The Frontstretch: Richmond: A “Must-See” Event by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday September 3, 2008

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Richmond: A “Must-See” Event

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday September 3, 2008


NASCAR’s long schedule has always become tedious for race fans who, as the season wears on, invariably suffer from stockcar “burnout” to one degree or another. Expecting fans to sit through all 36 scheduled point races and the two exhibition races in a 52-week year is asking way too much and generally won’t happen. Unlike journalists, whose editors expect them to sit up and pay attention for every lap of every race, the average fan at some point will exercise their right to take a breather from NASCAR’s action and drama. Maybe spend some time matching names to faces of their family members or propping up the porch with some new 4×4’s before it collapses. However, this coming Saturday evening is not the time to mend family relationships or be concerned with the fact that the house is close to being condemned by the city. Fans’ full attention should be on the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

The Daytona 500 is always a cinch to capture the large majority of stock car racing fans’ interest simply because it is such an extravaganza and brings in a new race season that fans welcome enthusiastically, having had time during the winter to reenergize their interest for the sport and forget the drudgery of the previous season’s schedule. However, the second race at Richmond, the last race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup, is the “must see” event of the year for fans that continually cry out to see real, honest-to-goodness racing without drivers content to coast to protect their point positions or reluctant to swap some paint with their competitors to gain track position.

Richmond International Raceway boasts itself the home of “racing perfection,” and this weekend’s race may be just that.

Unless the 10-race shootout for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup becomes a real barnburner of a battle leading into the final race of the season at Homestead, this weekend’s event will be as good as it will get for stock car racing fans. No other race on the schedule will match this race for drama and excitement like the hard-nosed, race-to-win competition that fans will witness Saturday night.

All the ingredients are in place for one great show, starting with the correct venue. The ¾-mile Richmond International Raceway will provide, perhaps better than any other track on the Sprint Cup circuit, a site that will give teams struggling to maintain their Top 12 Chase eligible point positions and the two drivers needing to unseat them the best opportunity to achieve their goals the old fashioned way…by earning it.

Kasey Kahne finds himself and his No. 9 Gillett Evernham Budweiser Dodge a mere 48 points outside of the Top 12 Chase-eligible slots. Roush Fenway driver David Ragan, driving the No. 6 Ford made famous by Mark Martin, is surprisingly even better situated to unseat one of the drivers still on the bubble ahead of him, trailing Clint Bowyer by only 17 points for the 12th and final Chase-qualifying position. At Richmond the two hopeful drivers will be given perhaps the best opportunity they could ask for as they attempt to race themselves into contention for the Sprint Cup championship.

Kahne and Ragan, along with other drivers still very much in danger of falling out of the Top 12, will settle the issue very much on their own terms. They will be required to muster up all the driving skill they can, to win the event if at all possible. Good “old school” racing on one of NASCAR’s most storied tracks, Richmond will allow the drivers to just race and not be concerned about fuel mileage, drafting partners or next week’s race. Instead, drivers can just root and gouge their way as close to the front as they possibly can, hoping and praying that they did enough.

The gloves are off for drivers 9-14 in the point standings. Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Bowyer, Ragan and Kahne have but one goal – to outrun each other by as many precious point-paying positions as possible. Running out front is the place where each of the contenders knows they need to be, far away from the middle of the pack and the inherent risk of being caught up in a melee.

Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jeff Burton are already locked into the Chase field. Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart are shoo-ins to qualify for the championship run. Add eight drivers to the mix that have only one goal going into Richmond…gaining the 10 bonus points awarded at the start of the Chase for winning. Ten valuable points that all are aware could be the difference between being crowned the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion…or first loser.

And of course there are drivers like short track ace Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman or upstarts such as David Reutimann, A.J. Allmendinger and Brian Vickers— all in the midst of mediocre seasons, each have shown flashes of competitiveness and the ability to run up front— that have little to lose at this stage of the schedule by throwing caution to the wind and going for a finish amongst the leaders.

Sure, the Chase to the Sprint Cup points format may be contrived and designed to artificially spice up a very long race schedule that wears on even the most ardent of fans. Be that as it may, there has not been any better reason to watch a Cup race since the Daytona 500 than the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 under the lights on Saturday night at Richmond. That is unless good, rough-and-tumble short track racing, with a lot riding on a good finish by many of NASCAR’s top drivers isn’t reason enough.

Maybe you could get those relatives that you have been neglecting in favor of NASCAR to fix the porch this weekend. That way, you can spend more time with them in the off-season.

And…That’s my view from Turn 5.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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Ken in Va.
09/03/2008 08:32 AM

The Chase has ruined the second race at both Bristol and Richmond. Prior to the Chase, we had hard racing for the win. Now we have points racing with almost everyone being careful not to mess up someone’s chance of making the chase. The outcome only impacts one or two drivers who are trying to stay in the top 12 or get in the top 12. The drivers in the bottom of the 12 are very long shots to win the championship so the final results don’t mean a lot. I sure miss the old Richmond and old Bristol.

09/03/2008 11:12 AM

“The gloves are off!!” Wow, sounds exciting! Sounds competetive! Sounds like more NASCAR hyperbole! …NASCAR-not a stock car auto race.

09/03/2008 12:11 PM

You know there have always been points racers , but most of those were underfunded drivers who were just trying to finish high enough in the points to get the money to keep racing .And everyone was carefull ( although not real carefull ) around the top three in points as the season wore down , they didn’t want to cost anyone a shot at a championship .
With this idiotic chase idea , at least 12 drivers have to stroke along for most of the season to be sure they are in the chase . Toward the end , the cars that are assured a spot will then go out and actually race hard . But most don’t because it really doesn’t matter if they finish 4th or 6th in the points leading up to the chase . Then we have at least 10 teams who are consumed each week with not crashing or being crashed so they can stay in the top 35 in points .More non-racing . So you have on any given weekend , especially earlier in the year , maybe 10 cars that will really be racing hard , some at the back for top 35 points , and 2 or 3 near the front. All of the others will only be out for safe points . Sure doesn’t sound like much excitement to me .

09/03/2008 12:59 PM

I don’t get burned out watching 36 races a year. Speak for yourself. Watching 162 games in a baseball season, now that’s burnout!

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