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Former Richard Petty Motorsports teammates AJ Allmendinger and Paul Menard went in opposite directions on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, swapping positions in the point standings.
Allmendinger was the biggest gainer of anyone in the Sprint Cup Series, jumping up four positions from 15th to 11th. Menard, meanwhile, was the biggest loser and fell four spots from 11th to 15th.
That's what happens when drivers close in the standings have dramatically different results – even in the new points system. Allmendinger finished seventh while Menard – now of Richard Childress Racing – was 37th.
Other big gainers included Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano – who moved up three spots apiece. The news wasn't as good for Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr., who each fell three spots.
Here are the Sprint Cup Series point standings after Richmond (click here if you're looking for the Richmond race results):
Here's a sampling of driver quotes from Saturday night's NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway:
"We suck right now. I am embarrassed about how bad our stuff is. ... There are three organizations that are kicking our rear ends right now something awful; it is going to be a long year if we race like this." – Tony Stewart, who finished ninth.
"We got the car on such a knife's edge that we make an adjustment and it helps and the next time we make the same adjustment it just kills it again. I was frustrated at times. Mike (Shiplett, crew chief) did a good job staying calm because I wasn't very good at that." – AJ Allmendinger, who finished seventh.
"Every time Montoya has damage, you see who did it, they usually end up getting wrecked. ... I like him, I think he's a helluva driver, but you can't wreck everyone every time you get in an accident." – Denny Hamlin on the Juan Pablo Montoya/Ryan Newman incident.
"I had a pretty good car and it was the first time at this place that I have had that good of a car." – Greg Biffle, who finished 15th.
"It was killer, man. It was painful, I'm telling you. I didn't have anything to do. I was kind of lost. I kept looking around: 'Man, what's next on my schedule? Where am I supposed to be right now?' I swore I was forgetting something." – Race winner Kyle Busch, on his restlessness after not running the Nationwide race.
"It was a fun night. This is my favorite track to come to. The last couple of years we have really struggled, but it was fun tonight to have a car that could pass some cars. ... Fast cars can find their way to the front." – David Ragan, who finished fourth.
"A very frustrating, long night for us. ... We probably had the strongest car running laps down at the end, but when you get more than one lap down, your day is pretty much done. That was certainly the case for us here tonight. We just weren't very good tonight." – Kurt Busch, who finished 22nd.
Oh yeah. This was gonna be good.
Forget UFC 129. NASCAR was going to have UFC 130 right in the Richmond International Raceway garage.
After Ryan Newman unintentionally got Juan Pablo Montoya loose and into the wall early in Saturday night's NASCAR race, Montoya paid him back just past the halfway point with an intentional spin.
So Newman keyed his radio and told his team, "I'm going to take care of it after the race."
A NASCAR brawl in the garage? Awesome! Meet you at the No. 42 hauler.
But after the race, the expected fireworks fizzled. Montoya got out of his car and quickly walked toward the track exit before Newman could even park.
The two actually passed one another while Montoya was on his way out. Newman spotted the Target firesuit and swerved toward the driver; Montoya didn't seem to flinch and kept walking.
Reporters chased Montoya, but he wanted nothing to do with staying in the infield even a moment longer. The former F1 driver put his hand on the shoulder of FOX's Dick Berggren and said, "Not right now" when the veteran journalist asked for a comment.
Meanwhile, Newman did an interview with FOX and then made a beeline for the NASCAR hauler – stopping only to lean in team owner Tony Stewart's window along the way.
Once NASCAR President Mike Helton and the rest of the race officials arrived, Newman spent at least 20 minutes inside the hauler looking for answers as to why Montoya wasn't penalized.
Newman eventually emerged from the NASCAR hauler and started walking quickly away as about 10 reporters chased. He said he didn't get many answers and said he was "just really disappointed in the way everything played out."
"I was obviously crashed," he said. "Unintentionally the first time and intentionally the second time."
Newman said "now wouldn't be a good time" for him to talk to Montoya. He was clearly still pissed, the adrenaline still flowing.
"He crashed himself, basically," Newman said. "I don't know if he thought it was on purpose, but the message was delivered that it wasn't intentional. Either way, he ruined our day at that point and then finished our day off later in the race – on purpose."
Newman then cut off any further questions by saying, "I'm good" and walked away into the darkness of the garage.
For the sake of controversy and headlines, it's a shame Montoya wasn't there waiting for him.
It was a game of chicken at Richmond International Raceway as drivers on the lead lap gambled with fuel without a caution near the end of the race. Pit strategy reigned supreme and a bevy of nervous drivers hung on and prayed their cars would make it to the end while running on fumes in the 400-lap race.
