NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Richmond – The Chase is Set, Brad Keselowski Dominates and a Drunk on a Fence

Key Moment – In a race where the winner leads 383 laps, including the final 274 in a row, there really aren’t any key moments in the race. Based on the practice sheets the key moment came between the first practice and the final practice. Brad Keselowski was 14th fastest in 10 lap average in the first practice and second fastest in the final one. The adjustments made by Paul Wolfe and his crew during the break between those two practices were the difference this weekend.

2014 Richmond II CUP pack racing CIA

In a Nutshell – Brad Keselowski dominated the entire event with the exception of 17 laps that were led by Kevin Harvick. The only real break from the Keselowski beat down was a drunk fan, later identified as James R. Dennis of Henrico County, Virginia, climbing the catch fence in turn 4 to get a better view of the racing action. When the checkered flag flew there was no change in the point standing positions of the drivers in contention for the Chase so Greg Biffle secured the final spot in the Chase.

Dramatic Moment – Similar to the Key Moment, there wasn’t a dramatic moment during the race, but afterward it was Jimmie Johnson suffering cramps and dizziness. The six-time champion was carted to the infield care center on a first aid golf cart. Johnson met with assembled media when he was released from the care center and explained that he suffered from cramps, sat down, and that they intensified, so he stood up and dizziness developed. After sitting down and standing up multiple times without success in alleviating the cramps, he was taken to the care center. The diagnosis was dehydration which shows just how demanding Saturday night was when one of the most physically fit drivers in the sport lost so much of his body fluid that he became dehydrated.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

The race was far from spectacular but Goodyear at least didn’t go too far over the top with the tire they brought to the race track. After the tire difficulties this spring it would have been a typical response to bring a granite hard tire to ensure no failures at Richmond. Instead they brought a tire that allowed the track to rubber in a little more but still gave up over the long run, allowing teams to use some short pitting strategy. The tire also allowed drivers to run from the bottom of the track to the top and everywhere in between. It is hopeful that Goodyear will continue to bring tires that give up and don’t allow teams to run more than a full fuel run on a tire.

The new Chase format is designed to, among other things, provide multiple “Game 7” moments. Richmond was supposed to be the first of those moments, with drivers battling hard for the final Chase spots and teams potentially trying creative strategies to attempt to win their way in. The race turned into a tremendously boring affair with little to no movement from the front to the back of the field and total domination by Keselowski. NASCAR has to be hoping that the rest of their Game 7s don’t suck half as bad as what we were fed on Saturday night.

Matt Kenseth has been blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the birth of the Chase after he won the 2003 title with a single victory. Kenseth has made the Chase without a win this season and has been near the top of the point standings for most of the year. What sweet irony would it be if Kenseth were to win the first Chase with this new format without scoring a win during the season?

For the second year in a row, the picture of the combatants for the Sprint Cup, taken at Richmond, does not include all of the drivers involved. Last season Jeff Gordon was not added to the Chase until the Tuesday after Richmond, so his image was not in the initial picture of all of the contenders. This year, with Johnson spending an extensive amount of time in the care center, he did not make it out to be included in the picture so there are only 15 drivers in the post Richmond photo.

In an amazing display of control by the folks in race control, Kenseth bounced his car off of the fence 120 laps into the event thanks to a flat right front tire, but didn’t bring out a caution. Generally whenever you see a car contact the outside wall during a race the caution immediately flies. It did come out five laps later for debris that wasn’t shown on television but at least the folks calling the race waited to see if something was on the track and not just because there was contact with the outside wall.

NASCAR has announced that the qualifying format at Talladega will be changed to five minute sessions. The first session will be divided into two groups. The last two sessions will have 24 and 12 cars respectively but will only last five minutes each. That should eliminate the cars parking on pit lane and waiting for an extended period of time before rolling out to qualify.

This weekend was a chance for the sport to honor Junie Dunlavey who passed away earlier this season. Dunlavey was a long time owner who fielded cars for years on a shoestring budget that gave a start to many of the crew members who are in the garage today. Richmond International Raceway named the garage area after Dunlavey while Circle Sport Racing changed their number to 90 for the weekend. The No. 90 was long associated with Dunlavey.

