On Your Side: Nationwide Gets a Sip of Tea At Richmond
Following last Saturday's action-packed Aaron's 312 at Talladega Superspeedway, the NASCAR Nationwide Series tour heads to Richmond International Raceway for some short-track action under the lights, Friday night style.
Stock car racing purists will look forward to the Lipton Tea 250, the series' annual May classic that has produced some intense racing action in recent memory. There will certainly not be a shortage for excitment and parity despite the usual high attendance of Sprint Cup drivers competing in the event.
Here's a look at some of the storylines heading into Richmond:
If you're first, you won't last...
An interesting tidbit to watch for with Friday night's race is that the driver who has led the most laps in the past six events run at Richmond has failed to capture the victory.
Only Kevin Harvick, who led 154 laps in the 2006 running of the Emerson Radio 250, and Kyle Busch, who led for 227 laps en route to his win in the '07 fall race, have gone on to capture victories while leading the most laps.
Chevrolet, Ford, Toytoa, who?
Chevrolet has won 13 of the past 18 races won at Richmond, thanks mostly to Kevin Harvick's three-peat from his wins in the fall '05 event and a season sweep in 2006.
However, looking at the race winners of the 2009 season, it seems to be a wide open season as to who will carry their manufacturer to supremacy in the Nationwide Series.
Unlike the Sprint Cup ranks, where Chevrolet clearly holds the advantage over their Blue Oval and Ram racers, the Nationwide Series has been a season of parity for the fleding automobile industry.
The Chevy gang has two wins so far through eight races, with Tony Stewart capturing the season opener at Daytona and Kevin Harvick's triumph at Bristol.
Ford has a trio of wins courtesy of Greg Biffle, who has a pair of aces at Las Vegas and Phoenix, while David Ragan captured that much elusive first victory last Saturday afternoon in a crash-marred race at Talladega.
Kyle Busch and Joey Logano have carried the Toyota banner into the winner's circle three times this year, with Shrub taking wins at Fontana and Fort Worth and Logano at Nashville.
Shut out of victory lane this year has been the Dodge contigency, which has been fledging in the Nationwide Series for some time. Other than some moments under the Gillette Evernham banner, Dodge's best team has dissolved into the sunset.
Choosing a winner for Friday night's race is pretty difficult, considering that four of the top 10 drivers in the points standings are top Cup drivers.
The remaining top 10 drivers are proven Nationwide drivers who either won in the past or have driven solidly this season.
Going out on a limb, it'd be foolish to not pick Kyle Busch for the win at Richmond. A previous winner in 2007 and a solid short track racer, look for Shrub to keep his streak of at least one victory per month in the top three NASCAR ranks alive with a triumph in the Lipton Tea 250.
Carl Edwards, who probably is sick and tired of being asked about his Talladega last lap accident, has two races to get his harrowing high speed flight crash out of his system with a pair of events at Richmond.
A two-time winner at RIR, Edwards, driver of the No. 60 Scotts Ford Fusion, may play spoiler to Busch.
You certainly can't forget about Kevin Harvick either, who looks to give the Chevrolet crew some reason to smile if he urges his No. 33 Rheem team with a big "W" for his self-eponymous racing organization.
Brad Keselowski has to feel like Jamie McMurray following his amazing last lap victory at Talladega last Sunday.
I mention McMurray's name because of the confidence and poise that the Joplin, Missouri native showed following his debut win in the Cup ranks at Lowe's in Oct. of 2002, winning multiple times in the Nationwide races in the closing portions of that season.
Hopefully, Keselowski can avoid the McMurray Curse of sorts by showing some of that poise and confidence in the Nationwide ranks, where he has become a venerable frontrunner of sorts for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s No. 88 team sponsored by GoDaddy.com and Delphi.
And oh by the way...
In the better late than never news department for Nationwide Series racing fans who enjoy the sleek, aerodynamic bodies which were virutal counterparts of the Sprint Cup cars prior to the advent of the COT, it looks like the next generation cars for this series will not arrive on the track until at least 2011.
Perhaps taking note of the atrocities and struggles of their Sprint Cup cousins, the Nationwide Series will look to the next two years to refine, retune and hone their version of the COT and perhaps "hype" up the cars into a muscle car-emphasized series.
The Nationwide Series could certainly use an identity brand overhaul, and their COT approach to muscle cars could greatly redefine the image and perception of one of the most excitingmotorsports series in America.
For those keeping tabs on the Rookie of the Year standings, 2008 ARCA champ Justin Allgaier leads the "Class of 2009" with 83 points, followed by Brandon Gaughan with 79, Scott Lagasse, Jr. with 77, Michael McDowell with 74 and Michael Annett with 63 in what has so far proven to be a close race for freshman honors.
And as mentioned previous before, there is a close manufacturer's battle in the Nationwide ranks.
Ford currently leads the battle of automobile supremacy with 51 points with a second place stalemate between Chevrolet and Toyota, which both have 50 points to their credit.
Being as it is a Friday night race like in Phoenix, the schedule of events is perhaps one of the most unique of the season:
The Race: Lipton Ice Tea 250
The Place: Richmond International Raceway
The Date: May 1, 2009
The Time: 7:30 PM, EDT
The Distance: 250 laps/187.5 miles
TV: ESPN2 (Prerace at 7 PM, EDT)
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio/MRN
2008 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin
2008 Pole Sitter: Kasey Kahne
Event Schedule (All Times EDT): Friday - Final Practice: 9:00-11:45 AM; Qualifying: 4:10 PM
1) Kyle Busch - 1219
2) Carl Edwards - 1157
3) David Ragan - 1139
4) Jason Leffler - 1082
5) Joey Logano - 1063
6) Brad Keselowski - 1041
7) Jason Keller - 925
8) Scott Lagasse, Jr. -886
9) Justin Allgaier - 885
10) Michael McDowell -879
Up Next: Darlington Raceway
Following Richmond on the Nationwide Series racing docket will be the trials and tribulations of Darlington Raceway's only race of the season with the Diamond Hill Plywood 200, which will be on Friday night on ESPN2 at 7:30 PM EDT.
Tony Stewart, who formerly drove for Joe Gibbs Racing's Toyota camp, captured last year's race at the Lady in Black, urging the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota to the victory circle over Clint Bowyer by a margin of 0.814 seconds.
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