*Kyle Busch Seeks "Series Circuit" At Richmond *Hamlin A Definite Favorite At His Favorite Track *Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seeks To End 71-Race Win Drought *Richmond A Fixture In 60 Years of NASCAR Racing *There He Goes: Kyle Busch On A Victory ...
*Kyle Busch Seeks "Series Circuit" At Richmond
*Hamlin A Definite Favorite At His Favorite Track
*Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seeks To End 71-Race Win Drought
*Richmond A Fixture In 60 Years of NASCAR Racing
*There He Goes: Kyle Busch On A Victory Roll
Soon-to-be 23-year-old Kyle Busch (No. 18 Pedigree Toyota) -- his birthday is Friday -- approaches Saturday night's Crown Royal Presents The Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond International Raceway seeking the capstone to a personal puzzle.
Fresh off last Sunday's victory at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, Busch needs only a short-track win to complete a "series circuit " -- a victory at each size track on NASCAR's national series schedules.
Busch leads all active drivers with seven wins spread across the three national series -- the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (two), the NASCAR Nationwide Series (three) and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (two). With NASCAR Sprint Cup his primary focus, he's also competing on an as-can basis in the other national series.
Last week's victory took place on a restrictor-plate track. Busch won two weeks ago on a road course (the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Mexico City). He's also won at a 1.5-mile track (Texas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway), a 2-mile track (Auto Club Speedway) and a one-mile track (Phoenix International Raceway) so far this year.
Hamlin Hoping For A Hometown Win At Richmond
Kyle Busch and two-time series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) may have grabbed bigger headlines last week at Talladega, but their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) could usurp them at Richmond.
The .75-mile oval is Hamlin's home track -- he hails from nearby Chesterfield, Va. -- and a victory there would punctuate a successful early season.
Currently fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, Hamlin trails leader Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) by 99 points and the second-place Busch by 77 points. He's 20 points behind third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet), plus riding momentum from last Sunday's third-place finish at Talladega.
Already a 2008 Virginia winner, Hamlin won last month at Martinsville Speedway.
But, like Stewart, an Indiana native whose Holy Grail was winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (he's done it twice in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series), Hamlin yearns for a Richmond victory. He was runner-up in the May 2006 event there, and is second in pre-race Driver Rating for Richmond (111.3).
"When I do have a good run at Richmond it means just a little bit more there than it does anywhere else," Hamlin said.
In The Loop: Richmond Stats Spotlight Johnson, Harvick
Attention will be divvied among a number of storylines this weekend at Richmond.
There's the Denny-Hamlin-returning-home angle. There's the Dale Earnhardt Jr. returning to the scene of his last victory, two years ago this weekend. There's the Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) Richmond sweep in 2007. And, of course, there's the special year Kyle Busch is having.
One driver under the radar, though, is Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet). Harvick, who very quietly is in sixth-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, is phenomenal at Richmond -- and may be the one favorite who few are talking about.
Harvick certainly has the stats to warrant a discussion. He won the fall Richmond race in 2006, and has finished in the top 10 in each of the past six Richmond races.
His numbers during that run are tops in the series. He leads in the following categories:
Driver Rating: 121.2
Average Running Position: 5.6
Fastest Laps Run: 259
Average Green Flag Speed: 118.997 mph
Laps in the Top 15: 2,267 (94.5%)
Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green): 166
But if not Harvick, look for Hamlin to make a run at winning his hometown race.
Hamlin, from nearby Chesterfield, has come close a few times at Richmond. He finished second in the spring of 2006, and third in last year's spring race. Hamlin trails only Harvick in Driver Rating (111.3) and Average Running Position (6.0).
Two other numbers are particularly strong. Hamlin has run 98.1% of the Richmond Laps in the Top 15. He also has 58 Fastest Laps Run, which is tied for 10th most since the inception of Loop Data in 2005 -- he's run only four races compared to six for most other drivers during that span.
One other driver to watch is Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who sorely needs a strong finish. Busch, currently 20th in the series standings, won at Richmond in the fall of 2005 and finished in the top 10 in each of the 2007 races. He has a Richmond Driver Rating of 100.8 (fifth-best) and an Average Running Position of 13.3 (eighth).
Two Years Ago: Earnhardt Jr. Hopes Victory Drought Will End At Richmond
Two years between victories, Dale Earnhardt Jr. arrives at Saturday's Crown Royal Presents The Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond International Raceway four days shy of the exact anniversary:
May 7, 2006.
That's when Earnhardt last hoisted a NASCAR Sprint Cup race trophy -- a 71-event drought.
But the breakthrough could occur this week.
