All of the Easter eggs have been found, the off week is over and it is time to head out to the old fairgrounds. Richmond International Raceway is a track that never fails to excite. You’d be hard pressed to find a NASCAR driver that doesn’t love to compete at this three-quarter mile carousel.
With all that love, one would believe that over the past eight races you’d have eight different winners, but that is not the case. Only four drivers have entered Victory Lane in that eight race span and three of those wins have come from one driver, Jimmie Johnson. Included with those three wins are five top ten’s and one pole for Johnson, who has an average finish of 11.6, which lands him in fourth place over that time span behind another multiple race winner, Kyle Busch who has a best average finish of 6.0.
When it comes to Busch’s numbers at RIR over the past twelve races, his average finish decreases to 5.2 and in those twelve starts, Busch has compiled ten top ten’s with not one DNF.
Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin’s stats are just as impressive with two less starts. With two wins, six top ten’s and no DNFs make them both look very hard to beat.
The two Joe Gibbs Racing stars aren’t the only ones with great stats at RIR however. Both Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick have finished in the top ten in seven out of their last eight tries. Gordon also has a stellar average finish of 6.2, which puts him just behind Busch, but with no victories.
The only other driver to earn a win in the last five years other than Johnson, Busch or Hamlin, is Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer also has had some pretty good nights at RIR himself. He has never failed to finish there and in his ten career starts, Bowyer has wound up in the top ten fifty percent of the time.
This weekend doesn’t look to be bucking that trend. In the first practice, Bowyer was third fastest and then found himself sitting fifth during “Happy Hour.” All of that speed did not leave his car, as Bowyer will roll off the starting grid third, with a qualifying time of 21.049 seconds.
Only one man was able to qualify with a time under 21 seconds, and that was pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya. Maybe this is the night Montoya will finally get his first oval track win. However, history does not favor Montoya, who has only three top ten’s, one DNF and an average finish of 21.4.
History and numbers can’t always mean everything. Otherwise we would not find Regan Smith in his starting spot of second. Smith has an average starting position of 27.2 and an average finish of 27.8, but he has found plenty of speed this weekend and also found himself high on the ten lap average speed chart in practice. That can be a very good indicator of how one might compete during the race.
After looking over all the statistics and weekend performance, that all needs to be thrown out of the window. Richmond International Raceway is a “throw-back” track where this Saturday nights winner will be a “throw-back” driver.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has not won a race since June 15, 2008, and that was on fuel mileage. His last win before that came on May 6th of 2006 at a little three-quarter race track called RIR.
While there isn’t too much fact to back it up, it just feels right to see Junior Nation back in Victory Lane this evening - that's one of 88 reasons why he may be the man to beat tonight!