From the Spotter's Stand
Jimmie Johnson has been rock solid at the concrete 1-mile oval in Dover, and last year was no different. The 48 dominated for the sixth time at “The Monster Mile” — and for the third time in four races — by starting on the pole, leading a race-high 191 laps and taking the checkers by a 2.637-second margin over runner-up Jeff Burton in the second race of the Chase.
Earlier in the year, Johnson led 225 laps but could not hold it together after being busted for speeding on pit road while going mano a mano with wild child and eventual winner Kyle Busch. Rowdy led 131 laps before raising the “Miles the Monster” trophy in Victory Lane for the second time in his career.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Dover is an all-concrete track and is banked all the way around; even the straights have nine degrees of banking. Therefore, right-side tire management is a race-long concern.
“Dover provides drivers with multiple grooves from which to choose, but normally, the best cars are the ones that will run the low line around the track. The transitions from turns to straights are unique. Drivers call it ‘falling down’ in the turns.
“Back in the 1990s, it was asphalt, but it was so rough it was more like a gravel road. Concrete has its pluses and minuses, but it made this track a lot better.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Look no further than the 48’s six wins in 18 career Cup starts. Pretty Solid Pick: Mark Martin has made no secret of his love of Dover. His four wins are proof of it. Good Sleeper Pick: Guys turn it up a notch when racing at their home track, and this is Martin Truex’s. Runs on Seven Cylinders: Juan Pablo Montoya has led only three of the 3,222 laps he’s completed at Dover. Insider Tip: Trouble happens quick here. Having a good qualifier who stays up front is a bonus.
Classic Moments at Dover
Proving his shocking win in the Daytona 500 earlier in the season was no fluke, Derrike Cope leads 93 laps and wins the 1990 Budweiser 500 in Dover.
Cope starts 15th, but shoots to the lead by lap 160. However, a miscalculation by his crew chief causes his No. 10 Purolator Chevy to run out of gas while pacing the field, dropping him off the lead lap.
Cope has a strong car, though, and races his way back onto the lead lap (without the aid of Lucky Dogs or wave-arounds). A fast pit stop under a lap 421 caution bumps him up to second, and on lap 446, he passes Rusty Wallace, who leads 131 laps in the Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac, for the lead.
From there, Cope holds off Ken Schrader to earn his second, and final, career victory. Dick Trickle, Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin round out the top 5.
Another notable feat that occurred during this race was when Dale Earnhardt’s engine blew, his No. 3 crew actually repaired it, and the car returned to competition. Predictably, though, the engine fatally expired later in the event, marking Earnhardt’s only DNF of the 1990 season.
Of all of NASCAR’s greatest assets, there are two current active drivers who rank near the top of that list — though in some circles, the “t” in “assets” might be removed from that descriptor. Be it on the radio or on pit road, Kyle and Kurt Busch have been the source of many a memorable scene and sound bite over the years. As different as the two Las Vegas, Nev., natives have become, there are some strikingly similar characteristics between the two brothers.
Older brother Kurt burst onto the scene in the 2000 season, replacing then-driver Chad Little in Jack Roush’s No. 97 John Deere Ford for seven races. He promptly managed to piss of NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., at Rockingham, and was thrust into general American conscious while giving an explanation of his on-track tiff with Junior as part of MTV’s “Real Life” series about Driver 8.
It would be two years, with his backside-slapping and pointing to Jimmy Spencer at the 2002 Brickyard 400, and “decrepit old has-been” blast that followed shortly thereafter, when he became a fixture as one of NASCAR’s more “entertaining” characters.
While Kurt’s NASCAR past is as colorful as his bright yellow and red Shell Dodge Charger, his radio traffic the past few years has been as well, peppered with enough F-bombs and salty language to make Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey blush. Here are some highlights:
After being struck while leaving his pits at New Hampshire in 2009 after disagreeing with the decision to stop, and suffering significant right side damage to his car:
Spotter: “Uh, I can’t see the right side from here …”
Kurt Busch: “We’re on the f***in’ back straightaway, f***in’ Einstein!”
Dover 2010, after being penalized for speeding entering pit road:
“It’s gotta be about f***in’ half way, that’s when we usually FALL APART.”
