[media-credit id=18 align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]It was a short track. It was a night race. So this race should have been an incredible journey back to the old school racing that made NASCAR a household word. But from the beginning of the week end it was obvious that something was missing. The first races of the weekend might have been the problem. Did they set the pace.
The K&N East series race lacked luster and excitement. It was to be blunt, dull. It was a close race at the front between Darrell Wallace Jr and Max Gresham. Wallace, from Mobile, Ala., gained his third victory in just his 13th career start in the K&N Pro Series East. He took the lead from Gresham for the first time on Lap 55, and the two later swapped it following a restart on Lap 78, and for the decisive time on Lap 79.
“We just had to be patient, and be there at about halfway,” Wallace said. “[Max] Gresham was pretty strong, and I think we just a little bit better car and a better line, and we just took it away from him.”
Next on the schedule was the Denny Hamlin Late Model charity race. A thunder storm that moved through the area kept the crowd to a minimum but Denny Hamlin finally won his own charity race.
Although he was scheduled to start on the pole for the race, he choose to start from the back. Hamlin moved his way through the pack avoiding accidents along the way to join team mate Kyle Busch at the front of the field. The final restart came when Max Gresham and Darryl Wallace Jr tangled causing the final caution.
Busch took the lead at the green but ran out of gas on the back stretch allowing Hamlin and Michael Waltrip to take over the point. “I’m glad he ran out of fuel because it might have got ugly,” Hamlin said. “Trust me; if Kyle wouldn’t have run out of gas, I would have done everything possible to get around him.”
Hamlin, who said last week that the race raised over $100,000 last year, said he will wait to see how much money was raised this year, then give 10 percent to help tornado victims. Where that money will go specifically will be determined by where there is the most need, he said.
His usual charities — the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Richmond — will receive the other 90 percent of money raised.
Friday would bring the Nationwide Series to the spotlight with Carl Edwards starting the Fastenal Ford Fusion from the pole of the Bubba Burger 250. The race would have strange turns of events throughout its course.
The most prominent of those oddities was the lack of cautions. Only 2 yellow flags waved for the entire race. The long green flag runs made for a decisively boring race that saw Denny Hamlin lead for 199 of the 251 laps.
The second was a penalty assessed by NASCAR to pole sitter Carl Edwards. Edwards who ran out of gas and had to push started was penalized for working on the car outside the pit box even though the rule clearly gives him 3 boxes to be pushed by crew to restart the car. The penalty put the pole sitter 5 laps down and for the most part eliminated him from competition.
NASCAR would announce on Saturday that they had made an error with the penalty and in fact Edwards and his Jack Roush crew were in the right. No change was made to the finishing order.
The third oddity came when Aric Almirola’s Hellmann’s Chevrolet ran out of fuel on the back stretch. Almirola who asked for team mate Josh Wish to give him a push, instead found help from former Jr. Motorsports driver, Brad Keselowski. Keselowski pushed the car to the opening of the pit road and then took a run with a hard push to propel the 88 down the pit road before resuming his position on the track.
Almirola who was not under power at that time was deemed to be speeding on pit road. His crew who worked quickly to refuel and change tires got the car to refire almost immediately.
As Almirola left the pit road it was deemed that he was speeding off pit road as well. To further add confusion to the issue, television commentators stated the speeding was to avoid going a lap down and a penalty would be assessed. With in seconds Almirola began to back up in the line up to the last position on the lead lap as is customary for speeding under caution. The final position was 7th. Almirola came across the line in 5th position on the checkered flag which waved with the caution flag.
The 88 was originally credited by NASCAR timing and scoring as finishing in the 5th spot. Shortly after the conclusion of the race Almirola was relegated first to the 6th position and then finally to the 14th spot one lap down. NASCAR put him one lap down due to the speeding penalty and said he should have started at the end of the one lap down cars.
Almirola who was obviously upset, stated, “They are going to have to explain this one to me. I went from 5th to 14th after the race.” Almirola and Crew Chief Tony Eury Sr spent time in the NNS hauler discussing the issue.
In defense of Almirola, he was scored first 5th then 6th then 14th. He was not alone in his finishing position being changed after the race several drivers’ positions changed and the final finishing order was not available until after 1 AM CST. At that point Nascar.com still listed Aric Almirola and the 88 in 5th position. The next morning the line up had been changed yet again.
The final oddity occurred when Danica Patrick was shown as the driver for the 7 car out of the JR Motorsports stable. The NASCAR 2011 game sponsored car was driven by Josh Wise and finished 6th. Speeds “unofficial results” show Patrick as finishing 3rd in the 7 car. The 7 car however, was never in the 3rd position on the race track.
The Sprint Cup race would be frustrating to say the least. Long green runs were followed by yellows every 10 laps and then a long green flag run to the checkers. The viewers at home and the fans in the stands seemed to be the only people wondering about the outcome, the announcers for Fox seemed to know who the winner would be from the beginning of the race. Constant proclamations of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin would indeed prove to be the case as the Gibbs team finished 1st and 2nd.
The race was full of action typically seen on a short track. Tempers flared between Juan Montoya and Ryan Newman with Newman going to the hauler to see “what they intended to do with the 42.” Montoya exited the track on a golf cart immediately following the race with no comments given to the press.
Jeff Gordon who undoubtedly had one of the strongest cars in the field was wrecked in a multiple car pile up on the front stretch and hit hard with the driver’s side door on the only accessible wall that did not have a safer barrier. Gordon was slow to exit the car, but said later on Twitter that he was fine, but would be sore for a couple of days.
The usually strong Budweiser Chevy faded late in the race to finish a lap down, a performance very uncharacteristic of Kevin Harvick. He was not the only car to struggle uncharacteristically. Jimmie Johnson rallied late to finish 9th but struggled the entire race. As did Dale Earnhardt Jr who had to stop late in the race for fuel and was thus relegated to a 19th place finish 2 laps down.
The fact that a short track race became a fuel mileage situation was frustrating. Fuel mileage races are for the most part a boring affair. This was no different. Although it had all the short track action, it was just an ok race. It left this writer scratching her head.
What happened? Why did this race go from being a promise of exciting old school racing to a snoozer? All the pieces were there. Yet the most excitement came from the radio communication of drivers like Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr, and Ryan Newman. If you were not able to partake in the scanner communications the race was well drab.
This race truly was a camouflage affair. It had all the promise of the hunt and yet at the end it fell short of its promise. It was not the track itself. It was not the cars or even the drivers’ performances. It was that one missing link. It was the missing something that kept the race from being good that made it just ok.
Richmond was full of the high strung antics of the thoroughbreds that make up the Sprint Cup roster. The angry words, the angry antics, the promise of long memories, drivers who were angry at cars, engineers, teams, pit stops and well just themselves; for all of the hype Richmond fell short of being a good show. That perhaps was the biggest surprise of all.
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Congratulations to Darrell Wallace Jr on his K&N East series win. He showed the grace and class in victory lane that one must possess to be a champion of the sport. I look forward to watching him grow within the sport. Congratulations to Denny Hamlin on his Nationwide Series win. He put on a dominating performance. Congratulations to Kyle Busch on his Sprint Cup win. Happy Birthday Kyle and may you have many returns on the day. Kudos to the Lowes Race team on never giving up, the perseverance of champions was never more evident than it was in Richmond on Saturday night. You proved how you became 5 time champions and why you are challengers for the 6 pack.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.