Author Topic: Richmond Rock  (Read 1377 times)


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Richmond Rock
« on: September 08, 2007, 04:59:12 PM »
Ya know, this race use to be filled with all sorts of action, on and off the track.  And then "The Chase" was invented.  Sure, Mayfield pulled off an improbable victory in this race during the inaugural Chase season (2004), barely squeaking his way into The Chase, and that offered up a bit of drama that night.  But by and large, The Chase has flat out ruined the Rock n' Roll 400 at Richmond.

Can you tell that I detest "The Chase"?  I don't care who's leading the points when it starts, or how far in front or behind "my driver" is, I flat out hate the damn thing.  It's a marketing gimmick and has absolutely -nothing- to do with racing.  But I digress.....

Richmond International Raceway is an awesome track.  Three-quarters of a mile of high speed and heavy braking racing on each and every lap.  The brake rotors on the cars look like a frequin bonfire going on under the front end of the cars, and at nighttime it's a really cool (hot?) sight to see.  Especially entering Turn 1.  The speed that these guys carry coming down the front stretch is pretty amazing, considering how flat and short the track is.  With the new cars being so top heavy, it should be interesting to watch how the brakes hold up this weekend.

Another thing to watch is the exit of Turn 2.  It is amazing how tight that exit gets.  You can be running so well thru 1 and 2, and then BAM!  The front end just pushes up the track and you end up smacking the crap out of the outside wall on the exit of 2.  Watch for that on Saturday night, as there's sure to be a number of guys that end up doing it.

Other than the entry to Turn 1, the real key to a great lap at Richmond seems to be the entry into Turn 3.  While you're not under nearly as heavy braking going into 3 as you are going into 1, you've got to make sure and have a perfect line into 3.  This corner sets you up for building tremendous speed thru the sweeping Turn 4 and down the front stretch.  You'll usually see a lot of passing coming out of 4, and those passes are almost always setup going into 3.

Who to Watch
Who? #22, Dave Blaney
Why? Blaney has actually been running quite well of late, and I expect another good run out of the Caterpillar team this weekend.  Back in May, Blaney steered the #22 to an 11th place finish at Richmond.  Don't be too surprised if he turns in a repeat performance on this visit to RIR; and he might even get himself into the Top 10 by the time the checkers fall.

Who? #8, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Why? With 3 wins (including his most recent trip to Victory Lane - 51 races ago), 7 Top 5s, 9 Top 10s, and a 10.1 average finish on his Richmond resume, Dale Jr. should feel great about his chances Saturday night.  I'm not convinced that he's going to win (although it wouldn't surprise me), but I expect to see Driver #8 solidly in the Top 10 all night long, and probably hanging around the Top 5 come Lap 400.  I don't think it'll be good enough to secure himself a spot in the 2007 Edition of The Chase, but you never know.

Who? #29, Kevin Harvick
Why? While his career numbers at RIR aren't quite as impressive as Earnhardt, Jr.'s, Harvick is no slouch on the 3/4-mile D-shaped oval: 1 win, 4 Top 5s, 7 Top 10s, and a solid 12.5 average finish.  If not for an infamous tangle with Ricky Rudd back in 2002, his Richmond stat line would look even better.  With only 1 Top 10 run in the last 6 races, Kevin is moving the wrong direction in the standings.  He still has a sizable lead (128 points) over 13th Place Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but Kevin can ill afford any mistakes this weekend.  If he finishes 32nd or better, he's locked in, no matter what Earnhardt does, but I look for Kevin to threaten for another Top 10.

Who? #42, Juan Pablo Montoya
Why? If JPM is smart, he'll be marketing for a bonus check this weekend.  You see, if I were him, I'd offer my services to the #8 crew, and help those guys make their way past the #29 and into The Chase.  "HUH?!?!?!?"  You see, Montoya and Harvick have this mutual disdain for one another, and Juan Pablo could -really- help out Dale Jr. by roughing up Kevin Saturday night.  That, my friends, would make for must-see TV in what is otherwise likely to be a relatively calm race.

Who's Going to Win
Hendrick Motorsports.  Either Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, or Kyle Busch should be holding the trophy after all is said and done Saturday night.  Which one will it be?  Well, let's look at some numbers:

          Starts          Wins          Top 5s          Top 10s          Avg. Finish
Jimmie Johnson         
Jeff Gordon         
Kyle Busch         

Johnson's overall numbers at Richmond are not very impressive, especially by his standards.  Sure, he's on a roll, having won last week at California.  Sure, he won at RIR back in May.  Sure, he might win again this weekend.  But I'm just not sold on the Jimmie Johnson kool-aid just yet.  Mind you, I won't be surprised if he picks up the 'W', but I'd look more for a solid run than a trip to Winner's Circle.

What about Gordon?  He has racked up an impressive stat sheet for Richmond in his stellar career, but what track has he not done that at?  Sure, he led the most laps and finished 4th there in May.  Sure, he's putting on one helluva show this season.  Sure, he could win this weekend, but, like Johnson, I'm just not completely confident in saying that Jeff will grab the trophy Saturday - especially when you consider that in his four Richmond starts from 2005-2006, Gordon's best finish was 30th.

So that leaves us with Shrub.  Like or dislike the kid's personality and/or driving style, Kyle Busch can flat out wheel a car.  In my opinion, Shrub is the #1 raw talent - not driver - in the Cup Series.  If and when the guy ever matures to the point of becoming as good a driver as he is talented, I think he will obliterate the record books.  Maybe Joe Gibbs can mold Shrub into that driver?  (Sorry... another rabbit trail.  I'm back on track now.)

Did you look at Busch's numbers there?  Sick.  Absolutely sick.  In 5 career Richmond starts, Kyle Busch has 5 Top 5 finishes, with a paltry 3.4 average finish.  Do you think he likes the track?  I'd be willing to bet the farm that RIR is his favorite track on the circuit.  Why are his numbers so good at RIR?  Well, I don't really know for sure, but my theory is that Richmond is one of the *very* few tracks where overdriving the car doesn't completely ruin your lap.  And God knows that Shrub can overdrive a car!

So, I've offered up a few "I wouldn't be surprised if..." drivers, but this weekend my money is on Shrub.  Look for Kyle Busch to take the #5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet to Victory Lane this weekend, likely to be his last win for Hendrick Motorsports before moving on to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.

Happy racing.