Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rating the Air Guard 400: 4 Stars ****

The regular season came to a close Saturday night at Richmond with one of the cleanest short-track races ever. A race with few interruptions comes out with a 4 Star Rating.

Similar to the thought that every race won’t end in a photo finish, not every Race to the Chase will come down to a close battle between several drivers. Actually, it’s been remarkable so many of them have throughout the years. Two crashes and some rain were the only things that could slow the guys down this week.

However, this was not a 400-mile parade. The guys did race hard throughout the field, it just turned out they did a good job of keeping their cars under them. Kyle Busch said he could have dumped Denny Hamlin late in the race but chose to race him clean. Maybe Busch learned a thing or to from what happened at the All-Star Race. Overall, green-flag racing is better than watching cars ride under yellow anytime.

On to some specifics, even after qualifying 14th, Hamlin said he had a good car in race trim, and he was right. Usually the cars that start up front at Richmond stay there because passing on a short track is far from easy. That was not the case Saturday night, though. Joey Logano was the only driver to finish in the top five that started in the top 10.

Clint Bowyer put together a very solid weekend and kept the questions about the pressure of sitting 12th in the points standings to a minimum. Unfortunately, the Race to the Chase turned out to be a dud this year, but I’d rather the regular season finish quietly than the actual end of the Chase.

People continue to say this may be one of the closest Chases ever. I don’t want to be an excitement killer, but many of those same people said the same thing last year, and then Jimmie Johnson nearly wrapped everything up before the final race of the season.

It’s highly unlikely the championship will come down to just a few points as it did when Kurt Busch won in 2004, but there are reasons to believe this year’s Chase will be a bit more exciting than the past several years.

First, both the Gibbs and Roush cars are running better at this point in the season than either group has in a while, and both organizations traditionally run well at several of the upcoming tracks. Drivers from both camps no longer seem to be intimidated by the fact that the #48 could go out and post top fives in most of the next 10 races.

Second, this year’s regular season was better than years past. In nearly every race, there has at least been a contender that has a good chance to take over the lead late in the race. There haven’t been many Johnson shows at places such as Phoenix and California this year, but we’re saying this now before the Chase begins. It could well be a completely different story in two months.

So now it begins, the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup will commence Sunday at New Hampshire, a track with some similar characteristics to Richmond. We’ve gone a few weeks now without a major blow up between two drivers. Maybe everyone just settled into their Chase spots and waited to get things going this weekend. Every year one or two Chasers has a bad New Hampshire race, and except for the invincible Johnson, nobody has been able to come back and win it.


  1. Four stars? I would have given it 2, maybe 2.5... but it's your blog, JM. LOL

    I like to see hard racing for the lead, and once again, the majority of the lead changes were done on green flag pitstops.

    Those that liked the racing at Richmond will love the Chase. Because it will be more of the same.

  2. jmayer,

    I found it interesting that prior to the race Hamlin's car was set-up and running really well in practice and qualifying while Kyle's car was nothing but problems. Kyle qualified what? 32nd? Then his crew went to work and threw out everything they'd done to the chassis, etc. and exactly duplicated Hamlin's set-up. Did they luck out when the 18 ran so well or are these cars really that close to each other (within one owner's garage)?

    Again I had to work during most of the race (the end) so I'm not in a position to comment about your rating.

    Let me know what you think of JGR's cars and their set-ups as the Lug Nuts' crew chief.


  3. Gene - I understand what you're saying about green flag pit stops, and there have been races at places such as Michigan where those are about the only lead changes for the race. But, at Atlanta Kahne, Edwards, Stewart and Hamlin all traded the top spot while on the track and at Richmond Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer switched the lead several times during a single run.

    It does have that feeling that Johnson is primed to go on that annual Chase run.

    Dwindy1 - My guess is they have cars that close to each other. People have been saying Gibbs has passed Hendrick and Hendrick cars could do that sort of thing regularly when they really had things going.

    The other thing about the Hamlin's weekend was even though he qualified 14th, Hamlin sounded really confident he would have a good car in the race. Now, lots of guys say that sort of thing, but rarely do they back it up. His performance Saturday night was certainly backed it up.

  4. 4 stars seems bit high too but there was some good green flag racing/passing between a few drivers. Kurt at least kept things exciting and has referenced dumping JJ several times on his radio so he is thinking about it!

    JJ wont run away with the Chase so I am hoping it will be closer but still think most will play it safe.

    On to Louden!

  5. This race wasn't a bad race; in fact it was a very cleanly run race. When Hamlin was up front he checked out; when someone else was up front they didn't check out. But most of the Chase tracks are not conducive to Hamlin or Ky. Busch. They ARE conducive to JJ, Ku. Busch, Harvick, and RFR.

  6. klvalus - They're coming up on the perfect track for that payback after the bump-and-run late in the first New Hampshire race this year. That would be fun lol.

    jon_464 - That's partly why I'm thinking Johnson could get on a roll and win this thing again. Everyone else has to be perfect just to keep up with the #48.