|Fun in the spring sun Sunday at Richmond.|
More on the Richmond race in a minute, but first let's talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr. who announced Tuesday that he'll be retiring at the end of the season. The first thing I thought of was of him not living up to the huge expectations placed upon him from his large fan base, much of which he inherited after his father passed in during the 2001 Daytona 500. He had 26 wins over his career, but he never won a championship.
Junior is a huge part of NASCAR and its image. He's handled being the face of the sport with total class, and it is with that portion of responsibility to the sport that made me like him so much. It's a heavy burden. Jimmie Johnson may have seven championships, but it's Junior who most that don't follow the sport identify with.
I started to get the idea Junior was ready to call it quits last season when he missed 18 races due to a concussion. I was actually surprised he came back at all this season after getting married, and of course knowing all too well how dangerous the sport is that he participates in. If his heart isn't into to it and he's not having fun, then it's time to go.
So we've seen Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards all retire in the past two years and Junior leaving is another sign of NASCAR moving on to new generation. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Edwards will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88 next year. But for now, my hopes are that Junior finishes the season strong, wins a few races -- hopefully at Daytona and Talladega -- and contends for the title.
Alright, let's talk about Richmond.
Last season, five of the top-seven finishers in the spring Phoenix race finished in the top-seven in the spring Richmond race. It's the type of trend often seen each season between the first two races at the similar flat tracks. And its the same type of trend to follow for Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond.
Although Phoenix has a 1-mile layout and Richmond's is a 3/4-mile, the set-up requirements are almost identical meaning that it will serve your handicapping process well to scour over the data from the March 19 Phoenix race where Ryan Newman used some late pit strategy to grab his first win since 2013. We can also use the same process in July at New Hampshire's flat 1-mile layout. If a driver does well on one, they'll likely do well on all three.