Pocono 2010, after hitting the wall off of Turn 2:
“Just got in the wall pretty hard, f***ed it all up … not that it was any good anyway.”
“I’d love to hit the fence right now, head-on, and get knocked out because this is f***in’ bull****.”
"We look like a monkey f***in’ a football. The f***in’ Penske cars are a f***in’ joke. f*** everybody! F***!"
Crew chief Steve Addington, prior to a pit stop: “You want to put a round of wedge in it?”
Kurt Busch: “Go ahead … knock yourself out …”
Where else are you going to get this kind of comic relief in motorsports?
To Kurt’s consternation, it has been a perplexing state of affairs at Penske Racing. For the team that started with dominant performances at Daytona, it has dropped from leading the point standings to eighth in the last six races. The No. 22 Dodge has shown no signs of being anything more than a mid-pack car, finishing in the top 10 just once during that time frame — a 10th at Texas in early April.
While the struggles of Dodge’s flagship — and arguably only — team in the Sprint Cup Series are less than amusing to the driver, a timely Kurt Busch freak-out broadcast across the airwaves always provides more than enough fodder for discussion. The focus of the latest freak out — at Richmond — was directed at Penske Technical Director Tom German, who has announced he is to leave the organization at the end of this month to enroll at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Team beratement aside, Kurt has also had some run-ins along the way (besides his notorious tiffs with Spencer). He and Jimmie Johnson have had a couple of on-track dust-ups the last few seasons. He’s also scrapped with Tony Stewart — a longtime Kurt antagonist — which resulted in a punch being thrown in the NASCAR hauler at Daytona in 2008 after an incident … in practice … for an exhibition race!
Who else elicits this type of reaction?
Kyle Busch by ASP, Inc.
His brother Kyle, naturally.
While Kurt was coming into his own in NASCAR (and developing a reputation), there was always talk surrounding his younger brother, Kyle. While Kurt was seen as outspoken, even arrogant, the common response was, “If you think he’s bad, wait until you see his little brother.” While Kurt has made a career out of caustic — if not grammatically jumbled — quotes, Kyle’s highlight reel is one of indelible images of a wildly successful career that is barely six seasons old.
Some of those images include:
• Ripping the radio wire out of the car and storming away after wrecking in the quad oval at Texas in 2007 — only to be replaced by Dale Earnhardt Jr. once said car was repaired. Ironically, it was Junior who hit him, and would eventually replace him in that car at Hendrick Motorsports.
• Upon winning that first Car of Tomorrow race at Bristol in 2007, his synopsis of the car, while confetti rained down in Victory Lane was, “They still suck, I hate driving them.”
• Abandoning his car in anger at a Nationwide race at Bristol in 2009 after the team botched the final pit stop, making them push it back to the trailer.
• Offering a double-barreled middle-finger salute to a NASCAR official at Texas in 2010. For 10 seconds. And caught on ESPN.
• Smashing the iconic Gibson Guitar trophy in Victory Lane at Nashville Superspeedway after the Nationwide race in 2009, to the horror of all in attendance — including the designer of the guitar, Sam Bass.
• His trademark bow after winning races, which thus far include 21 of the Sprint Cup variety, 48 in the Nationwide Series and 26 in the Camping World Truck Series.
• Hooks Kevin Harvick into the wall at Darlington last week, retaliating for Harvick’s actions at Homestead in November 2010 and for “roughing up” Busch twice in the preceding lap. Then plays a game of chicken, in reverse, with Harvick entering pit road. After seeing several red Budweiser uniforms approach him, he pushes Harvick’s unmanned car into the pit wall and leaves — as Harvick gets a punch in through the window.
• Extensive catalog of documented incidents of walking away from perusing cameras and television personalities during post-race/post-disappointment interview attempts.
One of my favorite Kyle moments actually was at Michigan International Speedway in 2008. He was besieged by an over-enthusiastic fan in the garage area who thrust a hat and a Sharpie into his face for him to sign. Busch scribbled his name on the bill, flung it skyward, and bolted towards his hauler. I actually stood there and laughed, while the fan stood dumbfounded as to why he would have done that, after nearly feeding Busch his trucker’s hat to autograph.
Like I said, entertaining at the very least.
