Expect wild night in Richmond race

April 30, 2002 9:57 PM
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TOP 5 at Richmond

1)

#20

Tony Stewart

(4-1)

2)

#24

Jeff Gordon

(6-1)

3)

#2

Rusty Wallace

(6-1)

4)

#88

Dale Jarrett

(8-1)

5) #97

Kurt Busch

(12-1)

This Saturday night in the Capital of the Confederacy will be the biggest party to date on the Winston Cup circuit. The first night race of the season will be held on the wild ¾-mile short track of Richmond International Raceway.

The unique "D" shaped track helps fuel the drivers’ tempers, but perhaps the wildest thing about Richmond is the fans in the stands. They are ruthless, loud, and love to party hard and early. By the time the race starts (8 p.m. ET), most fans have had at least a full eight-hour shift of pre-race libations.

And rightly so! This is the Winston Cup series, the greatest touring show in America, so why not take things up a notch.

Since coming into the Winston Cup series, Tony Stewart (4-1) has two wins at Richmond in six starts. Stewart could easily have had a third win if Junior hadn’t ran into him during a late pit stop while he was leading two seasons ago.

Most experts believe Stewart will eventually catch and pass points leader Sterling Marlin (10-1) in the standings. By the time all the road courses are finished, that scenario will probably come to fruition. Look for another top-flight performance this week from Stewart.

Jeff Gordon (6-1) has been the cause for some of the loudest roars in Richmond. It would be a mild statement to say that Gordon is not a fan favorite in Richmond. In fact, cheers go up when Gordon has any type of misfortune on the track.
Perhaps the mood will change now that Gordon is one of the guys. (You know, the regular kind of guy country western songs are made of ... "The woman left me, she took my pick-up truck (Porsche), my house, my money, and my job ain’t going so well either ...")

It’s not likely, Gordon will be off the hook that easily, but many do relate and sympathize with him. Richmond has been a place of many successes for Gordon, the latest being at the tail end of a terrible 2000 season where he pulled out a tough win.

Gordon finished second in this race last season, but fell to 36th in the fall. That has been his pattern in Richmond races.

Indy 500 odds out

The Penske team of Gil de Ferran (5-2) and Helio Castro-Neves (5-2) have been installed as co-favorites by Station Casinos sport books in the early line released last weekend for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The race scheduled for May 26th, is once again a prestigious event after a few years of mediocrity. The last two seasons where CART drivers won raised the level of interest among all racing fans. When Penske went to the IRL full-time this season, it automatically gave the IRL the upper hand.

Points leader Sam Hornish is the third choice after the Penske duo at 7-2. "After those three, it’s a crap shoot," says Green Valley Ranch’s Kelly Downey. "Eddie Cheever (8-1) will compete well along with Max Papis (8-1) who Cheever just hired to drive one of his cars. The Penske team is so far ahead of everyone in technology and financial backing. This is the race they have put all their resources in to win."

Six former winners head the entry list for this year’s race. It is the most previous winners to participate since six qualified in 1993. It also is the first time the previous year’s champion has returned to defend his title since Cheever sought a repeat victory in 1999.

The former winners competing for a starting spot on Pole Day, May 11, are Arie Luyendyk (won in 1990, 1997), Al Unser Jr. (1992, 1994), Buddy Lazier (1996), Cheever (1998), Kenny Brack (1999), and last year’s winner Castro-Neves. The only two champs missing are Jacques Villeneuve (1995) and Juan Montoya (2000).

"It should be an outstanding race, with lots of build up and hype," says Downey.