In third place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, Earnhardt trails leader Jeff Burton by 79 points. He's 57 points behind second-place Kyle Busch. Earnhardt also has a series-high seven top-10 finishes in nine events thus far.
And he and Tony Stewart lead all active drivers with three series wins each at Richmond.
Aside from those three wins, Earnhardt has seven top fives, nine top 10s and one DNF (did not finish) in 17 career starts there, with an average finish of 11.3
He has a series-high 334 Green Flag Passes there, according to pre-race Loop Data statistics.
Earnhardt also ranks in the top 10 of five other pre-race Richmond Loop Data statistics -- Average Running Position (12.9, sixth-best), Driver Rating (89.9, 10th-best), Fastest Laps Run (96, seventh-best), Laps in the Top 15 (1,401, 10th-best) and Quality Passes (124, eighth-best).
"Seems like forever ago but I try not to think about it," Earnhardt said. "I don't want to be thinking of how long it's been since a win, but knowing we have a shot at it every week and something or other happens is a little frustrating."
Denny Hamlin The Guest On This Week's NASCAR Teleconference
On The Line: Denny Hamlin, fielded media questions during Tuesday's weekly session:
On Racing At Richmond: "That is in the woods of my hometown right there, 15 minutes away. And so I'm going to have a lot of friends and family out there. Everyone knows that this is my Indy, I guess you could say.
On Teammate Kyle Busch: "He's definitely pushing hard. We're definitely doing our best to try to keep up with the Hendricks guys from last year. So I think we've definitely taken a couple of leaps as far as the gap's concerned.
And we know with Kyle's speed it's just going to push us to go faster and be better."
On Maturity: "There are a lot of things in this Cup Series that make you better. A lot of it is patience and the way you race guys and how they race you. The more experience you have, the different they race you. For me, I've gotten better but I think a lot of it has to be with just being out there for track time and getting used to the guys I race against each week."
Virginia Natives In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Garage
The state of Virginia contributes a wealth of talent to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage.
Drivers Denny Hamlin (Chesterfield), Jeff Burton (South Boston) are Virginians, as is Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge), who hails from Emporia and works with jack man Ed Watkins (Richmond) and engineer Kevin Kidd (Tazewell).
Burton's team boasts four Virginians -- engineer Jeff "Jazzy" Curtis (Fairfax), tire specialist Tracey Ramsey (Fredericksburg), transporter driver Franky Nester (Ridgeway) and gas man Curt Bowman (Meadows of Dan).
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 team has car chief David Bryant (Farmville), engineers Darian Grubb (Floyd) and Tom Stewart (Hampton) and mechanic Jim Jenkins (Hampton).
A Kansan, Clint Bowyer (No. 07 BB&T Chevrolet) works with three Virginians -- mechanic Tommy Wallace (Richmond), tire specialist Charles Moles (Floyd) and transporter driver Barry Sheppard (Stuart).
Reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who swept both 2007 events at Richmond, has two Virginians on his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team -- engineer Brandon Evans (South Hill) and shock specialist Todd Bosserman (Waynesboro).
J.J. Yeley's No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet has three Virginians -- car chief Todd Brewer (Manassas), rear tire carrier Ben Surface (Pulaski) and engineer Rick McGowan (Reston).
Jeff Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet has transporter driver George Kirk (Ararat) and gas man Caleb Hurd (Pulaski).
Others include the No. 2's front tire changer Jay Hackney (Haysi), the No. 10's gas man Rodney Rhodes (Hickory), the No. 20's spotter, Mark Robertston (Richmond) and the No. 42's pit support person Ryan Quann (Richmond).
Three Points Separate Top Three In Manufacturers Standings
It's quite a battle in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Manufacturers Standings, where the top three manufacturers are separated by a total of three points.
For now, Chevrolet is first, leading second-place Toyota by one point -- 55 to 54 -- and third-place Ford (52) by three points.
Fourth-place Dodge needs only 15 points to catch Ford, and only 18 to catch the front-running Chevrolet.
It's all a reflection of this year 's mix of winners and close competition.
In the win column, Toyota and Ford are tied for first with three each. Through nine events, Carl Edwards' (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) has Ford's three wins while Kyle Busch has Toyota's three wins. Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) has Dodge's one win. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton each have one win, giving Chevrolet two for the season.
Chevrolet drivers have won six of the last 10 races at Richmond International Raceway, including the last four in a row.
Johnson swept both 2007 events, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the spring 2006 event and Kevin Harvick won the fall event that year.
Petty Enterprises, which runs Dodges, leads all teams with 15 wins at Richmond. Hendrick Motorsports, which runs Chevrolets, is second with nine Richmond victories.
NASCAR's 60th Anniversary: The King Leads The Way At Richmond
Rich with NASCAR history, the state of Virginia has long factored in the twists and turns of stock-car racing.
