Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 9 - Richmond Racing - NASCAR Competition at its Best

Is there a track on the Sprint Cup circuit that provides a more balanced test of race teams and drivers while also providing a better experience for fans than Richmond? As the only ¾ mile track, the elements of short track racing are evident, but with a long back straightaway, there is likewise a strong speed element where in the course of one lap drivers have two completely different challenges working through the turns versus the long straight all out challenge. All elements come into play – track position, fuel mileage and car conservation, beating and banging, plus all out speed. The shorter diameter also puts fans right on top of the action with short track intimacy. While new tracks have generally settled on the 1 ½ mile format, Rusty Wallace certainly had different ideas in mind building his track in Iowa which is close to Richmond’s design?

While the September Richmond race draws much attention as it is the final race which determines which drivers make the chase, let’s not shortchange the spring race. Tonight’s race begins a stretch of events which truly begin to define the shape of the season’s competition with upcoming events Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte and Dover forthcoming, each of the next five races have unique challenges before the heat of summer sets in in Mid-June.

Mark Martin sits on the pole showing no signs he’s about to give in to his age. Any time Martin does well, the fans relish the feat in joy. While Carl Edwards, whose season has not found its groove, seeks to right things for the long haul on the outside pole. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick (3rd) and Kyle Busch (5th) seek to get their seasons in gear where a top five finish or win would show that they are forces to contend with for the battle that awaits on this same track in September. Both are among today’s current drivers’ best achievers in this Sweet Virginia arena. Naturally, the buzz gets louder when Rick Hendrick’s operation will triumph with its 200th win having not seen victory lane since Jimmy Johnson won last fall in Kansas. Jeff Gordon’s season has been miserable so far while Hendrick newcomer, Kasey Kahne has fallen far short of expectations. Their top ten starting spots certainly bode well for their chance to advance. Meanwhile, series points leader, Greg Biffle, did himself no favors starting in 28th.

Weather could be a factor tonight. Temperatures will be in the mid 50’s with an intermittent chance of showers. For fans’ and TV viewers’ sake, let’s hope the race does not endure long red flag moisture stoppages.

Another factor which is increasingly becoming obvious is there is far too much clutter in the field of competition. This column ran a year long crusade against the insane practice of allowing “start and park” entries. The same old villains are at it again. However, on top of those embarrassing entries, there are several other teams that simply are not competitive nor appear to be engaged in a growth strategy to become competitive. There is no magic to maintaining a 43 car starting lineup and certainly on a shorter track like Richmond, having the top contenders shuffle through the junk takes away from serious racing with good car-to-car competition.

Here is tonight’s starting lineup:
155Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Dream Machine128.327
299Carl EdwardsFordFord EcoBoost128.290
329Kevin HarvickChevroletJimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches128.041
422AJ AllmendingerDodgeShell / Pennzoil127.962
518Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's Ms. Brown127.956
624Jeff GordonChevroletDuPont127.750
711Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Freight127.732
856Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Brakes127.678
95Kasey KahneChevroletFarmers Insurance127.593
1088Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletNational Guard / Diet Mountain Dew127.545
1143Aric AlmirolaFordSmithfield "Helping Hungry Homes"127.455
1239Ryan NewmanChevroletU.S. Army Reserve127.395
1351Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services127.328
149Marcos AmbroseFordStanley127.280
1578Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / Farm American127.209
162Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite126.993
1736Dave BlaneyChevroletSealWrap126.963
1820Joey LoganoToyotaThe Home Depot126.915
1947Bobby LabonteToyotaBush's Baked Beans126.892
2042Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget126.820
2183Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper126.796
2214Tony StewartChevroletMobil 1 / Office Depot126.749
2315Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy126.695
2417Matt KensethFordFord EcoBoost126.683
2598Michael McDowellFordCurb Records126.612
2613Casey MearsFordGEICO126.487
2748Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's126.464
2816Greg BiffleFord3M "Give Kids A Smile"126.428
2993Travis KvapilToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper126.351
3031Jeff BurtonChevroletBB&T126.121
3127Paul MenardChevroletNIBCO / Menards126.121
3226Josh Wise*FordMorristown Driver's Service126.103
3310David ReutimannChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing126.033
3430David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports125.980
3587Joe 125.886
36195Scott SpeedFordTommy Williams Drywall125.839
371Jamie McMurrayChevroletMcDonald's125.669
3834David RaganFordFront Row Motorsports125.564
39119Mike BlissToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing125.319
4033Stephen LeichtChevroletLittle Joes A125.151 / Link-Belt
4138David GillilandFordLong John Silver's124.481
4232Reed Sorenson+FordVirginia Faith & Freedom Coalition124.395
4374Cole WhittChevroletTurn One Racing124.636
Did Not Qualify
4423Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe123.813
45249J.J. YeleyToyotaAmerica Israel Racing122.560
+ Set by Owner Points

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