To the point: It was Saturday night short track racing at its finest. Kevin Harvick looked like he was going to walk away with the win, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his car running the best at the end of the event. This is Junior’s first win of 2006 and breaks a 27 race winless streak. Virginia native Denny Hamlin was able to overcome his injured hand to bring his car home second in an event he watched from the stands two years ago. Harvick was still able to finish third, while Greg Biffle shook off the bad luck that has followed him this year to come home fourth. Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Who should have won: Kevin Harvick was the class of the field for most of the event. During a caution on lap 288 for Martin Truex Jr.’s blown engine, Todd Berrier, the crew chief for the #29 Goodwrench Chevrolet elected to stay out instead of pitting for fresh rubber since the tires on the car only had 20 laps on them. Everyone else on the lead lap came in. Harvick was able to hold off the cars with new tires for 30 laps, but was then swallowed up. He never rebounded and ended up third in the race.
Three questions to ask after the Crown Royal 400
1) Can Todd Berrier be blamed for Kevin Harvick not winning the race?
Berrier made a call to not pit when the tires on the car were only 20 laps old. Track position was key once again at Richmond and you can’t fault Berrier for picking track position over new tires when the tires on the car were not really worn. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong call. The team pitted later, but was not able to get back to the front. Dale Earnhardt Jr. even commented during the Victory Lane program that he has won races at Richmond before by staying out when everyone else came in. It was simply a strategy call that didn’t work out.
2) Is Jeff Gordon starting to have the same difficulties he experienced last year?
Gordon was competitive early in the race when the car suddenly lost power. After some investigation the team discovered that the distributor was broken and not rotating. Sure, it was bad luck, but the same kind of things were happening last year when Gordon had his Summer swoon. If something goes wrong at Darlington next week, you’ll have to think that the #24 bunch will start having doubts creep into their minds again.
3) Has Greg Biffle finally overcome his run of bad luck?
Biffle has been running well all year, but has not had the finishes to show for it. Cut tires, blown engines and freak damage to his cars have haunted Biffle all year. He was finally able to bring the car home this weekend and scored a fourth place finish. People doubt that a driver who was 23rd in points coming into the event has a chance to make it to the Chase, however, if Biffle can avoid the bad luck that has plagued him early this year, there is no reason he cannot exceed the effort that Matt Kenseth put forth last year and come from his lowly points position back to the Chase for 2006.
Solid runs: Denny Hamlin had a great race and finished second for the best points paying position of his career. Being a Virginia native made the finish doubly sweet. Overcoming the hand injury that he sustained during a post testing incident at Charlotte will hopefully keep team owner Joe Gibbs off of his back for getting hurt while horsing around.
Greg Biffle had to feel a huge amount of relief when the checkered flag fell. Biffle has been strong at every race this season only to see a good finish taken away by some kind of bad luck. Having the car still under power and on all four wheels as he went under the flag stand on the final lap had to be especially gratifying to the #16 team.
Sterling Marlin must have felt similar to Greg Biffle when the race ended. Although he hasn’t been a top five car during races this season, he has been running well in quite a few events only to be caught up in other people’s incidents or suffer mechanical failure to ruin his good runs. The MB2 team has been showing steady improvement and this finish has to pump some much needed energy into the team.
Kenny Wallace proved once again that he can get around the Richmond International Raceway. Driving for a severely underfunded team, Herman kept himself out of trouble and within two laps of the leaders. Although the finish only moved the team marginally closer to 35th in owner’s points, it had to be a huge boost of confidence for a struggling, start-up team.
Tough days: Kasey Kahne had a car that was as fast, or faster, than the leaders. To his teams dismay, that fact wasn’t brought to light until after his car had a terrible start to the race and was under power. The team brought the car behind the wall and it was discovered that he had two plug wires that had fallen off. By the time they got back to the track, they were five laps down and were never able to make it back to the front.
Martin Truex had his second bad race in a row. He spun his car on lap 261. That was followed on lap 288 with a blown engine. The 41st place finish was the worst finish for Truex in his short Cup career.
Matt Kenseth looked to have a very competitive car early in the event. In a freak occurrence, his left front brake rotor came apart. As the break rotor passed under the car it punctured the oil tank. By the time the #17 crew was able to repair the car Kenseth was almost 50 laps down. The bad luck relegated the Dewalt team to a 38th place finish.
Brian Vickers looked poised for another great finish in a Cup event. Late in the race he was running in seventh place when Scott Riggs came up to battle him for the position. With both drivers pushing their cars for all they were worth, as could be witnessed by their glowing red brake rotors, they got together and both of them ended up in the wall. Vickers was unable to get back on the track and ended up in 37th place.
Points shuffle: Although he was not competitive in the race, Jimmie Johnson was able to retain the points lead by virtue of Kenseth’s bad luck. Tony Stewart was able to leapfrog Kenseth and move into second place in the point standings. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon both fell two positions after a rough weekend. Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both moved up two positions. Casey Mears battled his way back into the top 10 in points as Dale Jarrett slipped back to 11th place.
“They left off two spark plug wires. We put them back on and there was nothing wrong. That’s the third time it’s happened this year. We’ve got to figure out why they’re falling off or whatever is going on there. We had a top-five car.” Kasey Kahne
“I saw all the cheers when me and Dale Jr. were side-by-side there with a few laps to go. I’m sure most of the cheers were for him but all I could do was imagine in my mind they were for me and try that much harder.” Denny Hamlin
"It just got tight." Kevin Harvick, his only statement in the media center after the race.
“We did a nice job with the car and we did a terrible job with everything else. We pitted when pits weren’t open. We had bad pit stops. Everything that we did short of getting the car to run good was wrong. Our pit crew has been awesome. I’m not down on them. Because [Harvick] had trouble, we were going to be in position to win the race. The good thing is we ran well. A bad night could have been way worse. I’m disappointed, but optimistic all at the same time.’’ Jeff Burton
Next up: The Cup series heads to the oldest speedway on the circuit for another Saturday night tango at Darlington Raceway. The Dodge Charger 500 will air on Fox affiliates at 6:30 PM ET on May 13th. It can also be heard on MRN radio affiliates.
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