Richmond International Raceway lived up to it's moniker as the "Action Track" as sophomore Johnny Sauter beat and banged with Matt Kenseth to win his first race of the season and second of his career.
Sauter, driving the Channellock Chevy owned by Mike Curb started twenty-ninth and worked his way through the field around the three- quarter mile facility to take the lead for the first time on lap 90 one, passing Pole sitter Kevin Harvick who led from the green flag.
Sauter's' run to the front to was short lived as problems with a tire a on first round pit stops regulated the Wisconsin native to sixteenth.
Undaunted, Sauter began his methodical run to the point as he regained the lead on lap 238 to set up a late race duel with Winston Cup veteran Matt Kenseth.
A battle Sauter was winning until the field fell under caution when 2002 series champion Greg Biffle lost a motor in turn one bringing out the sixth yellow flag of the night.
The lap 243 restart saw Sauter and Kenseth side by side, making contact several times on the back stretch until the two made hard contact coming off turn four, loosening up the two cars and providing opportunity for Kevin Harvick to make it three wide going into turn one. A clash that was cut short as Shane Hmiel, Jason Keller, and Tim Feedewa crashed in turn four, forcing NASCAR to through the red flag with less than five laps remaining.
As the Green flag fell for the final time Kenseth was able to pass Sauter on the high side of turn two prior to the white flag. Sauter determined to win got into the rear of Kenseth's Ford forcing him up the track and passing him for the victory.
"It was exciting", said Sauter. "The Channellock/Curb Records Chevrolet was awesome, at the beginning of the year I wasn't even suppose be running the full schedule. Hat's off to Kevin Harvick and all the guys on the Payday car for letting me by there and getting a good run at Matt. I don't know what the hell Matt's problem is, but if he wants to race that way, we can race that way."
Finishing behind Sauter were Kevin Harvick, Bobby Hamilton Jr, Brian Vickers and David Green. Kenseth recouped from his ride up the track to finish sixth.
Tempers flared between Harvick's and Kenseth's crews after the race.
"I wanted to let him know he could not push my teammate around", noted Harvick, who shares his twenty-one ride with Sauter.
The confrontation resulted from Kenseth getting into the back of Sauter while coming to a yellow, and as Harvick explained, He just wanted to let Kenseth know Johnny had friends out there.
"It was a great run for us tonight for the Payday car, said Harvick We had a strong car at the beginning and all night long. We really just kept ourselves in contention. Coming down to the end, I knew Johnny was going to race him hard and he and Matt got together a little bit and Matt about spun him out going into Turn 1 and I didn't think that was right, so I ran into the back of Matt. Johnny's a part of our organization and I'm going to stick up for him when I get the chance. I'm so dang proud of Johnny I can't hardly stand it."
Kenseth took the entire incident in stride, indicating that he did not intentionally make contact with Sauter.
In a wild night for the points leaders, Scott Riggs who held the top spot struggled all night to finish twenty ninth, handed the top spot to Green, who now holds a forty eight point margin over Brian Vickers. Riggs fell to third, followed by Ron Hornaday, and Jason Keller.
Riggs, who was running up front made contact with Ron Hornaday, which set in motion the struggles of a long night after incurring suspension damage from the contact with Hornaday's car.
Riggs would eventually battle back to a decent points nights only to falter after a crash with Mike Bliss. Riggs, whose frustration got the better of him, was penalized several times for speeding on pit road.
Riggs and his PPC team were not the only participants to be effected by the stress of the evening, NASCAR announced the teams of Jason Keller, Shane Hmiel, and Ron Hornaday are likely to incur penalties for altercations on pit road and in the garage area.
One hundred and eleven points separate the top five, as it has now become the closest points battle in series history.
Leaving Richmond, David Green again has the points lead, forty-eight markers ahead of Brian Vickers.
Green noted that the pressure of the five-driver points race is a doubled edge sword.
"It's a headache, five times. On the other hand, it is exciting. A year ago I was on the outside looking in. So it is exciting and a lot of fun. I try to use that as a positive over the frustration and mental stress".
Next week the series is off before heading to the Monster Mile in Dover Delaware on September 20th.