Monday, April 23, 2012

Richmond 400 Storylines

Kyle Busch has won the last three Richmond spring races (Getty)
It’s back to the short track for the third and final time this spring. This time the venue is Richmond International Raceway, the .75-mile gem that offers a preview one of the most important races of the season – the cut-off race for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The track, a 0.50-mile dirt track in its 1953 debut but a 0.75-mile triangular-shaped layout since fall 1988, is the third-oldest venue on the current schedule after Martinsville Speedway (1949) and Darlington Raceway (1950).
Momentum figures to be big this week: Denny Hamlin won for the second time on Sunday at Kansas Speedway and has a pair of Richmond victories (fall 2009-10). Kyle Busch has won three consecutive spring races at the track but remains winless through this year’s first eight races. Kevin Harvick is the most recent Richmond winner last September en route to a third-place championship finish.
Several questions loom: Can Hendrick Motorsports finally get its 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup victory? Will Martin Truex Jr., second in Kansas and enjoying his best points ranking (second) ever, break a winless drought of 175 races?
Richmond’s 400-lap, 300-mile race can be seen on FOX (live, 7:30 p.m. ET).
The NASCAR Nationwide Series roars back into action in Richmond on Friday (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET) with action sports star Travis Pastrana making his long-awaited debut. Virginia native Elliott Sadler is the series points leader by four over defending champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. NNS points eligible competitors hope to snap a wins drought dating to the spring of 2004.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitors begin a count-down to the May 18 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. James Buescher became the season’s second first-time winner on April 21 at Kansas Speedway and trails standings leader Timothy Peters by four points with four of 22 races complete.
Denny Hamlin Returns Home On A Roll
Denny Hamlin, a Chesterfield, Va. Native, returns to Richmond a winner and will attempt to win back-to-back races for only the second time in his career. (He won the Pocono and Michigan races in consecutive weeks in June 2010.)
He has two wins at his home track and is looking forward to going home. "We've got a lot of stuff leading up -- we have our big Short Track Showdown coming up on Thursday, so we've got a lot of planning. I obviously need to go to Richmond early to get some stuff done and schmooze some of our sponsors for that race for a few days. We're excited. I love going to Richmond anyway, but any time you can go after winning the previous week, it makes it a little more exciting. I'm excited about it. It's a big weekend for us next weekend, and obviously this is a great step to trying to get some promotion for that."
Hamlin, who nabbed his 19th career win last week, looks to become the fourth Virginia native to record 20 or more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories, joining Joe Weatherly (25), Ricky Rudd (23) and Jeff Burton (21).
A second local connection for the No. 11 team – crew chief Darian Grubb. Grub, from Floyd, Va., earned an engineering degree from Virginia Tech.
Speaking of Darian Grubb…
A rivalry of sorts is blossoming between he and former boss Tony Stewart. On the wins ledger, both have two on the young season.
Sprint Cup Stars Aid Hamlin’s Foundation
Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown is part of a Thursday night doubleheader that also features the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Blue Ox 100. Sprint Cup stars who’ll compete in the foundation event include Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.
Richmond Could Jump-Start Kyle Busch’s Season
Kyle Busch has won the last three spring races at Richmond and is tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart for most wins among active drivers. It's the fourth anniversary of Busch getting into Earnhardt Jr. and allowing Clint Bowyer to slide through for a win. These four drivers with three wins apiece trail five NASCAR Hall of Famers and one NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee on the all-time list: Richard Petty (13), Bobby Allison (7), David Pearson (6), Rusty Wallace (6), Darrell Waltrip (6) and Dale Earnhardt (5).
Busch ranks 13th in the standings 31 points out of the top 10. Busch’s last victory came last August at Michigan International Speedway, 20 starts ago.
Martin Truex Jr.’s Amazing 2012 Continues
Martin Truex Jr. didn’t break his winless streak in Kansas. He did everything but, finishing a close second to Hamlin after leading 173 laps – the most in any race since his 2007 victory in the fall event at Dover International Speedway. Truex heads to Richmond second in points – his best ranking ever – with a career-best five consecutive top-10 finishes. The New Jersey native has a single top five at Richmond – fifth in the spring of 2008. His best Richmond finish with Michael Waltrip Racing, seventh, came in the spring of 2010.
The secret behind Truex’s resurgence? Well, there are plenty of reasons, but one might be his ability to stay out of trouble. Truex has run 7,142.37 miles since the last time he was listed as being part of an accident or spin that brought out a caution. Of those 7,142.37 miles run, 6,142.876 were on the lead lap. Both figures are best in the series.
Hendrick Motorsports #200Wins Watch
Rick Hendrick leads all active owners with 10 wins and trails only Richard Petty (15) for most wins at the track. Hendrick and Petty are the only owners with double-digit victories at the Virginia short track. His last win at the .75-mile oval came in the fall of 2008 with Jimmie Johnson. Johnson swept both Richmond races in 2007. Johnson finished third in Kansas and continues to strengthen his bid for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Dale Earnhardt Jr., a three-time Richmond winner (most recently in spring 2006), is a riding a four-race top-10 streak.
Newman Continues 50 Coors Light Poles Watch
Ryan Newman has one pole at Richmond, starting in the top spot for the fall 2004 race. His 11.1 average start at Richmond is 13th-best at the 24 tracks on the circuit. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five poles, trailing NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison (8), Richard Petty (8) and Darrell Waltrip (7). There hasn't been a repeat pole winner back to 2006.
- NASCAR Media Services

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