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Race Day: Richmond Is For Lovers Of Racing

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 30 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes practice laps at Richmond. Everybody, it seems, loves racing at the .75-mile D-shaped oval. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Richmond International Raceway has been called nearly perfect for NASCAR races. It’s the right size, the right width, has the right banking, features the right atmosphere.

It’s also something else which has the drivers’ and teams’ attention: It’s the track where the chase to the Chase ends every autumn, and, for all but 12, where hope for a championship goes to die.

That is, RIR hosts the Last Chance Dance.

And that makes the spring race – tonight’s race – important as many of the teams and drivers will use this weekend’s Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 to gather data, experience and confidence that could pay off in the fall.

Several drivers were asked about that this weekend. Here is what a select group had to say:

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “Racing at Richmond is fun. It is fast enough that you get that real sensation of speed here and it is a short track so you can still really mix it up. There is some room for error. You can really race hard here and the fans are second to none. They really love the racing and there is a lot of passion here. It is a very important race track because of where the second race falls in the Chase hunt and all of that. It is a good place. I really enjoy coming here. I haven’t had the success on the Cup side. The first race I came to I think I finished sixth and we had a super fast car and I was thinking this was going to be my favorite race track. We have struggled on the Cup side but run really well on the Nationwide side and had some really good battles. I think I like it for the same reasons everybody else likes it.”

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: “We haven’t really had that conversation about this particular race track but I think when you look at Dover coming up, for us

Juan Pablo Montoya will start tonight's race at Richmond from the pole. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

that’s been a hot topic of conversation, Dover, Charlotte for the Chase races. Sometimes I think we kind of take this place for granted as a team and organization. We talk about it. Obviously we had a whole competition meeting about it but in that same sense Dover and Charlotte to be more of a thought process as far as where that goes for the Chase races.”

Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet: “It’s always exciting to come here. It’s always a challenging race. Especially you know you’ve got to run good here because of where it is with the Chase, where the qualifying for the Chase ends, the preseason. So if you’re on the bubble you’ve got to make sure you run good all day, you’ve got to make sure you run smart all day. It’s a track that it’s very easy to get involved in wrecks. It’s a lively race. You’ve got to keep up with the race track especially if it’s a night race. It’s always hard work and it’s always fun.”

Fast facts

What: Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400

Where: Richmond International Raceway

When: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET

TV: Fox, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: .750-mile oval

Banking in turns: 14 degrees

Kyle Busch won a year ago at Richmond. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Banking on front stretch: 8 degrees

Banking on back stretch: 2 degrees

Grandstand seating: 97,912

Race distance: 400 laps/300 miles

2010 winner: Kyle Busch

2010 polesitter: Kyle Busch

Tonight’s polesitter: Juan Pablo Montoya

First race: 1953, The Richmond 200

First race winner: Lee Petty

First race polesitter: Buck Baker

From the enginneer

Howard Comstock, Dodge Motorsports engineer was asked this week: Is Richmond a short speedway or a fast short track?

His answer: “That’s the perennial question engineers have to ponder when the Sprint Cup Series visits RIR twice a year.  The speedway’s long frontstretch lures drivers into a flat and tight first corner faster than the chassis is able to handle and that’s when the short-track brakes you need take over.  Get through that corner, negotiate the narrow backstretch, and start the cycle again.  Every lap here, you need great speed.  Every lap here, you need great brakes.  Every lap here, you need great handling.  And by the way, you need all three for the entire 400 laps.”

Trivia time

Who was the first driver to sweep two Cup races in a season at Richmond?

Royal snub

Jeff Gordon, about as close to American racing royalty as it gets, was asked a couple questions

Jeff Gordon snubbed in England. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

about wealthy, attractive Brits who don’t work for a living getting married this week.

Q: Did you get an invitation to the royal wedding?

Gordon: “Ben Born got one.  His girlfriend, she went to school at St. Andrews so they went.  He’s just a friend of mine.”

Q: Did you watch the wedding?:

Gordon: “I saw the highlights this morning.  I thought it was really cool.  It’s something that you don’t get to see very often.  I don’t really remember when Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married so this is definitely something that I’ll remember.  Now to be able to see how their relationship grows and hopefully one day to see Prince William as a King, that’s pretty cool.”

Q: Would you spend $35 million on your daughter’s wedding?

Gordon: “Oh no, definitely not.  No prince and princess wedding happening there.  Why do you have to get me all stressed out about that now.  I’m already worried about it.”

Track tidbits

Number of Cup races: 109

Pole winners: 48

Most victories: 13, by Richard Petty

Most poles: 8, by Richard Petty and bobby Allison

Youngest winner: Richard Petty (23 years, 9 months, 21 days)

Oldest winner: Harry Gant (51 years, 7 months, 28 days)

Smallest margin of victory: .051 seconds

Greatest margin of victory: 6.184 seconds

Most lead changes in a race: 25, two times

Fewest lead changes in a race: 2, seven times

Most leaders: 12, 4 times

Fewest leaders: 2, 6 times

Most cautions: 15, 2 times

Most caution laps: 123, 2 times

Straying thoughts

Midwestern driver Paul Menard is having his best year in Cup. He is 11th in points and has three top-10 finishes.

But next month, he will be thinking of another kind of racing: IndyCar, the open-wheel series in

Paul Menard has two racing series on his mind as May approaches. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

which if father John Menard field cars for so many years.

Paul was asked a couple of Indy 500-oriented questions this week. It went like this:

Q: What is the month of May like for the Menard family?

Menard: “I’m a big Indy car fan.  I will be following all throughout the month of May.  I think they’re in Brazil this weekend and then they come back for Indy.  The two or three weeks that they’re there – I will be following it every step of the way, watching all the practice speeds every day and keep track of it.  I know a lot of Indy car drivers, some are my friends and I try to keep up on all them.  Definitely, it’s the biggest race in motorsports as far as I’m concerned.  It’s cool to keep tabs of.”

Q: Do you want to run the Indy 500?

Menard: “Yeah, I would, I would like to.  I don’t think it’s feasible and it’s probably not going to happen, but I would love to.”

Q: Have you thought about running for the $5 million prize that is being offered to any driver from a non-IndyCar series who can win the season finale in Las Vegas?

Menard: “No, I drove an Indy car one time at a test in Pikes Peak.  It takes a lot more than to just jump in and think you’re going to do it.  Those guys are the best at what they do.  We won’t have a shot.  It’s like them jumping over here for one race, they won’t have a shot.”

Trivia answer

David Pearson was the first driver to sweep two Cup races at RIR in the same season. He did it in 1966.

Up next: Darlington

A year ago, Denny Hamlin, recovering from ACL surgery on his left knee, won the race. slowed his stride. Hamlin ran away from the rest of the field on a restart with 20 laps left and won Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500 Sprint Cup race by 1.908 seconds over polesitter Jamie McMurray.

In winning his third race of the season and the 11th of his career, Hamlin also completed a weekend sweep at 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway, having won the Royal Purple 200 Nationwide Series race on Friday night. It was the first Cup/Nationwide weekend sweep of Hamlin’s career.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 30 2011
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