The current venue, Richmond International Raceway, has hosted the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 1953.
There have been 107 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in Richmond, 103 at what is now known as Richmond International Raceway and four at Southside Speedway (1961-1963).
Kyle Petty became the first third-generation NASCAR race winner when he won his first race -- at Richmond -- on February 23, 1986. Richard posted his first Richmond victory in 1961 and Lee won the very first Richmond race in 1953.
The best were their best at Richmond.
Each member of the "70 Wins Club" has multiple wins at Richmond. Richard Petty leads all drivers in Richmond wins with 13. Bobby Allison has seven; David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip have six; Dale Earnhardt has five; Cale Yarborough has three; and Jeff Gordon has two.
The Top 35: Smith And the No. 01 Still 35th; The No. 40 Dodge Jumps To 36th
For the fourth consecutive week, the No. 01 Steak Umm Burgers Chevrolet owned by Teresa Earnhardt and driven by Regan Smith is 35th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner standings.
Each week, the top 35 teams are guaranteed starting spots, with those outside the top 35 required to qualify on time
This week, the No. 40 Kennametal Dodge owned by Felix Sabates jumps three spots to 36th, 61 points behind 35th. Usually driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Dario Franchitti, it will be driver by Ken Schrader at Richmond. Franchitti suffered a broken left ankle in last week's NASCAR Nationwide event.
The No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet owned by Margaret Haas will be driven by Johnny Sauter at Richmond. It climbed one spot, to 37th, after Ken Schrader drove it last week at Talladega.
The No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota owned by Jeffrey Moorad and driven by J.J. Yeley is 38th, a drop of two spots. Yeley trails Sauter by five points in the owner standings.
Behind Yeley, the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota owned by Bill Davis and driven by Dave Blaney is 39th, a drop of two spots.
The No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota owned by Dietrich Mateschitz and driven by AJ Allmendinger remains 40th, after Allmendinger returned to his seat at Talladega after a month's hiatus.
The No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge owned by Roger Penske and driven by Sam Hornish Jr., another Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate is 34th, a drop of four spots. He leads the 35th-place Smith by only four points.
The No. 44 UPS Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip and driven by David Reutimann is 33rd, seven points ahead of Hornish and 11 points ahead of Smith.
NASCAR Day: The NASCAR Foundation's fifth annual NASCAR Day will be celebrated on Friday, May 16. Highlighted by a special Five Years of Caring theme, the event combines fundraising efforts of NASCAR fans, partners and companies worldwide. In 2007, NASCAR Day raised more than $1.6 million. The event has raised nearly $5 million since its 2004 inception.
Fans support NASCAR Day by making a $5 donation. In return, they receive a 2008 lapel pin. Fans can call 1-888-MAY16TH (1-888-629-1684). Sprint also is helping fans pledge this year by texting their email addresses to 81714.
Fans should log on to www.nascar.com/nascarday to make their $5 donation.
SAFER Barrier Update: Lowe's Motor Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler announced Tuesday that crews will install 340 feet of additional SAFER barriers across the track's inside backstretch retaining wall prior to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 17 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25.
Wheeler said research is ongoing for alternatives to the current opening in the same inside backstretch wall used for emergency crews and vehicles. More than 6,100 linear feet of SAFER barriers were installed at the track in April 2004.
"Competitor safety is like a moving target," Wheeler said, "and we've got to continue trying to improve our aim. We've always got to be looking at what we can do."
Who's Dan Lowry?: Seen here with Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford), he's the namesake of this week's NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Richmond International Raceway.
For the second consecutive season, Crown Royal sponsored a contest inviting fans to submit an essay stating how they enjoyed Crown Royal in a responsible manner.
The winning fan's name graces the event title, and Lowry, a 29-year-old electrical product engineer from New Waterford, Ohio, is this year's winner.
Up Next: The Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington Raceway
Next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is the Dodge Challenger 500 on Saturday, May 10 at Darlington Raceway. It's the 11th of 36 races on the 2008 schedule.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon won last May at Darlington, an event that was postponed to Sunday because of inclement weather.
Clint Bowyer is the defending pole winner.
Gordon leads all active drivers with seven Darlington victories. Two-time series champion Bill Elliott, now driving part-time for Wood Brothers Racing, is next with five Darlington wins. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Dish Network Ford) has two.
The Race: Crown Royal Presents The Dan Lowry 400
The Place: Richmond International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, May 3 The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 0.75-mile oval
The Distance: 300 miles/400 laps
TV: FOX, 7 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon
Friday -- Final Practice, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; Qualifying, 5:40 p.m.