Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Don’t Be Fooled, Richmond Has Plenty of Excitement

Over the past decade, Richmond Raceway has been tabbed as a lackluster track. The circuit is often been cited as a venue for subpar contests, a lack of excitement leading up to the races from fans and competitors alike, and a dwindling importance on the NASCAR calendar.

But the how question is HOW?

As NASCAR heads to Richmond this weekend, it’s almost an unfair categorization to suggest the racing at this 0.75-mile short track deep in the heart of the racing-rich south is lackluster.

Just look at its history. For years, Richmond played host to the cutoff race before the start of the playoffs. Combined with a robust track record of nail-biting finishes, intense fights and some downright wacky events, there has been plenty of action in the 77-year history of the track

Think about arguably the greatest moment in Richmond’s history: the 1986 Miller High Life 400, when the top four drivers all crashed on the final lap, allowing a young Kyle Petty to score his first career win, charging from fifth on the final lap.

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Or more recently, who can forget when Carl Edwards bumped his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch from the lead on the final lap in 2016?

There is also Tony Stewart‘s first career victory in 1999, Jeremy Mayfield‘s walk-off win in 2004 and Kyle Busch wrecking Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008 only to have the favor returned at the track later that year.

Drivers not in contention for a win are also prone to putting on a show, like when Greg Biffle hopped out of his wrecked NASCAR Xfinity Series car and ran over to punch a still-strapped-in Jay Sauter right in front of the cheering crowd. Or how about Marcos Ambrose clocking Casey Mears after both finished outside the top 15 in a 2014 Cup race? And of course we can’t forget about Ricky Rudd and Kevin Havick‘s epic pit road brawl in 2003.

Even events that have had a lackluster feel have produced some compelling storylines. Take for example my first NASCAR race weekend in more than eight years.

After witnessing a massive pit road fire in the Xfinity race a few days before, I was greeted with an exceptional strategy battle in the Cup race. Underdog Justin Allgaier and his little HScott Motorsports team tried using a wild pit strategy that put him out in front for dozens of laps. Although the strategy ultimately failed as Kurt Busch came out the victor, it was nonetheless compelling watching a backmarker trying to pull off an upset that ultimately netted him a respectable top-10 finish.

So even if this weekend’s races have the appearance of a snoozefest, there are still bound to be plenty of gripping storylines to follow.

Virginia’s own Denny Hamlin will try to defend his crown as the defending spring race winner. Harvick is the most recent victor, having won last year’s playoff race. He’ll try for another in his final season as a full-time driver.

Then there is Hendrick Motorsports trio of Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman, who are riding high on momentum after a midweek decision to rescind their points deduction following the massive penalties levied against them earlier this season.

Plus, there is a large contingent, including points leader Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney and former Richmond winner Martin Truex Jr., who are hungry for their first wins this season.

And if you still don’t see any action, there are good odds that something wacky will happen, because history says that crazy events are in Richmond’s DNA too.

Don’t believe it? Then how do you explain when a caution flag once flew for a (very inebriated) fan sitting on top of the catch fence? Or when Derrike Cope crashed so hard that his roof flew off? Or when a car landed on top of Ryan Newman in 2016, something that only happened to him on superspeedways and not a small short track?

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If you need more wacky, you can find NASCAR’s greatest controversy dubbed Spingate as an example, when Michael Waltrip Racing basically hijacked an event in 2013. Clint Bowyer intentionally spun to bring out a caution, Brian Vickers made an unnecessary trip to pit road and the MWR spotters conspired with a fellow team for track position all in an attempt to get their teammate Truex into the playoffs. And it actually worked, until it didn’t. Unsurprisingly, MWR was accessed the largest fine in NASCAR history at that time.

Then there is Matt Kenseth crashing into an ambulance in 2017, Michael McDowell hitting a safety truck in 2015, Johnny Sauter quitting in the middle of a truck race and Dave Marcis ending up in victory lane after wrecking with a lap car on the final lap of a rain-shortened event in 1982 after leader Joe Ruttman also wrecked.

So don’t be fooled, Richmond is bound to produce some good action this weekend.

About the author

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Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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