NASCAR Richmond Preview
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
The official name of this race is: Crown Royal Presents The Heath Calhoun 400. That prompts the immediate question who exactly is Heath Calhoun? He's the big winner of the annual Crown Royal Put Your Name Here promotion that has now become a tradition for the spring race at Richmond.
Calhoun is a retired U.S. Army veteran, from Clarksville-Tennessee, who tragically lost both of his legs due to an explosion that occurred during his deployment to Iraq. He's the recipient of the Purple Heart medal as well as the prestigious George C. Lang Award For Courage.
Regarding his special Saturday night in Richmond-Virginia, Calhoun was chosen from a group of five military finalists nominated by friends, family and fellow soldiers for their ability to demonstrate the core values of the military in performing a selfless act that makes them a hero. Calhoun will be a very special VIP guest at Richmond this weekend. His name will be displayed on all aspects of race merchandising, such as souvenirs, and his name will also be included in all media references to the race. He will also get to participate in all pre race festivities and will be on hand for the official trophy presentation in victory lane after the race.
This is a wonderful program that Crown Royal, and the Richmond International Raceway, has created. It's also another reminder that there just aren't enough ways to say "thank you" to the members of our armed forces.
Have you ever found yourself, at the tail end of a long and frustrating work day, saying "I wish I had any job but this one? Oh to be the Budweiser executive in charge of motorsports marketing at this particular point in time. Here's a guy who is getting wined and dined all over the place by NASCAR team owners.
We all know that driver Kasey Kahne is leaving his ride at Richard Petty Motorsports to join the Hendrick organization. We also know that Budweiser will also be leaving RPM when their contract expires at the end of this season. What we don't know is what team Budweiser will be signing with for the next few seasons to come. Can you say "I have reservations for us at a five star restaurant?"
The latest team owner to court the Budweiser account is Rick Hendrick based on input from his new driver who told him he would like to continue his well established relationship with the famed beer company if it was in any way possible. Hendrick has a long standing reputation of pulling giant rabbits out of tiny magician's hats. Would anyone be really surprised if that Budweiser logo landed on the hood of his car?
There will be, of course, competition for the right to place that beer logo on the hood of a race car. Name just about any car owner and the chances are they have a team representative has taken that Budweiser rep out to dinner already.
Certainly one of those team owners is Richard Childress who recently acknowledged that he also has been talking to Budweiser. Childress is in a big hurry to conclude some contract business within his organization and return to placing his focus on winning races. He needs to sign driver Kevin Harvick to a contract extension and then sign a primary sponsor for his team to replace the departing Shell/Pennzoil. It's a long way to go and a short time to get there. Expect to hear more speculation on this story this weekend.
Is it time to reenact the Hendrick Motorsports milk and cookies luncheon? There's a famous story regarding driver Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus and the early days of their now highly successful relationship. Back in the day they were not only reading from the same page they weren't even reading from the same book. Realizing there were serious storm clouds gathering in the sky, Rick Hendrick invited them to have lunch in is office and served them milk and cookies presented on cartoon themed paper plates and cups. A message was sent that afternoon and his lunch guests quickly received the message.
The current state of the relationship between Johnson and team mate/car owner Jeff Gordon may be heading towards having lunch with the boss. It started with some minor contact and words at the Texas Motor Speedway. It escalated to larger proportions last Sunday at Talladega when an angry Gordon looked at his crashed race car and then made the monumental blunder, (strictly my opinion), of announcing on national television that he "was getting pissed at the 48 team." Johnson, who also crashed at Talladega, had already left the speedway and wasn't around to hear his team mate's announcement. He later said "I would have stuck around if I would have known what was waiting for me. There's no doubt after the fact that frustrations are high and the wreck just compounded it. I think he was speaking out of frustration."
Johnson later took the blame for the contact between him and Gordon that sent his team mate to the back of the pack and placed him position to get caught up in a multi car crash that occurred one half lap later. Johnson was also man enough to take the blame for the contact between himself and driver Greg Biffle which led to Johnson's car crashing.
It's widely believed that these two team mates, and good friends, will eventually settle their differences and everything will be fine again in the NASCAR version of Camelot. Then again, we heard the same thing following the Texas race.
The question remains: is it time for milk and cookies again?
THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN
The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange-WSE has once again returned driver Jimmie Johnson to the top of their rankings this week and are backing their belief that he will win at Richmond with 5 to 1 odds. That's understandable, Johnson is a three time winner at this track.
However many NASCAR observers are thinking that Denny Hamlin, at 6 to 1, might be the more logical choice to find victory lane Saturday night. Hamlin is the home town hero in the line up. His family home is just a few miles down the freeway from the race track. He also won the fall Richmond race last September and let's not overlook the fact that this driver and team is currently on a hot streak.
Third on the WSE chart this week is Kyle Busch, the defending race winner from last year, at 8 to 1. Right behind him is Jeff Gordon at 9 to 1 and that may be a very good wager. The renewed intensity levels of this driver greatly resembles old school Gordon when he was consistently winning races and championships. Right behind them, at 10 to 1, is last week's winner Kevin Harvick who loves the Richmond Raceway.
At 12 to 1 odds this week you will find three time Richmond winner Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. One would think that Stewart, and his Richmond stats would be rated a little higher. You have to think the same thing about Dale Earnhardt Jr who's rated 15 to 1 at one of his better tracks on the circuit. Junior is also a three time winner at Richmond. Clint Bowyer joins him at 15 to 1.
