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Crown Royal 400 News and Notes

Crown Royal 400 News and Notes

Crown Royal 400 preview
April 30, 2007
By Micah Roberts

This Saturday Night’s Nextel Cup race in Richmond will have a tone more serious than ever before because of the tragedies that occurred 200 miles away in Blacksburg. On a normal Cup race weekend under the lights, the capital of the Confederacy rocks the stands like no other on tour. How the events that occurred on the Virginia Tech campus will affect not only the fans, but the crews and drivers as well, is not completely known.

For the fans, the race may be an event to take their minds off the horrendous terror that they have dealt with whether it was being a friend or family member of someone directly affected, or plain and simply just being a Virginian. Sports have been used on several occasions in American history where morale was down and the events were used as entertainment to help get some normalcy back.

Several drivers and crew members are from Virginia. They could see this homecoming as one of their toughest ever because of the situation. They also could see it as a moment to give the home state fans something extra to root for, one of their own, a Virginian in the winners circle.

There are five Virginians that will be attempting to qualify for Saturday night’s race. Of the five, two of them have a really good shot, and one of them may have the best car on the track. This is a “Car of Today” race and it will be the fourth race these new cars have been in.

The 5 Virginians
Denny Hamlin
Jeff Burton
Ward Burton
Ricky Rudd
Elliott Sadler

When these cars were first being rolled out many didn’t know what to expect. The uncertainty of how these cars would respond when they are theoretically supposed to equal made it tough for a few to wager their normal weekly allotted amount. After seeing three races that will all change this week as the bankroll expands for many this week. The people will come out firing because it’s just too easy with new cars. Instead of worrying about 43 cars, or realistically 18 cars, you only have to worry about 5 cars in the COT.

Guess who those cars are? Jeff Gordon has a third, second and a first in the three races. Kyle Busch has a first, fourth and a seventh. Jimmie Johnson has a 16th, first and fourth. Tony Stewart has a 35th, seventh and second. Finally, what may be the best of them all, Denny Hamlin has a 14th, third and third. Hamlin likely should have won in Phoenix, a race he was hoping to dedicate to friends and family of those affected in his home state of Virginia.

Hamlin is great on the type of tracks that Richmond is categorized in and likely could have had a great chance of winning this race last season in the traditional car, a car that at least gave Ford and Dodge a chance. In the COT, Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter run circles around the Roush-Fenway Fords and Evernham Dodges.

The tracks that Richmond is categorized similarly with are New Hampshire and Phoenix, not the short tracks of Martinsville and Bristol as some believe is the case with Richmond because of it being a three-quarter mile track. The banking and sizes of New Hampshire, Richmond, and Phoenix are not close but they are similar.

The reason we group those 3 tracks together is basically because the crew chiefs do and bring the same chassis, if successful, to all 3 tracks. If you just look at winners alone at all 3 tracks, you’ll see that there are repeatedly the same names winning at 2 of the 3 tracks just about every year. Last season, Kevin Harvick won on all 3 tracks. Names like Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, and Jeff Burton have had enormous success on the 3 tracks in single seasons and over their careers.

Two weeks ago we used the pre-season Richmond testing to be a guide and give another angle in looking at candidates to do well at Phoenix. The only driver that looked well in the test that didn’t do well in the race itself was Greg Biffle who finished 17th.

Jeff Gordon won the Phoenix race, but it’s likely that maybe Tony Stewart should have. To go even further on the what-if train, it’s probable that Denny Hamlin should have beat them both if not for a speeding penalty that made him go to the tail end late in the race. The guy still finished third.

Hamlin’s skills on the shorter flat tracks coupled with his team’s monetary advantages make him the favorite this week to win. I am always one for a great story where real drama on the track meets a fairy tale, feel good ending. I haven’t seen one in NASCAR a few years, but this is as good a spot as any. Go Denny Go……Do it for the great Commonwealth of Virginia!

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1)      #11 Denny Hamlin (5/1)
2)      #24 Jeff Gordon (5/1)
3)      #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
4)      #5 Kyle Busch (6/1)
5)      #31 Jeff Burton (14/1)

