Richmond saw racing and a lot more. Toyota, with track and race sponsorships (ToyotaCare 250 / Toyota Owners 400), owned Xfinity race day with a pole and a 100th series win from Toyota driver Denny Hamlin. Sunday, the day started with Joey Logano’s Ford and ended with Kurt Busch’s Chevy.

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We also saw tributes on the Pace Car, during driver introductions and reminders through the weekend and the race on the loss of NASCAR sports broadcaster Steve Byrnes. His insights and character enhanced the sport, the fans and everyone in the garage and the shops.

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We met the new Miss Coors Light at the Pole Winner presentations. Rachel Rupert has been in the Coors Light suit since 2010 and at Richmond we met former Miss Kentucky (2012) Amanda Mertz. She is outgoing, smiley and pretty and likes the sport. Good luck Rachel – We’ll miss you. Hello Amanda – Welcome.

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There was an extra day thanks to April showers. The schedule for Saturday was essentially down the drain. Fans, however, still made the best of it. They listened to the band at the Miller Lite Party Tent, they shopped for their favorite driver merch and they toured the infield and braved the weather the same as teams did going through the pre-race inspections.

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I’m guessing… But it is quite possible the local economy was boosted a bit with liquid sales on Saturday just a bit beyond normal…

All in all, rain and all, the welcome of the new and the farewell of the familiar, Richmond brought the races and the memories that the sport thrives on.

The weather was out there and on the radar days before the weekend at Richmond International Raceway. The hope, of course, was that some supreme intervention would take place and push the rain off by just one day. It was the race that was pushed as the rain came all day and into the scheduled race time Saturday night. The Toyota Owners 400 was run on Sunday.

It was a week before that the scheduled daylight race at Bristol was pushed under the lights by wet weather. It was the flipside at Richmond as the Saturday night race went off the stripe in the early afternoon of Sunday.

The Friday events went off under comfortable blue skies and a nice, but cool, evening. Practices and qualifying were played out as teams gathered their data and set up for racing. The Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 was, apparently, the star shine for Toyota as Denny Hamlin took off from the pole in the FedEx #11 Toyota and, except for two laps, was out in front to the finish.

The rain delayed Toyota Owners 400 was a runaway for Kurt Busch and the HAAS Automation #41 Chevrolet. Joey Logano gave up the lead from the pole at lap 95 and Busch kept himself out front. Team mate Kevin Harvick gave him a go as did Jamie McMurray but Busch held it. Justin Allgaier even chased from the 2nd spot for a few laps. Jimmie Johnson was up close as was Kahne, Kenseth and Gordon but were mostly trying to hang on to single digit finishes.

At the checkers it was Busch, Harvick, Johnson, McMurray and Logano rolling through as winner through five.

There was also a brief and fiery reminder of just how much this sport rides the line. It was what seems to be a freak accident Friday night involving the gas can and nozzle as fuel went onto pit toad at the tail of Brendan Gaughan’s #62. Something sparked and the pit was a fireball as the Gaughan frantically pulled from the pit with flames licking off the back. Crewmembers were treated and or hospitalized but all, at this time, are reported to be OK and recovering.

It was just a day or two shy of a year ago when fire was also an issue at RIR as Goodyear tires were over heating and flaming up. Remember Clint Bowyer’s #15 rolling on flames….?


Footage FOX Sports Broadcast

Photos: Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 (Friday 4-24)

Photos: Sprint Cup Toyota Owners 400 (Sunday 4-26)

BONUS PHOTOS: Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston Speedway (Thursday 4-23)

Rain and racing. It is not a good mix but Bristol held out and went under the lights for the Food City 500 and the fans that hung in there saw a really good race full of what makes Bristol such a thing.

It is short track racing in a bowl and they mixed it up nicely. Bumps, spins and tangles put some in the garage and everyone that crossed the finish had some kind of battle damage.

The race started a bit late and went 22 laps before a caution and rain during clean up put the covers on and Penske team mates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski in the garage.

Several hours later the lights were coming on and the laps were being run. At the end of the day, or night, it was Matt Kenseth crossing where he started… In front. Other contenders and front runners were caught up in accidents that put them either off the pace or off the track completely.

Kevin Harvick, out front for a lion’s share, saw his run stop quickly when he caught the aftermath of a Jeb Burton spin which was set off by a touch from Jimmie Johnson. Harvick’s #4 Chevy was heavily damaged and out of the run.

Stewart-Haas team mate Kurt Busch was also putting in a run for the front but a late race pit for fresh tires put him in 6th on the restart and with 8 laps to go was suddenly stopped when Carl Edwards lost it running with Gordon near the front. Busch and the #41 had no place to go but into Edward’s #19.

The remaining Stewart-Haas drivers, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, managed to roll out with top 10 finishes.
Jimmie Johnson, despite damage and being well in the back at one point, managed to get back to second place with team mate Jeff Gordon right behind. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Ryan Newman filled the top 5.

Bristol was a boost for many in the field. Danica Patrick continues to run well with this top 10. It was Stewart’s best finish this season. Matt Kenseth has his first win since 2013. Gordon also needed a good run with not so hot performance in his last full season. Newman in the top 5 was a good run following the penalties for his team over tire handling issues.

There was also drama around the #11 and Denny Hamlin. The weather, the starting and stopping or just luck put him in a painful situation with a stiff neck. The long rain delay saw no real relief and the decision was made to put Xfinity driver Erik Jones into the #11 which he had never driven and was set, of course, for Hamlin. Jones finished 26th in his Sprint Cup “trial by Bristol fire” debut.

Now the focus rolls into Richmond. The scheduled night race of the Toyota Owners 400 is ramping up. The Xfinity series runs the night before. Some of the drivers will also be rolling out Thursday night in South Boston for the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown with the area’s top late model locals.

Hamlin should be loosened up and ready for his big charity event at SoBo and Richmon for the weekend.
Go Racing!

Well, Virginia… Racing is ON!

Martinsville has had their Spring opener. Denny Hamlin won the Cup race. Joey Logano won the day before in trucks.

Bristol is coming up after the post-Easter stop out in Texas. Bristol is the weekend of April 18-19 followed one week later (April 24-25) in Richmond. It is a big bunch of weeks for NASCAR and the big guns in Virginia. Three visits (Martinsvile has run with Bristol and Richmond on the horizon) in the equivalent of one month.

However, April has much more to fill in for racing now and well into the Summer. The short tracks and other courses offer big racing often overshadowed by the “stars” of NASCAR.

South Boston has been racing since March and always serves up a good show. A lot of familiar names have passed laps at South Boston and one returns with some of his NASCAR pals in April. Mixed in with regular schedules of Late Model and other series is the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown on the 23rd (Thursday before Richmond weekend). Catch a big season at South Boston and get a dose of where NASCAR started.

Motor Mile Speedway in Radford is another of the short tracks in the area with a Summer schedule beginning in May. Late Models, Monster Trucks and drag racing are all ready to run.

Southside, Shenandoah, Lonesome Pine, Langley… Even tracks like Franklin County offer up weekly or regular scheduled racing.

North Carolina tracks also highlight the Summer with tight, fast laps and scraped fenders. From Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem to Caraway (south of Greensboro), Coastal Plains, East Carolina and Hickory the Late Models, Modifieds and more are making the race.

For even more variety to fill your racing plate, check a little spot between Martinsville and South Boston. Just outside of Danville is Virginia International Raceway. From sports cars (SCCA, Tudor, NARRA) to NASCAR (K&N) to motorcycles and more VIR has enough twists and turns and wheels to hold any fan. They even have a new Oak Tree!

Virginia is a hotbed for speed. You don’t have to wait for the TV circus to come around to find it. They are racing on short tracks, paved and dirt, all over the state. Go to Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond but make sure you visit VIR, South Boston and some others and, perhaps, cross the North Carolina border and catch some more.

Just go racing!

Fans and drivers went to Martinsville Speedway a little bewildered by news of a “new” famous Martinsville hot dog. If you could tell any difference by the checkered flag on Sunday you must have some kind of super sense for processed meat products…

By the time the checkers fell on Sunday and the STP 500 it is a good bet nobody was concerned about hot dogs. Virginia native Denny Hamlin drove the #11 Fed-Ex / Joe Gibbs Toyota to the win and huge applause from the stands.

It was a good day for some and others fell back during the first short track race of the season. Many who tend to do well were caught with mechanical issues, wrecks or just out of the rhythm. Jimmie Johnson and team mate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered issues that put them down several laps. Dale, Jr. was involved in a crash that had him back out several laps later with no front end sheet metal.

Jeff Gordon held the front for a bit and went on to finish 9th but was still hit during the race with a pit road penalty that put him back. Kasey Kahne even lead some and finished 11th.  All in all a split day of results for the Hendrick cars.

Stewart-Haas teams were up front and overall did well but couldn’t manage the end with Hamlin. Kevin Harvick lead a good chunk but couldn’t extend his run of top-2 finishes (8th). Kurt Busch also held the front but fell back to 14th at the end. Tony Stewart ran mid pack early on but by the later laps was up front to challenge but was edged outside and the train went by as he finished 20th. It was Danica Patrick that seemed to get in the groove at Martinsville, avoided some traffic and crashes and finished 7th.

It was the Joe Gibbs and Penske teams that filled the top 5 at the finish having a good race day in general. JGR cars finished 1st (Denny Hamlin), 4th (Matt Kenseth) and 5th (David Ragan in for Kyle Busch). Penske teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished  2nd and 3rd with Logano starting on the pole.

Others in the top 10 were Martin Truex, Jr (6th) and Jamie McMurray (10th).

For fans it was a big day of racing with 31 lead changes involving 13 drivers and a familiar winner. 16 cautions gave fans a chance to examine their hot dogs for any signs of change.

It could be a momentum changing race for Joe Gibbs Racing and Denny Hamlin in particular.

The Easter break is on and the circus rolls on afterward to Texas then back to closer racing at Bristol (4-19) and Richmond (4-25).

PHOTOS: Friday Practice | Saturday Practice | Kroger 250 | STP 500

 

South Boston.

First, let me say my GPS hates me. It picked what may have been the straightest course but it was also littered with old tobacco barns, tractors, and State Troopers apparently tired of Interstate travel.

I’ve been to the South Boston Speedway before but have not come in this way. On the plus side, I did see parts of the town I had not been through previously. Quaint little shops and a downtown with some art and coulture scattered about.

Pretty.

Racing, of course, is what brought me back to South Boston. Every visit brings to mind the thought of “why do I not visit more often?”. Well, there is a distance issue. Even so, all things considered, it isn’t that far…

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The coincidence, or the weird, or the ironic…

Not sure which…

Daytona and the opening of NASCAR offered a generous and exciting start to the season but it also raised the spirit of the modern sport itself.

It’s all a bit spooky…

Consider the recap. Richard Childress brings the #3 back to Cup with driver and grandson Austin Dillon. Dillon has done the number proud with the trucks and a championship in the Nationwide series.

Dillon qualifies with the #3 on the pole for the Daytona 500. The first return of the #3 to Cup since the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt (the man that made the number an icon) and it is leading the pack for the start of the new NASCAR season. (more…)