Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rating the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400: 3 Stars ***

The Sprint Cup Series rolled into Richmond Saturday night for the final short-track race of the first half of the season. A quiet first half of the race and a loud second half that included six of the eight cautions adds up to a 3 Star Rating.

Maybe the drivers and teams were just dipping their collective toes into the water during the first half of the event. As is typical in a race where a bunch of big-name drivers qualify in the back, most of the drivers who started at the front fell back while others came forward, including the two leading Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Both made steady progress toward the front and by the time the racing began to heat up, they were in front of the craziness.

Staying on the lead lap throughout the long green-flag stretches was crucial because more than half of the was already a lap down by the time Ryan Newman got into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya coming out of Turn 2 on lap 103, and teams had to work some creative strategies to try and get back in contention.

The Richmond races are generally some of the more confusing races during the season because of the size of the track and how the pit strategy usually works out, but that has been enhanced recently because of new rules, including the lucky dog and wave-around rules. With the pit window around 90-105 laps, teams can short pit or stay out when a rash of cautions breaks out as it did between laps 238-314 when Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and even Newman made appearances at or near the front of the field.

Eventually the strongest cars made their way back to the front, however, and it was another Gibbs show for the final quarter of the race as Busch and Hamlin checked out and stretched their fuel mileage to the end.

As for Newman, the battles between him and Montoya were the most heated of any we’ve seen this season. It would have been remarkable to get through Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond without a little bad blood developing, and there certainly is now between these two teams.

Both drivers handled the situation fairly well after the race though as they avoided fisticuffs or a shouting match in the garage area. Immediately after the race, Newman went to NASCAR to discuss the situation while Montoya pulled a bit of a Kyle Busch move as he blew off reporters and took a quick golf cart ride out of the track.

It will be interesting to see how this situation is handled. Montoya made a move very similar to the one Carl Edwards made on Brad Keselowski last year at Atlanta and sent Keselowski flying into the fence. NASCAR put Edwards on probation for the rest of the year and should do the same here. The penalty should not be based solely on the result of the driver’s actions. Yes, Keselowski’s wreck was much more spectacular and dangerous looking, but Edwards didn’t expect to send Keselowski flying when he wrecked him just as Montoya didn’t expect to flip Newman.

The severity of the wreck shouldn’t be a factor because each wreck has the potential to be dangerous. Had Montoya gotten to Newman going into Turn 3 rather than coming out of Turn 4, Newman could have easily ended up in the same position as Jeff Gordon, who slammed driver-side first into the inside wall, which did not have a SAFER barrier.

That brings up another point. Why do we have to wait for somebody to wreck in an unsafe part of the track before improvements are made? Gordon found an unprotected wall at Las Vegas a few years back, and he and a few other drivers found another one at Watkins Glen. Even Pocono waited too late to improve the safety of its track after Kasey Kahne went over the wall on the backstretch last spring. Had the track been more proactive, it may have been able to avoid the Kahne incident, as well as Elliot Sadler’s wreck last fall when he hit the inside barrier nose-first and knocked the engine out of the car.

Anyway, next week it’s on to the racetrack with the best nicknames in the sport. The Lady in Black will be Too Tough to Tame during the Southern 500 the evening before Mother’s Day. Any race at Darlington is a fun one, and there’s no reason to think this one will be any different.


  1. NASCAR has announced that there are no penalties for JPM. I have to agree with NASCAR (ouch) on this. It was a short track racing deal. There were probably 5 other incidents at RIR, exactly the same as the 42 and 39, they just didn't get the TV time as that one did.

  2. Maybe I'm too critical... From what I was able to see (about the first third of the race) it seemed like a real sleeper. The action must have really picked up late for this race to be bestowed with a 3 star rating...

    What's it say when races run on a particular track are consistently in one driver's (Hamlin's)hip pocket?

    Thanks jmayer!

  3. Ah come on Montoya barely touched him! LOL Thank goodness there was some action on the track because their sure as heck wasnt any passes for the lead - just a lot of lapping cars. 3 stars barely! =)

  4. Gene - I don't see how the probation penalty for Edwards last year can be justified if they aren't going to penalize Montoya, both drivers had the same intent and executed their plan the same way. The result of that action was the only difference, and I don't think it's fair to penalize because of results rather than intent.

    Dwindy1 - The first third of the race was a real sleeper. I like green flag racing, but there was green flag racing toward the end of the race too and it was better than the beginning.

    As for Hamlin, Richmond is a good track for him, but apparently its a better one for Kyle Busch now that he's won the last three spring races at the track.

    klvalus - Ha, there weren't many passes for the lead. I would've expected more figuring the lapped cars would slow down the leader.

  5. JM, I think you're overly generous in giving this race a 3-star rating. I'd BARELY give it a 2-star, and only due to the Newman/Montoya skirmish. Otherwise, it was a VERY DULL race. If not for Newman vs. Montoya, it would be a one-star race. Very dull, surprisingly so for a short track.