Richmond: Round 11 preview

Richmond importance not underestimated DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 11, 2004) -- The next time the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway, the lineup for the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" will be at stake. It's...

Richmond importance not underestimated

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 11, 2004) -- The next time the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway, the lineup for the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" will be at stake.

It's guaranteed to be a 2004 landmark, but lest September eclipse May, Saturday night's Chevy American Revolution 400 race offers plenty of prime-time firsts -- the season's first night race, plus the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event on Richmond's new pavement. There's also plenty of anticipation considering the 36-race schedule is nearly a quarter of the way complete.

"For me, I prefer nighttime racing over daytime," said Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford), a native of nearby Chesapeake, Va.

And with career win No. 55 last month at Martinsville, Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), is one driver who prefers short-track action.

"We're looking to keep turning up the wick at Richmond," Wallace said.

Saturday's event is No. 11 on the 36-race scale; the Sept. 11 event -- also under the lights -- will be No. 26. Following that race, all drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10, plus those within 400 points of the leader, will be eligible for the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup," which incorporates the final 10 events.

Drivers definitely sense the importance of both Richmond events. The .75-mile oval is a favorite among those in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup garage, and the past few weeks' test sessions -- 18 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers opted to test the new asphalt surface -- is proof. With points already paramount, fresh pavement and a new Goodyear tire could factor in Saturday night's outcome.

"The track is very, very smooth," said Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford), who sits 10th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. "It has a lot of grip in it and it's going to be fast -- which will make it fun."

In fact, add a tight standings battle -- points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), second-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and third-place Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) are separated by a mere 27 points -- and you have the perfect late spring, Saturday night showdown.

"I've always liked Richmond," Earnhardt Jr. said, "because you can run side-by-side there, and for me, that's all I need to be a happy dude."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler