The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Crown Royal 400 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday May 4, 2006

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Race Trax: Crown Royal 400

Amy Henderson · Thursday May 4, 2006


On Track
The Crown Royal 400 is the tenth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Cup Series will visit the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway twice in 2006; they’ll return to run the final race before the Chase for the Nextel Cup begins in September. RIR has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1953, although the track has undergone several reconfigurations and remeasurings over the years. The first Nextel Cup winner at Richmond was Lee Petty, and the record for most wins (13) is held by Richard Petty. Tony Stewart leads active drivers with three wins at the track. The track is a flat, D-shaped oval track with just fourteen degrees of banking through the turns. The backstretch has just two degrees of banking, while the frontstretch has eight. Drivers will race 400 laps (300 miles) on Saturday night. The field will include 2005 spring polesitter and race winner Kasey Kahne.

48 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. 2006 owner points determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes for the remainder of the season. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Richmond is 129.983 mph, set by Brian Vickers in 2004.

The Nextel Cup Series points race has been a close one for the first quarter of the 2006 season. The lead swapped hands again after Talladega, with Jimmie Johnson retaking bragging rights from Matt Kenseth on the strength of his third win of the season. Kenseth trails by just 21 points, and Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, and Mark Martin round out this week’s top five.

What To Expect
For a flat short track, Richmond is quite fast, and it’s shape can be tough to negotiate. A tire failure can cause a nasty crash should it happen in a turn, and although the addition of the SAFER barrier in recent years has improved safety, it’s still a hard hit. It’s also a short track, so not every spinout or crash will be attributed to tires; tempers will flare as the race progresses on a track where passing isn’t easy.

The driver who will come away with the win is the driver who can be patiently near the front all night – much easier said than done – and put his car in a position to take the lead in the closing laps. Unlike Talladega, a few dents and bruises on the car won’t ruin anyone’s chances. More than one car will boast a tire donut on the door, and those cars are as likely to win as the backmarkers.

Who to Watch
Tony Stewart is due. He’s got three wins at Richmond, more than anyone else racing these days, and he knows how to drive with aggressive patience. He can use either finesse or old-fashioned bumper tag to get to the front, and if he gets there, he won’t look back. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon also have a pair of wins apiece at RIR, and all three are hungry to get back to victory lane. Last year’s winner Kasey Kahne has run well all year and looks to be a factor, too.

Matt Kenseth has been smoldering all season and could really light it up at RIR as well, and the already white-hot Jimmie Johnson is a threat anywhere these days. From the rookie crowd, look for Denny Hamlin to assert himself, and for Martin Truex, Jr. to try to put his last RIR race – a Busch Series affair in which he rode the wall for a good share of time – behind him with a strong run. Another good bet to be there at the end? Bobby Labonte, who has quietly run well at times all year.

Did You Know:

  • Three generations of the Petty family have visited what is currently Nextel Cup victory lane at RIR for a total of 16 times. Richard’s thirteen wins (including seven straight), Lee’s two, and Kyle’s one victory add up to the highest total by any one family at the track.

  • The original Richmond track was a half-mile dirt track. It was paved and reconfigured to .625-mile in 1968 and reconfigured again to its current specifications in 1988. Between reconfigurations, it was measured three times, each with different results.
  • Recent drivers to grab their first career win at RIR include Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • The last eight Richmond races at the track have produced eight different winners.

You Don’t Say"¦
"At Talladega, we just got in the wrong spot. It was disappointing to get caught up in a wreck nine laps into the race, but it happened. I’m fine and will be ready to go at Richmond. I’m definitely looking forward to Richmond. It’s important to go back there and run well. It would be great to win it two years in a row, but things are going to be a lot different this year. We tested our Dodge Charger there with the setup that we ran last year. It was two seconds off the pace. We’ve had to do a lot of work to figure out a new combination. Having won there certainly gives us confidence." defending race winner Kasey Kahne on his crash last week and on going to RIR

"It is my favorite track. It’s not one of them, it’s the favorite track of mine on the circuit. I’ve won two Truck races and three Cup races there. It’s where I got my first win. A good friend of mine, Kasey Kahne, last year got his first win. Being able to see Kasey win his first race here last year was cool, too. It’s definitely a place I enjoy coming to. It’s nice to be here on the night when you find out who the 10 guys are going to be in the Chase. It’s definitely an important stop for us.” Driver Tony Stewart on RIR

"There are a lot of things you see on short tracks that probably really aren’t necessary. You see guys bumping or getting into each other when, maybe, it’s not the right time. That usually creates problems, and things escalate from there. I really don’t like getting into that stuff. I’m not sure where it gets you in the end. I like racing guys clean and racing hard. I just want to win and do it the right way. I think if you just race hard, you don’t have to worry about stuff happening. Sure, things are going to happen, but it probably doesn’t make any sense to lose control. It doesn’t get you anywhere in the end. You always have to look at the big picture." driver Bobby Labonte on his short track style

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