Richmond was the ninth race on the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule and during this, the first quarter of the season, seven drivers have all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the Chase by posting a win. Kurt Busch’s win in Richmond’s rainidelayed Toyota Owners 400 made him the seventh different driver to visit a victory lane this season with Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson already posting two wins.
Joining these three drivers with wins this season are Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. All of these are drivers who were expected to make the Chase before the season began, but this Sunday those drivers that may be a long shot to win at most tracks will be on equal footing when the series rolls into Talladega Superspeedway.
Talladega and Daytona are the only two tracks on the entire schedule where NASCAR mandates the use of the horsepowerrobbing restrictor plates. The plates do keep the speeds down and in the process do a great job of leveling up the playing field anytime the series rolls into the two giant tracks.
The amount of financial backing that an organization has to spend on its teams goes a long way to what happens on race day. It’s no secret that money buys speed in this sport, but restrictor plate racing limits just how much speed that money can buy as the use of the plate limits the speeds that can be achieved regardless of the amount of money that a team has to spend.
All drivers and crew chiefs know that when the green flag waves to begin the Geico 500 on Sunday, they will have a car that may have its only legitimate shot of winning all season. Of course, a driver still has to drive his way to victory lane and the crew chief has to make the right calls for it to happen, but this is one of only four restrictor plate races on the season where they will have a car every bit as capable of winning as those of the larger and better-funded organizations.
The racing this weekend will feature the usual large packs of cars that will run bumper to bumper for the majority of the race until it is time to make a move to the front. When the time comes that a driver has to have a drafting partner, it becomes the time when a driver looking to “steal” one of the 16 Chase slots can put himself (or Danica) in a position to win the race. Every driver would like to draft with a teammate or at least a driver that shares the same manufacturer, but when it becomes “go time” the driver that is glued to your bumper suddenly becomes your best friend.
We see some unlikely combinations drafting together on Sunday and it’s not always one of the elite drivers being pushed to the front. Oftentimes it is one of the elite drivers that is having to push another car to the front in order for him to work his way through the field. When that happens it opens the door for a driver that usually isn’t racing for the win in the closing laps to not only race for the win, but to also race for one of the Chase slots.
PIT NOTES: Michael Waltrip Racing is expected to announce shortly that it will be naming David Ragan to drive its #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. The ride was originally belonged to Brian Vickers, but he was sidelined earlier this season because of a reoccurrence of blood clots. He has been replaced by Brett Moffitt, but MWR is looking for a more permanent solution for the rest of the season. This week the car will be driven by Michael Waltrip, with Ragan expected to be named the driver the following week at Kansas. Moffitt will still be under contract with MWR and if a sponsor can be found, the organization will fund a third car for him. Ragan has been filling in for Joe Gibbs Racing’s injured Kyle Busch this season, but it has been rumored for several weeks that JGR wanted to move Eric Jones into that seat. Jones is under contract with JGR and actually filled in for Denny Hamlin a couple weeks ago at Bristol when he experienced neck spasms.
GEICO 500 Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: May 3, 1 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champ: Denny Hamlin