This Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway will be the fifth of six short track events on the season. It will also be the last under the lights for the 2003 Winston Cup season.
As usual with any event under the lights, the fans get a bit more rabid. No stop on the circuit has a tailgating session like the Capital of the Confederacy. For the drivers, they always get an adrenaline rush under the lights. For Las Vegas sports books, this race always provides one of the larger handles. The handle drops significantly after Richmond because of the full menu on the wagering board.
"Most NASCAR bettors are football fans as well," says Boulder Station’s Kelly Airgood, "We’ll see our NASCAR bettors split their average weekly bankroll to accommodate all the football games on the board. When football kicks into high gear, we see about a 25 percent drop off in handle in auto racing. The only race from here on out that will see a dramatic increase will be at Talladega."
The RIR has minimal banking but is a three-quarter mile D shape with average speeds similar to what we see at Bristol. As always on the short tracks, drivers get more aggressive with the slower speeds. That makes for classic NASCAR racing.
The most successful driver at Richmond in recent history has been Tony Stewart (8-1), who has two career wins in 9 starts. Both victories were during the spring race. Stewart has been a disappointing 30th and 41st in his last two visits.
Bobby Labonte (10-1) changed the perception of being a one-dimensional driver after claiming his first short track victory at Martinsville last year. This season he has Top 5 finishes in 3-of-4 short track races. Over his career at Richmond, Labonte has just three Top 5’s in 19 starts. Still, his recent record makes him a serious contender.
Ryan Newman (8-1) was second in both races last year and was on his way to another impressive run in the spring before encountering engine problems. Newman should be very attractive pick for the bettor. Newman has put himself in position to win almost every race. Newman has led more laps than anyone in the last 3 races at RIR. Look for him to qualify in the Top 5 and run near the front all night.
Terry Labonte (25-1) has three career wins at Richmond. In 50 career starts, he has 26 Top 10 finishes. Labonte’s win at Darlington last week now gives all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers a victory this season. Labonte’s teammate, Joe Nemechek (28-1), won the spring race. What a story it would be if Labonte went back to back after a 156 race winless streak.
Kevin Harvick (10-1) has been the top driver in points over the last two months. The run he’s been on resembles what Bobby Labonte did earlier this season. Harvick was sixth in the spring race. With the way some of the top drivers are performing, this might be one of his best opportunities to get that elusive first short track win.
Jeff Gordon(10-1) has finished in the Top 5 nearly half of his 21 Richmond starts, with two wins. It’ll be interesting to see how the crowd reacts to Gordon in driver introductions this week with the new crowd "boo-bird," Kurt Busch (10-1), now absorbing most of the abuse. Gordon is there with Union General William T. Sherman as one of the most disliked men in Richmond history.
Las Vegan Kyle Busch, younger brother of Kurt, had another second place finish in last Saturday’s Busch series race at Darlington. The younger Busch is driving a limited schedule this season for Hendrick Motorsports.
Another Las Vegan, Brendan Gaughan (4-1), comes in as the favorite to win this Thursday night’s truck race at Richmond. Gaughan is only eight points behind Travis Kvapil for the Truck series point lead.
Last season Gaughan won the rookie points title, the same award Kurt Busch won when he finished second in truck points in 2000.