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Keeping Pace

Tue., April 28, 2009, 7:11 p.m.

NNS Heads To Richmond For Crown Royal Presents The Russ Friedman 400

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

For the third straight year, Crown Royal staged its “Your Name Here” contest, which awards the naming rights to the May Richmond NSCS race to a fan. Fans are asked to describe an honorable act or achievement worthy of toasting with Crown Royal.

Richmond Pivotal Track For Chase Hopefuls

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Richmond International Raceway — the site of Race 10 on the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule — has proven to be pivotal to the hopes of potential Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders.

Nearly 80 percent of the drivers who have been Chase eligible coming out of the spring Richmond race have gone on to qualify for the Chase, with the championship field set following the second Richmond race. The breakdown is as follows: 2004 (8-10); 2005 (6-10); 2006 (8-10); 2007 (11-12); and 2008 (10-12). The drivers know good and well that how they stand after Saturday night’s 300-miler at this .75-mile D-shaped oval, will serve as a good barometer in gauging their championship hopes.

Commonly referred to as “America’s Premier Short Track,” Richmond International Raceway features a storied NASCAR racing tradition. This Saturday night’s running of the Crown Royal Presents The Russ Friedman 400 will mark the 106th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held at RIR. Only Daytona (124), Martinsville (120) and Darlington (108) have hosted more points-paying NSCS events and only Martinsville (1949) and Darlington (1950) have hosted NASCAR Sprint Cup races longer than Richmond, which hosted its first race in NASCAR’s premier series in 1953.

Three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) will be aiming for his fourth trip to Victory Lane at Richmond. All three of his wins at RIR have come in the last two seasons, including last year’s Chevy Rock & Roll 400 in September and a Richmond sweep in 2007. Considering his recent  success at Martinsville Speedway as well, Johnson has been dominant in the Commonwealth of Virginia of late. Including a win in the March event this year, Johnson has won five of the last six races at Martinsville dating back to 2006. During that stretch, he has won an amazing eight of the last 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in Virginia.

Former Champion Kurt Busch Back On Top

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, is back on top of the point standings for the first time since March 13, 2005.

Busch moved up two spots in the standings last week following his sixth-place finish at Talladega, his sixth top-10 showing on the season. He holds a slim five-point lead over four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) heading into Richmond.

Busch has had mixed success at Richmond. In 16 career starts there, he has one win (Sept. 2005), two top fives and five top-10s, but only an average finish of 19.1.

Busch’s 93.1 Driver Rating at Richmond ranks just eighth among the current top 12 drivers. However, his season Driver Rating of 103.1 ranks fourth best among the top 12.

“I really enjoy racing at Richmond,” says Busch. “Both of the races there are pure excitement. They call Richmond the ‘action track.’ We can race low, we can race in the middle or you can race in the high groove. There’s always some good action on the race track at Richmond.”

On The Line … With Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) is looking to build upon some momentum he created with his second-place finish last week at Talladega. The finish moved Earnhardt up four positions in the point standings to 15th, currently 45 points out of the top 12. Richmond has been one of Earnhardt’s most successful tracks, as he’s posted three wins, eight top fives and 10 top 10s there. Here are some excerpts from his participation in NASCAR’s national teleconference on Tuesday:

“I like Richmond a lot. We always thought we run good there 'cause it's a lot like Myrtle Beach, where I ran a lot in the late models. There's a lot of similarities. But I just like short-track racing. We seem to do really good on the short tracks. It's got a lot of different grooves that you can run. You can move around. I think it puts on one of the more exciting races in the season. It ranks right up there as some of the best. “ …

“We just have to finish like we did Sunday, and not have any problems. I think we're doing a better job on pit road. I think we changed some things around with individuals. We got a little bit faster pit crew. We did a real good job this weekend. Other than that, we have a couple of good race tracks coming up. We do pretty good at Darlington. I always love running at Charlotte. I can't wait to get there. …

“We sort of started out last year running so good at the start of the year, we never were too worried about losing our position to make the Chase, and we struggled through the summer like I've done in the past, and we were able to get through it without really losing a whole lot of ground or putting ourselves in any jeopardy. ...

“This year we started out so slow and terrible, we're in a hole now. We're going to be fighting our way to try to get in the Chase all year, I'm pretty sure. So we're gonna have to step our performance up in the summer way beyond what we were capable of doing last year. That's gonna be what decides whether we make the Chase or not.

(Note to media: To access the full transcript or audio file of the teleconference, go to

Richmond Keeps The Focus On The Fans

Richmond International Raceway is widely-known for its exciting night racing and the track has continued its commitment of keeping the focus on the fans.

For the third straight year, Crown Royal staged its “Your Name Here” contest, which awards the naming rights to the May Richmond NSCS race to a fan. Fans are asked to describe an honorable act or achievement worthy of toasting with Crown Royal. From more than 5,000 entries, the winning submission came from Russ Friedman, an Iraq War veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient. His submission detailed his experiences of serving his country in Iraq. Friedman made it clear that he wants everyone to know his efforts could not be recognized alone and that it was important to honor all of the individuals who serve the U.S. in the Armed Forces.

To honor Friedman and all of our country’s Armed Forces, this Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is titled the Crown Royal Presents The Russ Friedman 400.

“Winning the Crown Royal ‘Your Name Here’ 400 contest is absolutely amazing and truly an overwhelming experience,” said Friedman, a Huntington Station, N.Y. native. “Not only do I get to live out one of my dreams, but I get a chance to help recognize all the American soldiers who defend our freedoms on a day-to-day basis and definitely deserve a toast with Crown Royal.”

RIR also initiated several other fan-friendly options for this weekend’s event, including:

  • Restructured Ticket Prices: Tickets for Saturday’s race start at $40, reflecting a 50% decrease from the May 2008 price.
  • Lodging Rates: Track officials worked with hotels in the region to promote special lodging rates and offers to race fans. Hotel offers for race weekend can be found on
  • Concessions Deals: The track recently announced an extensive list of new and unique concession options available to fans, including the new Richmond Raceway Hot Dog.
  • Music Galore: On Friday, the legendary Charlie Daniels Band will perform a free concert on the midway at 5:15 p.m. On Saturday, the Commandant’s Own Marine Drum & Bugle Corps will present their stunning rendition of the National Anthem.
  • Driver Fan Experiences: A quartet of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, including Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) and Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) will participate in a fan hospitality package between 2-6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Green Flag Zone at the race track.

Keselowski And Finch Nab First Career NSCS Win

First-Time Winners — Making just his fifth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on Sunday, Brad Keselowski (No. 09 Miccosukee Indian Gaming & Resort Chevrolet) was the surprise winner in a wild finish at Talladega Superspeedway.

The victory, Keselowski’s first in NASCAR’s premier racing series, qualifies him as a driver for next month’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“Talladega is such a crapshoot,” Keselowski said shortly after his landmark victory. “You can’t expect anything. You can’t expect to win; you can’t expect not to win. I was here today to win and I’ve got no other reason to be here than to win and put these guys in Victory Lane.”

The win was also a first in the NSCS for team owner James Finch, an independent owner who runs a construction business in Panama City, Fla. While this was his team’s 105th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, it was a win for the ages for the affable Finch.

“I guess I’m one of the only independents to race on a regular basis,” said Finch early Sunday evening, still soaking in the victory. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a trophy and I thank God I got one here.”

Finch’s Phoenix Racing shop in Spartanburg, S.C., employs about 25 people and fields cars in both NASCAR and ARCA. Finch entered his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 1989 and made his NSCS debut a year later, but generally has raced more in the NNS, with 476 starts and 11 victories in that series. Several well-known veteran drivers, including Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer, Martin Truex Jr. and Geoffrey Bodine have driven cars for Finch.

Racing Up To The Front — It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish at Richmond International Raceway. Only two winners since 1993 have come from the pole position. Jimmie Johnson won the Sept. 2007 race from the pole and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) won the 2005 May race from the pole. Last May, pole sitter Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) led a race record 381 laps before a tire problem cost him a shot at the victory.

Round Three At Richmond For Kyle Busch And Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Last May, Kyle Busch (No. 18 Combos Toyota) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled for the win at RIR. On lap 398, the two drivers made contact coming out of Turn 3, ending Earnhardt’s hopes of snapping a long winless drought. In the final Race to the Chase event last September at RIR, Earnhardt Jr. tapped Busch entering Turn 1 on lap 211, sending Busch into the wall. Earnhardt is tied with Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson among active drivers with three wins at RIR.

Newman On The ReboundRyan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) is on the comeback trail the past several weeks. Fresh off his best finish of the season — a third-place showing at Talladega — Newman has moved up to 13th in the point standings and is now just 30 points outside the top 12.

Newman started slow this season, with four straight finishes outside the top 20. Only six races ago, Newman was 32nd in points.