Richmond Odds and Ends

*There have been 101 Cup races at Richmond, one a year in 1953 and two a year since 1970.
• Buck Baker won the first Cup Bud Pole at Richmond in 1953.
• Lee Petty won the first Cup race at Richmond.
• Bobby Labonte (1993) and Brian Vickers (2004) won their career-first pole at Richmond.
• Kasey Kahne (2005), Tony Stewart (1999) and Kyle Petty (1986) all won their first career race at Richmond.
• There have been 46 different pole winners at Richmond; 24 have won more than one.
• There have been 43 different race winners at Richmond; 22 have more than one win there.
• In 1968 the track surface was changed from dirt to asphalt.
• Kyle Petty became the first third-generation NASCAR Cup race winner when he won his first Cup race on February 23, 1986. Richard posted his first Richmond victory in 1961 and Lee won the very first Richmond race in 1953.
• The first night race was held in the fall of 1991. 1999 was the first season that both Richmond races were held at night.
• Petty Enterprises has won 15 Richmond races – more than any other car owner. Thirteen of those wins came from Richard Petty; two from Lee Petty.
• Hendrick Motorsports has won seven races at Richmond with four different drivers.
• Roush Fenway Racing has won four races at Richmond – all with a different driver.
• There have been 14 different pole winners in the past 14 races at Richmond.
• There have been 15 different winners over the last 18 Richmond Cup races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (three) and Tony Stewart (two) are the only repeat winners there since 1997.
• Twenty of the 101 races at Richmond have been won from the pole, most recently by Kasey Kahne (spring 2005).
• Thirteen of the past 15 races at Richmond have been won from a top 10 starting position.
• Richard Petty’s starting position of 28th in 1971 was the lowest starting position of a Richmond race winner.
• There has never been a green-white-checkered finish at Richmond.

Richmond Streakers

• Greg Biffle has five consecutive top 10 finishes at Richmond and has started in the top 10 in seven consecutive races.
• Kevin Harvick has two consecutive top five finishes and has started in the top 10 in four consecutive Richmond races.
• Kyle Busch has a 3.8 average finish in four races at Richmond, the best of any driver with more than one start there. Busch has posted top five finishes in all four of his appearances. He finished fourth in his first two Richmond races (2005) and fifth and second in 2006.
• Mark Martin has three consecutive top 10 starts at Richmond.

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Re: Crown Royal 400 News and Notes

JIM STEWART 400 - Odds to Win

Jimmie Johnson     5-1

Tony Stewart     5-1

Kasey Kahne     40-1

Jeff Gordon     5-1

Matt Kenseth     12-1

Dale Earnhardt Jr     15-1

Kevin Harvick     10-1

Jeff Burton     15-1

Carl Edwards     25-1

Kyle Busch     10-1

Mark Martin     25-1

Greg Biffle     25-1

Kurt Busch     15-1

Denny Hamlin     7-1

Clint Bowyer     30-1

Juan Pablo Montoya     60-1

Martin Truex Jr     50-1

Ryan Newman     35-1

Elliott Sadler     100-1

Casey Mears     75-1

Jamie McMurray     30-1

Scott Riggs     100-1

Reed Sorenson     100-1

Bobby Labonte     100-1

David Stremme     100-1

Joe Nemechek     100-1

Dave Blaney     100-1

Ricky Rudd     100-1

JJ Yeley     100-1

Jeff Green     100-1

Tony Raines     100-1

David Gilliland     100-1

David Ragan     100-1

Field (Any Other Driver)     60-1

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Re: Crown Royal 400 News and Notes

Week 10: The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 12 -- And Beyond

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 30, 2007) -- Below is a look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 12 along with some other notable drivers, going into the Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400 at Richmond International Raceway on May 5.

1 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)

The file:
* 35-years-old from Vallejo, Calif., 76 career wins
* Two wins, seven top fives, eight top 10s
* Four poles
* Won two consecutive races for the first time since 2004
* Average finish of 4.1 this season
* Led in eight of nine races for 538 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Two wins, 10 top fives, 16 top 10s; four poles
* 16.357 average finish
* 40th and 31st, respectively, last season
* Led in 17 of 28 races for 754 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* Series-best Average Running Position of 7.844


2 -- Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet)

The file:
* 39-years-old from S. Boston, Va., 19 career wins
* One win, five top fives, six top 10s
* Average finish of 9.1 this season
* Led in five of nine races for 27 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One win, seven top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole
* 14.320 average finish
* 40th and ninth, respectively, last season
* Led in nine of 25 races: 899 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 798 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green) best of any driver


3 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford)

The file:
* 35-years-old from Cambridge, Wis., 15 career wins
* One win, five top fives, six top 10s
* Average finish of 8.6
* Led in seven of nine races for 171 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One win, three top fives, eight top 10s
* 14.571 average finish
* Finished third and eighth, respectively, last season
* Led in six of 14 races for a total of 187 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 2,828 laps run on the lead lap, most of any driver


4 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)

The file:
* 31-years-old from El Cajon, Calif., 26 career wins
* Three wins, six top fives
* Average finish of 11.7
* Led in five of nine races for 380 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One top five
* 21.2 average finish
* Finished 12th and 23rd, respectively, last season
* Led in four of 10 races for a total of 128 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 2,475 Laps in the Top 15, more than any driver


5 -- Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet)