In the end, it was Kyle Busch who led 237 of the 400 laps and took the checkered flag, holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin on the final lap. The two finished just about two seconds apart in the two-horse show down to the wire.
Kasey Kahne and David Ragan battled it out for third, with Kahne edging him by just under a half-second. Carl Edwards rounded out the topfive. Just nine cars finished on the lead lap as the field spread out on the short track at Richmond.
Full results from the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway are as follows:
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It's NASCAR race night at Richmond International Raceway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 race for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by grand marshal Matthew Hansen (more on him below) at 7:37 Eastern time. After a few pace laps, honorary starter Neal Insley (the chairman of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) will wave the green flag at precisely 7:44 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual race, flip your TV on at 7:44.
Race name/distance: This is actually a really cool story. Each year, race sponsor Crown Royal gives its race name away to a deserving winner (for the past couple years, it's been military-related). U.S. Marine Matthew Hansen shares the race name with his twin brother, best friend and fellow Marine Daniel, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Click here to read more about the Hansens. The race is 400 laps around the 3/4-mile track, which means it's actually 300 miles.
TV and radio: As for all of the races through May, FOX is televising the Richmond race. The radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of MRN stations where you can listen.
National anthem: NASCAR fans will love this – there's no singer who will butcher the anthem tonight. The anthem is being played by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. That should be great.
Tickets: Though Richmond once sold out both races each year, that's no longer the case in this economy. If you're nearby and looking to head to the race tonight, there will be plenty of seats available.
Last time: Kyle Busch beat Jeff Gordon on a late restart to win his second consecutive Richmond spring race. Denny Hamlin completed the Joe Gibbs Racing season sweep by claiming the fall race at RIR.
Starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Richmond:
Juan Pablo Montoya picked up his second pole of the season on Friday afternoon, leading the Richmond International Raceway Sprint Cup Series qualifying session with a lap of 128.639 mph.
The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver will pace the starting lineup for Saturday night's Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond, just ahead of Furniture Row Racing's Regan Smith (128.382 mph).
"To come here and get it done is exciting," Montoya said.
Smith, statistically the top qualifier in Sprint Cup this season, knocked Kasey Kahne off the pole late in the session but was topped by Montoya moments later. It was Smith's best career starting position.
Clint Bowyer ended up third, followed by Kahne and a pair of Hendrick Motorsports drivers: Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.
Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Paul Menard rounded out the top 10.
The qualifying session was a disappointment for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was fastest in Friday's practice and thus went out last of the top 35 drivers.
But Earnhardt Jr. couldn't match his earlier speed and ended up qualifying 24th.
Only one driver failed to qualify for the race: Brian Keselowski, who was making his return to NASCAR after emergency gallbladder surgery.
Starting lineup for Saturday night's NASCAR race at Richmond:
When Tony Stewart wins a race these days, it's somewhat routine: Of course Stewart won. He's Tony Stewart!
It wasn't always that way. Thirty-eight wins ago, Stewart was a rookie at Richmond International Raceway who pulled into a NASCAR Victory Lane for the first time.
Upon winning the 1999 Richmond fall race, Stewart jumped on top of his car (you were allowed to do that in those days), threw a sports drink bottle out to the crowd and wildly celebrated.
But in his TV interview with ESPN's Jerry Punch, Stewart seemed more relieved than exuberant. He spoke of his joy in a subdued manner and breathed heavy sighs of relief.
"Oh man," he said then. "This is the first time in my life I've been speechless."
Looking back now, Stewart says there's a reason he appeared that way immediately after his first win.
"It's like getting over a hill," he said Friday. "It's like getting to the first (win) is the hard part, and once you get the first one, you feel established, you feel you've earned your right to be there – and stay there.
"Until you do that, sometimes it's hard to feel like you belong and (it's uncertain) whether you're going to have that opportunity to stay. When you get that first win under your belt, it makes it that much easier."
If you watch the video below (fast forward to the 5:00 mark of the clip), you'll see what he means.
Think about this: When's the last time Kyle Busch didn't run a Nationwide Series race that was run on a Sprint Cup companion weekend?
"Probably never, to be honest with you," Busch replied.
It sounded correct, until Busch's ace public relations man Bill Janitz reminded the driver – and the media – of one other time – Michigan in 2008, when Joey Logano ran the 18 car instead of Busch.
"That's the only one I can remember," Busch said.
