Track history: Richmond International Raceway (RIR) started out in 1946 as a 1/2-mile dirt oval. The first NASCAR Cup Series event was held there 7 years later. The track was finally paved in 1968. The facility's present configuration was constructed in September 1988. It is now a 3/4-mile 'D' shaped asphalt oval with banking of 14 degrees allowing the cars to average 125 mph laps.
In 1991, lights were installed around the track and since then, all racing at Richmond is “under the lights.”
RIR is almost completely surrounded by grandstand seats. In May 2007, the new TORQUE Club and Commonwealth Grandstand opened to the public. After the September 2006 race, about 3,000 of the low-row seats were removed and the 180-foot high structure was built. This gave the Raceway a gain of almost 5,000 seats, bringing the seating capacity to 112,029.
Heading into Richmond this weekend, the top nine drivers in the point standings have clinched a berth into the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Tony Stewart, 10th in the points, will get into the Chase either by remaining in 10th or will get in as one of the two Wild Card (11th and 12th place) picks. The focus this week will be on drivers trying to score those two final Wild Card spots to get into the 10-race ‘playoffs’. There are various ‘clinch scenarios’ (which we won’t go into here) for two of the following to make the Chase: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Paul Menard. All other drivers have been ‘mathematically eliminated from Chase contention’.
Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Kyle Busch 4/28/12, Kevin Harvick 9/10/11, Kyle Busch 4/30/11, Denny Hamlin 9/11/10 and Kyle Busch 5/1/10.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Jeff Fuller 3/8/92 and Jeff Green 9/10/94.
First Cup pole: Bobby Labonte 9/11/93, Ted Musgrave 3/6/94 and Brian Vickers 5/15/04.
First Cup win: Tony Stewart 9/11/99 and Kasey Kahne 5/14/05.
April 19, 1953: Buck Baker qualified the No. 87 Griffin Motors ’53 Oldsmobile on the pole for the 1953 Richmond 200 with a lap of 48.465 mph on the half-mile dirt track. He finished third to race winner, Lee Petty. Petty, father of Richard Petty, won $1000 for putting his 1953 Petty Enterprises Dodge up front at the end of the 100 mile event.
September 10, 2011: Kevin Harvick won the Wonderful Pistachios 400 from a seventh place start. It was the No. 29 Chevrolet driver’s fourth victory in 2011 and second in 22 starts at Richmond. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 17 Matt Kenseth 15 laps, finished 23rd; No. 1 Jamie McMurray 19 laps, finished 14th; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 38 laps, finished 31st; No. 99 Carl Edwards 113 laps, finished second and winner Harvick led the most laps (202 of 400). Pole-sitter No. 00 David Reutimann was passed on the first lap, never led a lap and finished 26th.
April 28, 2012: Kyle Busch won the Capital City 400 from a fifth place start. It was the No. 18 Toyota driver’s first victory in 2012 and fourth in 15 starts at Richmond. This was his fourth consecutive win in the Spring races at Richmond International Raceway breaking a tie with Richard Petty (1971-1973). Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 29 Kevin Harvick 13 laps, finished 19th; Pole-sitter No. 55 Mark Martin 29 laps, finished eighth; winner Busch led 32 laps; No. 14 Tony Stewart 118 laps, finished third and No. 99 Carl Edwards led the most laps (206 of 400) and finished 10th.
Your fantasy game won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. There were 45 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond, Virginia.
Mark Martin is ranked No. 1 in NASCAR Statistics loop data 'Closer' category for the last 15 races at Richmond. He gained an average of 2.9 positions in the last 10% of those races. His average finish of 12.1 in 55 RIR starts is outstanding. Has he lost it over the years? Nah! His last three starts here resulted in a 14th, 10th and he crossed the finish line in eighth (from the pole) this past April. Besides his one win, four poles and 27 top-10’s in the Cup Series, Martin has five wins and 20 top 10’s in 25 Nationwide Series starts at the Virginia track. He entered one truck race here; started fourth, finished third. This is a good week to use the No. 55 Toyota.
Marcos Ambrose has one slim chance to grab one of the Wild Card entries into the Chase. He needs a second win this season and Richmond is his last opportunity. As noted above, he and eight others are vying for one of those spots but only Kasey Kahne has two wins and should clinch one of them. Ambrose is one of six with a single victory. He holds a 16.1 average finish for seven starts at RIR with a best finish of fifth. He’ll have to be super aggressive to do better on Saturday night. With the way he’s been driving lately, that shouldn’t be a problem for the No. 9 Ford driver.
In his first four starts here, Juan Pablo Montoya bulled his way around the track, got a few drivers mad and averaged a 32nd place finish. In his last seven races at the 3/4 mile track, he found a better way around and has only two finishes outside of the top 15. In one of those two finishes, he started on the pole, led the first 25 laps, but was put into the wall by another driver and finished five laps down in 29th. NASCAR Statistics has Montoya listed third in their Quality Passes category. He passed 341 cars while running in the top 15 during his 11 Richmond starts. Give the No. 42 Chevrolet some consideration to match his April 2012 finish of 12th place.
Our deepest pick this week goes to a driver who is moving on after this season. Joey Logano will move to Penske Racing in 2013 but still has to finish out the season in the No. 20 Toyota. Like Ambrose, with one win this season, he has a slim (really slim!) chance of making the Chase. At Richmond, he has a 17.6 average finish for seven Cup starts. He did better in the Nationwide Series at RIR with three top-10s in four starts. To date, Logano has 22 short track starts in the Cup Series. He earned only four top-10s but scored 16th or better in over half of those races and that’s the kind of driver this column is all about. Now that his future is secure, give Logano a look to wind down at JGR on a high note.