by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.May 1, 2009 4:31 pm UTC 7 Comments
Richmond is a track at which the Toyota nameplate has never won. Of the 20-odd tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule every year, Toyota has already knocked off all but 12 (by my count) in two years and change. Not bad, but when the list of tracks includes Lowe’s (not counting A.J. Allmendinger’s win in the All-Star Open last year), Michigan, Indianapolis, and this one, the manufacturer still has some work to do.
That being said, this week’s list of picks is dominated by Camry drivers. Two of them really should have won Richmond races at this point, and it’s about time that one of them (here’s a hint: they’re teammates, one of them is universally hated by NASCAR fans, and the other drives for a shipping company that is not UPS) wins at the track. This could be the week.
Michael Waltrip: Just kidding. 43 starts and only 2 top-10s? You’d have to be out of your mind.
Marcos Ambrose: He’s been mentioned as a dark horse in a couple different places, including NASCAR.com, which said the track fits his driving style. But it’s not his 19.8 average finish here in Nationwide that I’m excited about. The past five race weekends have been fantastic for the Aussie star: four finishes of 14th or better, 83% quality passes in the one DNF (41st at Texas due to engine failure), and the first car to the line at Talladega that wasn’t in the tri-oval during Carl Edwards’ wreck.
David Reutimann: Okay, so I’ve got this weird hunch that Reuttie is also going to perform well this weekend. Despite being 11th in points this year, he’s sort of flown under the radar, with only two top-10s. He only has one in four starts at Richmond, but it was the last time the teams raced here, and in that event he led 104 laps. He hasn’t been bad here, and it’s time that he break out. (I also wanted to complete the MWR sweep.)
Kyle Busch: 8 starts, 6 top 5s, no finishes worse than 20th, 100% of laps completed, 345 laps led, and one ultimate goal – to seal the deal. Besides Denny Hamlin, Busch is the only other driver with an average finish at Richmond that is better than 15.0 never to win a Cup race at the track. (Busch’s is an astonishing 6.8.)
Denny Hamlin: Denny’s overdue for a win anywhere, and Richmond would be the perfect place for him to break back into Victory Lane. I mean, he led 381 of the first 382 laps at a Richmond race last year. He has an average finish of 8.8, second best among active drivers. It’s also his hometown track. After the scariness that was last week’s event, wouldn’t the hometown hero finally winning a race at the track whose races he grew up attending be a great way to shift the p.r.?
Tony Stewart: Well, he doesn’t mesh with the theme, but he was a Camry driver last year, right? Stewart has been good at Richmond in the past, to the tune of three wins and 14 top-10s in 20 starts. His worst finishes at the track in the Chase era are 19th (fall 2004) and 18th (fall 2006). Every other finish in the past five years has been in the single digits. It’d also make for a great first win for Stewart-Haas Racing, seeing as Ryan Newman had some bad luck at the end of the Talladega race.
I’m picking Stewart, personally. I need to get back in the game!
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowSeptember 6, 2008 7:38 am UTC No Comments
Horses for courses is an old horse racing addage and as such maybe more appropriate for Dover Downs or some fairgrounds dirt track than for the wide, racey Richmond International Raceway. But looking at the drivers who have won races at RIR has to make you think that one kind of horse is best for this course. And that would be a Chevy.
Look at the top 14 drivers in the 2008 Sprint Cup standings through the race last week at Auto Club Speedway. Between them they have 15 Richmond victories. Only two wins – one each for Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne – came in non-Chevys.
The list of the win-less includes the Roush-Fenway trio of Greg Biffle, David Ragan and Carl Edwards along with Joe Gibbs Racing twins Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Anybody but Kyle or Carl?
It is tough any week in 2008, to not pick Edwards or the younger Busch. But Carl’s Loop Driver Rating for RIR is only 17th best at 79.7 and his Ave Finish is a dismal 20.7. He has only run 53.3 percent of the last seven Richmond races in the top 15 and has led just 15 laps. Ugly.
Kyle Busch at least has the third best DR of 110.6 and has the best Ave Finish of 5.6 over the seven Loop Data era races. He also has six top fives and no DNFs in those seven races. He doesn’t drive a Chevy. But I think he could win this year in a Hudson.
The Bow-tie brigade is led by Kevin Harvick with a top Driver Rating of 118.9. Harvick also has category bests of 278 Fastest Laps, 2677 Laps in the Top 15 and 599 Laps Led. One win, four top fives and nine top tens round out Happy’s RIR resume.
Two drivers have three Richmond wins each in Chevrolets but only one of those guys still drives one. Tony Stewart has the fourthbest DR at 102.3 to go along with those three wins in a Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy. Smoke has had seven top fives, 13 top tens and tops out a couple of Loop passing stats.
