All day at Richmond, through coverage of practice and qualifying, the hype was all over Kevin Harvick‘s No. 33 car and how he finally had the horses to run with Kyle Busch. There was also plenty of press regarding the charity competition within Joe Gibbs Racing between Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Meanwhile, Carl Edwards only qualified 39th, made his way forward all night long, took the lead on lap 227 and never looked back, taking a win that few expected him to contend for with a broken foot and being relegated to a last-place start after suffering from spark plug issues. Edwards was unable to do his trademark backflip after the race, the first time he had not engaged in his calling card celebration after a win since refraining last year at Milwaukee in honor of departed drag racer Scott Kalitta.
It appeared to be another storybook night at Richmond for Hamlin, who led for 101 laps and was the class of the field before he got loose exiting turn 4. The resulting contact he made battling Harvick for the lead caused a massive tire rub that required a green-flag pit stop and took him off the lead lap (Hamlin finished 17th, giving Busch $20,000 for his charity, Racing For Kids, over Hamlin’s $10K for Operation Helmet).
The race, remarkably clean by Richmond standards (only five caution flags flew), propelled Edwards to within 201 points of leader Kyle Busch, who finished third. Brad Keselowski finished fourth and fell to 297 markers back with 27 of 35 races complete.
Sometimes having no plan is the best plan. CJM Racing’s No. 11 team, which has been all but ad-libbing drivers since releasing Scott Lagasse Jr., decided in the middle of the week to put Michael Waltrip Racing development standout Trevor Bayne behind the wheel; and boy, did the decision pay off. Bayne qualified in the top 10 and kept it there all of Friday night, racing with the leaders hard and clean en route to a seventh-place finish, equaling his career-best performance. Bayne continues to run well in any car he gets put in, and should CJM decide that maybe a development driver could be worthy to drive their car, Bayne just may be the guy to give him a full-time shot. Assuming, of course, they didn’t mean what they said about hoping to bring back Lagasse later this season….
Steve Wallace carried the banner for both the Wallace family and Rusty Wallace Incorporated, scoring another top-10 finish at a track where his father made quite the name for himself decades ago. With eight races to go in 2009, Wallace has already equaled his top-10 total from last year (seven).
However, it was quite the disappointing outing for RWI’s other driver, Brendan Gaughan. After making up some ground early in the race (and getting a surprising amount of TV coverage for a non-Cup regular) by being the first driver in the field to take to the high side of the track, Gaughan fell out of the top 10 as the race progressed and continued to drop as the green-flag runs continued. He ended up a lackluster 21st.
Justin Marks finally got to make his Nationwide Series oval debut, but it was far from noteworthy. The road racer who has performed solidly in NNS competition at Montreal qualified near the back and stayed there, racing the track as much as the pack in finishing 31st, five laps down.
Matt Carter struggled both in practice and in qualifying, but he didn’t even get a lap to try and figure out what was missing from his No. 61 car. With start-and-parker Johnny Chapman dropping like a rock through the field (go figure, MSRP cars don’t have race setups), a plethora of drivers were forced to check up exiting turn 4 on the first lap, and the resulting accordion ended up sending Carter and Kevin Lepage hard into the frontstretch wall. With a flattened driver’s side of his car, Carter limped around for 77 laps after going behind the wall for repairs, eventually ending up in the garage in 33rd after outrunning only start-and-parkers and the wrecked Shelby Howard (who cut a tire and made hard contact with the turn 2 wall).
Underdog Performer of the Race: Benny Gordon. The 30th-place finish was nothing spectacular, and Gordon was nowhere to be found on the TV broadcast, but his 9/11 Museum tribute paint scheme more than lived up to the hype. An absolutely moving racecar, Gordon was showered with attention fitting of a much more known driver at Richmond, be it interviewed during knockout qualifying or flying the American flag alongside police officials, 9/11 survivors and family members. Gordon handled having one of the weekend’s most talked about cars with professionalism and class, serving a poignant reminder to all the fans at Richmond Friday night of what we all experienced eight years ago.
The Final Word
An admirable performance and win by Edwards was just that, as Kyle Busch finished third despite Edwards’s passionate drive to the front. In the championship scheme of things, it really means nothing.
And the finish of the race had nothing that really boiled my blood, but the first lap sure did. I’ve railed against MSRP Motorsports all season for their start-and-park activities, and now I have yet another reason to be sick of it. As mentioned previously in the “Ugly” section, the blame for a wreck that trashed the cars of both Carter and Lepage falls squarely on Chapman, trying to get to the back of the pack as quickly as he could. The same could be said as soon as the race went back to green with Justin Hobgood in the No. 91, who had the field completely backed up as he took his car, a machine that is not capable of running even a full fuel run because of the qualifying setups logged in it, from an 11th-place starting position to the back of the field.
Seeing Hobgood parked for not having a pit crew in his box was enough of a joke. But seeing both he and Chapman end or nearly end the nights of multiple drivers (after also bumping full-time racers Morgan Shepherd and Chris Lawson out of the field) was sickening. They’re never going to get the boot from the field, but the least NASCAR could do would be to tell them to start at the back where they’ll end up anyway.
On second thought, if they qualify, just give them the damned check and tell them to stay off the track. Stop wasting breath telling the TV crews to avoid showing them, coming up with reasons why the cars can’t finish, etc. Just pay MSRP to go home. That’s what’s been going on all year anyway.