It took eight races, but NASCAR fans finally saw a driver revisit Victory Lane for the first time all year.
Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag away from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a nail-biting finish that almost wasn't. When a caution came down with just a few laps remaining, Harvick passed Earnhardt for the lead and narrowly came away with the win.
As for Junior, the Hendrick Motorsports driver came away with his fifth top-three finish this season, more than any other driver in the Sprint Cup circuit. Surprisingly enough, Earnhardt is the only Hendrick driver with a victory this year on a star-studded team.
Huge names like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth still haven't taken a checkered flag to this point, and are all eager to get the first one out of the way to solidify a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But as the standings currently sit, all three drivers are in the top 10 in points.
After a full week off from racing, the drivers now shift their sights to Richmond and the Toyota Owners 400. Before the race kicks off on Fox at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night, here's a look at the NASCAR standings, team news and top drivers to look for at this race.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
What: Toyota Owners 400
Where: Richmond International Speedway, Richmond, Va.
When: Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
|2014 Sprint Cup Standings|
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|4||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||271||1||5||5|
Latest Team News
When it comes to erratic teams, there's no group that embodies that more than Stewart-Haas Racing.
Take a look at Kevin Harvick. Before winning in Darlington, he also pulled off a huge win at Phoenix in the second race of the season.
But outside of those two wins, Harvick's average finish has been 29.7, with numerous issues causing him to place poorly on several occasions. His early success with SHR is turning heads and proving that he can contend for championships with the team, writes David Caraviello of NASCAR.com:
But his move to Stewart-Haas brings with it the rise of a Harvick 2.0, an updated edition that comes with a new team and a new number and a new narrative, this time one the driver is able to create for himself.
It hasn’t been without a few bugs -- all those mechanical issues remain concerning, even though the No. 4 car looks untouchable when everything holds together. But here is Kevin Harvick, already with multiple victories and a virtually secure Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth in his first season with a new team. Here is Kevin Harvick, pushing 40 yet looking as formidable as ever. Here is Kevin Harvick, leading laps by the bushel, not just a closer but a starter and a finisher, and perhaps with his best shot yet of being champion.
Though Harvick is proving his worth on his new team, his antithesis this year would have to be teammate Danica Patrick. But with 18 races still remaining in the season, the entire SHR team could eventually find success.
Stewart-Haas may be finding success through winning races, but rivals and partners—it's a strange relationship—Hendrick Motorsports is making its mark through consistency.
Junior has a win under his belt after taking the Daytona 500, and he has run up near the top in the majority of races with both Johnson and Gordon. As for teammate Kasey Kahne, the experienced driver hasn't hit his stride early in the season but has a chance to turn that around at Richmond, as Jeff Hammond of Fox Sports notes:
I just don't see the performance yet from the No. 5 car when you compare it to Hamlin or Biffle. That's why coming off this past Easter weekend, I think Kasey really needs a shot in the arm at Richmond.
The good news for Kasey is that he's won there before. You also can't lose sight that he's with a great team and great organization. They just need to get things turned around and pointed in the right direction quickly.
With a chance to finally claim a win for any of the three Hendrick drivers that haven't visited Victory Lane at this point, any one of those notable names could get off the schneid this Saturday.
It hasn't been the season that anyone expected for Denny Hamlin—himself included—but no driver on the circuit has a better track record than the No. 11 car at Richmond.
With a driver rating of 114.8 at the track, Hamlin sits ahead of every other current driver. Joe Gibbs Racing provides a look at what Hamlin's competition will see throughout the night on Saturday:
Without a win this season, Hamlin could solidify his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by visiting Victory Lane yet again at the Virginia track.
Yet Hamlin hasn't won at Richmond since 2010, so how can he be expected to prevail now after struggling all season? While that is true, Hamlin still has three top-10 finishes since that point and will be hungry for a win at the track.
Are you kidding me with this guy? Not only does he have two wins through the first eight races, but he's also heading to a race that he won last season.
Last year's win came with Richard Childress Racing, but if Harvick has proven anything this year, it's that the transition has been smoother than anyone could have imagined. Then there's the fact that he saw one of his close friends (Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone) claim a huge victory against Edson Barboza, per UFC's official Twitter account:
Can Harvick pull off a second consecutive win after seeing Cowboy clinch his MMA fight? The statistics say yes.
Along with having the win last season at Richmond, Harvick has two other victories, seven top fives and 16 top 10s at the track. With an average finish just outside the top 10 at 11.3, even if he isn't able to take the checkered flag, the No. 4 car will be up at the front of the pack on Saturday night.
Yet another driver who's already won this this season, Kyle Busch has the pedigree to do what only Harvick has done in taking home multiple victories for his team.
While his last win at the track came two years ago over Junior, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will team up with Hamlin at the front of the pack.
Only the No. 11 car has a better driver rating at the track than Busch's 111.9, and no other driver on the current circuit has as many wins at four. Along with his wins, his average finish is a whopping 7.2 and average running position at 7.9.
Needless to say, expecting Busch to be up at the front or at least in the top five seems fairly reasonable. And with a teammate that can hook up with him at the end of the race, Busch clearly has a chance to take his second checkered flag of the season or push Hamlin to his first.
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