Saturday, May 02, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400

Call me sentimental. I have never been to a race at Richmond, but it has always been part of my NASCAR experience. I remember reading about the action on the dirt track back when I was growing up, and the writers made that action seem very exciting. I could see legends being made there.

Even after its reconfiguration to a .75 mile paved track, Richmond is still a legend maker. In my opinion, it features some of the best pure racing in NASCAR today. It is a short track with plenty of room to pass. Every position has to be hard fought for, however, and to win at Richmond, a driver has to be on top of his game. Being a short track, the leader will quickly encounter lapped traffic, and most of the racing takes place in traffic. No mistakes are forgivable on pit road, and it is a true challenge to be successful at this track.

It has been raining most of the day, but the track is mostly dry, and it is time to start the engines.

After a few caution laps to dry the track, Brian Vickers takes the point for the green flag, which officially begins lap three. Jeff Gordon, starting on the outside of the front row, makes a move to pass, and, after a lap long battle leads the first green flag lap. Vickers, however, retakes the lead, and leads until Dave Blaney loses control of his car and hits the wall, bringing out the caution on lap 9.

The race restarts on lap 13, with the top five being Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr, and Mark Martin. Displaying his restart skill, Kyle Busch immediately moves from eleventh to seventh. Jeff Gordon retakes the lead on lap 23 and immediately begins pulling out on the field. On lap 44, Gordon encounters the tail end of the lead lap and begins lapping cars. This allows Denny Hamlin, who has taken second, to begin closing on the leader.

Kurt Busch is riding a rocket and has moved into the top five on lap 55. He takes fourth from Brian Vickers on that lap, with his brother Kyle right behind him. Gordon is held up by lapped traffic for several laps, and on lap 61, Hamlin is right on his bumper. It takes Hamlin twenty more laps to actually take the lead, but, when he does so, it is a textbook perfect pass on the bottom.

Green flag pit stops begin around lap 91. There will be a lot of adjustments done now, as the set ups that were made from Friday's practice weren't meant for a green track. As the pits cycle through, Ryan Newman, who has been running in the top ten for most of the race leads a lap, and pits on lap 102. After the leaders have cycled through their pit stops, the top five are now Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon.

Kyle Busch is on a roll. He takes third form the old kid, Mark Martin, on lap 114. And, we get a caution as Jeremy Mayfield's car literally loses it's suspension and hits the wall. Or, it may have been a cut tire. Anyway, the caution flew just as America's Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, was about to be lapped, so Jr. gets saved, and remains on the lead lap.

We were beginning to worry we wouldn't have a chance to mention Dale Earnhardt, Jr at all, during the first half of the race.

All the lead lap cars pit, and Jimmie Johnson is penalized for too fast on pit road, while Clint Bowyer takes the lead coming out of the pits. Restart on lap 121, and the top five are Bowyer, Hamlin, Newman, Kurt Busch, and Mark Martin. Denny Hamlin retakes the lead on lap 124, and, while Bowyer and Newman are battling for second, pulls away from the field.

Newman finally wins that battle on lap 129, and takes second, while Kurt Busch passes Bowyer for third. Kurt Busch passes Newman for second on lap 30, and his brother, Kyle, follows him for third. There are 22 cars on the lead lap, with Juan Pablo Montoya in the 22nd position. Dale Earnhardt, Jr has moved up to nineteenth, and Reed Sorenson is the first car a lap down in twenty-third.

Kasey Kahne, who was struggling with his car in 34th place, finally loses any handle he had on his car and spins into the infield. Caution on lap 150.

Denny Hamlin leads the restart on lap 154, followed by Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, and Ryan Newman. Greg Biffle fights to stay on the lead lap, but gets passed by the leader on lap 157, as Hamlin feels pressure from Kyle Busch, who feels pressure from his brother, Kurt.

Tempers are flying back in the pack, and the rubbin' and racin' and beatin' and bangin' have begun. On lap 160, David Reutimann and Juan Montoya get together. AJ Allmendinger is unhappy with David Stremme as Stremme and Sam Hornish are racing each other for thirteenth, and make it three wide going into a turn. Allmendinger is a lap down, so he is already frustrated. A few laps later, Stremme hits Edwards, who is trying to pinch him into the wall, Edwards hits McMurray, and the Roush team mates spin into the infield, bringing out a caution. Stremme gets a bad rap for this, but I have to agree with DW on this one, Stremme really had no choice but to drive through the 99 car, or crash himself into the wall.

Restart on lap 174, with the top five being Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin, and Tony Stewart, who stayed out during the caution. On lap 174, the Kyle and Kurt show continues as the brothers continue their battle for second. Kurt the Klown finally gets around his brother on lap 177.

There is more action further back on lap 180 as Jimmie Johnson, having braking issues, rear ends Joey Logano, and while the cars are getting bounced around, Stremme puts Kenseth into the wall. No caution, and again, Stremme was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Remember, this writer really likes Matt Kenseth, and would love to call it Stremme's fault, but it really wasn't . It looked very much like it was a chain reaction. We stay impartial as we can, but our fingers hurt from exercising restraint.

Still green on lap 183 as Mark Martin passes Kyle Busch for third, and Ryan Newman follows through and takes fourth. Jimmie Johnson spins on lap 191, with no brakes at all, and the caution flies.

Hamlin leads the field to the green on lap 196, followed by Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr. Jimmie Johnson is black flagged for not restarting in the correct position.

