Race 26 of the 36 race 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup takes us to the roots of NASCAR in Richmond, Virginia. The Capital of the Confederacy is home of the most wild NASCAR party weekend on the season.
Stretching from this Thursday through Saturday, all three major NASCAR series will race on consecutive nights which should set another national record for alcohol consumption at one venue breaking the previous record set by Richmond last year. It is the party of parties in American sports.
Coming into this race, Jeff Gordon (7-1) is coming off his second consecutive win. It was only three weeks ago when everyone was asking when Gordon would get the 31-race streak monkey off his back. Last week’s win at Darlington showed that he emphatically got the heavy gorilla and baboon off his back in a flair that could only be expected of Gordon.
He now comes into a hostile crowd, one of which remains the only consistent crowd that boos Gordon with a unified glory. The top two loudest sounds in Richmond to date is still a tie between General Sherman’s artillery assault and the roar from fans when Jeff Gordon crashes. Gordon has captured two wins at Richmond, including two seasons ago in this race when he was mired in a slump.
Sterling Marlin (15-1) is currently the points leader, but everyone in the know can see what’s going on and most would be inclined to reveal that they think Gordon will be the steadier of the two down the stretch.
Marlin has had a great season and has much more overall experience than Gordon as far as time behind the wheel, but when negotiating title runs and
being consistent throughout, no one comes close to Gordon’s experience. Look for another Top 5 from Gordon and possibly his third straight win.
Gordon has won three straight races three other times in his career including a modern day record tying four in a row in 1998. He has won two straight 16 times. That makes his career percentage against the odds high considering how much he dominated earlier in his career.
The toughest competition for Gordon this week comes from the new Mr. Richmond Tony Stewart (6-1). Stewart has won three of the last five races at Richmond including this year’s May 5 race. In one of those races Stewart didn’t win, he probably should have. Stewart was smacked coming out of the pits by eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10-1) with 40 laps to go.
This has been Stewart’s most consistent track over his brief career. Expect much of the same success he’s had in the past this week. The previous Mr. Richmond was Rusty Wallace (8-1). He hasn’t won there since 1997, but does claim a career active leading six Richmond victories.
Wallace hasn’t won a race since California last April. While his lack of winning races doesn’t conjure up the type of sympathy it did for Gordon, you can still bet that if Wallace has a shot at winning, he’ll hold nothing back to get the win. He found himself bitten by Gordon two weeks ago at Bristol because of Gordon’s aching hunger for a win.
Should Gordon be the one in front of Wallace late with the race on the line, he won’t think twice about bumping his way by.
For one, precedent has been set because he’s spun Gordon into the wall twice at Richmond, and two, now he owes Gordon one. Wallace is a fan favorite at Richmond in particular because of the rude treatment he’s given Gordon on the short 3/4-mile track.
Jeff Burton (18-1) has shown signs of bouncing back from subpar season similar to the way he did last year. Of all the tracks, Richmond will be the one to really get him pumped. The South Boston, Va., native is going back to his home track where he has one career victory.
Look for a good run for Burton with a possible win and especially in match-ups where he’ll likely be paired with mid-level drivers.
Jeff’s brother Ward Burton (22-1) had an outstanding performance in May’s Richmond race. He has progressively gotten better over his career at Richmond which is surprising since he grew up racing on the track as well as brother Jeff.
Ryan Newman’s (12-1) second place finish in May showed that Newman can drive on short tracks.
TRUCK SERIES: The Craftsman Truck Series race Thursday night has it’s most exciting lineup of the season on tap.
Winston Cup regulars Tony Stewart (8-1), Kevin Harvick (3-1), Bobby Hamilton (8-1), and Ken Schrader (25-1) will join the field of truck drivers.
Top contenders to win are Ted Musgrave (7-2), Jason Leffler (6-1), points leader Mike Bliss (10-1) and Las Vegan Brendan Gaughan (18-1). The only place to wager on the trucks is Station Casinos Sports Books.