NASCAR weekly news and notes
Wanting For More: Hamlin Returns Home Seeking First Win
Denny Hamlin, from Chesterfield, Virginia, grew up in the shadows of Richmond International Raceway, so of course he wants to win this weekend.
Of course he wants to make his hometown fans hoot and holler. And, sure, it’d be nice to celebrate in a place where everyone knows your name, a hero returning home to steal a victory. It’d be storybook-type stuff.
But, quickly, “want” is morphing into “need.”
Perilously close to running out of time, Hamlin needs to win, or else face the real possibility of missing the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup just one year after a career-best runner-up finish in the final points standings.
Though not dire just yet, soon it will be. Hamlin is 50 points outside the top 10, a hefty sum when each in-race position is now just a single point.
So he may need to rely on one of the two new Wild Card Chase spots. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 10 drivers in the points standings will earn Chase berths. Spots 11 and 12 will go to the drivers with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20.
Richmond, this Saturday night, statistically looks like as good a spot as any for win No. 1 for Hamlin in 2011.
Consider some of these stats…
• Hamlin has won two of the last three races at Richmond.
• He leads the series in pre-race Driver Rating at Richmond with a 119.8.
• In 10 starts, he has scored a Driver Rating over 100.0 eight times, including a rare perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 in the fall race of 2009.
• Even his blowup races are spectacular. He led 381 of the 410-lap event in May of 2008, but tire problems plummeted his finish to 24th.
• In four of the last six races, he has led over 100 laps.
Junior Nation: Comeback Continues
You know who enjoys this two-race jaunt to NASCAR’s largest oval and one of its shortest venues?
Dale Earnhardt Jr., that’s who.
The series last raced at Talladega Superspeedway, a spot where Earnhardt triumphed five times in his career. Now the series shifts to Richmond, a spot where Earnhardt owns three victories.
Junior’s comeback tour continues. After missing the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup the past two seasons, Earnhardt marches up the points standings – and closer to Victory Lane.
Though still mired in a 101-race winless drought, Earnhardt has vaulted to third in the points standings.
His progress rivals that of 2008, when he last won, and last made the Chase.
Now 19 points behind leader Carl Edwards, Earnhardt has not held an official points lead since after race No. 27 at New Hampshire in 2004. (He did sit atop the points standings two weeks later after a race at Talladega, but only for three days. A 25-point penalty for “use of improper language” dropped him to second.)
Since that pinnacle, Earnhardt has earned four wins – one at Phoenix later that season, one at Chicagoland in 2005, at Richmond in 2006, and his last, at Michigan in 2008.
Still, despite past successes at Richmond, Earnhardt has hiccupped at the short track of late. His last four finishes: 27th, 21st, 32nd and 34th.
But if this really is a 2008-esque rebirth, there’s good news. In 2008 at Richmond, Earnhardt led both races, posted Driver Ratings of 107.3 and 129.5 and finished 15th and fourth.
Short And Sweet: Trio Dominate Richmond, Bristol And Martinsville
Something crazy happened when Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line first in early April. The rarity: someone not named Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin won a short-track race.
The trio had won 15 consecutive short track races – spanning more than two years – prior to Harvick’s victory at Martinsville. Busch had won six (four at Bristol; two at Richmond), Hamlin had won five (three at Martinsville; two at Richmond) and Johnson had won four (two at Martinsville; one each at Richmond and Bristol).
In the past 16 races, the three short-track studs rank in the top three or four in every key Loop Data category.
Check out the categories, and the stats from the past 16 short-track races …
Driver Rating: The trio ranks 1-2-3 in Driver Rating. Johnson’s first with a 115.5.
Average Running Position: Johnson ranks first with an ARP of 7.1. Jeff Gordon’s second at 8.6.
Fastest Laps Run: The trio again ranks 1-2-3, with Johnson again heading the list with 655. Close behind is Hamlin at 648 Fastest Laps Run.
Laps Led: Three drivers have led over 1,000 laps over the last 16 short-track races: Hamlin (1,512), Busch (1,369), Johnson (1,267).
Laps in the Top 15: Johnson leads with a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 90.3%. Gordon is second at 83.0%.
Gordon, for the record, has had 10 top 10s in the last 16 short-track races. His best finish was second, in last season’s May Richmond race.
Bowyer calls Richmond his favorite track
Clint Bowyer: Fond Memories of Dale Jr. vs. Kyle Busch
The boos first started raining down – really raining down – upon Kyle Busch in early May, 2008.
