From the big track of Talladega to the short track that thinks it’s a Superspeedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series headed to Richmond International Raceway for a Saturday night race.
There were many storylines coming into the race—Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmie Johnson, and could Kevin Harvick take it two in a row? Who stole the storylines on Saturday night?
Check out the winners and losers of the Heath Calhoun 400.
For Busch, coming into Richmond there were a lot more questions than there were answers. He had not won a race since Bristol last fall, and his team struggled with inconsistency from the start of the race to the finish. When the checkered flag flew on Saturday night some of those questions were answered.
From the drop of the green flag, Busch pulled away from the field. He led 226 laps and spent 100 percent of the laps run in the top 15. Busch fell back halfway but it was during the final restart that Busch was able to pass Gordon and go on for the first-place win.
At Darlington, Busch has had success, but so too has he had his share of troubles. He earned a victory in 2008 but finished 34th in 2009. With an average finish of 20.4, Busch is looking for a little consistency on Saturday, to make it two wins in a row.
If there was one driver in 2010 who consistency was never a doubt, and who doesn’t have the results to show for it—Gordon is it. His team has brought solid cars to the track every week; they have outperformed not only their teammates at times but the field in several races only to come up short.
Gordon began in fourth but quickly made his way to second, where he ran for the first half of the race. He took the lead just after the halfway point. Once again, it was a late caution that brought the field back to Gordon.
Within his first two attempts Gordon pulled away, before the final caution was waved. Busch, on the outside, was able to pass Gordon before they hit turn one. And he once again settled for second.
Darlington, meanwhile, is one of Gordon’s best tracks since 2005. He has finished in the top five every race since. Gordon has seven wins at the track with 17 top-five finishes and 20 top 10 finishes—Gordon knows how to tame the lady in black.
One lap. That’s all that Carl Edwards has led this season, and to many it is a surprise. To me it is not.
His team, over the course of this season, has been missing something. They can’t seem to find the same magic that they had in 2008. Saturday night was an impressive showing, and that just shows how long it’s been since we seen Edwards with a solid run.
Edwards ran in the top 15 for most of the race and finally led a lap for the first time this season. He was never a factor for the win but it was a solid top five run for this team. It was good to see them be able to stay on top of the changing track conditions.
On Saturday, Edwards will be looking to carry the same momentum, but it will take some work. He has an average finish of 17.4 at Darlington, but just like Busch his results are mixed. Edwards is going to need to do what he did at Richmond International Raceway, and adjust to the race track.
Let’s be honest: Heath Calhoun is the biggest winner on this list.
Calhoun lost both his legs in a convoy attack in Iraq. Calhoun could have given up, but instead has become an inspiration to a lot of people.
Calhoun does not let the injuries dictate his life and has taken life by the horns. From golfing to running, Calhoun is determined to live life to the fullest with his family—a lesson all of us could be reminded of once in a while.
When you come to Richmond International Raceway, you expect to see Tony Stewart up front and leading laps. Instead what we saw was a team that seems just a little off. But no worries Stewart fans, the summer is just heating up hopefully Saturday was the last of those performances for a while.
Stewart was never a threat for the lead, in fact he dropped back early in the race, and the long green flag run caught him down a lap early. Struggles with the changing track changing prevented Stewart's team from getting the car the way he needed. The result was a 23rd place finish.
Stewart has run pretty well at Darlington, with an average finish of 10.4. Since 2005 he has only led one lap at the track, though, something that he hopes to change this weekend. Stewart finished third here in 2009.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Here is another driver that when you come to Richmond International Raceway you expect to see up front and contending for the win. Instead what we saw is a repeat performance of so many races in 2009 with precisely the same results.
Rather than contending for a win, as I expected, Earnhardt and his team fell behind early and got caught a lap down on the first long green run. Crew chief Lance McGrew opted not to take advantage of the wave around, and because of that, never could get back on the lead lap. He finished 32nd.
I think Earnhardt will run much better this weekend. It was only one bad race and he has shown he can run well at Darlington. With an average finish of 10.4 since 2005, when Earnhardt qualifies well he tends to finish well, as he did in 2008 when he started second and finished fourth.
There were multiple times during the race where I actually searched for Denny Hamlin. At what he considers to be his home track, he was barely a factor. It was all the more disappointing considering he has at times dominated the track.
Hamlin and his team did not qualify very well, and that alone should have raised concerns.Typically, as the race goes on, and the team works on the car, their performance gradually improves. And yet they struggled the entire night with the handling of the car, and at times, were barely on the lead lap. He finished in a disappointing 11th place.
Heading to Darlington, in four starts, his average finish is 8.0 and his worse finish is 13th (last spring). Hamlin runs very well at the track and led 194 laps in four starts there. Hamlin and his crew need a solid race and this could be the track to do it.
I have heard the critics and what they thought about Saturday’s night race:
“It was boring.”
“It was too long.”
“There was no action.”
I couldn’t disagree more. At a short track, cars are going to get lapped—and early on at that. Some cars will just be hooked up and pulled away. That’s racing.
The race was entertaining—there was plenty of passing, even with the lapped down cars. There were comers and goers, and as usual this season, the final laps were exciting.
Now they head to Darlington, South Carolina, and the oval shaped track tagged “too tough to tame.”
It is for a reason. The only way around this track is inches off the wall.
The good drivers hit the wall and continue, the great drivers leave the track with cars with barely a scratch. For example, Mark Martin’s car last year. This is not an easy track and it is nothing like anything else these teams are subjected to all year long. Drivers will be racing the race track and not the competitors early on.
My picks to watch are Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski.
Showtime Southern 500 is Saturday, May 8 at 7ET on FOX.