Richmond: Series round ten preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Richmond RIR Could Be Short-Track Showcase For Johnson-Gordon Rivalry The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes short-track racing this weekend, which is always a good thing. The three short tracks on the ...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Richmond

RIR Could Be Short-Track Showcase For Johnson-Gordon Rivalry

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes short-track racing this weekend, which is always a good thing.

The three short tracks on the series schedule -- Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond International Raceway, site of Saturday night's "Crown Royal Presents the Heath Calhoun 400" -- are steeped in history. They have survived a changing stock car landscape and thrived, thanks to old-school appeal. Part of that appeal is the ever-present possibility of racing incidents "getting personal."

Short tracks, you see, can be a breeding ground for new disputes.

This week, Richmond is presented with an ongoing argument, a "family feud" of sorts between two of NASCAR's premier drivers who just happen to be with the same organization -- Hendrick Motorsports. Four-time titlists Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) have tangled on-track the last two weeks and suddenly, the typical public love fest between the two has been replaced by some surprisingly antagonistic give-and-take, with Gordon the off-track aggressor.

This is not to suggest that the two longtime friends will be seen wrestling in the infield grass anytime soon. Remember: Gordon is largely responsible for bringing Johnson to the Hendrick stable. But clearly, an extra dose of competitiveness has surfaced between guys who are running two-wide in a quest for a historical fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Gordon and Johnson are tied for third on the all-time title list. They trail only legendary seven-time champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

"The No. 48 is testing my patience," Gordon said. "It takes a lot to make me mad and I am pissed right now."

Nothing like a short track to accent that situation.

And while Gordon is indeed renowned for his overall coolness both on and off the track, he has had his "moments." One of his more publicized altercations of recent years came at the half-mile Bristol bullring in the spring of 2006. Another former series champion, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) wrecked Gordon on the last lap of the 500-lap afternoon; post-race, Gordon confronted Kenseth on pit road and shoved him backward. Hard.

Call it the short-track factor.

Looking at this in-house rivalry from a strictly analytical point of view, Gordon needs to keep Johnson in his sights, points-wise, to keep his own title hopes viable. Coming into Richmond, Johnson has an alreadysizable 187-point lead over Gordon, who is in 10th place.

Let's now go ahead and assume both will qualify for NASCAR's "playoffs," the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Johnson already has a leg up on everyone when it comes to potential bonus points to start the Chase. Prior to the Chase, all 12 drivers who qualify have their point total reset to 5,000; they then get 10 bonus points for every pre-Chase victory, with the new totals creating Chase "seedings."

Johnson has won a series-leading three races thus far, meaning he has a potential Chase starting total of 5,030.

Gordon has yet to win this year, although he has been close, several times.

Johnson has been downplaying any talk of a controversy between himself and his part-owner. To his credit, he also openly accepted blame for the incident at Talladega that occurred in the thick of nose-to-tail traffic at just under 200 mph.

Saturday night, there will be another 43-car traffic jam.

In much closer quarters.

Earnhardt In 8th Place, Shooting For 4th Richmond Victory

This is one of most intriguing portions of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, going from Talladega straight to Richmond.

The racing is about as different as it gets, when you compare the two race tracks. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) is one of those drivers who has achieved success at both:

Five Talladega victories in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, third-best all-time.

Three Richmond victories, tied for seventh-best all-time.

Earnhardt finished 13th at Talladega this past Sunday, after spending a good portion of the day running at or near the front.

He comes into Richmond eighth in the series standings, on track to qualify for the Chase after failing to do so in two of the last three seasons.

Look At The Loop: White-Hot Hamlin & Harvick Favorites At Richmond

Two drivers to watch this weekend are probably the two hottest drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series right now -- Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) and Kevin Harvick.

Hamlin, a Virginia native, has been on point this season already winning two races (Martinsville and Texas), while notching three top fives in the first nine races of the season.

Hamlin has scored Driver Ratings above 100.0 in four of the last six races. Hamlin also has been towards the front -- in three of the last four races he has spent 70% or more of the laps in the Top 15.

That momentum should continue this weekend at Hamlin's hometown track, a place at which he scored a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 last season.

At Richmond, Hamlin has a win, four top fives and five top 10s in eight starts. Hamlin is ranked first in three NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data categories: Driver Rating (121.0), Average Running Position (4.621), and Laps Led with 28% of his laps completed being in the lead.

Then there's Harvick, winner of last Sunday's race at Talladega. Currently second in points, Harvick ranks 12th in Average Running Position (15.8) and sixth in Driver Rating (94.0).

At Richmond, Harvick ranks second only to Hamlin in Average Running Position (7.165) and Driver Rating (113.6). Additionally, Harvick leads the series in Laps in the Top 15 percentage with a 93.0%.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Gentlemen, Start Your Data: Saturday night's race at Richmond has implications beyond this week. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the track Sept. 11, it will be for the annual "Chase cut-off" race, the final chance for drivers to qualify for the 12-driver Chase field.

Which means teams will in data acquisition mode this time around.

"Richmond [in the spring] is really one of those pivotal races in our season," said Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. "When we go back there, it's for the cut-off race. So you definitely better be good there in May, to be good there in September."

Stewart, Office Depot Encourage Fans to 'Get Your Pin On': NASCAR fans can now head to their local Office Depot store to get a 2010 NASCAR Day pin.

Office Depot, the Official Office Products Partner of NASCAR and co-primary sponsor of Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is carrying the collectible pins for the first time this year, with availability at its more than 1,100 retail stores nationwide through NASCAR Day on May 21.

Fans simply make a $5 donation to receive a pin. Funds raised will benefit The NASCAR Foundation and The Office Depot Foundation. Both non-profit organizations share a commitment to supporting programs that help children live happier, healthier lives and strengthen communities.

NASCAR Day pins can also be found at Bass Pro Shops and on-line at the NASCAR. COM Superstore.

Fan Friendly: Track Walk At RIR: Prior to Saturday night's race, three of Virginia's "favorite sons" will take some early laps -- on foot -- with thousands of race fans as part of the Coca-Cola Family Track Walk, a season-long program designed to encourage active family fun.

The third event in the 2010 Coca-Cola Family Track Walk series will kick off at 1:30 p.m. at Gate 70, outside of Turn 4. Fans can get moving alongside Coca-Cola Racing Family members and Virginia natives Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler. Following the walk, fans can enjoy activities for the whole family, including games, music, racing simulators, motivating lifestyle tips and Q&A sessions with drivers. The free event is open to all Saturday race ticket holders.

Up Next: Race 11 @ Darlington

We'll fight the urge here to proclaim "it's Showtime" when talking about the next race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule -- the Showtime Southern 500, set for "Mother's Day Eve" on the night of May 8 at famed Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Old race ... new sponsor ... great race track ... under the lights. It all adds up to a late-spring spectacular on the 1.366-mile egg-shaped layout.

The Southern 500 is NASCAR's oldest "major" event, dating to 1950 when Darlington was NASCAR's first superspeedway and Johnny Mantz was the first champion in a Plymouth, a car that was partially owned by NASCAR founder/President Bill France Sr.

Mark Martin (No. 5 Chevrolet) is the defending champion. Last year's Southern 500 helped define his splendid season in which he finished as the series championship runner-up to four-time champion Jimmie Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.

Jeff Gordon leads active drivers in victories at Darlington, with seven, third all-time behind David Pearson's 10 and Dale Earnhardt's nine. Five of Gordon's Darlington wins have come in the Southern 500.

Fast Facts

The Race: Crown Royal Presents The Heath Calhoun 400
The Place: Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, May 1
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 400 laps / 300 miles

TV: FOX , 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128. (Local: WRVA-AM 1140 and WRNL-AM 910.)

2009 Polesitter: Brian Vickers
2009 Winner: Kyle Busch

Schedule Prior To Race Day: Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. and 2-3:30. Qualifying, 5:40.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , David Pearson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports