Going Three Wide: A Look Back at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond
Sir Elton John may have told the music world that "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)," but after two wild nights at Richmond International Raceway, some NASCAR drivers and team members are back home today on a Sunday afternoon either shaking off some hangovers from post race celebrations or in the case of one racer, nursing to their "tools."
At times, the post-race actions were more of that in a hockey or kickboxing match more so than the sometimes Jerry Springer Show like circus acts that the cameras that FOX/Speed or ESPN capture for the fans at home.
Ultimately, like any NASCAR race, there were winners and losers. Besides Kevin Harvick and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team finding the keys to Victory Lane at Richmond for the first time since September of 2011, another Bowtie Bridgade team that left the 3/4ths mile D-shaped oval feeling pretty happy had to be Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
Although Jamie McMurray's recent hot six-race steak in which he finished 19th or better snapped with a 26th-place effort, the No. 1 team looked very competitive and at times, had the makings to nab a top-10 finish.
Perhaps the only other driver who felt a bit perturbed with the Richmond race outcome had to be Kasey Kahne, whose No. 5 Quaker State Chevy SS just didn't seem to take to the track real well. Kahne's machine drove like a beast that refused to go where he wanted it in the corners, making the 406-lap race a rather forgettable event rather than an opportunity to capitalize on teammate Jimmie Johnson's pedestrian 12th-place finish.
With so many storylines from the past two nights at Richmond International Raceway, let's take a look go three wide and see which racers found the high, middle, and low lines from "The Action Track!" Making its inaugural appearance on The Podium Finish, this will be the new format for race recaps in a more personable, opinionated style that'll bring you, the readers at home, more into the personal perspectives of yours truly after the races. Care to try? Don't say I forgot to warn you about it!
The High Line
Kevin Harvick - He only led three laps but it was enough for the NASCAR on FOX folks to bring back that cheesy moniker of the pride of Bakersfield, CA being "The Closer." Seriously, who is he, Kyra Sedgwick or something? For some reason, this win has shades of 2011 all over for the No. 29 team, which was one of the stronger efforts for this perennial title-contending group.
Juan Pablo Montoya - Admit it, seeing JPM winning at Richmond would've been a great story for the motorsports world to digest globally. Instead, it's another Raced Version die-cast for Harvick fans and another race where Montoya's chances of winning an oval-track race dashed away. This time, a late-race caution with six laps to go due to Brian Vickers' hard wreck in turn three did him in, going from a potential victory to a fourth place finish that felt like the Boston Celtics winning Game 4 against the New York Knicks - a somewhat esteem-boosting moment for a team that may not pay off in the long haul.
A.J. Allmendinger - Maybe the IZOD IndyCar Series is where he'll find a full-time ride but if a NASCAR team owner's looking for a bargain of a talented driver, why not "The Dinger?" Another solid top-15 finish in the No. 51 Chevy ride, a highly underfunded team owned by James Finch, another week where the mainstream press doesn't quite pay attention to this squad. Maybe a win next Sunday will change some minds - especially if Allmendinger is behind the wheel. Driver still not yet announced for next Sunday's race as of press time.
Kurt Busch - After a somewhat disappointing 15th at Kansas, a ninth at Richmond was more like what the original K. Busch is all about. Before he became Charlie Sheen, he was much like his younger brother Kyle, with his checkers or wreckers approach. Lately, he's found balance (happiness, yes) with the No. 78 team and this could be a group to watch in the long, hot summer stretch. At the very least, this will be the most entertaining bunch to watch and it may have a lot more to do with the racing side of things instead of the post-race sound bites like in the past three years.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Besides finishing 10th, he makes this part of the list because he's beardless. Good enough rational, fans? Seriously, Richmond has been a house of horrors for the No. 88 team, so for Earnhardt to get a decent 10th place on Saturday night was about as good as it gets for now. Anything short of a win next Sunday at Talladega will be like Lebron James not getting the foul that he wants each game.
Joey Logano and Aric Almirola - While Brad Keselowski is Ford's golden boy, the supporting cast of Logano and Almirola have been quite spectacular. Sure, it's somewhat expected to see Logano in Victory Lane, but it'd be a very sentimental scene if Almirola can win sometime soon, and it may just happen at the intermediates on the docket.
The Middle Lane
Jeff Burton - There's still some fight with the South Boston, VA native, who just seems to take to Richmond International Raceway like the high school football team playing in their "homecoming game." Don't look now but with two top-10's and a 19th-place points position after 9 races means there's lots of momentum building for the No. 31 team - either towards the top or towards greener pastures of irrelevancy.
Jeff Gordon - Something just seems amiss with the No. 24 team. Sure, it'd probably anger Gordon fans to say that the driver has lost his edge, but has the four-time series champion forgotten how to compete in the Cup ranks? Not at all, but he's definitely not the same Gordon that duked it out for wins against Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, and Dale Jarrett back in the 1990's and early 2000's. Safe to say, crew chief Alan Gustafson and his driver must get on the same page soon. Tests at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway might get them in the right direction.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. - After a nice date with girlfriend Danica Patrick watching the Friday night Nationwide Series race, a 16th-place result at Richmond was pretty much an "all you could ask for from a rookie" effort. Nothing too spectacular here - just a decent day where the Roush-Fenway Racing driver was somewhat "Zestfully Clean."
Bobby Labonte - For today's NASCAR fans who have probably started watching the sport around 2006, it's probably hard picturing him as a former Cup champ, right? Well, for those who may have remembered the Texan as the longtime Joe Gibbs Racing talent, it's been a struggle seeing him struggle in somewhat middling rides. Saturday night's 19th wasn't too bad, but it'd be a nice change to see the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota as a top-10, top-15 contender.
Dave Blaney and Landon Cassill - Both drivers did pretty well all things considered, driving Chevy SS's that aren't exactly Hendrick or Childress elite but top-25 finishes are like victories for the smaller teams. Overall, not bad for these two drivers and their respective efforts from the Tommy Baldwin and Circle Sport Racing groups.
The Low Line
Tony Stewart - OK, this one might tick off some fans here, but it seems like "Smoke" can't commit any wrongs at all. It's totally alright for him to use the chrome horn on a competitor, but if it's vice versa, we'll never hear the end of it or he can toss his helmet without a care. There's a difference between being "The Intimidator" and being childish, and lately, Stewart's attitude is becoming somewhat immature. Major respect to Stewart of course, as he is a versatile and professional, three-time championship-winning driver. People love his personality but when he's almost trying to police every situation, it becomes an act that's more annoying than Michael Waltrip in the "Hollywood Hotel."
Kyle Busch - Two bad weeks in a row but it's not on "Rowdy," as he's simply had some bad luck lately. After a string of solid finishes (four weeks in the top-10), it's been back-to-back results that have seen the No. 18 Toyota looking bruised more than an unopened bag of M&M's.
Brian Scott and Nelson Piquet - Yes, this isn't a Cup deal, and OK, it's probably annoying seeing the highlights repeatedly with the low blow kick confrontation set off on pit road when Piquet decided to take a shot at Scott's "tots." It's one thing when it's between the two drivers, but when it becomes a deal where the pit crews fight and injure each other, that's when it becomes way too ugly.
Michael Waltrip - Sorry Mikey, but really, maybe the blame shouldn't be totally on you - or should it? He's a helluva team owner, but he leaves a lot to be desired as a color commentator. Stick to the occasional plate track appearances behind the wheel and let Jeff Hammond do his work with FOX Sports host Chris Myers instead. And besides, isn't the Hollywood Hotel named after Hammond, not Waltrip? Hell, maybe Jack Edwards (if the Boston Bruins' postseason games are on the NBC networks) can just join his old colleague instead and be less of an annoyance than a two-time Daytona 500 champion.
That wraps up the inaugural edition of "Going Three Wide," where the limits are off and the opinions are running high. The text you just read indeed are of the personal opinions of said writer of this article, who may have either gained or lost friends. Either way, it's all for fun and debate, so please discuss in the comments section below and share with your family and friends? Don't have any friends? Well - stop eating those Ramen noodles and watch a race at your local track or living room nearest you!