In digesting all of this information, you would probably think I have a negative opinion of the Busch Brothers. Far from it. They both are two of the most talented drivers in NASCAR today; Kyle’s record speaks for itself, while Kurt has clearly carried the Penske cars and Chrysler’s involvement in NASCAR’s premier series on his shoulders the last two years. Kyle, meanwhile, looks to tie Mark Martin on the all-times Nationwide Series wins list this weekend at Dover, all by the tender age of 26 (which is exactly half Martin’s age).
And aside from the obvious talent, there is also the human side.
Last year I had the chance to race Kyle in a go-kart event at a promotional appearance. He took the time to sign autographs and pose for pictures with all of his fans, particularly the younger ones clutching No. 18 diecast M&M’s cars, too shy to say anything or make eye contact with their hero. And having had the opportunity to attend many a pre-race driver meetings and the Motor Racing Outreach chapel sessions that follow, one of the drivers that usually stays behind, praying intently, is Kurt, with wife Eva or mother Gaye. Perhaps he was apologizing in advance for the words which would soon flow freely over the radio channels and scanners around the track.
Upon winning his first career Cup race at California in 2005, the first order of business for Kyle upon exiting his car was not to rattle off a bunch of sponsor mentions, but rather announce he was donating his winnings to help the relief effort for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Kurt Busch Foundation, meanwhile, is dedicated to assisting those in need of health care, education, career training and rehabilitation. Busch also donated $1.3 million to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in 2007 to build The Kurt Busch Superdome — a climate-controlled environment for those children who suffer from physical ailments that prevent them from playing outside.
The bottom line with the Busch brothers is that they may be brash, crass and perpetual pains in the ass, but they are also men of good humor and extraordinary talent, whose passion and competitive fire are a throwback to the days when if you didn’t win you might not be eating.
Kurt and Kyle Busch are both refreshing and desperately-needed additions to the NASCAR landscape — because it would be pretty f***in’ boring without them.
1. Carl Edwards Calm and cool in the chaos that was the conclusion of the Southern 500, Edwards rolls to a runner-up showing, his eighth finish of sixth or better this season. Congrats on the kid, by the way.
2. Kyle Busch I always knew the “New Kyle Busch” was one late-race dust-up away from reverting back to, well, “Same Ol’ Kyle Busch.”
3. Jimmie Johnson Some don’t recognize it, but Johnson is willing to get physical on-track when he feels he’s been wronged. Mr. Montoya, prepared to get roughed up.
4. Kevin Harvick Did anyone else notice that Harvick didn’t make a move on Kyle Busch on pit road (or in the garage area) until his team showed up? I mentioned this because that’s not the first time it’s happened.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Was pit-road cone away from another top 10. Still, Junior and the boys kept their wits about them and finished with a lead-lap, top-15 run.
6. Clint Bowyer One of the hotter drivers on the circuit, Bowyer looked to have another top 5 in hand until he got swept up in Round 1 of Busch vs. Harvick.
7. Denny Hamlin Lost amid a wacky Darlington finish was Hamlin’s sixth-place finish. For those who thought he was done, a quick scan of the point standings find him only 19 markers out of 10th.
8. Ryan Newman Word is he punched Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler at Darlington. Bet he got a better shot in than Harvick did on Rowdy.
9. Kasey Kahne Sat on the pole and led a race-high 124 laps at Darlington but settled for fourth by night’s end. This team has a win coming pretty soon.
10. Tony Stewart For about the fourth time this season, Stewart lined up at the front of the field for a late-race restart. And for about the fourth time this year, Stewart couldn’t take advantage.
11. Jeff Gordon Gordon’s roller coaster season continues. That Phoenix win is looking good for the Chase, though.
12. Greg Biffle Biffle is climbing the ladder with six top 15s in the last seven races.
13. Matt Kenseth Hasn’t sniffed the top 10 since his Texas win four races ago.
14. Kurt Busch Being the only factory-backed Dodge operation has its benefits and banes.
15. Mark Martin Despite leading only one lap this season, Martin still sits on the edge of Chase inclusion.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Regan Smith, Martin Truex Jr.
As NASCAR’s oldest track on the schedule, Darlington Raceway is often compared to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field — venues steeped in tradition that provide links to the sports’ celebrated pasts.
