* Kurt Busch Returns To Top 10 After A Year Absence * Saturday's Race First Ever Sporting Event Named For A Fan * NASCAR And RIR To Honor Virginia Tech This Weekend NNCS, Etc. * Kurt Busch Back In The Top 10 Again * Dale Earnhardt Jr....
* Kurt Busch Returns To Top 10 After A Year Absence
* Saturday's Race First Ever Sporting Event Named For A Fan
* NASCAR And RIR To Honor Virginia Tech This Weekend
* Kurt Busch Back In The Top 10 Again
* Dale Earnhardt Jr. Returns To Site Of Last Win
* Saturday's Race First Ever Sporting Event Named After A Fan
* RIR Sports Some Fancy New Digs
Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) was a regular member of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series top 10 point standings during the 2004-05 seasons.
The 2004 series champion enters this week's competition 10th in points, marking the first time he's been in the top 10 since the end of 2005, when he finished 10th in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
During the 2004-05 seasons, Busch was in the top 10 for 70 of a possible 72 weeks. In 2004, he was in the top 10 for 35 of 36 weeks. In 2005, he fell out of the top 10 for one week -- following the season's 14th event -- but rebounded the next week and stayed in the top 10 for the remainder of the year. Last year was his first season with Penske Racing and he finished 16th in the final standings. Busch won the 2005 fall race at Richmond.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) hopes history repeats itself this Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway -- the site of his last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory. Last May 6 at the Crown Royal 400, Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 356 and held off Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet) and Kevin Harvick to claim his lone victory in 2006 and his 17th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup win. Earnhardt has three wins, seven top fives and nine top 10s at Richmond.
Jim Stewart is not your ordinary race fan. In fact, the Houma (Ho-ma), La., native is making sports history this weekend, becoming the first fan in the history of sports to have an event named after him.
In one of the most unique sports promotions ever, Stewart beat out more than 15,000 contestants from around the world to win a contest from race sponsor Crown Royal. Stewart had to submit his most "Crown-worthy" moment -- one that is defined as a memorable moment or occasion deemed worthy of toasting with a Crown Royal beverage in a responsible manner. Stewart's winning entry chronicled his moments growing up fishing with his father and later christening his own fishing boat with a toast to his father. Crown Royal is hosting a press conference Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the track's media center to recognize Stewart.
Richmond International Raceway will unveil some new additions to its facility this weekend. The new Commonwealth Grandstand, located in Turn 1, has 7,843 new seats, bringing the track's capacity to 112,029. It is also 180 feet high -- two feet higher than the control tower at Richmond International Airport and the tallest structure in surrounding Henrico County. Also new is the TORQUE Club, a members-only, 16,000-square foot entertainment space in the middle level of the Commonwealth Grandstand.
Richmond: Teams Can Rely On Information From Last Month's Test
Saturday night's Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400 at Richmond International Raceway will be the fourth event featuring NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow. If it's anything like the previous three races, fans can expect a highly competitive race with a tightly contested finish.
Richmond's .75-mile layout makes it one of the drivers' and fans' most popular venues in NASCAR. Here are some keys to getting into Victory Lane Saturday night:
* Use the information from last month's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test. The teams went through a two-day test session at RIR April 3-4 and the teams that are able to transpose what they learned then into getting their car set up properly for the race should be running near the front most of the night.
* Teams will want to run well in the bottom lane, because that's where they will have to pass.
* Green flag pit stops will probably occur, so good pit strategy is a must. Getting onto pit road during green flag racing can be tricky at RIR.
Competition Still Fierce To Get Inside Top 35
For the second week in a row, Casey Mears/owner Mary Hendrick (No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet) is tinkering on the bubble spot of 35th in the car owner point standings. His DNF last Sunday at Talladega certainly didn't allow him to improve his position.
Weekly in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed starting spots for that week's event. Outside the top 35? That means you have to get into a race based solely on your qualifying speed.
Another team to keep an eye on this weekend is the No. 44 UPS Toyota, driven by former series champion Dale Jarrett and owned by Michael Waltrip. Currently 38th in the standings, Jarrett has used up all of his six allotted championship provisionals and must qualify on time for Saturday's race. Jarrett won the series championship in 1999 and has competed in 424 straight NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races, the third longest current streak among active drivers, trailing only Jeff Gordon (482) and Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge -- 481). The last time Jarrett did not participate in a scheduled NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race was April 1, 1990 at Darlington.
In The Loop: Harvick Has Been Dominant At Richmond
The time may be now for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers to close in on points leader Jeff Gordon.
Over the past two years -- four races -- at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon has not finished better than 30th, with finishes of 39th, 30th, 40th and 31st.
He has a Driver Rating of 65.9 at Richmond, which is his worst pre-race Driver Rating of any track. Gordon's Average Running Position at RIR is 23.743, which is just 28th best. For everyone not named Jeff Gordon, that's the good news.
The bad news: it's still Jeff Gordon, who has reverted back to championship winning form. In his two straight wins at Phoenix and Talladega, Gordon earned Driver Ratings of 133.2 and 126.6, respectively. If Gordon's Richmond misfortunes do continue, plenty of drivers inside the top 12 have enjoyed quality finishes at Richmond in recent years.
Kevin Harvick, who sits in ninth place, won last year's fall race at RIR. Over the past four races there, he has accumulated some of the best stats on the circuit. Harvick's Average Running Position might be the most glaring stat of all -- 3.551. That is the best of any driver on any track in the series. His Driver Rating -- 127.8 -- is more than 10 points higher than second place Kyle Busch (116.2) and his 224 Fastest Laps Run is more than any other drivers. Harvick also holds the top spot in Laps in the Top 15 with 1,595, Green Flag Speed and Speed in Traffic.
Right behind Harvick at Richmond is Kyle Busch, who in four starts has four top-five finishes. Along with owning the second-best Driver Rating, Busch sits near the top of many other Loop Data statistics at Richmond. His Average Running Position is 5.799, which is second-best to Harvick and his 1,567 Laps in the Top 15 are also second to Harvick.
Another driver to watch is Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), who can firmly place himself in the top 35 with a strong finish at Richmond (he's currently 31st). Kahne earned his first career win at Richmond in May, 2005 and has had three top 10s there in the past four races. He has the third-best Driver Rating at 111.7 and his 214 Fastest Laps Run is second only to Harvick.
Ragan Top Rookie at Talladega; Chevrolet Increases Manufacturers Lead
David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Travel Ford) turned in a 17th-place finish at Talladega last Sunday to earn the Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award. Ragan trails Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) 100-96 in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.
Chevrolet increased its lead in the Manufacturers Championship race, thanks to a 1-2 finish by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson at Talladega.
NASCAR and Richmond International Speedway will pay tribute this weekend to the victims of the April 16 tragedy at Virginia Tech.
For the third straight weekend, NASCAR will place a VT logo on the cars in the area just to the right of the driver's side window net. RIR will honor the victims with a large VT logo in the infield grass. A VT flag will be delivered into the infield during Saturday's pre-race by a member of a professional parachute jumping team. Two NASCAR drivers who are Virginia natives -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competitor Ward Burton (No. 4 State Water Heaters Chevrolet -- South Boston) and NASCAR Busch Series competitor Eric McClure (No. 0 Hefty Chevrolet -- Abingdon) will wear special VT helmets this weekend designed by Canadian artist David Arrigo ... Virginia native Denny Hamlin (Chesterfield) will be sporting a FedEx helmet that was designed for him by 11-year-old Children's Hospital of Richmond patient Justin Griffith. It is the first helmet of the 11 that Hamlin will wear as part of the FedEx "Wear Your Heart on Your Helmet" program and it was presented to him during a visit to the hospital last week. At the presentation, FedEx made a donation of $25,000 to the hospital and then Hamlin joined the patients as they designed their own helmets and raced R/C cars on the FedEx speedway. The 11 helmets will be designed by children's hospital patients and Make-A-Wish program participants in race markets throughout the 2007 season. Following the season, all of the race-worn helmets will be auctioned off to benefit Victory Junction Gang Camp ... Elliott Yamin, Richmond's own "American Idol" contestant will perform the National Anthem prior to the Circuit City 250 Presented by FUNAI NASCAR Busch Series race Friday night and will sing "God Bless America" before the Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400 Saturday night.
Denny Hamlin is demonstrating that his Raybestos Rookie of the Year title in 2006 was no fluke. Hamlin comes into Richmond this week fifth in the series points, with three top-five finishes in the first nine races of the season. Dale Earnhardt set the standard for second-year full-time drivers in 1980, following up a rookie of the year season with a series championship. Twice, rookies of the year have come back the next season to finish second in series points -- James Hylton in 1967 and Richard Petty in 1960.
The Race: Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400
The Place: Richmond International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, May 5
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 7 p.m. (ET)
The Track: .75 miles
The Distance: 300 miles; 400 laps
The Purse: $5,032,994
2006 Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2006 Pole: Greg Biffle
Pre-Race On-Track Schedule (local/ET time): Friday -- Practice, 11:15 a.m. - 1 p.m.; Qualifying, 6:10 p.m.