A discussion took place this weekend during driver availability about retired drivers, especially those from the formative years of the sport, who are now struggling financially. People who poured their lives into the formative years of the sport are now facing hardship, especially through medical expenses, that they cannot shoulder due to the minimal amount of money they made in their careers. The now multi-billion dollar organization that NASCAR is ought to be able to form some kind of fund to help the people who helped form the sport that need some financial assistance. While it is great for the drivers it would be even better if the fun helped former crew members as well. Even in the early years the drivers made more money than the crew members. Helping all of the people who have helped build the sport that are now facing financial difficulties should be a priority for the people who have the means to do it.

NASCAR held meetings this week to consider changes to the souvenir availability at race tracks in the future. The drop in merchandise sales has accompanied the drop in attendance at races. Add in the fact that the people who are producing the souvenirs have lost most of the originality that used to be incorporated and you have a trade that is in crisis. The fact that you can buy the same shirt design with just different colors and car numbers for each driver doesn’t inspire fans to part with their money. Look for the souvenir rigs to be replaced by large tents selling vanilla souvenirs and even less driver availability for the regular fans in the coming year.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Clint Bowyer was in contention for the win on Saturday night but just wasn’t strong enough to get past Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski. As a result Bowyer came home seven points out of the final Chase position. The foul fortune truly came from the Atlanta race last week when his broken gear shift dropped him too far back in the standings to overcome on Saturday night. Bowyer will be attempting to score a win in the Chase but it won’t be a step towards the title.

2014 Richmond II CUP Clint Bowyer racing CIA
Clint Bowyer, close, but not close enough (Credit: CIA)

Denny Hamlin was the talk of the garage after Atlanta when his team ripped off pit stop after pit stop under 12 seconds. Coming to Richmond, the closest thing Hamlin has to a home track, he was looking to capitalize on the momentum from Atlanta and make a move up the standings with another win. Instead his team ran in the Top 10 early and then quietly faded to a 21st place finish. The entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization is heading into the Chase with a whimper rather than a roar and needs to figure it out quickly or they could be on the outside looking in by the time Homestead rolls around.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

It isn’t often that a finish two laps down falls in the Fine Fortune category, but Greg Biffle managed his night and came home where he needed to in order to make the Chase. Biffle was the best driver from the Roush camp and has the potential to make it through the first round of the Chase at least with the way they have been running for the last month.

Aric Almirola was not a strong car early in the event Saturday night. He was awarded not one but two of the four Lucky Dogs of the event and utilized that fine fortune to march forward over the last half of the race and ultimately secure a tenth place finish. While Almirola is most likely not a championship contender, he is putting together the kind of runs that will allow him to move beyond the first and possibly the second round.

Worth Noting

Brad Keselowski’s win is his 14th of his Cup career. He has made 187 career starts.

Keselowki’s career winning percentage in the Cup series is 7.49%. He is sixth among active drivers. He trails Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

This win is his first career triumph at Richmond.

Saturday night was the fourth victory of the season for Keselowski, putting him first in the series in that category this season.

Jeff Gordon’s runner-up finish was his seventh top-2 run of the season.

Gordon has finished in the top 2 10 times in his career at Richmond in 44 career starts.

The podium run for Clint Bowyer was his fourth of his career at Richmond in 18 career starts.

Bowyer’s top 3 is his second such finish of the 2014 season.

Kyle Larson finished 11th to claim the Rookie of the Race award.

Brad Keselowski’s 383 laps led was the highest percentage of laps led for a race winner since Jeff Burton led all 300 laps in the restrictor plate abomination at Loudon in 2000.

Had Kasey Kahne not won at Atlanta last week he would have finished the regular season 11 points out of the Chase behind Larson.

Were it not for the “Win and you are in” element to make the Chase Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger would not have made it by virtue of being 17th, 19th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd respectively.

What’s the Points

Points have not mattered very much for most of the year. While they did matter for Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer Saturday night they have now been reset and will play a roll over the next 10 races to determine who advances from round to round toward Homestead and the winner-take-all championship race. Now that the Chase field is set we’ll keep an eye on the title contender points as the races wind down to the end of the season.