The file:
* 26-years-old from Chesterfield, Va., two career wins
* Three top fives, four top 10s; one pole
* Average finish of 12.3
* Led in four of nine races for 420 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One top five; one pole
* 8.5 average finish
* Finished second and 15th, respectively, last season
* Led in both of his Richmond races for a total of 38 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 162 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most


6 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet)

The file:
* 35-years-old from Columbus, Ind., 29 career wins
* Two top fives, five top 10s
* Average finish of 17.4
* Led seven of nine races for 591 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Three wins; five top fives, 10 top 10s
* 12.063 average finish
* Finished sixth and 18th, respectively, last season
* Led eight of 16 races for 764 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 230 Fastest Laps Run, tied for second-most


7 -- Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal/IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford)

The file:
* 30-years-old from Joplin, Mo., one career win
* Two top fives, five top 10s
* 16.0 average finish
* Led one of nine races for two laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Two top 10s
* 22.75 average finish in eight races
* Finished 19th and 25th, respectively, last season

Loop Data Highlight:
* Sixth-fastest Speed in Traffic


8 -- Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet)

The file:
* 21-years-old from Las Vegas, Nev., four career wins
* One win, two top fives, five top 10s
* Average finish of 17.8
* Led in five of nine races for 56 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Four top fives
* 3.75 average finish
* Finished fifth and second, respectively, last season
* Led in three of four races for a total of 265 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* Fourth-fastest Green Flag Speed


9 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet)

The file:
* 31-years-old from Bakersfield, Calif., 11 career victories
* One win, two top fives, four top 10s
* Average finish of 17.8 this season
* Led in five of nine races for 71 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One win, four top fives, six top 10s; one pole
* 12.917 average finish
* Finished third and first, respectively, at Richmond last season
* Led in seven of 12 races for a total of 541 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 1,188 Green Flag Passes, more than any driver


10 -- Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)

The file:
* 28-years-old from Las Vegas, Nev., 15 career victories
* One top five, two top 10s
* Average finish of 17.6 this season
* Led in five of nine races for 168 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One win, two top 10s
* 20.0 average finish
* Finished 29th and 27th, respectively, at Richmond last season
* Led in five of 12 races for a total of 313 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 699 Quality Passes, third-most


11 -- Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet)

The file:
* 27-years-old from Emporia, Kan., zero career wins
* Three top 10s; Average finish of 17.6
* Led in three of nine races for five laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* One top 10
* 11.0 average finish in two races
* Finished 10th and 12th, respectively, last season

Loop Data Highlight:
* Driver Rating of 82.9, 11th-best


12 -- Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford)

The file:
* 27-years-old from Columbia, Mo., four career wins
* Two top 10s
* Average finish of 17.7
* Led in one of nine races for three laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Two top 10s
* 18.0 average finish in five races
* Finished seventh and 35th, respectively, last season

Loop Data Highlight:
* 1,953 Laps in the Top 15, ninth-most


13 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet)

The file:
* 32-years-old from Kannapolis, N.C., 17 career wins
* One top five, three top 10s
* Average finish of 19.0
* Led in four of nine races for 236 laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Three wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s
* 9.933 average finish
* Finished first and 17th, respectively, last season
* Has led in eight of 15 races for 322 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 195 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most


16 -- Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford)

The file:
* 35-years-old from Vancouver, Wash., 11 career victories
* One top five, two top 10s
* Average finish of 20.7 this season
* Led in two of nine races for three laps

Richmond International Raceway Outlook:
* Two top fives, five top 10s; one pole
* 13.1 average finish
* Finished fourth and sixth, respectively, at Richmond last season
* Led in four of nine races for a total of 71 laps

Loop Data Highlight:
* 543 Quality Passes, 10th-most

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RacingOne Power Rankings

Driver Ratings

The latest edition of the RacingOne NEXTEL Cup Series Power Rankings as the series heads to Richmond International Raceway for Saturday's Crown Royal Presents the "Jim Stewart 400", which features NASCAR's comprehensive statistical ratings system using a detailed formula to calculate each driver's performance.

Editor's Note: Top 10 rankings are generated by a formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race. Must have raced in 75 percent of scheduled point-paying races.

1. Jeff Gordon - On one of the best rolls in his career and looking for three straight Saturday night in Richmond.

Richmond Finishing Average: 16.4
Richmond Wins: 2

2. Jimmie Johnson - Lost in the melee and wild ending Sunday was the No. 48's trip from the rear of the field to the front in a very short period of time.

Richmond Finishing Average: 21.2
Richmond Wins: 0

3. Tony Stewart - Could have had a shot at erasing some of the controversy he started with a win Sunday until he got caught up in the last lap accident - and in the middle of more controversy.