Caution on lap 211, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr gets into the side of Jeff Burton in turn 4 and spins him. All the lead lap cars pit. Martin Truex, Jr takes two tires and the lead off of pit road. He restarts in first on lap 217, with Ryan Newman second, Denny Hamlin third, Sam Hornish, Jr fourth, and Mark Martin fifth.

On lap 218, Newman and Truex are side by side racing for the lead. Truex maintains for a while, while the bumping and beating and banging continue behind the leaders.

Ryan Newman continues to challenge Truex for the lead, and finally takes it on lap 236. Rain is coming, and the action picks up even more, as Denny Hamlin, who really, really, really wants this race moves into second on lap 239.

Newman tries desperately to hold the lead, and does a pretty good job of it until lap 249, when Hamlin passes him on the bottom of the track.

Hamlin continues to lap cars, while increasing his lead over Ryan Newman. As Mark Martin passes Truex for third, then Kurt Busch passes him for fourth, Hamlin is lapping Dale Earnhardt, Jr, David Ragan, and Carl Edwards. Jeff Gordon has found something in his car and has used it to move back into the top five.

Caution on lap 273 for debris. This is very close to the money stop. The cars should have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race if it is shortened by rain, or might have enough fuel if it goes all the way. Race leader Hamlin loses the lead to Ryan Newman, after Hamlin's crew has lug nut troubles during the pit stop.

Newman will lead the field to the restart on lap 278, followed by Jeff Gordon, who had a great stop, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch.

On lap 281 Kyle Busch passes Mark Martin for third in a pretty good race, while Kurt Busch falls back to seventh. By lap 283, Denny Hamlin has overcome his pit road woes and has moved into sixth.

This is not a tame race. It was never meant to be. Things happen. What happens next is Joey Logano hits Greg Biffle on lap 285, and spins him. Caution flies again. The green flag comes out again on lap 290, but doesn't last long, as Kevin Harvick makes contact with another car--it's hard to see which one--and cuts a tire, hitting the wall in one of those crashes that lasts the entire backstretch before he finally hits something.

Restart on lap 299, with Newman in the lead, Kyle Busch second, Jeff Gordon--in a car he doesn't like--is third, Mark Martin fourth, and Truex fifth. Kyle Busch makes another great restart move and passes Newman for the lead. Ryan doesn't give up, though, and sticks to the bottom lane, regaining the lead on lap 302. Sam Hornish Jr slides into Marcos Ambrose on lap 306, and another caution comes out.

Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Sam Hornish, Jr, Robby Gordon, and David Stremme stay out while the other lead lap cars pit. Jeff Gordon inherits the lead, while Robby Gordon gives up fifth to pit. Restart on lap 317 with Jeff Gordon in the lead, Edwards second, McMurray third, Hornish fourth, and Stremme fifth.

It is especially true in short track racing that "cautions breed cautions," but the cars have been bunched up the entire race, and we have been seeing three and four wide racing. There is lots of contact, and nobody will come out of this unscathed. This is exciting and the Wow meter is pegged.

The inevitable happens on lap 325, David Stremme gets bumped by Bobby Labonte, after the cars in front of them check up. Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson are caught up in the chain reaction, and the caution comes out again. None of the leaders pit. Jimmie Johnson takes his car to the garage.

The top five cars on the restart, on lap 335, are Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, McMurray, Hornish, and Hamlin. Allmendinger, starting on the inside, locks up his brakes going into turn three, and Gordon barely escapes disaster. Hornish falls back to seventh, while Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin move into the top five. On lap 345, Bobby Labonte, who is not on the lead lap, spins after being bumped by Kurt The Klown, spins and brings out caution number fourteen. Some cars pit, but most of the lead lap cars stay out, including the top five.

The restart is on lap 351, with Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, and Denny Hamlin in the top five. Kyle Busch moves to the outside at the drop of the green and takes second, immediately challenging Gordon for the lead. This battle goes on for the entire lap, and Busch takes the lead on lap 352. The next caution comes out on lap 356, as Reutimann and Vickers get into it and spin.

The restart is on lap 362, with Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin in the top five.

This is obviously the Big Restart. Behind the top four, Stewart, Burton, Newman, and Hamlin are four wide trying to get into the top five. After the smoke clears, Smoke and Burton have cleared the mess, and Burton moves up into second, with Stewart behind him on lap 273. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch has increased his lead to over three seconds. Burton and Stewart have fresher tires than the leader, and seem to be gaining on him. Stewart feels that he has a better chance of catching Kyle, and takes second place from Burton. Kyle has a 2.7 second lead over Stewart with thirteen laps to go.

Burton and Stewart race each other some more on lap 291, but Stewart stays in second, and Kyle is still increasing his lead. Nothing will change the outcome, now, except for maybe a caution flag.

There is no caution flag. Kyle Busch takes the checkers 2.75 seconds ahead of Stewart. Burton hangs in for third, Ryan Newman comes in fourth, and Mark Martin is fifth. Sam Hornish, Jr, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears, and Juan Pablo Montoya fill out the top ten. With all the racing and the cautions, with the free passes, the race ended with 26 cars on the lead lap, with Carl Edwards in twenty-sixth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr finished as the first car one lap down, never having had a chance to "get back" at Kyle Busch for last year, as his fans wanted to see. And Kyle Busch got cheered for winning this race, his second victory this weekend. Well, this is his twenty-fourth birthday. Happy Birthday, young man.

The joy of NASCAR Cup level short track racing has not been diminished. Every driver was a hero in his own right. Many of the cars that finished in the top ten were involved in crashes earlier in the race. Now that is short track racing at its best.

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