Jeff Burton comes in at 18 to 1 this week. At 20 to 1 you'll find the quarter of Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you these numbers are for entertainment purposes only and they neither encourage and condone the placing of wagers on their events. They would instead prefer that you invest your gambling budgets on official pins to be worn on NASCAR day. They tell me you can purchase them at Office Depot stores: (no I wasn't paid to mention Office Depot but I should be).
THE TRACK BREAKDOWN
The Richmond International Raceway has a rich history that began in 1946 as a one half mile dirt track. The first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held in April of 1953 and was won by the legendary Lee Petty. The speedway was paved in 1968 and then reconfigured to its present three quarter mile oval in 1988.
There has been 107 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the Richmond International Raceway that has sent 47 different winners to victory lane. Topping the winner's list is "King" Richard Petty who has won there 13 times. In the manufacturer's win column Chevrolet has been there 34 times followed by Ford at 28 and Dodge with 17 wins. Toyota only has a single win at Richmond which came from Kyle Busch this time last year.
The Richmond International Raceway is a three quarter mile, D shaped, oval with 14 degrees of banking in the turns. The track is 60 feet wide with a 10 foot apron. The front stretch is 1,290 feet long with eight degrees of banking. The backstretch is 860 feet long and is only banked two degrees. The raceway's pit road is 64 feet long with 43 pit stalls measuring 28x19 feet. The pit road speed is 45 MPH. The raceway currently has seating for 112,029.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
Crown Royal Presents The Heath Calhoun 400 will be 400 laps/300 miles around the Richmond International Raceway Saturday night.
The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning those teams don't have a guaranteed start in the race because they are outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points.
The raceway's qualifying record, 129.983 MPH, was set by Brian Vickers back in 2004. Jeff Gordon holds the track record for winning the pole position there five times.
Track position is very important on a short track like Richmond. 21 of the Sprint Cup races there have been won from the pole while 61 of the 107 events were won from the top five starting positions.
This track is also well known for close finishes. Seven of the last nine races there had a margin of victory of less than one second.
Weather could be a factor during the Richmond weekend. The Friday forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees. But it's Saturday that could be the problem. Rain is in the forecast for that day.
The race will be broadcast live by Fox Sports with the pre race show beginning at 7 pm eastern time. The rebroadcast will be presented by SPEED next Wednesday at 12 pm et.
NATIONWIDE SERIES PREVIEW
NASCAR's Nationwide Series will be in Virginia Friday night for a full evening of short track racing. The Bubba Burgers 250 will be held at the Richmond International Raceway and, just like any form of short track racing, this event promises to be a full contact show featuring 43 cars on a three quarter mile oval.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
Brad Keselowski stepped into the Talladega Super Speedway's victory lane last Sunday with his racing shoes three feet off of the ground. He had just won his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the year for new team owner Roger Penske. He had just presented crew chief Paul Wolfe with his first win. The team collected $40,445 in prize money and they were the points leader by a 60 point margin.
But, following the race, that elation became a point of concern. NASCAR had some problems with the right front shock absorber and the left front spring on the team's Dodge and confiscated the parts for further examination. They were, at the time of inspection, determined to be under the minimum spring weight.
By Wednesday morning the team's paycheck was $20,000 lighter and their lead in the championship standings shrunk from 60 to 10 points. NASCAR engineers, at their Concord-North Carolina based Research and Development Center, determined that the spring and the shock were unapproved parts.
Crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $10,000 for each of the two violations. Jodi Geschickter, the registered owner of the team, was docked 25 owner's points and Keselowski was docked 50 driver's points. So far there's been no comment from the Captain, Roger Penske, but you can bet he wasn't happy with this news.
Kevin Harvick is second in the points standings, now ten points away from the lead, and is a serious threat to be a major player in Friday night's Richmond race. He's a four time winner there. The two time series champion still hasn't made any comments regarding plans to run both the full time Sprint Cup and Nationwide schedules but his current success in the series has many wondering if he's seriously considering it.
Meanwhile defending race champion, and reigning series champ, Kyle Busch is third in the series point's standings. Busch is looking forward to the NASCAR weekend in Richmond. He should be he has three wins there including sweeping both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events this time last year. Busch was scheduled by Joe Gibbs Racing to only run approximately 22 Nationwide events this year so the driver could keep a complete focus on the Sprint Cup championship run. That status has not officially changed but there are reports that Gibbs is seriously reconsidering that decision.
The series' standings for the Raybestos Brakes Rookie Of The Year title remains skin tight. Brian Scott, driver of the Harry Scott Jr owned AccuDoc Toyota, leads this week's rankings with 83 points. James Buescher, Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, is only seven points away in second while . Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, holds down third and only eight points away from the top. Colin Braun, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, is nine points from first but that will change Friday night because Matt Kenseth is scheduled to drive the car.
Toyota leads the series' manufacturer's standings with 54 points but only holds an 11 point lead over Chevrolet. Dodge holds down third with 43 points while Ford has 32 points. However Richmond International Raceway seems to favor the bow tie brigade. Chevrolet has 20 wins there.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Bubba Burger 250 is 250 laps/187.5 miles around the Richmond International Raceway's three quarter mile oval.
The race has 45 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 15 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they are currently outside of the series' top 30 in owner's points. 14 of the entries are double duty drivers or those who will be racing both Friday and Saturday nights.
The Bubba Burger 250 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network with the pre race show beginning at 7pm eastern time.
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