Richmond Finishing Average: 12.1
Richmond Wins: 3

4. Jeff Burton
- Unfortunate victim of one those restrictor plate deals to end his day at Talladega.

Richmond Finishing Average: 14.3
Richmond Wins: 1

5. Matt Kenseth - Carrying the load for Roush - and Ford's effort this year.

Richmond Finishing Average: 14.6
Richmond Wins: 1

6. Denny Hamlin
- Don't think he's afan of the green-white-checkered because those extra caution laps ran him out of fuel and cost the No. 11 a chance at victory.

Richmond Finishing Average: 8.5
Richmond Wins: 0

7. Kurt Busch - Very impressive yet again on a plate track and looks poised for a victory next time around.

Richmond Finishing Average: 20.0
Richmond Wins: 1

8. Kyle Busch - Back-to-back hard hits Saturday and Sunday at Talladega has Busch no doubt anxious to get to a short track like Richmond.

Richmond Finishing Average: 3.8
Richmond Wins: 0

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Another Richmond victory would be just about what Junior needs right now.

Richmond Finishing Average: 9.9
Richmond Wins: 3

10. Kevin Harvick - Charged to the front at Talladega and posted another solid plate track finish.

Richmond Finishing Average: 12.9
Richmond Wins: 1

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Grading the top 10 after Talladega
Bill Marx
Sporting News

Here's our weekly grading of the top 10 drivers in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points standings. All race and performance references are from Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

1. Jeff Gordon, A; 1,521 points.
We're running out of superlatives, and we are nine races into the season. Gordon led the most laps and made the big pass when he had to at the end.

2. Jeff Burton, D; 1,318.
The multicar crash on Lap 130 had nothing to do with Burton, but it collected him. He finished 34th. Here's an interesting stat: Burton was the only driver -- except for Carl Edwards and Paul Menard, who were out of the race by Lap 27 -- who didn't post at least one fastest lap in the event.

3. Matt Kenseth, B; 1,292. Kenseth fashioned a 14th-place finish on a day he termed "frustrating." The No. 17 didn't run well in clean air, which relegated him to running in the pack. You can't win in those conditions.

4. Jimmie Johnson, A; 1,290. Either trouble finds Johnson at Talladega or Johnson finds trouble. Regardless, he had a strong car and finished second.

5. Denny Hamlin, B; 1,189. The late cautions sealed his fate. He had enough gas for 188 laps but not for 192. He lost the lead and a bunch of points on the gamble and finished 21st.

6. Tony Stewart, B; 1,078. Stewart had a top 10 finish until the mess at the end. Instead, he finished 28th. Amazing how you can go from top to bottom so fast, so late.

7. Jamie McMurray, A; 1,059. Mac finished fifth and led laps (2) for the first time since Nov. 5 at Texas. The caution setting up the green-white-checkered finish burned him because Gordon had just passed him for the lead at the latest scoring loop.

8. Kyle Busch, D; 1,054. Busch was collected in the Lap 130 accident, ending his day. He finished 37th. He ran conservatively early to stay out of potential trouble, a direct reaction to his spectacular crash in Saturday's Busch Series race.

9. Kevin Harvick, A; 1,052. Harvick finished sixth, running a textbook plate race. The RCR cars blew off qualifying by setting up in racing trim. Sure enough, Harvick steadily moved through the field. The late cautions muddled the finish, but Harvick was one of the lucky ones, avoiding the two accidents on the last lap.

10. Kurt Busch, A; 1,038. Busch finished third for his first top five of the season. No car spent more time in the top 15 than Busch's No. 2 Dodge (164 laps). He jumped out with Johnson on the last restart to move into third, but an accident moments later ended any chance to challenge for the win.

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Driver Handicaps: Richmond

This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the Crown Royal Presents the "Jim Stewart 400" - the fourth Car of Tomorrow event of the 2007 season. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 400-lap event.

Who's HOT at Richmond
* Kyle Busch has yet to finish outside the top five at Richmond plus already has one Car of Tomorrow victory.
* At 9.9, Richmond is Dale Earnhardt Jr's best track in finishing average.
* Three-time Richmond winner Tony Stewart has led the most laps in Car of Tomorrow competition with 400.
* 2006 September winner Kevin Harvick has the best average driver rating at Richmond at 4.8.
* Greg Biffle has finished eighth or better in his last five starts at Richmond.
* Mark Martin leads all drivers with 22 top-10 finishes at Richmond.

Keep an Eye on at Richmond
* Jeff Gordon has the best average finish (2.0) in Car of Tomorrow competition.
* Denny Hamlin will be driving the same chassis that has led a combined 302 laps in two starts.
* Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson both have an average finish of 7.0 in the three Car of Tomorrow races.
* Matt Kenseth was the fastest Ford in testing.

