Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chevy Rock & Roll 400 Richmond Preview

By Micah Roberts

This Saturday Night in Richmond, we got ourselves a good old fashioned Saturday Night Special.

For a few guys, they will be clawing their way to the front doing everything they can to make passes and get race themselves into NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.

It’s the last race until the Chase starts with a few drivers very bunched pretty close together. It’s do or die time, the money race, and it’s the feature race just like at a local race track. It’ll have that old race track feel where driver’s dreams are on the line and the only way to make those dreams come true is race hard with reckless abandon.

It’s a shame it takes a one race shoot-out to bring out the very best, or worst, in the bubble drivers. But this is what makes this one race so great every year, because we all know what’s going to happen. This is the equivalent of football’s wild card; if a driver makes the final top 12 in points following Richmond, he’s still has to race himself to the top in what is essentially a ten week bracket culminating with the big game Miami on November 22.

Las Vegas’ very own Busch Brothers, Kyle and Kurt, are right in the mix of things coming into Richmond. Kurt Busch is essentially locked in sitting seventh in points and would need a crazy set of circumstances to not make it.

However, Kyle is the one that needs some help. He’s currently sitting 14th and 37 points out of the 12th and final spot. The good news for Busch is that he’s racing at Richmond, a track where he has had his most consistent performances among all tracks.

Kyle’s 6.1 average finish at Richmond is tops among all drivers. He won the spring race there in May and in nine career races he has seven Top-5 finishes. This is the driver that is going to make this year’s Race to the Chase finale the most exciting ever just because all the drama he brings with him.

Kyle Busch might be the most disliked, booed, and harassed driver on the circuit. For some reason his antics, showmanship, and success have rubbed racing fans across America the wrong way. He’s going into a Hornets nest in Richmond where they are famed for being the loudest, rudest, and most intoxicated crowd on tour.

Twice a year, these fans in the Capital of the Confederation pump themselves up all Saturday afternoon to get themselves in game condition for the race at night. It’s a party of all parties and Kyle Busch is public enemy number one, taking over that role a few years ago from Jeff Gordon.

The biggest feather in the cap for Kyle is that he has thrived so much in such a hostile environment. He has taken their heated energy towards him and fueled himself to a level of being totally unabashed by the surroundings.

His race this time around means more than it ever has. Not only does he have the pressure of trying to show the fans up again, but he’s got to win or come close in order to ensure he gets in.

It’ll be a tough task, but it‘ll definitely be worth the price of admission to watch what happens.

While all the hoopla surrounding Busch and his run to make the chase goes on, a few candidates are going to be also running as hard as possible to get that last win prior to the Chase which will elevate their position when the Chase starts.

Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Jimmie Johnson should all have terrific runs and race hard to get the bonus point for winning.

Stewart has finished second in three of the last four races, while Virginia native Hamlin has come close to winning, but has settled for three Top-3 runs in his seven starts.

Stewart had been the master of Richmond until Kyle Busch started with all his

Stewart career average at Richmond in 21 starts is 10.1. He’s had three wins on the track, but none since 2002. Since 2002, Stewart has finished second four times, including this years race. Of all the drivers cemented in the Chase, Stewart seems like the most logical driver to let it all hang out late ad battle for the win.

Johnson has the distinction of winning this race last year and three of the last five.

However, in the two he didn’t win, he finished poorly at 30th and then 36th this year in May.

In all, Johnson has raced at Richmond 17 times, but has finished in the top-10 only four times, including those three wins which has made his average finish position look like an also ran at 18.7 a clip. He’s totaled five finishes of 30th or worse.

Chances are we’ll see the newer version of Johnson who has taken a liking to these type of tracks that include Phoenix and New Hampshire as well.

On that note, it’s a good idea for match-up bettors to take a look at the last races run at Phoenix and New Hampshire as well. When looking at New Hampshire, since it was rain shortened, just look at the lap leaders prior to the rain, or when Joey Logano took the lead by not pitting.

That race was shaping up similar to the way Richmond and Phoenix did earlier in the year with Johnson, Martin, Stewart, and Kyle Busch running well. No reason to think this race will be much different as those tops teams are likely to bring the same chassis’ for this race.

The only difference for this race is a mindset of do or die for some and the freedom of going all out with no consequences for others.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (7/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
5) #5 Mark Martin (12/1)

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