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NASCAR in Richmond: Previewing This Weekends Sprint Cup Series Action

Paul Carreau@@PaulCarreauAnalyst IApril 28, 2011

RICHMOND, VA - MAY 01:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, celebrates with the trophy in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Heath Calhoun 400 at Richmond International Raceway on May 1, 2010, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

For the second time this season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars will be racing on a Saturday night, under the lights. The series makes its first of two visits to Richmond International Raceway. The importance of this race goes further than just this weekend.

Richmond is the sight of the final race of the regular season for the Sprint Cup Series, so a lot of drivers can use this first race as a test race for that all important event in September.

The last four races at this track have been won by the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Hamlin has taken the last two September races while Busch is the two time defending winner of this event.

That instantly makes these two the favorites for this weekend. In 10 starts at Richmond, Hamlin has the two wins and a total of six top-10 finishes. Only once in those 10 starts has Hamlin finished worse than 15th.

For as successful as Hamlin has been at Richmond, Busch has been even more productive. He has made 12 starts at the one-mile race track. He has scored two wins and has 10 top-10 finishes. More impressively, all 10 of Busch's top-10's at Richmond resulted in finishes inside the top 5.

There have been 4,810 laps run at Richmond during Busch's Sprint Cup career and he has completed every one of the laps.

While those two drivers should be considered the two heavy favorites, there are a few other drivers who could have strong runs this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson is always a favorite regardless of what track the series stops at. Richmond however has been hit or miss for the five time defending series champion. In 18 starts, he has three wins, but just six top-10's in total.

Don't let the numbers fool you, though, Johnson has to be considered one of the favorites, regardless of what his previous statistics would lead you to believe.

Jeff Gordon has also found success at Richmond. He has scored two wins here and has finished in the top-10 in 23 out of his 36 career starts. Seven out of his last eight starts here have resulted in top-10 finishes, while the only other finish was still a respectable 12th place effort.

The other two strong favorites would be two Richard Childress Racing teammates, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.

Harvick has had as much success at Richmond as anyone in recent years. For his career, he has won there once, with 13 top-10 finishes in 20 starts.

Recent history has seen Harvick score 11 top-10 finishes in his last 12 starts. He is also the only driver with multiple wins this season.

Bowyer has had his own share of success at the series' third shortest track. He visited victory lane at Richmond back in 2008, after a wild finish saw Kyle Busch spin out Dale Earnhardt Jr., while Bowyer sailed by both of them and held on for the win.

In 10 starts, Bowyer has five top-10's and only one of his finishes is worse than 12th. Like Busch, he has never finished off of the lead lap in his Richmond career.

One race after one of the wildest finishes in NASCAR history, don't expect quite the same thing this weekend. Talladega was a track where anyone can win and the race is always up for grabs.

Richmond will be a different story. While the racing should no doubt be exciting, when the checkered flag waves, expect it to be the regular suspects battling it out for the win.

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