Saturday, April 30, 2011
Sprint Cup 2011: Race 9 -- Richmond, end of Q1
Why does the last race at Talladega seem so log ago? The summer stretch begins tonight in Richmond, Virginia with a season still waiting for its big story lines to emerge. The first quarter of the season concludes, nine down, twenty seven to go. No matter what happens tonight, it will be an improvement over the dreadful embarrassment last night’s Nationwide race was that makes one wonder what future lies ahead for NASCAR’s bridesmaid series. Considering there were not enough entries to fill the field and nine entries were start and parkers, what kind of sport was that? One of their customary big draws, Kyle Busch chose not to do double-duty this weekend so the race wasn’t another one of those ones where the rowdy one smoked the field; instead it was teammate Denny Hamlin who did the honors.
For Sprint Cup, the spring Richmond race is small potatoes compared to the September race which is the one after which the field for “The Chase” is locked in, but a bad race in April can mean no glory the next time and that field is slowly taking shape. Richmond is the circuit’s only ¾ mile track, an amazing experience for live racing. The fans get a nice short-track intimate view of the action, but with that long back stretch, cars get flying. Richmond is one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit if the drivers to their part and they should be well rested and motivated tonight.
Here’s the starting lineup for the top 15 entries:
1- Juan Montoya, #43, Chevy
2- Regan Smith, #78, Chevy
3- Clint Bowyer, #33, Chevy
4- Kasey Kahne, #4, Toyota
5- Mark Martin, #5, Chevy
6- Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevy
7- Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge
8- Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
9- Joey Logano, #20, Toyota
10- Paul Menard, #27, Chevy
11- Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota
12- Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevy
13- Ryan Newman, #39, Chevy
14- Bobby Labonte, #47, Toyota
15- Casey Mears, #13, Toyota
Observations on the top starters, first it’s a good night for the Earnhardt/Childress engine shot. They have the top three cars plus Paul Menard in the top ten. Regan Smith for Furniture Row racing, a team with weak funding is having a great year. Where are the Fords? Not getting top starting spots can hurt the Roush boys as the heat of summer gets hotter. It compromises the many things that are doing so much better this year. Kasey Kahne’s 4th starting spot is quite an accomplishment given he just had knee surgery during his time off. Red Bull racing is moving forward with Kahne and Kenny Francis on loan for a year. Joey Logano and Kevin Hamlin must make the most of tonight’s start and move forward. Their seasons are lacking. All cars are listed as having sponsors tonight but we’ll see what chronic free-loaders, Phil Parson’s fellows and Joe Nemechek’s fraud have in store. Michael McDowell starts 22nd while Nemechek starts 26th. They’d damned well better earn their spot because on short track like this, they are in the way and better stay out of the way unless they intend to be aiming for being on the lead lap at the end of the evening. Brian Keselowski is the only driver not to make the field.
One can’t help but look at the field and see some really terrible entries, not just the possible start and parkers but rides that couldn’t win or even pull for a top ten in a blue moon. One has to wonder if 43 cars in the lineup are still justified. Perhaps given the filthy state of the Nationwide Series, some of these teams should drop down a series where they might be more competitive.
NASCAR needs a boost right now. There’s plenty to like for hard core fans, but there are too many distractions to make casual fans turn away. Given that attending a race in person, NASCAR is more of a destination sport not a hometown event, the continuing rise in fuel costs will certainly mean more seats covered with tarps. When Bristol doesn’t sell out, NASCAR is hurting. It will be interesting to see how large the gate receipt at Richmond tonight. Put in perspective, for Baltimore NASCAR fans, Richmond is their second closest track, 300 mile round trip, if one gets 20 miles per gallon, that’s 15 gallons at $4.00, sixty bucks plus tickets, programs, beer, munchies, and all the rest of the good stuff.
We salute Crown Royal for its program naming the race for Matthew and Daniel Hansen, twin brother servicemen, one of whom died in action. How deserving the sport honors our heroes like that?