Much will be made this week about the Sprint Cup Series moving from the biggest track on the schedule to one of the shortest at Richmond. According to NASCAR, a track is classified as a short track if it is less than a mile in length and Richmond falls into that category with its three-quarter mile oval.
Richmond is one of three short tracks along with Bristol and Martinsville that is still on the schedule, but Richmond doesn’t race like a short track. The kind of racing that Richmond produces resembles more of what you see at the intermediate tracks on the schedule than the short tracks.
There will not be the usual beating and banging at Richmond this weekend that we already saw this year at both Bristol and Martinsville. Richmond’s turns are not as tight and the D-shape of the oval allows drivers to take more speed into turn one and get on the gas a little quicker coming out of turn four, which makes for higher speeds.
While Richmond doesn’t have the rough type of racing that makes short track racing so popular, it doesn’t have any problem selling tickets for either of its two night Cup races; both dates are yearly sellouts. Richmond’s second night race in September is the last race before the Chase begins, making it one of the key dates on the entire schedule.
One organization that has to be glad that the series will be going to Richmond this weekend is Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson swept both races last season at the track and his teammate Jeff Gordon sits on top of the list of all-time money winners at Richmond with just over $2.5 million.
Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will also be glad to get to Richmond as that is the site of his last Sprint Cup win back in May 2006. That was the only win at the track for Earnhardt, but Richmond has been very good to him in his 17 previous starts. The Chevy driver has finished in the top 10 in nine of those races with seven of the finishes actually being in the top 5.
Richmond could turn out to be the track that puts either Gordon or Earnhardt in victory lane for the first time this season. Both drivers have had to answer over and over as to why they haven’t won so far this season, but even without a win both drivers are definitely in the hunt for making the Chase which would give them the opportunity to run for the title. Earnhardt sits in third after Talladega and Gordon in 14th is only 11 points from being in the top 12.
Pit notes: Tony Stewart continued to grab headlines at Talladega with his win in the Nationwide Series on Saturday, but his biggest headlines come from his disclosure that he may be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing in the not-so-distant future. Stewart is a two-time series champion and has spent his entire Cup career with JGR but apparently he may be ready to move on after (or before) his contract runs out at the end of the 2009 season. Tony, by his own admission, isn’t unhappy with the way things are going at JGR, but he is intrigued by some offers he has entertained which apparently include the opportunity for him to own at least part of his team. Owning a team may give him some satisfaction and security in the sport, but if you have been a fan of the sport for any length at all then you know that winning is what gives Stewart the most satisfaction. The only drawback for Stewart staying with Gibbs is that he is a Chevrolet man and had spent his entire career behind the wheel of a Chevy until Gibbs switched to Toyota this season. Stewart hasn’t said anything against Gibbs’s move but he still considers himself a Chevy man as his dirt track teams still have a working relationship with GM. That would seem to limit Tony’s options about where he might move if he left Gibbs. The only GM operations that could give him the kind of equipment it takes to run up front and win races are Hendrick and Richard Childress Racing with Childress having the only opening at this time as he announced he would be starting a fourth team next season. Tony may want to get back behind the wheel of a Chevy, but a Gibbs Toyota couldn’t be a bad second choice at this time.
Race Preview – Event: Crown Royal 400. Track: Richmond International Raceway (.750-mile oval, 14 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 3, 7:30 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.