BUSCH: Richmond II: News of note, schedule

* Erin Crocker set for NASCAR Busch Series debut on Friday * Ford tightens race for Bill France Performance Cup NEWS & NOTES Hamlin hopes to make mark at Richmond ... Denny Hamlin comes to his home track at Richmond International Raceway ...

* Erin Crocker set for NASCAR Busch Series debut on Friday

* Ford tightens race for Bill France Performance Cup


Hamlin hopes to make mark at Richmond ... Denny Hamlin comes to his home track at Richmond International Raceway ranked fifth in the NASCAR Busch Series standings, his highest mark of the season. The native of Chesterfield, Va., who is a product of NASCAR's ladder system from the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, has been in the top 10 in points since the fourth race. He is one of three Raybestos Rookies in the top 10 along with Carl Edwards and Reed Sorenson. After starting 30th, Hamlin finished 13th at Richmond in June, a race won by Edwards. "I'm really looking forward to returning to Richmond," Hamlin said. "This has been a grueling summer schedule and with an off-weekend around the corner, the team seems to have a little extra energy. We've been running well lately and getting in the top five was a big hurdle. We still have an outside chance of finishing in the top three, but I don't think that eight races is enough time to make up 200 points. Stranger things have happened and a couple of those teams in front of us have a chance at having some major distractions coming down to the end. Our team seems to be getting better each week and we're ready to roll off several good finishes in a row."

Crocker set for series debut ... The much-anticipated NASCAR Busch Series debut of Erin Crocker (No. 6 Country Crock Dodge) is set for Friday at Richmond. The 24-year-old Crocker began making headlines after winning the pole and leading 28 laps in her first career stock car race -- an ARCA event -- at Nashville Superspeedway this past March. In five ARCA starts this season, the native of Wilbraham, Mass., earned two pole awards with three top fives and four top 10s. In addition, she led a total of 86 laps. "This weekend is what I have been waiting for, working for and striving for so many years," Crocker said. "It is almost hard to believe that the hard work and years of dedication have finally paid off. The fact that I am able to begin my NASCAR career [with] such a successful and experienced team (Evernham Motorsports) behind me is an amazing opportunity that I intend to make the most out of." Crocker's crew chief, Trip Bruce, believes the young driver is well-prepared for her debut. "We tested at Richmond with Erin last Monday and the entire team left feeling really good about it," he said. "It was a lot for Erin to take on in just one day but she is a quick learner and a great race car driver. She displayed a lot of car control, which is essential at a short track like Richmond. Our goals for this weekend are to help Erin stay on a pace she can maintain, to complete every lap, to have good pit stops and to have a good, clean race. If we can do those things we should have a pretty good night."

Sauter hopes to celebrate NASCAR anniversary at Richmond ... Johnny Sauter (No. 1 Miccosukee Dodge) will celebrate his fourth year of participation in NASCAR national series competition on Wednesday, and he has three opportunities to get back to Victory Lane at Richmond. The 27-year-old native of Necedah, Wis., is in the midst of his best sustained performances of the season, having posted top fives in his last two NASCAR Busch Series races, and top-10 finishes in five of his last six outings. Sauter made his NASCAR Busch Series debut at Richmond on Sept. 7, 2001, finishing a surprising fifth. He also captured his second series win at this track in the fall 2003 race in an exciting last-lap jostle with Matt Kenseth. "Riding a wave of recent success into a place like Richmond definitely helps," Sauter said. "I mean, it's a track where [the team and I have won] before and we looked like we could've won in the spring, so we definitely know where Victory Lane is." Sauter is entered in all three events at Richmond, starting with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on Thursday night (No. 43 Menard's/Curb Records Chevrolet), Friday night's NASCAR Busch Series event and ending with Saturday's penultimate NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race where he will drive the No. 09 Miccosukee Dodge for his NASCAR Busch Series owner, James Finch.

Ford tightens Bill France Performance Cup race ... Carl Edwards gave Ford its first win in five races last Saturday night at California and moved the manufacturer within six points of Chevrolet in the 2005 Bill France Performance Cup standings. Edwards' victory -- his fourth of the season -- gives Ford nine wins on the year, two behind Chevrolet's 11. Chevrolet has 181 points while Ford has 175. Dodge, which had won four of the five races prior to California -- three in succession compliments of Ryan Newman -- is still in the hunt with seven wins and 157 points. Chevrolet leads with 14 wins overall in NASCAR Busch Series competition at Richmond, and Chevy or Ford has won the last 25 races at the .75-mile track. Edwards' victory there this past May snapped a five-race winning streak by Chevrolet at Richmond.


Mark Martin (No. 9 Red Apple Ford) is the all-time leader in NASCAR Busch Series wins at Richmond with five. He is also the all-time leader in top fives (13) and top 10s (18), races led (15) and laps led (1,196) at the track. ... Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Domino's Pizza Chevrolet) is the leading active driver with five Busch Poles at Richmond. ... By starting the race, Kenny Wallace and Jason Keller would tie for second in all-time starts at the track with 24. Wallace, with three wins, is the only driver entered other than Martin who has more than one series victory at Richmond. ... Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Waste Management Ford) has an average finish of 7.4 in his NASCAR Busch Series events at Richmond, best among drivers entered.


