, which equates to 32,250 horsepower for one race. The Derby will likely have around 20 horses with skills that are above average. We’ll say each of the Derby entrants are equivalent to 1.25 horsepower making the total output a staggering 25. That is just about as much power as many lawnmowers. For simple value and more horsepower, NASCAR gets the edge.

The history of the two great states has the who’s who of American history. Virginia leads off with George Washington, Thomas, Jefferson, and James Madison. Kentucky comes back strong with Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and Kit Carson. Each had points taken away for birthing American traitors Jefferson Davis (Kentucky) and Robert E. Lee (Virginia). Have to give the edge to Virginia and NASCAR again for their roles in making America what it is.

The choice of cocktail at each event varies, but the Derby has its signature Mint Julep. I’m sure it was tasty and refreshing for someone, but personally, I have never warmed up to that drink. At the Richmond, there are all varieties to choose from, but the best is pure white lightning. The drink, better known as moonshine can be found at one of the tailgate parties in the parking lot. I have no idea why someone hasn’t marketed this crisp and clean down to business spirit, but its good stuff. NASCAR beverages get the nod here.

In the attire category, Kentucky definitely gets the nod. Some 75 percent of the women are adorned with beautiful bonnets and sun dresses. With everyone dressed up, it adds to the prestige of the event. In Richmond, 75 percent of the women are bound to have some kind Dale Earnhardt or Junior gear on. While the black and red goes well together, I’ll take the girl in the sundress and bonnet.

The Kentucky Derby is held only once a year, as opposed to two annual stock car events in Richmond. Give the Derby an overall edge in this comparison. Unlike the NASCAR event, people at the Kentucky track are able to make wagers on the event they are attending. That’s a major strike against the NASCAR event.

Fortunately for the NASCAR fans in Nevada, they can walk into any Sports Book and throw down a few dollars on the driver they like. It’s time to offer some opinions on the top candidates to win this week.

Richmond is a three-quarter mile D-shaped oval with slight 14 degree banking around the turns. Because of its size, speeds rarely get over 128 mph. Tthe drivers won’t feel as bad with safety issues when they knock someone into the wall.

There hasn’t been much of a pattern established on the track. In the last nine races there have been nine different winners. Each manufacturer has won three races over that span. Three of the past winners were former sprint car drivers — Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart.

Stewart is the 6-1 favorite at Richmond. In 14 career starts, he’s had nine top 10 finishes. His three wins at this track are tops among Cup drivers.

Kahne got his first career win there last year with Stewart in tow. His teammate Jeremy Mayfield had won the previous Richmond race. There’s no reason not to believe that Ray Evernham will bring all his Dodges in primed, including Scott Riggs.

Jeff Gordon is not one of the last nine drivers to win at Richmond. He has only two wins at the track and none since the fall of 2000.

Earnhardt Jr has two Richmond wins, the last coming in this race two years ago. Last year was a transition period for the team, which performed poorly overall but finished a respectable 14 and 20 in the two Richmond races. Look for a good showing from Junior this week.

Matt Kenseth won his only Richmond race back in the fall of 2002. He’s always been consistent at this track coming in with seven top 10 finishes in 12 outings. In his last start there, Kenseth finished second.

Kyle Busch did as well as any first timer could ever wish last year, posting two fourth place finishes. He doesn’t have a lot of friends out there and may be one of the drivers that a few won’t need an excuse to throw into the wall. This is his race to take this week.