A week on the excitement of a race at the biggest track in NASCAR the series heads to Richmond, Virginia, and to a much smaller track, though one that will include no less interest and, probably, contact.
Richmond's 0.75 D-shaped oval nicely straddles the various types of track included on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar. While its length sees it firmly in the short track category the banking around the track – 14 degrees in the turns, two degrees on the back straight and eight on the ever-curving front stretch mean that speeds reach 125mph, comfortably faster than the half-mile bullring at Bristol.
And just as Bristol is renowned for some of the best racing in NASCAR so is Richmond, the track one of few to still regularly sell-out and rewarded with the high-pressure final race before The Chase – the final ten races of the season that see the top-12 in points battle for the title. It is, in the words of Clint Bowyer “the perfect racetrack”
“It's just big enough that the fans sitting in the stands can get that sensation of speed,” he says. “But it's short enough, you can still beat and bang on each other, root and gouge.”
Bowyer will be one of the drivers returning a place with happy memories at Richmond, having won there in the Spring race two years ago.
“It's a track where me as a driver, and us as a team feel like we can get the job done,” he claims. “It's a great track for us and hopefully we can get that first win of out career together with the no.33 car.”
However, if the Kansas native is to return to victory lane and add to Richard Childress Racing 2010 win tally opened by Kevin Harvick last week he will have to beat the rest of the 43 car field, including three of the best drivers in the sport at the moment, all of who have fine form at Richmond.
Kyle Busch and Virginian Denny Hamlin will doubtless spearhead the Toyota challenge, Hamlin the most recent winner at the track, hopeful of keeping his streak alive. “It's always great coming back home,” he says. “It's been a great racetrack for us, been able to lead a lot of laps and win some races.”
“That pressure's off of us to win here, but we just come here with a relaxed attitude. We have the same car we had last year in the Fall and we just hope the outcome's the same.”
With two wins already under his belt this season – including an all important post-knee surgery win at Texas – Hamlin has announced himself as a genuine title challenger, a pretender to Jimmie Johnson's throne.
And Johnson should be another vying for glory on Saturday night, looking to add to the three wins he already has at the track. However, eyes may be on Johnson for a very different reason – the developing rivalry with Hendrick Motorsport teammate Jeff Gordon.
The pair have had run-ins at both of the last two races, escalating from the pair being “disappointed” with each other at Texas to Gordon being “pissed” at Johnson after an incident at Talladega. While Johnson urged the press not to bring out “Trouble At HMS” stories after Texas it is becoming a harder and harder story to ignore, and with NASCAR back on a short track even the merest contact between the pair will no doubt find its way into the headlines.
Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR