Richmond has been the sight of some great racing memories over the year, either when it was a throwback bullring in the 1980s, or the model for all short tracks to follow going forward. Let’s take a look back and remember some of Richmond’s “rockingest” moments.
11. Greg Biffle swings for the fences - and Jay Sauter’s face
If the whole race car gig and dog calendar thing doesn’t pan out, Greg Biffle might want to ring up Dana White at the UFC for a shot at the middleweight belt. Check out the Superman punch he delivers to Jay Sauter following his admittedly deliberate wreck of Biffle in 2001. What, a double-axe handle didn’t want any of that? Lucky for Sauter, Biffle didn’t go Macho Man and climb the fence to drop the elbow.
—by Vito Pugliese
10. Gant wins first RIR night race
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10.Harry Gant wins first RIR night race
These days, Mark Martin is regarded as the resident badass old man on the Cup circuit. While Martin tosses iron around during the week, Harry Gant had his own Rocky IV type of regiment: roofing. Running bundles up a ladder in the North Carolina summer humidity was how Handsome Harry, at 51 years of age, rolled to his second win during a record-tying four in a row streak in 1991 – part of a five-win season. It was the first night race at the recently reconfigured .75-mile track. Gant, in the legendary No. 33 Skoal Bandit, won by four car lengths over the late Davey Allison.
Hard to believe, but Tony Stewart’s first career NASCAR win wasn’t in the Busch Series, but rather in his 25th Cup start at the 1999 September night race in Richmond. It was a drubbing to say the least, as Stewart led 333 of 400 laps after starting second. Check out all the room in that firesuit – even though you’re not supposed to wear white after Labor Day, you can’t fault Smoke for flaunting that svelte physique.
8. Earnhardt don’t need no stinkin’ tearoff
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8. Dale Earnhardt don’t need no stinkin’ tearoff
The 1986 Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Richmond, in its Fairgrounds configuration, may be one of the greatest NASCAR races ever ran. There is so much that happened that day that it’s hard to believe it was all contained on a .542-mile track that looked better suited to host a street stock race. It also makes the case for why NASCAR needs more short tracks and less 1.5-milers. One reason this race is memorable is this iconic image that helped cement the legend of Dale Earnhardt as a working man’s hero, going Jake Elwood and cleaning the windshield of his own car. Who needs a tear off?
7. Petty takes STP Caterpillar to a Podium Finish!
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7. The King takes STP Caterpillar to a Podium Finish!
In 1988, Richard Petty had one of the two worst crashes of his career after tumbling down the frontstretch in the Daytona 500 and then was t-boned in the driver’s side by Brett Bodine. After being busted, brusied and battered – not to mention catching an earful from wife Lynda who asked “are we having fun yet?” — he showed up seven days later at Richmond and wheeled it 400 laps to a third-place finish. After Neil Bonnett put it to the field, Petty hopped on a bulldozer and began demolishing the track, which had hosted its final race under the old configuration.
6. Get some security, Kyle
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6. Get some security, Kyle
There were two big free agent moves that took place in 2008: Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to join Hendrick Motorsports, while Kyle Busch moved to Joe Gibbs Racing from HMS. These two worlds – which could not be more opposed – collided at Richmond in April 2008 with three laps to go. After the race Dale Jr. remarked “Whether or not it was fair, he’s gonna need security … from all of us.”
After having gone nearly the entire season without winning in 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan in August after being spun by Kyle Busch at the first Richmond race. The final race before the Chase was run during the day after being rained out and Earnhardt exacted a bit of revenge on Busch following their dust up earlier in the year. Might as well get it out of the way before the playoffs start, right?