That fateful day, Busch spun out late-race leader (and, of course, fan favorite) Dale Earnhardt Jr. which drew out the caution flag on lap 398 of the schedule 400-lap race. Earnhardt had stalked the checkered flag, just three laps from victory.
Instead, someone else won that race. That someone was Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer calls Richmond his favorite track, with good reason. He averages a finish in the top 10 (9.8) and his Driver Rating is sixth in the series.
RWR Climbing Back Into Contention
Rusty Wallace Racing’s two-car team struggled the first part of the season but now Michael Annett is leading the team’s resurgence back into contention. Annett was 28th in the points following the season-opening race at Daytona, and Steve Wallace was 12th but then dropped to 17th after the second race at Phoenix.
Both RWR teammates are rebounding. Annett has pushed his way into the top 10, currently in 10th place, 80 points behind standings leader Justin Allgaier and Wallace is just two points behind Annett in 11th place.
Annett will have his work cut out for him this weekend though; he has made four starts at Richmond with a best finish of 20th. Wallace has made nine starts at Richmond posting one top five and two top 10s. Wallace has an average finish of 17.0 at Richmond.
NNS Etc. – Richmond
Emporia, Va. native, Elliott Sadler, is looking forward to racing at Richmond this weekend where he has run in 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series races, the most at one track in his series career. His best finish was second in this race in 2005. He’s currently sixth in the series standings. While at home, he’ll also be celebrating his 36th birthday, on April 30. … On Tuesday, April 26, Sadler headed to Montreal to take part in a media day event to advance and promote the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on August 20.
What we did tonight is a championship caliber deal for our team,
Peters A Championship Contender For Second Season
Timothy Peters led the championship standings several times in 2010 before sliding into a sixth-place finish overall.
Building on that solid foundation, which included last year’s victory at Daytona International Speedway, Peters and his Red Horse Racing team hew to the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Peters hasn’t reached Victory Lane in 2011, but that’s likely just a matter of time. Meanwhile, Peters keeps stacking up points on a regular basis with every finish among the top 12 and stands second in the standings just three markers behind leader Johnny Sauter.
Peters, aided by a late-race, two-tire strategy executed by crew chief Butch Hylton, came out of last weekend’s Bully Hill Vineyards 200 with a third-place finish – the driver’s best at Nashville Superspeedway. Peters has finished sixth, fifth and third in his most recent three starts and is one of four drivers to have completed all 800 laps run this season.
“What we did tonight is a championship caliber deal for our team,” Peters said.
The fifth of 25 races produced a 12-point spread from Sauter to fifth-place Cole Whitt. Sauter holds the top spot for the second consecutive race followed by Peters, Matt Crafton, four-time series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. and Whitt.
All but Whitt, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader, finished among the top 10 in Nashville with Whitt 12th among 25 drivers completing all 150 laps.
Piquet Proving To Be Quick Study In NASCAR
Success in NASCAR usually comes one rung up the ladder at a time but Nelson Piquet Jr.’s late-race charge to a second-place finish at Nashville Superspeedway suggests the former Formula 1 competitor may be ready to skip a step or two.
Last weekend’s race marked the first time the Brazilian had seen the 1.333-mile oval and Piquet’s introduction to competing in NASCAR on a concrete surface.
The finish was Piquet’s series best trumping a sixth-place debut last season at Daytona International Speedway. It effectively righted a rocky start to the 25-year-old’s season in which Piquet had posted a single top-15 finish.
Road racing specialists historically have taken longer to master the art of NASCAR racing; however, Piquet’s Nashville charge brings to mind another day – also on a concrete surfaced track – when ex-F1 driver Scott Speed won the 2008 NCWTS race at Dover International Speedway.
Piquet found his way into the right seat at the right time, partnering with 47-time series winner Ron Hornaday Jr. at Kevin Harvick Inc. To say that he is learning at the feet of giants would be an understatement.
Virginians Jason White and Hermie Sadler, who covers NCWTS pit road for SPEED and occasionally competes in the series, are among invitees for Thursday’s Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond International Raceway. … Kyle Busch’s Nashville victory marked the 21st time that Eric Phillips has backed a series winner. He ties Germain Racing’s Mike Hillman Jr. for third among winning crew chiefs. … On lap 114 of last Friday night’s race, Busch reached 20,000 laps led in his NASCAR national series career.