Richmond International Raceway: Chevy Drivers' Best

Charlie TurnerSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2008

Horses for courses is an old horse racing addage and as such maybe more appropriate for Dover Downs or some fairgrounds dirt track than for the wide, racey Richmond International Raceway. But looking at the drivers who have won races at RIR has to make you think that one kind of horse is best for this course. And that would be a Chevy.

Look at the top 14 drivers in the 2008 Sprint Cup standings through the race last week at Auto Club Speedway. Between them they have 15 Richmond victories. Only two wins—one each for Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne—came in non-Chevys.

The list of the win-less includes the Roush-Fenway trio of Greg Biffle, David Ragan and Carl Edwards along with Joe Gibbs Racing twins Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

Anybody but Kyle or Carl?

It is tough any week in 2008, to not pick Edwards or the younger Busch. But Carl’s Loop Driver Rating for RIR is only 17th best at 79.7 and his Ave Finish is a dismal 20.7. He has only run 53.3 percent of the last seven Richmond races in the top 15 and has led just 15 laps. Ugly.

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Kyle Busch at least has the third best DR of 110.6 and has the best Ave Finish of 5.6 over the seven Loop Data era races. He also has six top fives and no DNFs in those seven races. He doesn’t drive a Chevy. But I think he could win this year in a Hudson.

The Bow-tie brigade is led by Kevin Harvick with a top Driver Rating of 118.9. Harvick also has category bests of 278 Fastest Laps, 2677 Laps in the Top 15 and 599 Laps Led. One win, four top fives and nine top tens round out Happy’s RIR resume.

Two drivers have three Richmond wins each in Chevrolets but only one of those guys still drives one. Tony Stewart has the fourthbest DR at 102.3 to go along with those three wins in a Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy. Smoke has had seven top fives, 13 top tens and tops out a couple of Loop passing stats.

Dale Earnhardt Jr has three RIR wins too. His DR is only ninth best at 92.4 and he leads the Loop Green Flag Passes stat. Junior has seven top fives, nine top tens and he does still drive a Chevy. Are you confident yet Green Nation?

This is not statistically relevant maybe and certainly not scientific, but to me, Stewart and Earnhardt lead the series in bewildering performances this year. It just seems that they should do better than they do.

Virginia native Denny Hamlin has the second best Driver Rating at 114.8 and has run 97.5 percent of all of his Richmond laps in the top 15. Hamlin is one of the drivers on the bubble this week as he sits 11th in points. That will almost certainly lead to a conservative approach to Saturday night’s race. I don’t see a win from Hamlin.

Can Kasey do it?

Kasey Kahne is fifth in DR at 98.2 and is one of the non-Chevy Richmond winners. Kahne’s situation may be a bit different from Hamlin’s.

Kasey is 14th in points and depending on how those he is trying to catch are doing in the race, he may run a conservative pace or go balls out for the highest finish he can get. He has won twice this year, so the car is capable. Watch Kasey.

Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are sixth and seventhin Driver Rating but both are out of Chase contention, driving for an unsettled Penske Racing operation and in Dodges. I can’t see a win there.

Clint Bowyer is eighth at 93.2 DR. Bowyer is also the bubble boy in the Race to the Chase. He has to run a race based on where he sits in the points. Taking away his aggressiveness may be a mistake, but it will be the strategy Saturday night.

Neither Jeff Gordon nor Jimmy Johnson made the top ten in Driver Rating for RIR, though both are two-time winners there. Gordon is only about 100 points clear of falling out of the Chase, so he will have to run somewhat conservatively, one would think. Johnson will be thinking only of the ten bonus Chase points that go to the winner of the race.

I look for former Chevy pilot Kyle Busch to win for ninth time in 2008 and give Toyota its first Richmond victory. The upset special will have to be someone out of the Chase race, who can let it all hang out for a win. That sounds like Brian Vickers, who still has an outside chance of making NASCAR’s playoffs. But he needs a bunch of points.

Watch the weather. Rain is forecast for the weekend and some teams may go all out for mid-race track position in case this race ends early. Kurt Busch used that strategy earlier this season for his lone win. Maybe Penske does have a shot after all.