1) Brad Keselowski 2012
2) Jeff Gordon 2009
3) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2009
4) Jimmie Johnson 2009
5) Joey Logano 2009
6) Kevin Harvick 2006
7) Carl Edwards 2006
8) Kyle Busch 2003
9) Denny Hamlin 2003
10) Kurt Busch 2003
11) Kasey Kahne 2003
12) Aric Almirola 2003
13) AJ Allmendinger 2003
14) Matt Kenseth 2000
15) Greg Biffle 2000
16) Ryan Newman 2000

Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Two leaders and four lead changes, with all of the lead changes taking place by the 1/3 point of the race does not a barn burner make. With two cars battling for one Chase spot with 23 points separating them coming into the event and not much space between them on the track the game seven moment was more like a game five blowout. In the category of things you’ve never seen at a race track before, having a fan climb the fence during competition was certainly a first. Frequent three-wide racing throughout the pack and a tire that let the cars run from the top to the bottom helped but, in the end, a snoozer is a snoozer. We’ll give this one the two luke warm Hardywood Cream Ales that were left in the cooler from the race fan who was escorted from the premises early after being removed from the catch fence.

Next Up

The playoffs begin in the Windy City, although it is technically in Joliet, on the first of five 1.5 mile tracks in the Chase. The sixteen contenders for the title will look to set themselves up for a guaranteed pass to the second segment of the Chase and the other 27 drivers will do their best to garner some attention for their sponsors even though they can’t contend for the title. Coverage is on ESPN starting at 1:00 p.m. It can also be heard on MRN and NASCAR SiriusXM satellite radio.

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rascalmanny

So raise your hand if you remember when Richmond was “must see TV”.

It truly was similar to the Super Bowl where friends and family would get together with loads of food and take bets. Today it is completely DEAD. Same with the Bristol night races.

Today, all across America, sports stations will discuss the incredible weekend of football. Nascar is not even an afterthought.

GinaV24

I’m holding up my hand! Before the “chase” Bristol and Richmond were both must see races. Now, even with the hype of getting in the chase, it didn’t really matter and since there was only 1 pass for the lead, well, it wasn’t that exciting IMO. yes the dominant car won and that is fine and Neff says that Goodyear didn’t “overreact” and bring a rock hard tire. I don’t know – it didn’t seem like there was much tire wear so I’m not sure that theory holds up.

Glad that I got to see races at both tracks “before” the chase.

Maybe like Bill B said – 16 drivers makes it “too many”. Personally I’d prefer to have NASCAR just admit that it screwed up and go back to a full season of racing to decide the championship. There is no good reason for racing to be like the stick and ball sports. Once upon a time being unique was part of the mystique of racing instead of a bad thing.

JohnQ

To be fair, that drunk could not just turn off the tv like the rest of us. Maybe he was just trying to escape! Can’t fault the guy for that.

kb

Too funny.

rg72

The Chase has claimed another victim, first the Bristol night race, now Richmond. I get one car hitting it and stinking up the show. That happens but I’m not sure two cars anywhere in the field even came close to making contact. It was like they were told in the drivers’ meeting put on as vanilla a show as possible to distance NASCAR as much as possible from last year’s race.

Bill B

Ha, no game 7 moment. Could it be that having 16 guys make the chase waters down the field so much that it actually lessons the chance of having that last race at Richmond be exciting? The harder NASCAR tries to make this sport into something it isn’t, the harder they fall.
I agree with you, I hope Kenseth wins the chase without winning a race. That would bring this silly experiment full circle and cram it down BF’s throat.
For as much as this race was hyped, it certainly fell flat. That’s OK though, at least it was an honest race. The guys with the best cars finished up front. The tires did wear. The crapshoot factor was at a minimum. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes in a real sporting event. I’ll give it 2 cans with no negativity implied.

Ken

A dominant performance by a Ford, and none of The Felon’s cars (except for Harvick, who I do consider a Hendrick driver) were able to lead a lap! That makes this a five ice-cold bottles of Rickard’s Red Ale rated race! Wouldn’t it be ever so great if this was a sign of what to expect in the next 10 races? One Ford team with their two drivers beating the crap out of the Felon and his team of hacks! I wasn’t looking forward to this joke called The Chase, but, now I am! Go Brad and Joey! Go Penske! And Go Ford!

As for the character who climbed the fence, first, what a moron, second, what a heck of a view he had, and third, how the heck did he get passed all those cops?

Bill B

So basically, any race where the team you like wins is a good race regardless. What a total lack of objectivity meaning that your appraisal is pointless.

JohnQ

I hate to admit this but I am with Ken. If Fords lead every lap every week it would only take an exploding Toyota or two for me to declare it perfect. Hell if Kryle Douche drove a Ford I’d buy the shirt!