Dale Earnhardt Jr has three RIR wins too. His DR is only ninth best at 92.4 and he leads the Loop Green Flag Passes stat. Junior has seven top fives, nine top tens and he does still drive a Chevy. Are you confident yet Green Nation?
This is not statistically relevant maybe and certainly not scientific, but to me, Stewart and Earnhardt lead the series in bewildering performances this year. It just seems that they should do better than they do.
Virginia native Denny Hamlin has the second best Driver Rating at 114.8 and has run 97.5 percent of all of his Richmond laps in the top 15. Hamlin is one of the drivers on the bubble this week as he sits 11th in points. That will almost certainly lead to a conservative approach to Saturday night’s race. I don’t see a win from Hamlin.
Can Kasey do it?
Kasey Kahne is fifth in DR at 98.2 and is one of the non-Chevy Richmond winners. Kahne’s situation may be a bit different from Hamlin’s. Kasey is 14th in points and depending on how those he is trying to catch are doing in the race, he may run a conservative pace or go balls out for the highest finish he can get. He has won twice this year, so the car is capable. Watch Kasey.
Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are sixth and seventh in Driver Rating but both are out of Chase contention, driving for an unsettled Penske Racing operation and in Dodges. I can’t see a win there.
Clint Bowyer is eighth at 93.2 DR. Bowyer is also the bubble boy in the Race to the Chase. He has to run a race based on where he sits in the points. Taking away his aggressiveness may be a mistake, but it will be the strategy Saturday night.
Neither Jeff Gordon nor Jimmy Johnson made the top ten in Driver Rating for RIR, though both are two-time winners there. Gordon is only about 100 points clear of falling out of the Chase, so he will have to run somewhat conservatively, one would think. Johnson will be thinking only of the ten bonus Chase points that go to the winner of the race.
I look for former Chevy pilot Kyle Busch to win for ninth time in 2008 and give Toyota its first Richmond victory. The upset special will have to be someone out of the Chase race, who can let it all hang out for a win. That sounds like Brian Vickers, who still has an outside chance of making NASCAR’s playoffs. But he needs a bunch of points.
Watch the weather. Rain is forecast for the weekend and some teams may go all out for mid-race track position in case this race ends early. Kurt Busch used that strategy earlier this season for his lone 2008 win. Maybe Penske does have a shot after all.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.
by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.September 3, 2008 3:32 pm UTC No Comments
The Sprint Cup Series heads to the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway for its final race of the regular season, with eight drivers competing for six available spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. While Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton are already locked into the Chase, and Greg Biffle will be simply by starting this weekend, some of the sport’s top names and up-and-coming stars are still searching for a Chase berth.
Among those drivers is 13th-place David Ragan, the heir to Mark Martin in the No. 6 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing. Although Ragan could barely keep the car running straight two years ago in an abysmal start in Martinsville, he’s improved a full ten positions in the standings from his overall position last year. Although he hasn’t won yet, Ragan, fourth on the Roush food chain behind Edwards, Biffle and Matt Kenseth, has five top-5s this season, more than Burton, 12th-place Clint Bowyer, 14th-place Kasey Kahne, or 16th-place Ryan Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner.
At the same time, however, many wonder whether the sophomore driver’s season has been a product of a newfound maturity behind the wheel, or a combination of luck and Roush power. Securing a spot in the Chase this weekend would prove that Ragan’s no fluke.
Obviously, longtime NASCAR sponsor UPS is banking on Ragan being an annual force in the series, as rumors are abound that place the Atlanta-based company on the Georgia driver’s car for the 2009 season and beyond. Having failed to visit Victory Lane since 2005, the company wants an up-and-coming driver to throw its support behind after leaving Michael Waltrip Racing this season, and Ragan appears to be the perfect fit for the company.
However, we’ve seen drivers with plenty of promise falter before. Remember Casey Atwood? He had full backing from Dodge and Sirius, and couldn’t find Victory Lane. Scott Riggs hasn’t exactly done much with his career, save one 20th-place in points a few years back, even with the undying support of Valvoline. And Todd Kluever – the man who was really supposed to replace Martin at NASCAR’s largest team – flipped his car in an ARCA race in Daytona and was simply never the same afterwards.
What makes Ragan such a sure bet to be successful? He’s never won in any of NASCAR’s top three series, while Atwood has 2 Nationwide wins, Riggs has 9 in Nationwide and the trucks, and Kluever has three second-places in one Truck Series season. However, besides an unshakeable confidence, Ragan generally does a better job of keeping the car off the wall, running smoothly, and in one piece – his 7 career DNF’s in 63 career Cup starts compare favorable to Riggs’ 22 in 156 starts, Atwood’s 12 in 75 starts, and Kluever’s 9 DNF’s in 51 Nationwide starts. This compares favorably, as well, to UPS’s current driver, David Reutimann, who has 12 DNF’s (and 8 DNQ’s)in 52 Cup starts dating back to 2005.
It should also be noted that of past champions who have competed in Sprint Cup this year, it took Terry Labonte 58 races to first visit Victory Lane, his first victory coming in 1980. Bobby Labonte waited until his 74th start to win his first career race, in 1995. Finally, Dale Jarrett won his first race in his 129th start, in 1991, after four full winless seasons. Don’t be concerned at Ragan’s lack of wins – he’s just hitting his stride.
Before the green flag drops on the action at Richmond, here are this week’s five Quick Hits:
5. NASCAR is getting ready to announce a modification to its drug-testing policy within the next few weeks. The modification, according to CEO Brian France, deals with the testing end of the policy, rather than the penalties for a positive test. France did not specifically say that NASCAR would implement random drug testing, but did say in a NASCAR.com report that “there’ll be more testing.”
4. Current Team Red Bull general manager Jay Frye is being courted to join Stewart-Haas Racing in the same position for 2009 and beyond, and is expected to accept the position. No word on what would happen to current general manager Joe Custer.
3. Brad Keselowski was spotted visiting the Penske Racing complex in Mooresville, NC last week. However, Keselowski reportedly turned down a contract offer to drive the team’s No. 12 Dodge for next season, replacing Ryan Newman. David Stremme remains the front-runner for the ride, as a current Penske test driver with a good past relationship with Dodge.
2. The Dario Franchitti experiment is over at Chip Ganassi Racing, with the 2007 IRL champion returning to that series with Ganassi to partner with 2003 series champion Scott Dixon.
1. A new format for the season-opening Bud Shootout will allow the top six teams for each manufacturer into the race, starting with next season’s event. Previously, all pole winners from the previous season, as well as previous Shootout winners, were allowed to enter the race. But with Budweiser being replaced by Coors Light as the official sponsor of NASCAR’s pole award, Anheuser-Busch wanted to distance itself from its rival brewery.
Finally, congratulations to last week’s winners in California, Busch in the Nationwide Series and Johnson in Sprint Cup.
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.September 2, 2008 7:38 am UTC No Comments
Jimmy Johnson’s win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana wasn’t much of a contest.
The NASCAR circus moves to Richmond International Raceway for the final race to determine who will make it into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
Dodge had only one car in the Chase during the 2007 season. Their only hope for 2008 is dwindling. That hope is for Kasey Kahne to make it into the Chase as their only car. Kahne will need a lot of things to go his way for that to happen at Richmond.
And that my friends leads us to this weeks BUZZ ON PIT ROW:
Which do you prefer; the old way of seeding drivers by merely readjusting their points, or the current system of seeding by wins?
This short post was brought to you by an early morning arrival back from the ARCA Southern Illinois 100.
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowMay 1, 2008 6:07 pm UTC 1 Comment
Dan was the winner – out of 10,000 plus entrants – of the Crown Royal “Your Name Here 400″ contest. So the official name of this week’s race is ” Crown Royal Presents The Dan Lowry 400″. How cool would that be?
Mike Maruska of Trouble in Turn2 wanted to know if, as an official title sponsor of the event, was Dan able to veto any rival sponsors. Dan said no, but he was pretty sure that the Crown Royal folks would have approved of that had he been allowed.
Jamie McMurray has been very involved in the promotion and Dan told me that he has been a McMurray fan for as long as Jamie has raced in Cup. Jamie was with Dan in a helicopter high above the Las Vegas desert when a tarp was pulled from a 10,000 square foot mosaic on the desert floor that showed Dan’s name as part of the official Richmond race logo.
The contest winning Crown Royal experience that Dan submitted involved him being in Venezuela on business. Going out at a local restraunt he spotted the familiar purple Crown Royal logo among the mostly unfamiliar setting and it reminded him of home.
So now Dan Lowry’s name will be emblazoned on race tickets, race logo merchandise and the trophy that the winning driver will take home Saturday night. He will enjoy pace-car laps and watching the race from the top of the #26 pit box. He is also getting a feel for the sponsor commitments that drivers like McMurray are subject to every week.
The best part? Dan gets to make the call of the most famous words in racing – “Gentlemen start your engines”.
We’ll get a chance to ask Mr. Lowry how the whole week went when we interview him ON PIT ROW next Tuesday, May 6th at about 6:15 pm EDT. If you have any questions for the luckiest guy in NASCAR this week, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll ask Dan for you.