The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Chevy Rock 'N Roll 400 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday September 7, 2006

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Race Trax: Chevy Rock 'N Roll 400

Amy Henderson · Thursday September 7, 2006

 

On Track
The Chevy Rock ‘N' Roll 400 is the twenty-sixth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Cup Series will return to the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway for the second of two races in 2006. 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. 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 fall polesitter Kevin Harvick and race winner Kurt Busch.

48 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. 2006 owner's 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.

To The Point
The points race is anything but static heading into the final race before the Chase for the Nextel Cup begins. Matt Kenseth took the point lead over Jimmie Johnson at California, but holds the point by just nine markers over Johnson. Both Kenseth and Johnson have locked in a spot in the Chase. Third through eleventh place are separated by 147 points. That means that should third-place Kevin Harvick fall out early and eleventh place Kasey Kahne win the race, they could swap positions. Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch fill out the top five heading to Richmond, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Jeff Burton round out the top ten-for now. Eleventh-place Kahne is the only driver outside the top ten with a mathematical chance of making the Chase-he sits just 40 points behind Burton. Should Johnson and Kenseth finish 21st or worse, and Kahne wins with Burton in the top five, or should Kahne and Burton be tied after the race, all eleven drivers will make the Chase.

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, and two-thirds of a season's worth of frustrations and grudges have built up to boot. Add eleven drivers trying to either make the Chase or improve their positions going in to the rest of the field looking for a win and hang the points, and it could be an eventful night.

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

Who to Watch
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is hell on wheels at RIR-he won the spring race and is tied among active drivers in wins (three) with another contender for the trophy, Tony Stewart. Junior's been on a roll lately, and could find victory lane on Saturday night. Greg Biffle has four straight top tens at RIR, the longest streak going, and having been eliminated from the chase after finishing second in points in 2005, heads to Richmond with something to prove.

Kyle Busch leads all drivers with an average finish of 4.3 at Richmond. Granted he's only raced there three times, but with three top five finishes to boast. Teammate Jeff Gordon is aggressive and hungry and will do all that it takes to take home the best possible finish.

Richmond hasn't been particularly kind to the top two in points this year. In the spring race, Matt Kenseth finished 38th, Jimmie Johnson twelfth. Make no mistake about it: though these two are locked into the Chase, each wants to go in with the point lead-don't look for either one to be satisfied if they have the same race they did in May.

Did You Know:

  • Eight drivers in the top ten in Nextel Cup points changed position last week? Only Kevin Harvick (third) and Denny Hamlin (seventh) remained in the same place they started.

  • There have been 13 different pole winners in the last 13 races at RIR?
  • 80% of races at Richmond have been won from a top ten starting spot?

You Don't Say…
"I just try to keep it real simple. I really don’t try to over-think it. I don’t try to over-calculate everything." 2005 Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart on whether he thinks of races where he did not perform well and the possibility that he could still finish outside the top ten.

“I’m not going to race any of them any different than I normally would. I know there’s a lot on the line. Generally, when you try to change the way you race somebody, that’s normally when problems happen. You give them more room, they take advantage of it, or vice versa. I know there’s going to be guys there that are going to be running a lot harder than they probably would normally. There’s going to be other guys trying to be careful to make sure something doesn’t happen.” rookie driver JJ Yeley on whether he will race the Chase contenders differently than usual at Richmond

"Yeah, I did it up right. She and I went to one of our favorite restaurants. I had gone in ahead of time and talked to the manager and brought in flowers, some wine and some champagne, and planned out our menu. Before dessert, the waiter brought out a tray with some dessert napkins on it, and buried in the napkins was the ring. It was pretty romantic, if I do say so myself." No.66 Best Buy Racing crew chief “Bootie" Barker on his recent marriage proposal to longtime girlfriend Donna Peele

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