Bill B

Then it is impossible to have an intelligent conversation about what it would take to fix what is wrong with NASCAR. If your answer is, all that is needed is for my driver to win every week then there isn’t much to debate. In fact I would say that is quite a childish point of view. I don’t see how that would be a good thing for the overall health of any sport though.

Maybe we need to ask the question, what would it take for you to consider the race worth watching on a week when your driver (or manufacturer) doesn’t win?
If you can’t answer that then what you want is wrestling where you write the script.

racebuster

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a driver dominating a race now and then. What did you guys want, NASCAR to keep throwing debris cautions to give someone else a chance to win?

Bill B

racebuster,
Personally, I have no problem with someone dominating the race. I like it when whoever has the best car wins.
However, if you only like it when your driver dominates and call that a good race, but when someone else’s driver dominates you say it was a bad race, then you are being selfish and only looking at things from your own perspective (which is not being objective). That is all I was saying.
Brad had a great car. He dominated. He deserved to win. I’m glad he did.

JohnQ

Bill, Well, you got me there! To be serious it was a dull race, just watchable for me since finally a Ford dominated. And, I know it is wrong but I never enjoy a race won by a Toyota. What is really sad is that even the most childish of fans has a better handle on what it would take to improve the product than the Nascar “brain trust”.

Ken

Oh, one more comment. personally, I thought there was something not right about the tribute to Junie Dunlavey. The number 90 on a Chev? If I remember, didn’t Dunlavey run Fords? Couldn’t one of the Ford teams have stepped up to the plate and ran the number 90?

Bill W.

Ken , I agree with you about the Ford teams not stepping to pay tribute to Junie, and yes he did run Fords . I didn’t see the pre race show ,but during the race I didn’t see ESPN talk about is contribution to racing. Maybe I was a sleep when they talked about him.

janice

i woke up when brad was doing burnouts from the win. guess i didn’t miss to much. lead all but a handful of laps and when he didn’t harvick did.

i’ve said the past few weeks that jr has been “out to lunch” with how he’s ran. he cruised knowing he made it into the chase. his post race comment about being on “vacation” just confirms. he will never win a championship with that mentality. 10 more races with steve and then new crew chief..

one thing i did take notice of was during pre-race. when the military trumpet band was playing the national anthem, you could hear the fans in the stands singing along.

princess had top 20 finish.

oh well races will be on the tv, i don’t understand the chase crap and chose not to use too many brain cells to try to figure it out.

thanks for messing it all up nascar and brian!

midasmicah

I’m glad Brad K won because he’s my favorite driver, but this had to rank up there as one of the biggest stinkers I’ve ever watched. RIP Richmond. Another once exciting short track neutered.

Tim S.

As sameness has crept into everything from the tracks to the T-shirts, races have dropped off my “must-see” list. After this weekend, cross off Richmond. One commenter called the intermediate tracks “dull D’s.” I’d call modern-day Richmond a “lowercase D.”

babydufus

there was a race this weekend?

Upstate24fan

I think the tire stunk up the show. The spring race was one of the best of the year, and Goodyear had to change the tire. It’s funny you keep hearing drivers asking for softer tires, but as soon as there are a couple of failures they all go after Goodyear. This tire combo should be consigned to the “Springfield Tire Fire”.

kb

I agree, that “new tire” made for a very boring race.

Bill B

Love the “Springfield Tire Fire” reference and agreed!!!. LOL

Zetona

The spring race was great, but when blown tires are literally causing cars to catch fire, changing the tire for the next race is absolutely justifiable. But there’s got to be a way for Goodyear to change the construction without changing the compound, so that the wear remains but the tires don’t come apart as easily.

Joe W

I also agree with Ken and John Q. We Ford fans just want to win. We have seen enough Chevy and way too much toyota. Go Brad!! Go Joey!! Go Ford!!

kb

Mike the way you put it look at the numbers of where the guys sit with one win in the regular points ranking, it really looks stupid. A lot of guys had a average to below average season and they are in “The Chase”. Kasey Kahne’s win was a fluke (or maybe not) as he has had a very poor season all year long, he was right back to his normal spot at Richmond midpack. Makes you go HMMMM and makes “The Chase” look even dumber if that is possible. But we knew this when the Brian announced this lamebrain idea.

jer

what a ho hum race that was! After all the hype and nonsense about how exciting RIR would be as the finale, well, that didn’t work out.

