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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Richmond Air Guard 400 Preview: By the Numbers and Beyond...

Richmond Virginia, home to Richmond International Speedway. RIR is a .75 mile D-shaped oval...get ready for short-track racing on Saturday Night. Kyle Busch is the only current driver to hold a track record at RIR, Busch holds the record for best average finish with a 5.5 place average. Richard Petty has the most wins, top fives, top tens, starts, laps completed, laps lead, and is tied with Bobby Allison for most pole starts. Two drivers, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, got their first Cup Series career wins at RIR.Tony has two other wins at RIR after the first whereas Kasey has just the one win here.

Kyle Busch has won two races at Richmond International Raceway, including this year's spring race. He has been building momentum throughout the middle of the season and is likely to come to Richmond looking for another win. With his sweep at Bristol we know that Kyle is coming into this short-track with a lot of confidence. In third place in the Sprint Cup Points, Kyle would love to finish out the Race to the Chase this weekend by taking over the second position from Jeff Gordon. However, nothing but a win will likely give Kyle the edge he needs to come into the Chase seeded third in front of current points leader Kevin Harvick. Both Kyle and Kevin have three wins this season.

With Tony Stewart's win at Atlanta last week and his three previous wins at Richmond he is another driver likely to come into this weekend with a good amount of confidence. From history, when Stewart is confident he runs hard and near the front of the pack, come hell or high water. Tony had a disappointing 27th place finish at the Irwin Tools Night Race, the most recent short-track race for Cup drivers. Stewart has had 6 Cup career wins on short-tracks and shows an average finish of 10.9 at RIR.  If Tony can keep the restarts clean and his temper under control we should look for Tony to pull a top five finish out this week.

Jeff Gordon wants to hang onto that second spot in Series Points. Gordon is 41 points ahead of Tony Stewart; Stewart could take over that second spot if Gordon finishes 21st or lower and Tony brings in a top eight finish. Gordon will likely go out this weekend driving conservatively. Jeff doesn't want to do anything that will raise the risk of having a bad finish on Saturday. We saw Jeff bring home an eleventh place finish at Bristol, he finished second in the spring race at RIR, and posts an average eleventh place finish at this week's venue. Jeff will be driving smart and that is likely to get him to the front of the field.

Gordon's teammate Jimmie Johnson will be another driver to watch this weekend. Johnson typically runs strong late in the season but we haven't seen that push from he and his team as of yet. Many people are surprised to see Johnson in seventh place in Cup Points but no one should count Jimmie out of the Chase yet. Jimmie is no stranger to winning at RIR; he has three previous wins at this track with two additional top ten finishes. With a tenth place finish here at Richmond International in the spring, Johnson will be looking to improve that finish and guarantee his top seed in the Chase to the Championship. 

Clint Bowyer finished 12th in the spring race at RIR this year and he is fending off Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray for the coveted 12th spot in the Race to Chase with time winding down. Clint has a 117 point lead over Newman and will not want to give up a single point to either Ryan or Jamie this week. Coming off of a seventh place finish last week at Atlanta and a fourth place finish three weeks ago at Bristol, Clint has momentum and confidence coming into this weekend. His team has been working together well, putting together good pit stops, and making few, if any mistakes on the track. McMurray and Newman will be hard pressed to catch Clint at Richmond, as Bowyer has an average finish at RIR of 10.2 to Jamie's 25.5 average. Newman will be Bowyer's biggest competition, with an average 11.4 finish at RIR.

Greg Biffle should show up and race strong this weekend. With a disappointing 36th place finish last week at Atlanta Biffle is  in 11th place in Series Points, 37 points behind Denny Hamlin. Biffle has no wins at Richmond but does have five top ten finishes. With an average finish of 16th place, Greg will need to come into this weekend with a top ten finish in mind if he wants a chance to get more points to improve his place in Chase Seedings.

Denny Hamlin has proven this year that he can perform on the short tracks this year with a spring win at Martinsville. Hamlin also claims an 8.8 average finish at RIR in addition to the win he had here in 2009. He has had five wins this season; the only thing that will get him ahead of Jimmie Johnson in the Chase Seedings in another wins this week. With four top five finishes out of nine races at RIR, Hamlin should be a force to be reckoned with on Saturday night. Motivation and desire to win goes a long way.

Points leader Kevin Harvick claims one win and 12 top ten finishes out of his 19 starts at Richmond. Harvick struggled last week and ultimately finished 33rd after a tire blow-out shredded the left front corner of his car. After posting a third place finish at RIR in the spring, Kevin will likely come into this weekend looking for a repeat, or better performance. A win this weekend would all but guarantee him the third seed in the Chase over Kyle Busch.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may see a good finish this week. With three prior wins at Richmond, an average finish here is 13.2, and a 12.9 average finish in short-track racing Dale could bring home a good finish this week. Earnhardt is itching for a win; he hasn't had one since June of 2008. In 19th place in Cup Points standing, Dale can come out and go for broke. He can't make the chase but he might as well have a win to his credit for the season. Earnhardt did not have a good race here in the spring, finishing 32nd. He is likely to post a much better finish than that come Saturday night.

Carl Edwards has not made a trip to Victory Lane at RIR. He brought home a fifth place finish here in the spring, and sitting in fifth place in the Series Points, Edwards would like to finish the Race to the Chase strong. Carl finished second last week at Atlanta and is within closing distance of both Tony Stewart in fourth place and Kyle Busch in third in Points. Four out of Carl's twelve starts at Richmond have ended in top ten finishes. I expect to see him add another one Saturday night.

I am picking Carl Edwards for the win on Saturday night under the lights, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for second place, and Kyle Busch to finish third. Remaining top five picks are Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon. Finishing out the top ten picks for this week will be Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, and Kevin Harvick. A mid-race accident will take Matt Kenseth out of the race, Kurt Busch will run in the middle of the pack most of the night, and Ryan Newman will finish in the low-20's, ending his Chase hopes for this year.

Coverage for NASCAR Cup Series Practice at Richmond International Raceway will air on SPEED Friday at Noon and 2:45 p.m. Qualifications can be seen on SPEED Friday at 5:30 p.m. Racing on Saturday night comes on ABC with NASCAR Countdown at 7:00 p.m. and the green flag scheduled to drop around 7:30 p.m. (All times EST)

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