COT Performers
The Hendrick Motorsports teammates of Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch lead all drivers with a respective average finish of 2.0 and 4.0 in the three Car of Tomorrow races contested so far in 2007. Denny Hamlin (6.7), Jeff Burton (7.0) and Jimmie Johnson (7.0) are the only other drivers with an average finish of 10.0 or better. David Gilliland is last in average finish among all drivers that have competed in all COT races at 38.3. The Joe Gibbs racing teammates of Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are the only drivers to lead more than 200 laps each, with Stewart at 400 and Hamlin at 372. Jeff Gordon (151), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (137) and Jimmie Johnson (113) round out the top five in laps led. Gordon and Hamlin, respectively, have the best starting average at 2.0 and 5.9.

Testing Report
Reed Sorenson's speed of 123.215 mph topped the four sessions of testing for the Car of Tomorrow back in early April at Richmond International Raceway. Kurt Busch jumped to second overall with a lap of 123.141 mph in the final session. Johnny Benson (123.136 mph), Jeff Green (122.945 mph) and Jeff Burton (122.800 mph) rounded out the top five of the test. Matt Kenseth was the fastest Ford over the two days at 122.560 mph. Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Riggs crashed in the night session on the first day. Testing Speeds

Looking For Speed
Ken Schrader holds the best average start (16.9) at Richmond International Raceway among the drivers required to qualify on time. Richmond qualifying record holder Brian Vickers is second in average at 19.8. Johnny Benson was the fastest among the "go or go home" group in testing with a lap of 123.136 mph in the No. 46 Toyota. For the first time in 2007, Dale Jarrett will not have a provisional to fall back on. Qualifying Averages

Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings

1. Jeff Gordon (Points: 1521): In the last 13 races at Richmond Int'l Raceway, Gordon has finished in the top 10 six times, including a win in the September event in 2000 - his last of two victories at RIR. In two of the last four races Gordon has posted a DNF, most recently last May when an ignition problem relegated him to a 40th-place finish. In total, Gordon has finished in the top five 10 times and in the top 10 16 times, and has led 754 laps. This weekend marks his 29th start on the .75-mile track. With his 7.5 starting average, Gordon has the best average among drivers who have started in 11 or more races at RIR. This average is bolstered by his four pole starts.

2. Jeff Burton (Points Behind: -203): Burton has competed in 25 races at Richmond International Raceway, capturing one win, one pole and 12 top-10 finishes. His best RIR finish (ninth) in five races with Richard Childress came in the 2006 September race. Burton has also made 20 starts in the Busch Series at RIR, capturing three poles, two wins and 11 top-10 finishes. This weekend Burton will pilot the same COT chassis (No. 193) that finished 13th at Phoenix last month.

3. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind: -229): Kenseth has competed in 14 races at Richmond International Raceway, scoring one victory after leading 134 laps in the 2002 fall event. With that win, Kenseth became the third person to visit victory lane at RIR after starting 25th or worse. Over the last 10 races at RIR, Kenseth has captured seven finishes of eighth or better. Last year in this event, Kenseth finished 38th - his worst finish at RIR - after a brake rotor broke and punctured the oil pan. This weekend he will drive the same COT chassis (RK-451) that finished fifth at Phoenix last month.

4. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind: -231): Richmond International Raceway is Johnson's worst track by finishing average at 21.2. His only top 10 was a runner-up finish in this event in 2004. The Car of Tomorrow could be the perfect medicine for Johnson as he is currently tied four fourth overall for the best finishing average at 7.0. In this event in 2005, Johnson's day ended with a trip to the backstretch inside retaining wall, resulting in a 40th-place finish - his only DNF at RIR. This weekend Johnson will drive a new COT chassis (No. 48424).

5. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind: -332): Last year in this event, Denny Hamlin thrilled the home state crowd after battling Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win. He wound up finishing second after leading 19 laps from the seventh position. In the September race he won the pole and then went on to finish 15th. Hamlin will be back behind the wheel of one of the strongest COT Chassis in the series. This car led a combined 302 laps in its two starts.

6. Tony Stewart (Points Behind: -443): In his first of three NEXTEL Cup wins at Richmond International Raceway, Stewart led a dominating 333 of the 400 race laps on September 11, 1999. His last win came in the 2002 spring race, and since then he has finished in the top-five twice, including the 2005 May event, where he led 143 laps and finished second. In two of the last three races, Stewart collected his ninth and 10th top 10s at RIR. Stewart has also been successful in the Truck Series at RIR with two wins and a top-three finish in three starts. The only years Stewart failed to win at the track were in 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Stewart has led the most laps in Car of Tomorrow competition with 400.

7. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind: -462): Last year, McMurray finished 19th and 25th, respectively, in his first two NEXTEL Cup starts with Roush Racing at Richmond International Raceway. His previous six starts came with Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray's best finish (ninth) - and second top 10 - came in the 2004 September race after breaking a valve spring in the closing laps. With that finish, it also cut short McMurray's chance to make a run for the championship by only 15 points. McMurray will return in the same Car of Tomorrow (chassis No. RK-463) that he tested last month at RIR.

