So, what did we learn at Richmond?
Well, we learned that it isn’t exactly a track conducive to providing riveting televised sports excitement. To be blunt, Saturday night’s race was as boring as blazes. I actually nodded off more than a few times during the dullathon. The ESPN crew simply does not have it takes to conjure up a silk purse from such a sow’s ear. Toss in Rusty and Brad and I’m sure the boys and girls did not convert any novice viewers into becoming die hard NASCAR fans. It was like watching soccer on wheels. Still, all was not lost. At least it ended with me feeling well rested.
We learned that Denny Hamlin, who has been cold as ice the past couple of months, still has enough left in the tank to contend when it counts. Between Atlanta and Richmond, the Pied Piper went from worst to first, collected his 6th win of the season, and enters the Chase ten points better than Jimmie Johnson. Whether his lead will hold up or not will be answered soon enough this weekend.
We learned that Clint Bowyer was not going to be denied a shot at the title. Rather than falling out in Joe Nemechek fashion early, which would have given some others a chance, the Kansas driver was near the front the entire evening, finishing 6th when all was said and done. Ryan, Jamie, and Mark can always dream that 2011 will be their year.
We learned that while Johnson and Jeff Gordon will be racing for the roses this fall, their Hendrick team-mates Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr will not. For Junior, starting in the top ten was as good as this night would get, as the rest turned out to be like so many others this season. Junior was 34th on Saturday night.
We learned that before we write off the son of the icon, the superman who was, we should check a few of the facts. Since he last made the Chase, Junior has led more than 1500 laps, averaged an 18th place finish over the past 134 events, collecting more than 110 points, on average, each race. Those figures are better than those of Juan Pablo Montoya over those same time period. Sadly, instead of being like the Columbian, Earnhart was supposed to be what Jimmie Johnson has become. In truth, the one guy Earnhardt fails to really measure up to is himself and the type of results he had enjoyed through 2006. Where he once won 2.4 races per year, he has won just once in the nearly four seasons since those glory days. Junior is still good. His misfortune is that what his fans want is greatness.
We learned the final lineup as to who will challenge for the crown, beginning this Sunday in New Hampshire. Five of them have already won the title, combining for a dozen championships between them. Johnson and Jeff Gordon seek their fifth, Tony Stewart his third, with Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth hoping for a second trophy for the mantle. Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, and Clint Bowyer would love to be part of their circle.
If history means anything, don’t expect Edwards or Kenseth to lead the way after Sunday. Neither has ever won at Loudon. The other ten have, with Burton with four to his credit. However, the smart money would be on the current leaders, as both Johnson and Hamlin appear to be heating up at about the right time at a track both seem to do well at. It should be a good one to watch, unless you were hoping to doze off in front of the television set Sunday afternoon. The action might prove too exciting for that. Enjoy the week.