NASCAR drivers are eager to compete in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Fans with one of the 97,912 tickets will enjoy short-track skirmishing on the .75-mile D-shaped oval with 14-degree banking. Fans at home can view the bumping and banging on Fox.
Fourteen current Sprint Cup drivers have won at Richmond. Kyle Busch leads that group with four wins. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart each have three victories. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer have been in RIR victory lane twice. Kasey Kahne , Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Joe Nemechek have won once at the fast short track.
Hamlin hasn’t been cleared to race at RIR so perhaps one of these 13 drivers will grab the checkered flag. Point leader Johnson knows that winning in the past helps, and he understands some tracks are kinder to drivers than others.
“I have tracks that we go to and we're the favorite there and we're fortunate to win often, and I can't tell you why,” Johnson said. “There's places you show up to and compete and it fits your style as a driver and as a crew chief and race car and team, and everything just fits and goes. I wish there was a better reason behind it. But you can count on guys to run well at certain tracks, and it's just that way.”
Perhaps further comments from the top five in NSCS points will give an indication of what fans can expect. Johnson, Kahne, Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. shared their thoughts.
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
Johnson and team appear to be rolling along early with customary precision. Much of the season remains and a lot can happen, but his attitude seems solid.
“It’s a night race, and we have struggled in night races at Richmond,” Johnson said. “The day races are usually good. So, if it rains out and we race on Sunday, I’m optimistic. Seriously, we’ve had a top-five car there the past few times, so I’d say we are holding our own there now.”
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
Kahne’s good efforts early in 2013 might pay big in Richmond. Kahne shared his thoughts on this early momentum.
“I definitely believe in momentum,” Kahne said. “I know I've tried to work hard over the years to get more consistent because that was definitely my weak spot since I've been in the Sprint Cup Series. I feel really good about where we're at right now, and the momentum is huge.
"When you have momentum and confidence from the driver to the pit crew to the crew chief, as well as every aspect of putting our car on the track, it helps. I've been in situations before where I've felt like everything was fine, like I was driving every bit as hard as I usually do and all that, and then I won a race and realized, man, now I'm like rejuvenated and have a boost of energy again to race.
"So I think it definitely helps, and sometimes you don't realize it, but when you are on the upswing and things are going well, everybody feels it, and it's a big part of running well.”
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Greg Biffle doesn’t grandstand often, but he can perform expertly and maybe he and his team can get that first win at RIR.
“Short tracks have been a little challenging for us in the past, but it seems like we’re doing better at short tracks than we are at these big tracks,” Biffle said. “So I’m excited about going to Richmond, we ran well there the two races last year. We’ve got the American Red Cross on our car. Think about all the people that need blood, go donate blood, every two seconds someone in America needs blood.”
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford)
Keselowski is coming off a fourth-place finish in Kansas. Keselowski can perform well at RIR and maybe pull off his first win there.
“Our No. 2 Ford team never gives up. Ever. Racing–and specifically, winning a championship–isn’t about what you do when things go your way,” Keselowski said. “ It’s about how you react when your backs are against the wall. We definitely had our share of adversity at Kansas, but the guys dug deep and we were able to rebound for a solid finish. I feel like we execute a race as well as anyone in the garage. That’s how you win races and championships.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Ford)
Earnhardt Jr. is one of three in the top five who have won at RIR. He and his team have had tough going for the last three races, but the way his car runs on average, he might just pull off his fourth win at Richmond.
“Hopefully we can have a good weekend at Richmond,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve had some really good cars, and won some races here. Then I’ve had some unexplainable poor runs; just had cars where I couldn’t get around the track. I’m excited to get to the track and in the car for practice and see where we are at. See what kind of drivability we’ve got and how much comfort we’ve got.”
The first NASCAR race at RIR built on 1,000-plus acres in Richmond, Va., was on April 19, 1953, before NASCAR superspeedways existed. This race No. 9 of 36 in the 2013 season will likely once again show why short-track racing is so popular.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.