Clearly, it doesn't happen very often. But it's happening tonight, when Busch will step aside in favor of Kelly Bires, who is driving the 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing at Richmond International Raceway.
When Busch misses a Nationwide race, it's usually a standalone event where he doesn't travel back and forth. But when Cup and Nationwide are at the same track? It's almost unheard of not to have Busch in the race and, much of the time, winning it.
At Michigan that day in 2008, Busch said he went up on the spotters' stand and listened to the team radio. As for tonight?
"Ask Samantha," he said.
Busch said going out to dinner with his wife was a possibility, but his veteran experience told him it would be a "pain in the ass" to try and get back into the track after the race was over. You know, traffic patterns and all that.
"You're better off just staying put," he said with a smile. "There are strategies to everything. There's a method to the madness."
Earlier in the week, Busch said it would be good for everyone that he wasn't in the race because "it actually might be nice for you (media) guys to have something else to write about."
"Except I think Carl (Edwards)...is still in it, so maybe not," he said.
So will Busch sit in the stands? Hang out in his motorhome and watch it on TV? Bring his laptop to the media center and type up a race recap?
No one is sure. But we do know this: It's going to be weird when Busch isn't in the 18 car tonight.
Everything is looking up for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his fans these days.
Earnhardt Jr. was the fastest in a two-hour Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday afternoon at Richmond International Raceway, kicking off a promising weekend at a track where NASCAR's most popular driver has seen much past success.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver turned a fast lap of 125.465 mph, ahead of Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards (125.313).
Richard Childress Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard were next, followed by Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.
Hendrick Motorsports' Mark Martin (eighth) and Jeff Gordon (10th) were also in the top 10, sandwiching Kurt Busch (ninth).
The final Sprint Cup practice – a shorter 45-minute session – will take place within the hour here at Richmond.
Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled to begin at 5:35 p.m. Eastern time.
"It's a fun track and looking forward to the weekend, getting in the car and seeing what we got," Earnhardt Jr. said before practice.
Everything was going along fine after Kasey Kahne's offseason knee surgeries – he had double knee surgery in the offseason to repair a condition called "Plica syndrome" – until he slipped during post-Daytona workout in February.
"I finished a workout and I slipped off the bench and just my feet kind of gave out," Kahne said Friday.
As it turned out, Kahne re-tore his meniscus and needed to have it repaired – which he did during the recent Easter off-week.
When Kahne slipped after the February workout, his injury hurt so much that he lay on the floor in pain for five minutes before trying to get up.
He knew the recovery time from another surgery would take a while, so he dealt with the pain until the off-week. It particularly bothered him after races, when it would tighten from being in one position for so long.
"You should have seen me at Bristol," he said. "I couldn't even walk for like 10 minutes after the race. It feels better than all that now. It's been only a week – 10 or 11 days – and it already feels better.
"I'm glad I got it fixed. I needed to. I was tired of limping."
Kahne, an avid runner, can only use a bike for now. He said he hopes to return to running in short order.
"Before I (slipped), I was already running four or five miles a day and feeling really good," he said. "I just got to let it heal and not hurt it and it will be fine."
Brian Keselowski is back at the racetrack this weekend – minus a gallbladder – and he couldn't be happier about it.
Keselowski, the Cinderella story of Daytona 500 qualifying, could hardly stop smiling when discussing his return to the Sprint Cup Series after emergency gallbladder surgery before Bristol and the time it took to build a car.
Substitute driver Dennis Setzer suffered a mechanical failure that sent him crashing into the wall during a Martinsville practice and destroyed the K-Automotive team's only car. So even when Keselowski was recovered from his surgery, he wasn't ready to return.
Now that he has a ride built – and no more stomach pains – Keselowski is thrilled to be back. He virtually rebuilt an old car in order to compete at Richmond, and just finished Thursday night.
"I really just can't wait to get out there," he said.
The driver had been dealing with what he thought were stomach issues for more than a year, but always tried to just suck it up. The week before Bristol, however, the pain suddenly became unbearable. An ultrasound revealed he had gallstones, and doctors told Keselowski he needed to have his gallbladder removed.
"I don't like going to hospitals in the worst way, so I did everything I could not to go," he said. "But I had to go."
With that ordeal behind him, Keselowski has turned his focus back to racing. He said he'll attempt races in which he feels there's a chance the team could make them – and vowed to try and complete the full race every time he showed up.
"I'm just so sick of doing the whole start-and-park thing," he said, referring to his Nationwide Series season last year. "I mean, I did it because I got in the hole and I had to do it. I don't like owing people money, so if that's what if I have to do, that's what I have to do. I'm not saying I won't ever do it in Cup, but I just don't want to do it.