8. Kyle Busch (Points Behind: -467): Busch has finished in the top five in his four NEXTEL Cup starts at Richmond International Raceway. He led 248 laps last September en route to his best finish, of second, at the track. Richmond is also the site of Busch's first NASCAR win when he won the 2004 May Busch Series race. This weekend Busch will look to keep the top five streak alive by driving the same COT chassis (No. 418) that finished seventh at Phoenix last month.

9. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind: -469): In 12 starts at Richmond International Raceway, Harvick has finished in the top five three times. In the last four three races at RIR, Harvick has combined to lead 494 laps en route to consecutive top-10 starts and finishes, including a win in the last event. Harvick will be back in the same COT (chassis No. 190) that has posted a 18.3 average finish in three starts.

10. Kurt Busch (Points Behind: -483): Busch posted his first win, and first top five at Richmond International Raceway in the 2005 September race after leading 185 laps. Busch's only other top 10 came in the May 2003 event when he finished eighth. In 2006, Busch finished 29th and 27th, respectively, in his first starts at the track with Penske Racing. He will race the same COT (chassis No. PSC-514) that was tested at RIR and turned in the fastest lap of the final session at 123.141 mph.

11. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind: -500): Clint Bowyer posted two solid finishes of 10th and 12th in his first two NEXTEL Cup starts at Richmond International Raceway. In fact, his 11.0 average finish was the best among all of the 2006 rookies at RIR.

12. Carl Edwards (Points Behind: -517): Edwards captured his best NEXTEL Cup finish (sixth) in the 2004 fall event and first start at Richmond International Raceway. Last May he equaled his best start (ninth) before scoring his second top 10 with a seventh-place finish. Edwards will be driving the same COT (chassis RK-453) that he raced to a 12th-place finish at Bristol in March.

13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind: -527): Earnhardt Jr. won the this event last year event after leading 47 laps from the 10th starting position. The win marked Jr's third victory at Richmond Int'l Raceway. After 15 starts, he has finished in the top five seven times and the top 10 nine times. In 2004, Junior scored more points (924) on short-tracks than any other driver and backed-up his last RIR win with a second-place finish in the September race. Saturday will mark the third race for COT chassis No. 051. This car finished seventh and 19th, respectively, at Bristol and Phoenix.

14. David Stremme (Points Behind: -561): Richmond International Raceway is Stremme's worst track by finishing average at 33.7. His average in three Car of Tomorrow races in 2007 is comparable at 30.3.

15. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind: -581): Sadler finished 12th or worse in his first 12 starts at Richmond International Raceway. In the 2005 May race, Sadler scored his first, and only, top-10 finish (seventh) after starting a career-best fifth. Last year he finished 16th in his first track start with Evernham Motorsports.

16. Greg Biffle (Points Behind: -590): Biffle has finished eighth or better in the last five races at Richmond International Raceway. In the second race in 2005, he scored his best finish of third in nine starts. Biffle also has one win and three finishes of third or better in the Truck Series at RIR. He will be racing the same COT (chassis: RK-404) that finished 17th at Phoenix due handling problems.

17. Mark Martin (Points Behind: -600): Martin will be making his seventh start of the 2007 season this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. It will be his first in a Chevrolet and 43rd overall. In his 25 year career at RIR, Martin has captured one win (1990), 23 top-10, 13 top-five and has finished 15th or better in 12 of the last 13 races. He scored his first career pole on September 13, 1981, at Richmond and his 41st on May 5, 2001. Martin also has five Busch wins at RIR. Martin holds the best average finish (12.) among all drivers that have made just one Car of Tomorrow start.

18. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind: -613): At 40.5, Richmond International Raceway is Truex Jr's worst track in finishing average. He will be racing the same Car of Tomorrow chassis (No. 018) that finished 29th at Martinsville in April.

20. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind: -638): Labonte has yet to win a race at Richmond International Raceway in 28 starts. His last of 10 top 10s came with Joe Gibbs Racing in this event in 2005 when he finished eighth. In his second race at the track in 1993, Labonte started on the pole for the only time at RIR, which was his first career Bud Pole in the Cup Series. Labonte finished 24th and 22nd, respectively, in his first two track starts with Petty Enterprises.

Notables (Outside The Top 20)
* Ryan Newman has the best average finish (11.6) at Richmond among the drivers outside the top 20.
* Reed Sorenson was consistently fast in all of the test sessions last month at Richmond.
* Kasey Kahne has one win and three top 10s in six Richmond starts.
* Ricky Rudd has 19 top-10 finishes in 35 starts at Richmond.

