Saturday night at Richmond in the closing laps it looked as if Matt Kenseth was in a position to claim the second win of the season for Toyota. Kenneth, who is winless on the season, was battling another driver looking for his first win in Jeff Gordon in the final laps with the intensity level being jacked up as a win for either driver would have all but guaranteed a spot in the Chase.
The only problem for both Kenneth and Gordon was that there was also several other drivers working their way toward the front and each of them had already notched a win on the season. Drivers with wins don’t really have to worry about where they finish in a race and so they tend to push the envelope in the closing laps with an attitude of winning or just moving on to the next stop on the schedule.
On the final restart on lap 392, Kenseth, Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano put on a show for the fans as the bumping and banging was what you would expect from a visit to a short track. Kenseth was desperately trying to make his Toyota as wide as possible as he was holding off Keselowski on the outside with Gordon trying to make the pass on the inside.
Keselowski had the fastest car on the track for the first 10 or so laps after a restart and Kenseth knew that he was especially fast near the top of the racetrack so he made sure that any attempt by Keselowski would be met with a timely block. The two eventually got into each hard enough that they scuffed off some speed and in the process opened up the bottom of the racetrack for what first looked like a win by Jeff Gordon.
Logano started the last restart on the third row, but like his Penske teammate Keselowski, his Ford was very fast in the closing laps and the line of choice happened to be on the bottom of the track. As his teammate and Kenseth were trading a little sheet metal and Gordon unable to hold his car down on the bottom, Logano made the pass and went on to record his second win of the season.
On the cool down lap, Keselowski showed his displeasure with the way that Kenseth raced him during the final laps and gave him a good bump and in the process was rear ended by Earnhardt. It was just another finish to a short track race that seems to always leave a few drivers hot under the collar, but maybe the new emphasis on winning also had something to do with it as well.
You didn’t have to be a driver racing for the front for your temper to flare up. Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears were fighting for the 18th position in the closing laps and apparently Mears wasn’t too fond of the way he was being raced and approached Ambrose in the garage area after the race. Mears pushed Ambrose who responded with a right-handed punch to the left eye of Mears. NASCAR was aware of the scuffle between the two drivers, as was a national TV audience as FOX caught it all, live.
Saturday night’s race was the last of the first of two trips to the three short tracks on the schedule that besides Richmond also includes Bristol and Martinsville. When the series returns to Richmond in September it will be the final race of the season before the Chase field is set and Martinsville will play host in October to one of the 10 Chase races. Bristol’s second race in August is one of the most anticipated stops on the entire schedule as it is held under the lights.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about the Cup schedule needing some tweaking and one of the suggestions being tossed out there is that all three spring short-track races should be held consecutively on the schedule. It would be hard to imagine what the temperament of the drivers would be after three straight weeks of beating and banging, but you have to think as a fan it would sure be fun to watch.
Event: Aaron’s 499
Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33o of banking in the turns)
Date: May 4, 1 p.m.
Def. Champ: David Ragan