Richmond following tough NASCAR act

Apr 28, 2009 4:54 PM
Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

NOTE: Check out the Sprint Cup standings and odds and Crown Royal at Richmond odds.

It’ll be hard to beat last week’s epic race at Talladega with a first time Cup winner, but the Capital of the Confederacy in the Commonwealth of Virginia will look to take it up a notch.

Tailgates start early Saturday at Richmond as a nationally televised audience will watch under the lights annually the most rowdy, fun loving live crowd on the circuit.

Many questions this week. Do you take the steady pick of a favorite like Jimmie Johnson, a nice mid-long shot like Mark Martin, or the Vegas brothers Busch duo?

The first thing to look at is what happened at Phoenix a couple weeks ago. Mark Martin had the most dominant car, not only sitting on the pole but leading the most laps and winning despite Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart hunting him down.

Richmond is a similar setup to Phoenix and New Hampshire. All three tracks are similar in distance and degree of banking. They differ in size and configuration. The fact is there are several multiple winners on these tracks.

At Phoenix, Stewart and Busch were just a notch below. Jimmie Johnson is a three time winner at Richmond, but at Phoenix he was somewhat ordinary after winning three straight there. Johnson did finish fourth, a testament to his stellar driving ability.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. played the irregular pit cycle game for much of the Phoenix race and found himself leading several laps in the middle while others followed the pack of leaders with a normal pit strategy. After a great second place finish last week, the Junior Nation has only wet their beak.

This is a track where Junior should run strong, evidenced by his three career wins at Richmond. Last season he should have won one of the two races there, but settled for a 15th and fourth. After getting his first top 5 last week at Talladega, he could get into that greedy stage and take the quality finishes as they come en route to a position in the Chase.

The hint last season that a Phoenix top performer would do well at Richmond was Clint Bowyer from RCR. Bowyer finished second at Phoenix behind Johnson and then followed it up with a win at Richmond. If that scenario were to take place again, Stewart would be that guy taking the victory lap.

 Stewart was strong at Phoenix, a track he has always run well, but didn’t have enough to chase Martin down in the final laps. He has three career wins in the Cup series there along with two Truck Series victories and several IRL laps for the two years he drove there. If Stewart brings back the car from Phoenix, he is a realistic favorite to win this week.

Kyle Busch has had eight career races at Richmond, finishing in the top 5 six times. He has done everything but win, having knocked Junior out of the lead in last year’s race. Clint Bowyer, who wasn’t as good as Busch or Earnhardt, was in third place and swooped in like a buzzard for the win.

With the race in Virginia, we naturally look at some of the Natives. Cancel Elliott Sadler and you’re left with Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin. Burton won in the fall of 1998 and Hamlin has had solid finishes the last two seasons only to see pit road issues cost him a win.

Great show in Talladega

The Talladega finale was the most exciting finish in recent motor sports history. Beyond Edwards doing a flip in his car instead of flipping off his car, there was his impromptu Ricky Bobby run from the "Talladega Nights" movie after crashing short of the finish line. A real classic.

Edwards was classy after the race, admitting guilt after Brad Keselowski won for the first time in his five-race Cup career.

The final show of appreciation for the race goes to NASCAR and the track for their safety precautions. The new COT handled some unbelievable wrecks on Sunday that the older cars may not have been able to handle. None of the drivers were hurt.

I’m no expert, but I have to think a 3,400-pound car going 200 mph and hitting an object generates more force than some of our horrific natural disasters. How that fence held is beyond me, but it did, and thousands of fans can be thankful.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Micah Roberts