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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Racing at Richmond

originally written May 21, 2009
There is nothing like short track racing under the lights. Richmond, Virginia was host this weekend on May 1 and 2, to the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series races.

A race at Richmond offers drivers and fans a back-to-basics kind of racing that is a favorite among them. It often reminds some of the sports' premier drivers of their own humble beginnings when they began their racing career on a neighborhood short track.

The weekend culminated with the Sprint Cup race, NASCAR's top series, where the drivers are arguably the best in the country. The Richmond International Raceway is a D-shaped oval with fourteen-degrees of banking in the turns and room for more than 112,000 fans. Sprint Cup cars are engineered to exact standards, using precision tools and years of innovation, not to mention millions of development dollars. Race teams hire pit crew members which consists of the best and most consistent in their field.

These refinements are in direct contrast to local dirt-track racing where race cars often begin as junkers, but are artfully transformed in a garage, backyard, or carport by men who turn wrenches for fun. Usually on a shoestring budget, they work hard to enter a local race, where they can earn enough in winnings to buy more or better parts to improve on what they have. Despite the sharp contrast, there is an element of similarity in the feel of a professional race at Richmond and those amateur Saturday night venues.

Short-track racing is a fan favorite as it offers close side-by-side racing, passing, and the proverbial 'beatin' and bangin' that has come to be expected at a track like Richmond.

Drivers' skills are always put to the test at the three-quarter-mile oval. Patience is necessary in the 400-lap race, as drivers in the rear of the field try methodically to pass the cars in front of them, one at a time, always trying to advance positions. They are intent on working their way to the front, in anticipation of being the first to take the checkered flag.

Each position is nearly a race in itself as drivers battle one another for each coveted position. The give and take sometimes causes problems as the cars become two- three- and four-wide across the track. Something has to give and usually does. And then there are times that patience simply runs out. The result is often crumpled fenders, flattened tires, visible sparks, and smoke billowing from beneath the car as one or more limps its way to pit road.

Richmond is a feel-good race track. And that translated into the top five finishers at Saturday's race. Kyle Busch won the race. And what could be better than winning a race on your twenty-fourth birthday? He also won Friday night's Nationwide series event on the same track.

In second place was Tony Stewart who is enjoying a phenomenal first year as a team owner/driver. Stewart left the comfort of Joe Gibbs Racing last year after a 10 year association to become co-owner in his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing.