Previewing the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway with a look the storylines and drivers you need to know.
Richmond comes at opportune time for Gibbs
After a tumultuous week that featured a debate on the legality of engine parts and whether NASCAR was too oppressive in doling out penalties, Richmond comes at a welcome time for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Having won six of the last eight Richmond events, the three-quarter-mile oval is one of the organization's best. That domination was again present in qualifying where Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers secured the front row, while Kyle Busch, who has won the last four Richmond spring races, qualified eighth and is clearly the favorite this evening.
Can Earnhardt overcome his bad luck?
After five straight top 10s to start the year, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s season has quickly done a 180 with a best finish of 16th in his last three races.
But fret not Junior Nation, Earnhardt's decline has more to do with simple bad luck than anything else. At Martinsville and Texas it was parts failures that cost him a likely finish inside the top 10. While last week at Kansas the No. 88 car was running as high as third before a caution just after a green flag pit stop trapped him a lap down.
Earnhardt showed speed in practice and is confident that in race conditions he has a car good enough to be in contention for the win. Now all that remains to be seen is whether he can shake that black cloud following him around?
Johnson in the back, again
At Kansas, Jimmie Johnson struggled in practice and qualifying, and there were questions whether he would be competitive in the race. The series points leader erased those doubts by quickly moving up through the field en route to a third-place finish.
This week he again was off the pace in opening practice and posted just the 28th-fastest lap in qualifying. But on a track with multiple grooves starting 28th at Richmond isn't insurmountable, and Johnson should have an easier time working his way to front than he did a week ago.
- Tony Stewart (1999) and Kasey Kahne (2005) are the only drivers in tonight's field to have their first Cup victory come at Richmond.
- A top five finish tonight would the 300th of Jeff Gordon's career and move him into select company joining Richard Petty (555), Bobby Allison (336) and David Pearson (299).
1. Kyle Busch
The obvious pick, but it's also the smart one considering Busch has won the last four spring races here.
2. Jeff Gordon
The Toyota teams have been the superior manufacturer this weekend. But if there is an outsider who can break up their party, look for it to be Gordon. The two-time Richmond winner will start third and was fastest in final practice.
3. Clint Bowyer
He doesn't have the gaudy stats that others do, but Bowyer has quietly developed into one of the best short track racers in the sport. Since joining Michael Waltrip Racing last season, he hasn't finished outside the top 10 in any short track race including a win here in September.