Virginia Natives Galore — There will be an abundance of Virginia natives working in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage this weekend at Richmond. Drivers Jeff Burton (No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet) is from South Boston, Va.; Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) hails from Chesterfield, Va., and Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge) is from Emporia, Va. Additionally, crew members from Virginia also include: David Bryant (No. 88 car chief, Farmville); Darian Grubb (No. 14 crew chief, Floyd); Jeff Curtis (No. 31 engineer, Fairfax); Kevin Kidd (No. 19 engineer, Tazewell); Tom Stewart (No. 88 engineer, Hampton); Pete Wright (No. 82 mechanic, Martinsville); Greg Meredith (No. 31 mechanic, Fancy Gap); Darrell Haskins (No. 99 mechanic, Danville); Jim Jenkins (No. 88 mechanic, Hampton); Adam Gravitt (No. 14 shock specialist, South Boston); Tracy Ramsey (No. 31 tire specialist, Fredricksburg); Keith Eads (No. 18 tire specialist, Arlington); Darren McDaniel (No. 07 tire specialist, Roanoke); Barry Shepherd (No. 07 transport driver, Stuart); Mark Williams (No. 07 transport driver, Stuart); Franky Nester (No. 31 transport driver, Ridgeway); James Nunn (No. 31 transport driver, Ararat); Kirk George (No. 24 transport driver, Ararat); Brian Whitesell (No. 5 & 88 general manager, Stuarts Draft); Brad Donaghy (No. 18 front tire carrier, Orange County); Kyle Turner (No. 5 front tire changer, Yorktown); Curt Bowman (No. 31 gas man, Meadows of Dan); Caleb Hurd (No. 24 gas man, Pulaski); Rodney Rhodes (No. 19 gas man, Hickory); Ed Watkins (No. 43 jack man, Dover); Anthony Cardamone (No. 55 jack man, Bristol); Ben Surface (No. 26 rear tire carrier, Pulaski); Jeremy Brickhouse (No. 5 spotter, Chesapeake).

Roush Role Reversal: Ragan, McMurray Tops At Talladega

Racing in front of hundreds of friends and family, all the while attempting to grab a most coveted victory at a hometown track, can unload heavy pressure on any driver.

Any driver except Denny Hamlin, apparently.

Richmond International Raceway is Denny Hamlin’s Holy Grail track. He wants to win there more than any other track – and he’s come achingly close.

The most glaring example took place last season at the spring Richmond race. Hamlin won the pole that race, and went on to lead 381 laps – only to finish 24th thanks to an end-of-race tire problem.

In that event, Hamlin had race-high marks in Average Running Position (2.3), Driver Rating (129.1) and Fastest Laps Run (104).

That was just one race in a long line of successful races at Richmond for the native of nearby Chesterfield, Va.

Hamlin has raced at Richmond six times, and every time he has led laps. He has also registered three top fives, four top 10s and two poles (coincidentally each pole resulted in a finish outside the top 10).

In his Richmond career, Hamlin has racked up some of the top Loop Data statistics in the series. He has a Driver Rating of 115.3 (second-best), a series-best Average Running Position of 5.4, 201 Fastest Laps Run (fifth) and a series-best Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 97.7%.

Still, Hamlin has yet to visit Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond. To reach the summit this weekend, Hamlin will likely have to contend with another driver without a Richmond win – Kyle Busch.

Busch has an average finish of 6.8 at Richmond, his best of any track on the schedule. He has notched top-five finishes in six of his eight RIR races.

In his Richmond career, Busch has a Driver Rating of 109.9 (third-best), an Average Running Position of 8.1 (third), 225 Fastest Laps Run (second), a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 85.3% (third).

Up Next: Darlington Raceway

One of NASCAR’s most storied venues — Darlington Raceway — celebrates 60 years of racing by bringing back one of the sports true traditions — the Southern 500 — with the running of the Southern 500 Presented By, Saturday, May 9. Start time for this Mother’s Day event is 7:35 p.m. FOX-TV’s national television coverage begins at 7 p.m.

A staple on the NASCAR schedule since 1950, Darlington’s 1.366-mile oval is considered to be one of the most challenging tracks the series races. Legendary NASCAR driver Cale Yarborough, a Timmonsville, S.C., native and five-time winner of the Southern 500, will serve as the honorary pace car driver.

Kyle Busch is the defending race winner, while Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) was last year’s pole sitter.

Jeff Gordon, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, leads all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington.

David Pearson leads all drivers with 10 wins at “The Lady in Black.”

Kurt Busch, who finished second to Ricky Craven in the 2003 spring Darlington race in the closest finish (0.002 seconds) since the advent of electronic scoring, says racing at Darlington is like driving through the sport’s memory lane.

“Darlington is really a crown jewel in our sport,” says Busch. “It reminds me that if you go to a ballpark, whether it’s Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, it has that old, nostalgic feel that ‘This is a cool place.’ If you’re able to wrestle your car there and get into Victory Lane, it’s something very special. It’s a very difficult track. It’s a place that if you try and pressure too hard, it will jump up and bite you.”

Fast Facts

The Race: Crown Royal Presents The Russ Friedman 400

The Date: Saturday, May 2

The Track: Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile D-shaped oval)

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 400 laps (300 miles)

TV: FOX, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite (local station WVAR-AM 1140)

2008 Polesitter: Denny Hamlin

2008 Winner: Clint Bowyer

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.