Denny Hamlin will be joined by fellow Virginia natives Stacy Compton (No. 59 Kingsford/Busch's Baked Beans Ford -- Grit), Ashton Lewis Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marine Corps Ford -- Chesapeake) and Jon Wood (No. 49 Clorox/Wisk Ford -- Stuart) in a "home track" scenario at Richmond. ... In addition to Johnny Sauter, Kevin Harvick (No. 21 Reese's Chevrolet), Tony Stewart (No. 83 Old Spice Chevrolet) and Mike Wallace (No. 38 Great Clips Dodge) are entered in all three NASCAR races at Richmond this weekend. ... Eight former Richmond winners are entered in Friday's race while seven previous Busch Pole winners at RIR are in the field. ... David Stremme will attempt to qualify for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race on Saturday night. ... Three former NASCAR Busch Series champions -- Bobby Labonte (No. 19 Banquet Chevrolet -- 1991), Kevin Harvick (2001), Greg Biffle (No. 66 Duraflame Ford -- 2002) -- and the all-time leader in NASCAR Busch Series wins (Mark Martin -- 47) are among the 14 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regulars entered in Friday night's race. ... Richmond International Raceway is one of seven tracks to hold at least one NASCAR Busch Series race each year since the series was established in 1982. ... NASCAR Busch North Series standout Ryan Moore (No. 81 Kraft/Oreo Chevrolet) will attempt to make his second series start this season for Dale Earnhardt Inc. ... Andy Houston, the spotter for Brent Sherman's No. 10 Serta Ford, is entered in Thursday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event. Houston has three wins, 27 top fives and 51 top-10 finishes in that series.


"It's another nighttime short track race that the fans love and it's one of the races that the fans get really excited for, so that makes it really fun for us as a team. The atmosphere there is great. It will be a good time." -- Kevin Hamlin (No. 4 GEICO Dodge)

"You can't beat short track racing at night. It's fun, with the beating and banging, sparks flying and sheet metal bending. I think it's going to be great, especially with Kyle being on such a high from winning this past weekend. I think we could put him in the 'Titanic' and he'd still drive it toward the front." -- Chad Walter, crew chief for Kyle Busch (No. 5 Lowe's Chevrolet)

"I really do like the one-day schedules. Personally, I like how the day builds -- practice, qualify and finally race. For the team, it's great ... the guys get to spend Saturday and Sunday at home with their families. It's almost like an off-weekend for the crew." -- Tim Sauter (No. 56 Lester Buildings Chevrolet)


One year ago, Mike Bliss and Mike Wallace posted the best-ever finishes among two NASCAR Busch Series regulars in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond.

The Chevy Rock & Roll 400 was the 26th and final event for premier series drivers to secure a spot in the inaugural 10-race "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."

Bliss, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished fourth, to date his career-best NASCAR NEXTEL Cup finish and at the time, the best finish by a NASCAR Busch Series regular in a premier series event in 22 years. Since then, Carl Edwards, who is running a full schedule in both series, has two wins in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition.

Wallace, driving for James Finch, was seventh, his best NASCAR NEXTEL Cup finish since a 10th-place effort at Talladega in the fall 2003 race.

Both Bliss and Wallace are now regulars on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.


Following next week's off-week, the NASCAR Busch Series returns to Dover International Speedway on Sept. 24 for the Dover 200. Martin Truex Jr., a native of Mayetta, N.J., considers Dover his home track, and has won two consecutive races there. He is the defending winner of this event, and also won at Dover this past June. Only one other driver -- Todd Bodine -- has three NASCAR Busch Series wins at Dover. Three drivers have posted season sweeps, with two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie the last to accomplish the feat in his initial championship season in 1996. Truex is attempting to become the first back-to-back series champion since his Chance 2 Motorsports owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in 1998-99.


What: Emerson Radio 250 (Race No. 28 of 35 in the NASCAR Busch Series).

Where: Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Va.

When: 7:50 p.m. ET, Friday, Sept. 9.

Track Layout: .75-mile oval.
Race Length: 250 laps/187.5 miles.

Posted Awards: $1,039,339.

TV: TNT, 7:30 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

2004 Winner: Robby Gordon.
2004 Polesitter: Kasey Kahne.

NASCAR Busch Series Top 10: 1. Martin Truex Jr. 3,874. 2. Clint Bowyer 3,732. 3. Carl Edwards 3,516. 4. Reed Sorenson 3,494. 5. Denny Hamlin 3,285. 6. Kenny Wallace 3,278. 7. David Stremme 3,030. 8. Paul Menard 3,021. 9. David Green 3,017. 10. Jason Keller 2,969.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Fri., Sept. 9: Practice -- 9:30 a.m. -- 11:50 a.m. Qualifying -- 4:35 p.m. (impound)


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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Todd Bodine , Jason Keller , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Mike Wallace , Andy Houston , Ryan Newman , Stacy Compton , Jon Wood , David Green , Tim Sauter , Johnny Sauter , Kasey Kahne , Brent Sherman , Mike Bliss , Martin Truex Jr. , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Erin Crocker , David Stremme , Clint Bowyer , Ashton Lewis , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson , Ryan Moore , Kevin Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing