Nationwide Insurance is not leaving the sport despite giving up title rights to NASCAR’s secondary series. The giant insurance company will be sponsoring the car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt will race under the Nationwide banner at Richmond on Saturday and Nationwide will sponsor NASCAR’s most popular driver in 12 races in 2015 and 13 races in each of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Richmond International Raceway happens to be one of my favorite NASCAR tracks. Instead of cookie cutter 1 ½ mile tracks that feature little racing and make everything about track position, I wish more of the tracks were the size of RIR, a 3/4th mile D shaped oval. The track is big enough to offer plenty of speed, but small enough to provide for plenty of bumping too. It is racy, and though the full moon in September won’t arrive until the 9th, look for lots of craziness in the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday night.
-The first Richmond race was held at the Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds in 1946. The track was a ½ mile dirt oval. The track was renamed Virginia State Fairgrounds in 1967 and Richmond Fairgrounds Speedway in 1969. The track surface was not changed to asphalt until in between its two NASCAR races in 1968. The track’s final shape change took place in 1988.
-Buck Baker sat on the pole of the first NASCAR Richmond race in 1953. Baker’s qualifying speed was 48.465 miles per hour. Last year Jeff Gordon set a track record 130.599 miles per hour to sit on the pole of the fall race at the track.
-The pole is not a bad place to start the Richmond race. 22 NASCAR race winners have started from the pole. 13 more have started from the outside of the front row, meaning the race is won from one of the top two starting spots 30.1% of the time. Yes, more numbers. I do love numbers.
-Well, maybe the pole is not such a good place to start. Among active drivers only Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch have won from the first starting spot.
-Will Kyle Busch gain momentum going into The Chase with a good finish at Richmond? Busch has provided his fans with a series of mediocre races and some bizarre behavior, but leads all active drivers in average finishing position at Richmond.
-44 cars have been entered in the race, so one will be going home after Friday qualifying.
-Richmond is not one of Greg Biffle’s favorite tracks. Biffle has only one Top Ten finish there since 2007. His path into The Chase-well, I’ll let someone else explain it: Should there be a repeat winner, or if winless No. 14 seed Kenseth or Newman win, Biffle clinches with a finish of 22nd or better.
But if there is a new winner that isn’t Kenseth or Newman, then Biffle has to out-point Newman by 19 points and beat both Bowyer and Larson – the latter two drivers having an opportunity if Biffle has a poor run.
Don’t worry, ESPN will keep us well informed on who is in The Chase at any given point in the Richmond race.
-Clint Bowyer has won at Richmond in the past, but to say his last two outings there have ended strangely would be a great understatement. In the 2014 spring race he spun out pole sitter Kyle Larson on the first lap and he ended up finishing last after his right wheel well caught on fire later in the evening. And of course, every one is familiar with Bowyer’s role in “Spin Gate,” his attempt to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. by deliberately spinning in the final race before the 2013 Chase. I am 100% certain Bowyer will not deliberately spin out on Saturday but I am less certain his car won’t catch on fire again and not certain at all that he will make the 2014 Chase.
-Las Vegas oddsmakers like Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, or Kevin Harvick, all 6-1 favorites. Of those fighting for a Chase spot, Bowyer and Tony Stewart have odds of 20-1, Ryan Newman is 30-1, Brian Vickers, Biffle, and Jamie McMurray are 60-1, and the rest with an outside chance at making The Chase are 100-1 long shots.
-Jeff Gordon has 27 Top 10 finishes in 43 Richmond starts. After hitting the wall in Atlanta and going two laps down for repairs, Gordon’s lap times were as good as the race leader times. Don’t be surprised if the 24 car finishes in the Top 5 or even better.
I hate to jinx the drivers, but I am cheering for Newman and Larson to be the final two drivers in The Chase. And like always I am hoping for lots of side by side racing with plenty of passing for the lead.
Thanks for stopping by.