However, NASCAR visits Darlington but once throughout its 36-event slate, while the old ballparks, hockey arenas and football stadiums like Lambeau Field get aggressive workouts during their hosts’ respective seasons. And while every major league baseball diamond is a 90-foot square and every football field 120 yards in length, Darlington’s unique characteristics — 1.366 miles, egg-shaped, single-grooved — make it an anomalous beast in a sea of common-template NASCAR ovals.
And it’s Darlington’s singular nature that often makes for a most bizarre race.
Such was the case on Saturday evening in the Showtime Southern 500, when a grueling 367-lap event hinged on a two-lap, green-white checker finish that produced wrecked racecars, post-race fights and a first-time winner.
Regan Smith, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy — a single-car operation in its 137th start in the Cup Series — won the prestigious race, out-strategizing and out-racing points-leader Carl Edwards
A caution for oil on the track dropped by Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Chevy with 10 laps remaining set the wild finish in motion. Edwards and second-place Kasey Kahne, along with the majority of the lead-lap cars, hit pit road for tires — either two or four — and fuel. Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart elected to gamble, staying on the track on used rubber, and brought the field to green with five laps to go.
Smith jumped out to the lead, with Edwards dicing his way to second as cars in the pack beat and gouged for position. The field got only one lap under its belt before a three-wide duel turned ugly when Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer ran out of room off of Turn 4. The contact sent Bowyer head-on into the inside wall, while Busch blatantly hooked Harvick’s Chevy after the caution was thrown, sending it spinning into the outside wall.
Talk of payback filled Harvick’s radio chatter as the field lined up for the green-white-checker, still led by Smith with Edwards to his outside. Smith’s black Chevy darted away when the green waved, but Edwards pulled to his bumper with one lap to go as the two slid off Turn 2. As a two-car wreck filled the backstretch on the final lap, Smith held off Edwards to earn his first career Cup victory in one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races.
“I can’t (describe what this means),” an emotional Smith choked in Victory Lane. “My mom comes to every race that I run, just about, and she missed this one. She’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, saving animals after the tornadoes.
“These guys (Furniture Row Racing team) have stuck behind me for three years now. We’ve had some major ups and major downs — I think this will be classified as a major up for sure.”
Smith’s Furniture Row team is a single-car effort based in Denver, Col., that relies on chassis and engine support from Richard Childress Racing.
Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 5.
Meanwhile, the action continued on pit road, as Harvick blocked Busch’s entrance into the garage. Harvick exited his car to confront Busch, who nosed the unmanned No. 29 Chevy into the pit wall. Harvick managed to get one left jab into Busch’s window before he pulled away. Pushing and shoving ensued between Harvick’s RCR group and Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew, as both drivers, as well as their respective team owners, were called to the NASCAR hauler.
Each driver was relatively composed in post-race interviews, with Busch blaming Harvick, saying the contact leading up to the spin was “uncalled for — unacceptable racing.”
He later claimed his No. 18 Toyota had lost its reverse gear, and he had no choice but to push Harvick’s car out of the way or “get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car for me to go.”
Harvick was a bit more demurred in his comments after meeting with NASCAR officials and Busch, stating, “We were racing hard, doing what we had to do there at the end, and um, things happen. That’s it … what do ya do? Racing, I guess.”
When asked what was discussed in the hauler, he simply stated, “Not much. I don’t have anything to tell you but ‘not much.’” And, “You saw the end,” when pressed as to whether things were settled between he and Busch.
NASCAR officials did not comment on whether penalties would be handed down. Typically, the sanctioning body releases such rulings on Tuesday.
An accident in Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond International Raceway once again highlighted the fact that improving safety in professional motorsports is a never-ending fight.
On lap 302, Jeff Gordon was tagged in the left rear and spun into the inside wall, where he hit driver-side first. The impact knocked the wind out of Gordon, but fortunately didn’t cause serious injury. He was lucky to have walked away uninjured, in that the portion of wall he hit was not protected by a SAFER Barrier, so that the full brunt of the impact was absorbed by Gordon’s car — and ultimately his body. In the modern era of stock car racing, it is truly unacceptable to have any section of wall exposed to the racetrack that is devoid of some kind of energy-absorbing device to lessen impacts from vehicles that find their way into them.
In the early days of NASCAR, there were all sorts of barriers utilized to keep cars within the confines of the racing area. Hay bales were some of the first “devices” utilized, followed by used tires. Eventually, tracks employed corrugated steel guardrails, which were generically dubbed “Armco barriers.” These were useful for short tracks that were the predominant venues in the formative years of racing, but as track sizes and speeds increased, Armco barriers became less effective to the point they were replaced with concrete walls. While the concrete walls were far more successful at stopping cars from leaving tracks at high speed, they took a tremendous toll on the drivers. As early as 1991, Smokey Yunick developed a “soft wall” using old race tires, plywood and canvas, but the people who made decisions about installing such a device dismissed him and his revolutionary product.
The beginning of the development of the SAFER Barrier — which is now utilized at all of the oval tracks that host NASCAR touring series races — was in 1998. The barriers were first installed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002 and, because of the expense, were only installed in the locations that were most susceptible to receiving an impact from a racecar. Eventually, the soft walls were installed at all of the tracks but, as was the case at Indy, the expense prevented track owners and operators from installing the impact-absorbing barriers on every retainer within a venue.
In 2008, Gordon was involved in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he hit an angled portion of inside walling on the backstretch that was so violent it knocked the transmission out of his car. By the time the series returned a year later, Speedway Motorsports, Inc., had installed SAFER Barriers in the location where Gordon made contact.
If drivers have proven one thing in the 60 years of NASCAR’s existence, it’s that they can find a way to impact any section of fencing — regardless of how unlikely the scenario may seem. The outside walls of a speedway are the obvious locations for SAFER Barriers, but there are walls on the inside of the tracks (and on some sections of straightaways) that are currently not covered with the Steel And Foam Energy Reduction Barriers. Gordon’s impact Saturday night was the latest instance where one of those unprotected walls had a very good chance to injure a driver. The accident should be enough proof for track owners to spend the extra money needed to cover all exposed walls with the soft-wall technology.
There is no question that there is a major expense involved in putting SAFER Barriers in place at a racetrack. Dustin Long, a journalist with the Virginian-Pilot.com, quoted Dr. Dean Sicking — one of the innovators of the SAFER Barrier at the University of Nebraska — who said that when the barriers were designed some 10 years ago, the price of installation was $300 per foot. However, serious injury, or the death of a driver, is a far greater price to be paid than a few thousand feet of steel and foam totaling half a million dollars.
NASCAR has mandated HANS devices, kill switches, even designed an entire racecar with the express purpose of keeping competitors safe in a sport where no one is ever totally safe. The time has come to take that one step further and require all tracks on the national touring schedules to have SAFER Barriers or some other form of energy-absorbing device on all walls that are exposed to the racing surface. The potential for loss of life for something that can be so easily remedied is simply inexcusable.
Ultimately, the idea is to have every track operator — possibly with subsidizing from the sanctioning body — install SAFER Barriers at all NASCAR-sanctioned facilities. For now, though, NASCAR and the tracks that host touring-level races must step up to the plate before the next superstar is cut out of a car and Mike Helton is forced to step up to a microphone to make the hardest announcement he’s ever made in his life.
From the Spotter's Stand
Denny Hamlin was in total control of the “Track Too Tough to Tame,” as he became the first driver to sweep the Cup race and Nationwide stop in the same weekend at Darlington since Mark Martin in 1993.
Hamlin edged runner-up Jamie McMurray by 1.908 seconds, but the main competition for the No. 11 Toyota was seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon (110 laps led) and two-time Palmetto State champ Jeff Burton, both of whom made costly mistakes on pit road before finishing fourth and eighth, respectively.
Regardless of his late-race miscues last year, Gordon is still the driver to beat at Darlington. The 24 car has a seven-race streak of top-5 finishes at the track.
Crew Chief’s Take
“The key to surviving Darlington is patience. A driver must race the track, not the competitors for the first 100 miles just to be assured of being around at the end. It is, mentally and physically, one of the toughest race tracks, and it’s unforgiving.
“It’s most challenging for the driver, but it’s really challenging for the team, too. There isn’t much margin for error, and you just can’t get the car really right because of that damned egg shape and narrow groove. But if you’re a competitor, it inspires you, and the drivers and teams that excel here are the ones that love the old place.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Only the best win at Darlington. Go top shelf with your pick(s). Pretty Solid Pick: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle. In that order. Good Sleeper Pick: Read the next line, then come back. OK, Brad Keselowski is the exception. Runs on Seven Cylinders: If they don’t have at least three years under their belt, pass on ’em. Insider Tip: Interestingly, Tony Stewart has never won at Darlington. You have to figure this is one of those bucket list races for him at this point in his career.
Classic Moments at Darlington
Tim Richmond enjoys his most successful NASCAR season in 1986. And on Labor Day weekend, he scores his most prestigious Cup win in the Southern 500.
Nine different drivers lead at least one lap throughout the afternoon, but Richmond (168) and Geoff Bodine (162) are the drivers to beat. After Bodine slips late with darkness falling and in damp conditions, Richmond dirt-tracks his No. 25 Folger’s Chevy by Bill Elliott with five laps to go and streaks away to score his fifth win of the year.
Richmond wins two more races in 1986, but his battle with AIDS wrecks what’s left of his career. He competes in only eight races in 1987, winning the first two he enters, at Pocono and Riverside. Richmond passes away on Aug. 13, 1989.
Saturday night’s Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 from Richmond International Raceway was a tale of two teams within one race shop.
Storyline No. 1 was Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team — a driver and team surging early in the 2011 NASCAR season, and in search of their third straight spring Richmond win.
Storyline No. 2 was Denny Hamlin. Also a JGR entry, he and his No. 11 JGR team stumbled out of the gate this season after battling Jimmie Johnson tooth and nail for the 2010 Cup title. Hamlin had already won his own charity race at RIR on Thursday night and followed it up with a dominating run in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
As it turned out, both teams delivered big showings, as Busch led a race-high 235 of 400 laps en route to his second win of the season, while Hamlin notched his best run of the year in second, after leading 35 laps at his home track. Both kept a keen eye on fuel mileage, though, as a long green-flag run capped off the evening, requiring the JGR operation — along with the remainder of the field — to conserve gas to reach the finish.
“It was important to save fuel there under the cautions. Fortunately we had that long caution flag,” Busch said of a 12-lap caution period with just under 100 laps to go. “That probably saved us. If we didn't have that, most likely we would have went to the end but probably come up a little bit short.
“Thankfully, it played out the way that it played out and I saved just enough. I thought I was going to be better than that. I thought we were going to have — we did make it to the end, so you can say you made it to the end — that’s good enough, right?”
Hamlin, the only driver that seemed to have anything for Busch, was happy to notch a solid finish on a track he was expected to excel at — something he has not done to this point in the season.
“It was a good weekend,” Hamlin said. “We came up one spot short, but it was to a teammate. When you look at what we need to work on, we yarded the rest of the field by about 10 seconds, we just didn’t have enough to get to our teammate.”
The win also marked the twelfth win in the last 15 short track races in the Cup Series where either Hamlin or Busch has gone to Victory Lane.
“We know when we come to these racetracks we’re going to be contenders for a win,” Hamlin said. “I never even thought about one struggle that we had earlier in the year when we come here to Richmond. It's like, ‘OK, we should win, regardless of what's happened, how bad we ran up until this point.’ You forget about all that when you go to a racetrack that you have a lot of success. Hopefully this is the point in which we turn it around.”
Kasey Kahne’s third-place showing was his best with Red Bull Racing, while David Ragan, in fourth, scored his best finish since October 2008. Carl Edward rounded out the top 5.
Edwards continues to hold a nine-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson in the top spot in the point standings. Busch moved into third, 30 points back, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. is fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
From the Spotter's Stand
Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin did it again, splitting the Richmond runs in deja 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.”
Don't be surprised if the Joe Gibbs duo is roaring at Richmond for a third straight year in 2011.
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 has averaged a 2.25-place finish at RIR over the last two seasons. Pretty Solid Pick: If Denny Hamlin is to get his season on track, this is the place where it needs to happen. Good Sleeper Pick: Marcos Ambrose was 11th in his first whirl around RIR and ran ninth and fifth in 2010. Runs on Seven Cylinders: It's been tough sleeding thus far for Jamie McMurray, and Richmond isn't going to help. Insider Tip: Junior raves about this joint, and Steve Letarte knows how to tune the car here.
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.”