Monday, April 22, 2013

Richmond Storylines

Busch tough Kansas run, but has won 4 straight Richmond spring races
A dose of “double K” – Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne – fuels the headlines as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the 2013 season’s first short-track race run under the lights. The pair gave fans a re-run of their thrilling Las Vegas finish at Kansas Speedway with Kenseth again the winner but by just 0.15 seconds over Kahne.

Both are Sprint Cup title contenders. Kahne, in his sophomore season with Hendrick Motorsports, is second in the standings to teammate Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth proved again that his off-season switch of teams, to Joe Gibbs Racing, is paying dividends as he became the season’s third multiple winner.

Each has won at Richmond – but neither recently. Kahne’s first Sprint Cup victory came there in 2005. Kenseth, who counts just a single top-10 finish in his last 11 Richmond starts, went to Victory Lane in the fall of 2002.

Kenseth is the season’s third straight competitor to win from the Coors Light Pole, which hadn’t happened since 1985. You have to go all the way back to 1981 to find a four in a row: the NASCAR Hall of Fame combination of Darrell Waltrip and Junior Johnson at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.

Here’s a dark-horse pick based on the momentum of his first back-to-back top-10 finishes. Aric Almirola, a heady 13th in Sprint Cup standings after eight races, has shown enough speed in recent events to take Richard Petty’s legendary No. 43 Ford to a Richmond victory for a 14th time and first since February 1975.

Toyota has won seven of the last eight Richmond races with only Kevin Harvick (fall 2011) supplying a single manufacturer blemish over four seasons. Paul Menard rather than Harvick could be Richard Childress Racing’s best hope for a ninth Richmond victory. Menard ranks 10th in Sprint Cup standings following his fourth top-10 finish of the season.

Elliott Sadler counts 13 victories spread over all three of NASCAR’s national series. Unfortunately, the Emporia, Va. veteran continues to be shut out at home – Richmond International Raceway. Sadler hopes to improve on his second-place Richmond finish in 2005 when he climbs into the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250.

Jeffrey Earnhardt will drive his uncle’s No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet for the first time in Friday’s race. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s organization has 26 national series starts at the .75-mile track.

Matt Crafton has three weeks to savor his Kansas Speedway victory – ThorSport Racing’s third in four races – as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series goes on hiatus until the May 17 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.


Red-Hot Kahne Hopes To Duplicate Richmond Victory
Kasey Kahne started slowly in 2012, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. He finished with a flourish – career-high fourth in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points – and shows no sign of slowing down. Kahne moved to second in the standings, behind HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson, with his third top-two finish of the season at Kansas Speedway. Outlook for Richmond: Kahne scored his first Cup victory at the .75-mile track on May 14, 2005.

Coors Light Pole, Victory Go Hand In Hand
Winning a Coors Light Pole pays a variety of dividends – cash, entry into the 2014 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona and a great spot on pit road. Lately, it’s also translated into race victories. Matt Kenseth’s pole-to-Victory Lane run at Kansas Speedway marked the third consecutive race that’s happened and first since 1985. Kyle Busch is the most recent pole/race winner at Richmond International Raceway in the spring of 2010. Interestingly, just 22 of Richmond’s 113 races – 19% - have been won from the No. 1 starting position.

Almirola Has Legendary No. 43 On Upward Trajectory
It’s been 38 years since a Richard Petty-owned car has entered the winner’s circle at Richmond International Raceway. Aric Almirola could make a run on ending that drought on Saturday night – adding to the King’s 13 Richmond victories, the last coming in February 1975. Almirola and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford finished eighth at Kansas Speedway marking the first time the combination has fashioned back-to-back top-10 finishes. Almirola enters the Toyota Owners 400 ranked 13th in the standings, the Tampa, Fla. native’s career best.

Richmond Will Put Kenseth’s Momentum To The Test
In Matt Kenseth’s case, change “hit the ground running” to “hit the ground winning.” Kenseth became the season’s third multiple winner on Sunday at Kansas Speedway emphatically putting to rest any doubts about his move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota. This week’s short track race could be a challenge. Kenseth finished 14th at Martinsville and 35th at Bristol but was fifth last fall in Richmond, snapping a 10-race streak without a top 10 at the Virginia track. He won at Richmond in 2002.

Race Sponsor Toyota Holds Near Lock On Richmond Racing
Toyota has won seven of the last eight Richmond races and might be considered a prohibitive favorite in Saturday night’s event – especially with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch having won four of the eight times the new Gen-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup car has gone to the post in 2013. Richard Childress Racing might have something to say about that. Kevin Harvick won Richmond’s fall race in 2011 driving RCR’s No. 29 Chevrolet. Teammate Paul Menard continued his solid season with a 10th-place finish in Kansas – his fourth of the campaign – and sits 10th in the Sprint Cup standings.

- NASCAR Media Services

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