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Will Yellow Fever Return Tonight In Richmond?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 28 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte appear to be pointed in the right direction in 2012. Can they break through tonight? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Wrecks have always been a controversial issue in racing and they are again this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, site of tonight’s Capital City 400 Sprint Cup event.

Except this time around, the question being asked about them is:  How come so few and do we need more of them?

People who keep track of these kinds of things say that the last couple of weekends in Cup have been marked by a yellow-flag drought. Some say that because the boys are not having at it, the racing has been boring.

Several Cup drivers were asked about this at Richmond and here is what a couple had to say:

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, said, “I did a lot of driving this week and listened to the SIRIUS XM channel and I was surprised at how big a debate this is and how many people are discussing this. I guess people label some fans as racing purists and they like the idea of watching the race cars go around and the guys work hard to drive them. That is what I like to see. I am more of a fan of what goes on on the race track during the competition. I think that cautions and wrecks and all of those things, I don’t think they for me personally add a bunch to the competition.”

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, said, “I was watching the races last night and thinking it’s just part of racing. It’s like sports in general. As you look at the races, you just never know what kind of race you are going to get. The late model race was boring and the K&N

Yellow flags, in short supply in recent weeks, could return at Richmond. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

race was awesome. So no I don’t think it has anything to do with tires, cars, or anything like that. I think it’s just a matter of how everything lines up on that particular night, and how the cautions fall, and how the race plays out. It’s just part of a string of events that are lining up the way they have. You look at last year’s first Martinsville and the second Martinsville it couldn’t have been more different races.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, when asked if he thinks all hell will break loose at some point: “I hope not, I especially hope I am not in it.”

Trivia time

Who is the last driver to win a race at Richmond International Raceway from the pole?

Track tidbits

Track: Richmond International Raceway

The race: The Capital City 400

On pole: Mark Martin

Mark Martin will start tonight's race from P1. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Location: Richmond, Va.

Size: .75 miles

Configuration: tri-oval

Banking: 14 degrees in the corners

Race length: 400 laps, 300 miles

Grandstand seating capacity: 97,912

First Cup race: The Richmond 200, April 19, 1953

First race winner: Lee Petty (1953)

First pole-sitter: Buck Baker

Most wins: 13, by Richard Petty

Most poles: 8, by Richard Petty and Bobby Allison

Most lead changes: 25

Closest margin of victory: .051 seconds (9/12/98)

The keys

Howard Comstock of SRT Motorsports Engineering offers today’s keys to victory:

The Track: “It’s funny, but it used to be every time you came to Richmond in the spring the track would have been sealed over the winter and that’s not the case this year. So you see that gray surface with the tire strips in between the cracks; there’s been a little repair here and there. It’s really back to more of an original Richmond. We’re practicing in the day today for a race tomorrow night. By the race tomorrow, we’re going to have run the Nationwide race and a lot of Cup practice on the track. It’s going to be a different racetrack. The drivers are already talking about the effects that they’re going to have to deal with when the track rubbers in. As the race progresses, it’s going to get tighter and tighter in the corners. I think the teams are going to struggle more and more with being able to free the car up enough to get ‘em through the center.”

Lack of Cautions: “We collected evidence all last year and we saw fewer and fewer cautions. The trend looks to continue this spring, although I will make note that when we raced here last fall there were a record number of 15 cautions in that race. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you come to some place like Richmond and it’s all new business. People know that a lower number of cautions are a possibility, but I’m not going to be surprised, especially with the track surface the way it is, if we get back to old Richmond. I think that’ll make a good show for the fans.”

Brakes: “You cannot go flat out for 400 laps. You’ll run out of brakes, so the drivers have to conserve and manage their braking during the race in order to get to lap 400 and still have brakes on the car.”

Handling: “When the car won’t turn, the driver uses the brakes to get it to turn. He’ll get on the brake harder going into that corner to get the back end freed up a little bit so he can get the car to rotate. The

Jeff Gordon is a Richmond fan. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

drivers, without even knowing it, will end up using the brakes too much. The crew chief will have to advise the driver lap after lap, time after time, to go easy on those brakes.”

Two Tire Stops: “It depends on how many laps you’ve run and how the tires are wearing. I don’t think we’ll see tire wear issues. I think you’ll see guys try it, but if they try it and you get a long green flag run, you may end up losing more than you’ve gained by taking the two tires.”

The list

The last five winners at RIR:

Kevin Harvick

Kyle Busch

Denny Hamlin

Kyle Busch

Denny Hamlin

Trivia answer

Kyle Busch won from the pole at RIR in the spring race in 2010. It was one of 22 times the pole-sitter has won at RIR.

A final word on Richmond

From Jeff Gordon:

“This is a great race track. They just did it right here. I think it’s the right size. The transitions into the banking into the corners, the radii of the corners, they just did it right. There are challenges here where it’s not an easy track to drive. As a driver, you have to drive it all day long no matter how good your car is. But the set-up and how the team works it, is important. There are pit stops. This, to me, is just an all-around great place to race on. The surface has aged and is abrasive, so it eats the tires up so you’ve got to manage the drive-off. You’ll see guys sliding the back of the car all the way to the wall throughout the entire night.

“And that is what I love about this track is it brings the driver back into it and the driver can manage that tire wear, give good feedback and input back into the set-up of the car and what the team is doing on a pit stop to help make it better throughout the night. And it offers great racing, you know, side-by-side racing that’s more than likely going to bring some cautions, too. So, I think this is always been one of my favorites. I think it’s a big fan-favorite as well. It’s always solid and steady when you look at the ratings and when you look at the positive things written about it and said about it on TV and the crowd.”

Up next

The Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year’s winner was Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon won the pole.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 28 2012
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