There was a man that said, “A winning effort begins with preparation.” That man was hall of fame football coach and two-time championship NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs. When looking at the stats for this track, coach Gibbs is a man of his word. His teams have won the last four races at this track with drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch (two wins each). A lot of time and effort goes into preparing for these races; and obviously the Joe Gibbs Racing teams are doing something right.
However, Joe Gibbs Racing has to watch out for Jimmie Johnson. His team is usually prepared and the five-time defending champ won three of the four races at Richmond from 2007 to 2008. Johnson is tied with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the most wins at Richmond among all active drivers. Johnson’s team is a threat to win anywhere, as they have proven by winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship for the past five years. They also have momentum heading into this race. Two weeks ago, Johnson edged Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon in the closest finish in NASCAR history at Talladega. As a driver, what gets you more pumped up than that?
Richmond International Raceway has some of the most exciting action you will see in a NASCAR race. However, it is a “Jekyll-Hyde” track. In some stages of the race, you will see drivers two- and three-wide, and bouncing of each other in every turn. Then, once everything settles down, the field spreads out. For example the 2009 Crown Royal 400 had a track record 15 cautions, while last year’s race had only six cautions. Richmond usually provides some late race drama, as five of the last six races have had margins of victories of less than one second. Just look at the finish in the 2008 Crown Royal 400.
Denny Hamlin dominated the race only to have a tire go down with 20 to go. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead and was pulling away. With ten to go, Hamlin’s tire finally blew and brought out the caution. That set up a restart with five to go, and Kyle Busch would make one last attempt to get by Earnhardt. With two to go, Busch made his move. He dove low on Earnhardt in turn one, and the two drivers had a drag race down into turn three. Then, Kyle’s car got loose and drifted into Earnhardt. This caused Earnhardt to spin out, and Clint Bowyer passed both drivers to take the lead. Earnhardt’s spin brought out the caution and set up a Green-White-Checkered finish (NASCAR’s version of overtime). However, Busch’s car was never the same after the collision, and Bowyer was able to steal a win.
Favorites to Win:
Kyle Busch: He won two of the last four races at Richmond including last year’s Crown Royal 400. He also has the best average-finish here (5.5) among all active drivers in the past five years.
Denny Hamlin: He has won two of the last four races at Richmond and has the second best average-finish here (8.0) in the last five years.
Jimmie Johnson: He has three wins at Richmond which is tied for the most wins by any active driver at the track.
Other Drivers to Watch:
Juan Pablo Montoya: He was the fastest in final practice and he has finished in the top-ten in the last two races here.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He is off to a strong start this year and he has three wins at Richmond as well. Does he end his 101-race winless streak?
Tony Stewart: He is the other driver with three wins here.
Clint Bowyer: He won here in 2008 and he has been the third best driver here in the past five years with an average finish of 9.8.
Marcos Ambrose: He has had some good runs this year and he has finished in the top-ten in the last two races at Richmond.
Mark Martin: He has not had a strong start, but he does have the fourth best average-finish here in the last five years.
Jimmie Johnson. I’m really going out on a limb with this pick. Not. He ended his winless streak two weeks ago, and now he has momentum coming to one one of his best tracks.
Stats Provided By: NASCAR.com, Motor Racing Network, and Jayski.com
Images Courtesy Of: USA Today (Johnson), i2.cdn.turner.com (Hamlin and Busch), Aroundthetrackonline.com (Gibbs), and Tqn.com (Junior Spin)