"I just don't want to do it anymore. It just tears me up. I'd rather mow the lawn somewhere than do that."
To that end, Keselowski said he took "every penny" of his winnings from the Daytona 500 and put it back into the race team.
So if that's the case, how does he afford to eat?
"Well," he said with a laugh, "hopefully we keep making races."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. enters the Richmond International Raceway weekend sitting third in Sprint Cup Series points and already has two top-five finishes – one less than he had for the entire 2010 season.
But despite his consistent start to the year, Earnhardt Jr. hasn't seemed overly impressed with his results so far – even if fans and media are. Why not?
"I think it's because I'm the only one under the pressure to keep it up," he told reporters Friday. "I hope I can come into the next race and keep up the consistency and do it again and do it again. I don't have time to be worried about anything other than just trying to keep going."
Earnhardt Jr. said there's not only pressure to perform, but to keep posting solid results. Since the Daytona 500, Earnhardt Jr. hasn't finished lower than 12th – the longest such streak in his career since the early portion of the 2008 season.
"It's a lot of pressure to try to keep up the expectations that everybody has for you," he said. "When we accomplish certain goals – like win a couple races or make the Chase or win a race in the Chase or battle for the championship – those kind of things I can get excited about and be happy with those moments.
"I'm happy to be consistent, but we still have another step to go. We're running seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th at Texas when we should be running third, fourth, fifth."
To that end, Earnhardt Jr. said his Hendrick Motorsports team needs to "step it up another notch." He's trying to figure that out as soon as possible, he said, in order to keep his success going.
Richmond would be a good place for Earnhardt Jr. to snap his now-triple-digit winless streak. He's won at Richmond three times in the past, but said his results have suffered even at his best tracks over the last few seasons.
"I've struggled at all three or four of them in the past couple years," he said. "The last couple years, I've struggled every weekend. It's not a good reflection of how well I can do at this place. I hope Steve (Letarte) and the guys are on the ball and the car and me work together well and I'm comfortable in it. ... Just anxious right now to see how the car will drive."
Kevin Harvick wasn't doing much on Thursday night and was already at Richmond International Raceway, so he figured he'd watch the track's racing doubleheader – from the grandstands.
Harvick and a few buddies found some seats in Richmond's Turn 3, then witnessed Darrell Wallace Jr. win the K&N East Series race and Denny Hamlin win the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown charity race.
"There was a lot going on," Harvick said. "That's the first time I've ever even stepped outside of the infield at the racetrack here. Usually I'm racing the Nationwide car or Truck or whatever the case may be. And usually if you're not racing, you just sit on pit road and watch them go by."
Harvick said the change of scenery and a "different perspective" was good for him. Plus, he added Richmond is just an enjoyable place to watch racing in general.
"Here it's fun because you can see the whole track and you can get close enough to the racetrack to feel what's going on," Harvick said. "Just a fun time."
If he had to do it over again, though, Harvick joked that he'd rethink his seats.
"I needed to move down about half a section," he said, "because all of the wrecks were coming off Turn 2."
It took him four tries, but Denny Hamlin is finally a winner in his own charity race.
Hamlin won the "Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown" on Thursday night at his personal playground, posting another win at Richmond International Raceway.
The Virginia native started in the rear of the field – as is the custom for a charity race host – and worked his way all the way up to the lead pack. But he never actually led the race until the final lap.
To pull off his victory, he needed some help from Lady Luck. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch looked set to win the race, but Busch ran out of fuel after taking the white flag (or had a fuel pickup issue, according to wife Samantha), and Hamlin bumped and passed him for the win.
"It feels damn good," Hamlin said. "I'm serious. It feels like a Cup win."
Hamlin's race was held at Richmond this year because its usual location – nearby Southside Speedway – is closed for the season due to the track owner's health. It obviously didn't hurt Hamlin, who has never won a race at Southside but is one of the top drivers in any type of car at Richmond.
It was a "good thing" Busch ran out of fuel, Hamlin said – because if he hadn't, Hamlin would have bumped him and "made it ugly."
"Trust me, if Kyle hadn't run out of gas, I would have done everything possible to get around him in the last couple of corners," Hamlin said. "The Short Track Showdown is about old-school racing. ... That's why you see the race out there we had today."
Michael Waltrip – who said he barely fit into his Late Model and was basically lying down while driving – finished second. Hendrick Motorsports development driver Chase Elliott – yep, the son of Awesome Bill – was third.