4. Harvick come to snuff The Rooster
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4. Harvick come to snuff The Rooster
Going into the final laps of the 2003 Chevy Rock and Roll 400, Ricky Rudd was trying to get the win for the Wood Brothers, attempting to get past the driver he had moved out of the way to win just two years earlier — Kevin Harvick. Rudd got into the corner a little hot and spun Harvick into the wall. What followed was a post-race altercation (action starts around 2:25 mark) on pit road that actually made the front page of Drudge Report the next day – even in the middle of the Iraq war. Not sure who I’d be more afraid of: Rudd or Pat Tryson, who looked like he was ready to take on the entire 29 team. Also, best (and only?) use of the term “yap-yap mouth” in an interview.
In 1997, Rusty Wallace got moved out of the way on the final turn of the last lap at his favorite track, Bristol. Going into the final laps at Richmond one year later, Rusty got a nudge again and apparently wasn’t going to let himself be put in the same position. The crowd seems to love this.
2. Final race before the first Chase
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2. Final race before the first Chase
The inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup was almost 10 years ago. Hard to believe it’s been that long, and hard to believe there was so much drama and frantic racing that took place over those 400 laps. Jeremy Mayfield (in much happier times) stepped up and delivered a clutch performance when it mattered, needing to win to squeak into the final 10th spot after Jamie McMurray blew up with 25 to go. This may be one of the greatest races — and most overlooked — races in NASCAR’s modern era.
1.Intimidator, Jaws & the Fresh Prince of Randleman
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1. The Intimidator, Jaws and the Fresh Prince of Randleman
Back before he was the best NASCAR analyst on television, Kyle Petty was a country music singer trapped in a race car driver’s body. In 1986, the driver came out and won his first race at Richmond. Granted, it was preceded by one of NASCAR’s most memorable moments of the 1980s, when Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip took their rivalry to a whole new level. But hey, all that matters is who gets to hold the trophy at the end, right? This is short track at its best … right until Dale rattles his cage. Well, hooks his cage head-on into the guardrail.
The 2011 Chase for the Championship field. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
The final 300 miles of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ regular season were some of the most intense of 2011. Chase bubble boys Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin were involved in a lap 8 wreck; Chase longshot Marcos Ambrose spun three times; and Chase locks Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson continued a feud that has slowly festered over the last two seasons.
In the end though, the top 12 drivers going into the Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway were the same 12 that came out, as Earnhardt, Hamlin and Tony Stewart held on to secure bids to NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
Oh, and by the way, Kevin Harvick held off Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon to capture his fourth win of the season. It may be difficult to look past the Chase scenarios, implications and results, but the race itself was a thriller — chock full of short-track aggression topped off with a dramatic conclusion.
Gordon was hunting for his second consecutive victory, leading on lap 384 when a spin by Paul Menard brought out the evening’s 15th caution. When the field hit pit road, it was Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing crew that won the race off. He lined up for the restart in the front row alongside Gordon, and when the green flag waved, pulled away. Edwards was able to get by Gordon, though, and quickly narrowed the gap Harvick had built.
Whether Edwards would have capped a night of physicality off with a bump ’n’ run is unknown. Edwards’ No. 99 Ford was never able to get to Harvick’s bumper, and the Bakersfield, Ca., native held on for his second career Richmond win.
“The guys on pit road had just a great last pit stop and were able to get us the track position,” Harvick said. “I struggled on the restarts getting going with the races that we had, so to be in control of that last restart I felt like it was pretty important to get going.
“Our car was really good all night on the restarts, and that last run there we were actually too tight and Carl was actually a little bit better. And then with about three or four laps to go, I just locked it on the bottom and hoped for the best there, so it all worked out.”
Gordon finished third, while David Ragan and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 5.
Busch had to recover from a pair of incidents with Johnson en route to his solid finish. The first accident came on lap 186, when Busch locked up his front brakes going into Turn 1 while battling the five-time defending champion for position. Johnson spun and restarted 24th while Busch continued unimpeded.
Jimmie Johnson after his second run-in with Kurt Busch. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Sixty laps later, Johnson got his revenge, diving into Turn 1 under Busch and spinning the No. 22 around. Johnson hit the wall in the process, requiring a lengthy stay in the garage, but once again, Busch marched on.
“I know we’re in his head,” Busch said later. “If we’re going to race this way, he’s got to know that there’s 10 other guys in this Chase, not just the 22 (car).
“He’s got to learn to race. He’s been able to beat guys in the last five years just by out-driving them with what he has for equipment.”
Johnson replied with a shrug, saying, “OK ... I got run over going into (Turn) 1, so if you’re going to spin me out, I’m going to spin you out.
“I’m sure I’ll go find him and talk to him and he’ll run his mouth. And we’ll go from there.”
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Earnhardt, had a tough, but ultimately successful, evening. Earnhardt qualified for his first Chase since 2008 by recovering from the lap 8 accident that crushed the nose of his Chevrolet. He then used up what was left of the front end by spinning Ambrose and Travis Kvapil in separate incidents, displaying an aggression not typically seen in the 36-year-old. He finished 16th.
Earnhardt joins Johnson, Busch, Gordon, Edwards, Harvick, Hamlin and Stewart, along with Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman in the Chase.
“I’m proud to be in the Chase,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like I’m a good enough driver to be in the Chase, (and) my team is good enough to be there.
“I can look back over the season and just easily think of several instances where we cost ourselves 10 or 15 points and made this situation difficult this weekend. Had we been more conscious and smarter at certain times we wouldn’t have had to even worry about it this weekend.”
From the Spotter's Stand
Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin did it again in 2010, splitting the Richmond runs in déjà vu-all-over-again fashion. For the second straight year, Rowdy won in May and Denny celebrated a September win — only this time, with Busch on his bumper as the runner-up.
Each thoroughly dominated his respective race. A pole-sitting Busch led 226 laps to outrace runner-up Jeff Gordon (144 laps led) on a restart with five to go. Meanwhile, Hamlin led 251 laps to edge out Busch and rival Jimmie Johnson to clinch the top seed in the Chase in the final race of the “regular season.”
The song remained the same in May 2011, when Busch and Hamlin rolled over the field. This time, it was Busch's turn, as he led for a race-high 235 of 400 laps to beat Hamlin by nearly two seconds.
All told, the JGR duo have combined to win the last five Cup events at RIR. That stat will most likely change to six in a row this weekend.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Getting the car to roll through the center of the corner is the key to a fast lap at Richmond. While that tends to cause a drop in speed off the corner, a car that turns well in the center uses less brake, and that’s a good thing on a short track where brakes can get hot. Most teams run a short track brake package even though Richmond runs faster than its 3⁄4-mile layout suggests. If you want to talk about a balance between what the drivers like and what the fans like, Richmond probably strikes the best balance in NASCAR. There aren’t many races that teams look forward to more.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Kyle Busch, with an astounding 11 top 5s in 13 Cup starts at Richmond, makes him the natural choice. Pretty Solid Pick: His teammate, Denny Hamlin, always turns it up a notch when he’s racing in his home state of Virginia. Good Sleeper Pick: Marcos Ambrose has runs of 11th, ninth and fifth in only five career RIR Cup starts. Runs on Seven Cylinders: Brad Keselowski, although he only has four Cup starts here. Insider Tip: Junior raves about this joint, and Steve Letarte knows how to tune the car here. Only problem is that they'll most likely run conservatively — as they have for the last month.
Classic Moments at Richmond
The old .542-mile Richmond Fairgrounds layout is home to an early season shocker on Feb. 21, 1982, in the Richmond 400.
A crash by leader Joe Ruttman on lap 244 brings out the caution, and the leaders head to pit road — except for one. With thick, black clouds in the area, Dave Marcis’ crew chief, Jerry Darling, instructs his fourth-place driver to stay out as Richard Petty, Benny Parsons and Dale Earnhardt pit.
The strategy works, as the sky opens and a torrential rain falls, forcing NASCAR to call the event.
“During the red flag I didn’t exactly pray for the rain to continue,” Marcis says. “But I said if the Good Lord ever wanted to help a poor ol’ independent driver who fields his own cars and builds his engines, then this was His chance.”