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Nighttime heats up

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

There is just something special in the Sprint Cup Series any time the schedule has the green flag waving on a Saturday night. This past Saturday night’s green flag was made all the more special by the fact that Richmond is a short track and short track racing along with a Saturday night just go together to give you that old school feeling.

Everything takes on a different look under the lights, the cars look different, but maybe the biggest difference is in the attitude of the drivers. There is less give and take from the drivers when the checkered flag isn’t going to come out until long after the sun has set. You can always expect to see a few hot tempers and at Richmond a few red hot brakes as the action always heats up both on the track and inside the cars.

The latest Saturday night feud courtesy of Richmond was the bumping and grinding between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman. Montoya sat on the pole and led for the first 25 laps before contact with Newman sent him into the outside wall requiring several pit stops to repair the damage that ended his night as he fell off the lead lap.

Although he was off the lead lap, that didn’t prevent Montoya from doing some hard racing. He caught up with the eighth-place running Newman and hit him in the rear, sending him into a spin. Newman eventually ended up in 20th place and pledged to his crew over the radio that, “We’ll take care of it after the race!”

As you would expect, the FOX crew of announcers spent the rest of the evening building up what was in store for everybody after the checkered flag waved. Knowing that Montoya has that reputation of getting hot under the collar easily and that Newman is not the type that will back down was making for good TV, but somewhere along the line everybody seemed to forget that we are in the second year of NASCAR’s “have at it” approach when dealing with drivers that sometimes don’t play well with each other on the track.

Immediately after the race, Montoya got on a golf cart and did his best Elvis impression as he ‘left the building,’ or in this case left the track. Newman went to NASCAR’s hauler to express his displeasure with Montoya’s driving, but the governing body never did summon Montoya to talk about his actions so it seems as far as NASCAR is concerned it was just one of those racing deals.

This weekend the lights will come on once again and give those 43 drivers that take the green flag the opportunity to show their displeasure with just how another driver is racing against them. This Saturday night the racing will be coming from one of the grand old venues in all of racing, Darlington Raceway. It’s not a short track but it’s the one track left on the schedule that demands you race it more so than the rest of the competition. It’s the only track on the schedule that you will hear Larry Mac and D.W. say is ‘egg-shaped’ when describing the track’s layout.

Darlington Raceway only hosts one Sprint Cup race a season and that date just happens to be Mother’s Day weekend, which for years was an open slot on the schedule as NASCAR found out in years past that it was a tough weekend for any track to sell tickets. Darlington took the date that was moved off of Sunday to Saturday night and has made a huge success out of it. It will be all about the racing Saturday night and it will be two races in one. The first will be the competition racing each other, and then you will have the racing against the track itself. Combine the two and you have the perfect recipe for another great Saturday night of action.

PIT NOTES: Here are a couple of stats to help figure out just how the new point system is going to work this season. Denny Hamlin had a great night at Richmond, finishing second to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. His reward for such a great run in the point standings is that he remained in the 17th spot. Kasey Kahne finished third in his Toyota but remained in the 18th position. It sure seems, and these stats prove it, that making up points may be tougher under this new system.

Race Preview Event: Showtime Southern 500 Track: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile oval, turns 1&2 banked 25 degrees, 3&4 – 23 degrees) Date: May 7, 7:30 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Def. Champ: Denny Hamlin

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