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NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 9

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jeff Gordon: — Gordon dominated at Talladega, winning the Aaron's 499 pole, leading the most laps, and winning under caution after a hectic final 10 laps. Laying back for a final charge, Gordon grouped with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart for the push to the front, then passed Jamie McMurray on lap 186. As was the case in Phoenix, Gordon and the No. 24 Dupont Chevy were pelted with beer cans, mostly by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fan, who were upset 1) that Gordon's 77th career win put him one up on Dale, Sr., or 2) that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. didn't win the race.

"Or maybe there was a sudden outbreak of skanky Budweiser," says Gordon, who happens to be a strong advocate of aluminum recycling. "Shouldn't those beer-throwing fans have been tossing the cans at Sterling Marlin's Waste Management-sponsored car? Heck, maybe they were upset that I took a victory lap while waving the yellow flag. Anyway, I think Tony Stewart is right — racing is a lot like wrestling. Turn on wrestling and you're quite apt to see beer cans flying."

2. Jimmie Johnson:
— Johnson tucked in behind Gordon just before a series of wrecks brought out the race's final caution, ending his chance to battle for the win. The No. 48 Hendrick machine was lucky to be at the front; Johnson was involved in two incidents that led to wrecks, one involving teammate Casey Mears.

"Sorry about that, Casey," says Johnson. "I missed your signal indicating that you were pitting. My bad. Keep in mind that hand signals work great when you're on a bicycle, but not when you're doing 200 miles per hour in a finely-tuned automobile. And keep in mind that I'm the defending Nextel Cup champion, and you're the new kid, so the only hand signal I acknowledge from you is the 'thumbs-up' you give me when you're done polishing my trophy."

3. Matt Kenseth: — Kenseth hovered near the front for much of the race, even leading three laps early, but was shuffled back in the unpredictable last laps. He eventually finished 14th, only his third result out of the top 10 this year, and held on to third in the points, 229 behind Jeff Gordon.

"What has this sport become when we're talking more about wrestling and beer than Jeff Gordon passing the great Dale Earnhardt in career wins?" asks a perturbed Kenseth. "I'll tell you what it's become: a lot more interesting. Tony Stewart, keep talking. Earnhardt fans, keep tossing those cans. Take it from me. I know boring, and today's NASCAR is not boring."

4. Jeff Burton:
— Burton was an unfortunate victim in the fracas that started when Jimmie Johnson spun a pitting Casey Mears. Burton's No. 31 Cingular Chevrolet slammed into Joe Nemechek, severely damaging Burton's car. After repairs, he returned to the track and finished 34th, which left him 203 points behind Jeff Gordon. Burton started the race trailing by only 74.

"What's up with Hendrick Motorsports?" asks Burton. "They can win nearly every race, but they can't pass along a simple communication from one team to another? How do they relay information? Via radio, or with two tin cans and a length of string?"

5. Denny Hamlin: — Hamlin led 48 laps, second only to Jeff Gordon's 71, but a late caution smothered any chance for the win. After leading as late as lap 182, the Virginia native faded to 21st, but held on to fifth in the Cup standings, 332 out of first.

"First, let me assure you," explains Hamlin, "that although I am a native of the state of Virginia, I am in no way related to Michael Vick, nor do I condone the mistreatment of dogs, although having them work out on treadmills sounds kind of cool. I'd really like to see a pit bull working the speed bag, too. Anyway, I can't be disappointed with the outcome, and I'm sure my sponsor, FedEx, feels the same, especially when the car sponsored by their competitor, UPS, was seen sputtering around the track with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel. Maybe they should race the truck."

6. Jamie McMurray:
— McMurray was leading on lap 186 when David Reutimann's engine blew, but before the caution flag flew, McMurray was passed by Jeff Gordon for the lead. McMurray still finished fifth, and jumped five place in the points. He is now in seventh, 462 out of the lead. McMurray was initially fingered by Tony Stewart as the guilty party in the last-lap wreck that wiped out the No. 20. Replays indicated that David Gilliland, in the No. 38 car, bumped McMurray into Stewart.

"Whew! Thank goodness I was vindicated by instant replay," says a relieved McMurray. "It looked like Stewart was challenging me to a 'Tony Stewart Street Fight,' in which combat is strictly limited to words. If he wants to take it to the squared circle, I'm ready. I've got the perfect finishing move, a version of the traditional piledriver. I call it the 'Crown Royal.'"

7. Kurt Busch: — Busch scored his best finish of the year with a third in the Aaron's 499, and along with teammate Ryan Newman, gave Penske Racing two cars in the top 10. Busch fared better than little brother Kyle, who wrecked in spectacular fashion in Saturday's Busch race, then was caught up in lap 130's mini-Big One in Sunday's race.