Sorry not a fan of the chase, not in any of its formats. All the cars will still be on the track, now we have 16 “nations” competing for the joke trophy. Nations? Really? The only group of fans I’ve ever heard referred to as “nation” was Jr’s and that’s fine for them, but I’ve never heard other fans speak of themselves that way, but I guess NASCAR knows best.

As for the drunk on the fence, well, considering that my personal experience with the Henrico police was that they are overzealous for no good reason – and no, I was NOT drunk, I’m kind of surprised that anyone was able to get that close to the fence long enough to climb up there. Maybe the mind numbing boredom of the race put the cops to sleep, too. Of course RIR tweeting stupid things about how exciting it was that he did that doesn’t exactly make me think too much of their intelligence either.

Then of course I read Nate Ryan who blames the drunk on the fence on NASCAR being “too willing to listen to the fans”. Again, really? In what world does NASCAR pay attention to what the fans want? Bizarro world maybe but not this one.

JD in NC

I agree that it would be an absolute NASCAR nightmare for Kenseth to win the “championship” without winning a race in this “new and improved,” focus on winning chase format. Furthermore, can you imagine if Jr. wins the first nine races (or at least has the most dominant performance in those races), and then gets wrecked out by a backmarker during the penultimate farce of a finale in Homestead, thus allowing Kenseth to take the title with no wins. I would imagine you could hear BZF’s head explode from a hundred miles away!

If the fence climber had any Hardywood Cream Ales left in his cooler, it would be because he didn’t recognize that as anything that actually contained alcohol. You can bet that his excursion to the top of the catchfence was fueled by something along the lines of Old Milwaukee’s Best or Keystone Light. Too bad the cops got him down before he decided that his bladder was full.

babydufus

“Too bad the cops got him down before he decided that his bladder was full.”

I would have stayed up for that.. Heck I would even have paid to see it and contributed to the bail fund.

Don in Connecticut

Go Kenseth! LOL!

Zetona

What the heck has happened to Richmond? Action at the “Action Track” is drying up. Contact is drying up; six of the last ten races have had six cautions or less, and many of those for debris or rain. I don’t think it’s the Chase’s fault, seeing as both fall and spring races have been affected, but something’s gone desperately wrong somewhere down the line.

Michael in SoCal

I agree. Richmond has really changed into a very boring track, and I don’t get it.

Don in Connecticut

Terminal boredom. I turned it off; I just didn’t care who won. Sad. Thanks Brian.

Chris

C’mon Mike, it’s Donlavey; not Dunlavey! (Just like “It’s Hedley!” – I’ll let you guess the movie reference). The reason that the #90 was put on the side of the #33 Chevy (and not a Ford) was because Junie took the owner of the #33, Joe Falk, under his wing when Joe first came on the NASCAR scene as a car owner. Richmond VA. was also Junie’s home base, unlike most teams that based their operations out of the Concord NC area (which is why he was honored at this past weekends Richmond race). There were a few times that potential sponsors stipulated that they wanted Junie to move his operations to Concord to which Junie turned them down because he was pretty loyal to his hometown. Furthermore; Junie had also run Chevy’s and Oldsmobiles in his early days before becoming strictly a Ford guy. Interesting that Junie died at age 90, same as the car number that he always ran.

Chris

One more thing: It was so nice that when Keselowski was about to put the #90 a lap down that the announcers took the time to give a shout out to Junie. Oh, sorry, that didn’t happen as the announcers were too busy discussing how great the battle for the Chase is.

One more thing Part II: I found it humorous that the NASCAR commercial touting the Chase showed a workplace pool happening for the Chase. In my large office I am the only one that follows NASCAR at this point so I guess I’m going top win it all this year!

DoninAjax

The guy on the fence must be a real Danica fan to do that so she could get the free pass. I wonder if he knew where he was when he woke up.

Funky D

Let’s face it, one of the best “Game 7” moments in recent history occurred when there were just 2 drivers in contention: Tony and Carl. There was more drama in that race than there has been this whole season. Problem is, you can’t manufacture those moments; you just have to hope they occur in the natural course of competition and savor them when they do. Brain Fart France is steadily ruining this sport; attendance figures and Tv ratings are proof of this.

Fortunately, the Steelers are on and the Penguins are soon to follow.

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