Joey Logano and Frank Deiny Jr. were next, followed by Busch, Scott Turlington, Burt Myers, Matt McCall and Kyle Grissom.
Other notables included Tony Stewart (24th), Aric Almirola (27th) and Bill Elliott (28th).
Travis Pastrana was slowly making progress in his second official NASCAR start, racing into the top 20 as friends and family looked on Thursday night at Richmond International Raceway.
But a rookie mistake late in the K&N Series race resulted in contact with the wall, and Pastrana ultimately finished 33rd. The race was won by Darrell Wallace Jr.
Pastrana, the action sports megastar, is beginning his career in NASCAR's lower-tier series in preparation for his Nationwide Series debut in July. He ran a respectable race but crashed late in his first official NASCAR start at Phoenix.
"That's why I'm here – for experience," he said after the Richmond race, walking through the garage. "Any time we can make an improvement, we're doing something in the right direction. I'm definitely disappointed in the finish and where we started from, but halfway through the race our lap times weren't that far off the (leader). I just gotta figure out how to get up there."
Pastrana, who jumped into a Late Model immediately after the K&N Series race to get more experience, said he made the pivotal mistake when he found himself "just kind of fixated on the driver in front of me."
He'd moved up to 18th at the time and was receiving high praise from his spotter and driver coach, Camping World Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton.
"When he went to the wall, I went an inch further and went into it and got the front tire (in the wall)," Pastrana said, somewhat sheepishly.
Pastrana said he struggled more than at Phoenix, which he called part of the learning process. He has discovered there's a lot more to each racetrack than he expected.
"They're all different – every turn of every track," he said. "Even on tracks (where the turns) look identical."
His confidence, though, is slowly improving.
"I definitely feel a lot better leaving this race than I did coming in," he said. "I'm leaving disappointed, but I'm getting some time out there. So that's good."
A slow start for two of Joe Gibbs Racing's Sprint Cup teams this season led to Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and their teams taking a turn in the rumor mill on Wednesday.
But as it turned out, the report Hamlin and Logano would be swapping crews and crew chiefs was false.
The proposed swap was reported by the CaptainThunderRacing.com site, but was picked up by Jayski.com (which remains a well-read, influential NASCAR news site even in the Twitter era).
Anything posted on Jayski generates a reaction – even from Joe Gibbs himself.
"It was news to me," Hamlin said Thursday. "The Coach called me as soon as he saw it, and I was like, 'Maybe I should be part of this decision.' He was like, 'There is no decision.'"
Hamlin added crew chief Mike Ford would remain atop his pit box for the foreseeable future. The duo worked together to nearly win the Sprint Cup Series title last season.
"Mike's my guy," Hamlin said. "He'll always be my guy."
Hamlin and Ford need to get things turned in the right direction soon, though. Richmond, one of Hamlin's best tracks, would be a good place to start.
And Hamlin can kick off the weekend on a positive note by winning his own charity race tonight.
"I consider this (charity) race as important as anything, because if I come out of here with a good finish, I've got great momentum going into tomorrow, and then hopefully it carries into Saturday," Hamlin said. "We've got to have a weekend with no flaws. We can't given up points to 10th place. ... We've got to start chipping away."
Let's take a quick look at the NASCAR schedule for this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, shall we?
Remember: Thursday night is a doubleheader with the K&N East Series and the Denny Hamlin "Short Track Showdown" charity race, followed by the Nationwide race on Friday and the Sprint Cup race on Saturday night.
The schedule (all times Eastern):
7 p.m. – K&N East Series race (100 laps, 75 miles)
Approximately 8:30 p.m. – Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown (75 laps, two segments ... Will air on Speed)
9 a.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (2 hours, 50 minutes)
12 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (2 hours)
2:45 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (45 minutes)
5:35 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
7:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (250 laps, 187.5 miles ... Will air on Speed)
7:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (400 laps, 300 miles ... Will air on FOX)
By now, you should be up to speed on all things Richmond International Raceway.
Though Richmond is traditionally a two-day show, this weekend is a three-day event with four races on the schedule.
On Thursday night, the K&N East Series will take to the track – which is notable for the presence of action sports star Travis Pastrana. Immediately after the K&N race, Denny Hamlin will have his charity "Short Track Showdown," which features Sprint Cup stars such as Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart.
Friday kicks off the "traditional" start to the Richmond weekend, with a full day of practice, qualifying and the Richmond Nationwide race.
Then it's onto Saturday, when the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 takes the green flag under the lights.
Let's get it started.
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