"Obviously, I didn't learn to drive from my brother," says Kurt. "Wow! What a crash in Saturday's Busch race. And speaking of the Busch Series, it looks like Kentucky Fried Chicken is the front-runner to win sponsorship of the series. I think that's great. In fact, it's finger-lickin' good. The Nextel champion may win the 'Cup,' but the new KFC champion will be honored with the 'Bucket.' I think Colonel Harland Sanders, were he alive, would be imminently proud about the union of chicken and race cars."

8. Tony Stewart: — Stewart began his Talladega weekend in the principal's office, face to face with NASCAR's new "Intimidator," Mike "Giv 'em" Helton, who gave Stewart a 9,000 rpm reaming in response to refusing to talk to the media after the Phoenix race, as well as comparing NASCAR to professional wrestling on his Sirius satellite radio show. Suffice it to say the Joe Gibbs Racing driver emerged with a limp. Stewart was then edged at the stripe by Bobby Labonte in the Busch race, and was punted from the top 10 on Sunday by a last-lap wreck.

"I guess I've learned my lesson," says Stewart with a sly grin. "I'll never criticize again. Incidentally, I've just removed the word 'again' from my vocabulary. Seriously though, NASCAR is not the least bit like professional wrestling. Helton was adamant that I never make that comparison again. If I do, he's threatened to deny me title shots, shave my head, and/or suspend me high above the track in a cage. Somewhere, Vince McMahon is cackling wildly."

9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: — Earnhardt made a charge late in the Aaron's 499, drawing raucous cheers from the mostly pro-Earnhardt crowd. Ultimately, though, he didn't have the horsepower to stay in the front, but still finished a solid seventh. Earnhardt Nation's public enemy No. 1, Jeff Gordon, won the race, and again was pelted by beer cans from the crowd.

"Again, I plead to all my fans," says Earnhardt, "don't throw beer cans on the track. It's dangerous, immature, and a waste of good beer. To all my fans, here's a motto to live by: 'Don't throw beer cans, throw 'em back.' That means drink them. And I see some of you took me literally when I said throw toilet paper instead of cans. First of all, what are you people doing with toilet paper in the stands? Please don't answer that question."

10. Kevin Harvick: — After a miserable qualifying effort, Harvick started 41st and quickly found his way to the front and remained there, the only Richard Childress car not victimized by a wreck. He finished sixth and jumped back into the top 10 in points, where he is ninth, 469 out of first.

"I'm just happy that Shell is my sponsor and not Dale, Jr.'s," says Harvick. "Else instead of beer cans being tossed at Jeff Gordon, he could be facing a barrage of Molotov cocktails. I hear toilet paper makes a great fuse."

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Richmond Rocks!

Richmond International Raceway (RIR) is unlike any track on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule. It has the small stature of a short track, but it has the broad, sweeping turns that are the staple of the unrestricted, intermediate speedways. That combination makes for a short track that is typically dominated by the best on the "cookie-cutter" speedways.

Just because someone runs well on the "cookie-cutters" does not necessarily mean he will run well at Richmond. The same can be said for the drivers who dominate the other short tracks, but come up short at RIR. Fantasy owners will want to focus on drivers with good records at Richmond. At the same time, if there is someone who has been running well on the short tracks and the "cookie-cutters" this year, then it will be a good guess that he will be a factor are Richmond.


The favorites are easy to pick in the Car of Tomorrow (COT) races at the moment. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have separated themselves from the rest of the field in the new body style and that puts them at the top of the wish list. The No. 24 and No. 11 Chevrolets stand out this week, but just about anyone piloting one of these teams' cars will be worth putting on the roster.

Jeff Gordon is too hot to ignore right now. He has been superb on every track this year and has been in the top three at every COT race run. Now that he has consecutive wins from the pole in the last two weeks, he has the swagger of a guy on his way to his fifth series championship. Gordon has the COT strategy down to a science and will be a shoe-in for a top-five if he avoids trouble. It doesn't hurt that he is a short track master and former winner at Richmond.

There are three COT races in the books and three times Denny Hamlin has had the best car in the field. Each week, however, something happened to take him out of contention; one week it was a fuel pump, then a loose lug nut and two weeks ago it was a pit road speeding penalty. He will put all that behind him this weekend. Hamlin always runs well in Virginia, whether at Richmond or Martinsville Speedway. He nearly came up big in his first spring race at RIR last season.

Dark Horses
Juan Montoya was a little disappointing at Phoenix International Raceway, but he will be back to form this weekend. Although it is his first trip to RIR, he has already proven he can drive on this type of track. He picked up top-10s on the "cookie-cutters" of Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway and he had earned a top-20 on the short track in Martinsville. Montoya could slide under the radar in many leagues based on his inexperience, but don't be afraid to use him if his practice speeds are decent.

Montoya will have some competition from his teammate in the No. 40 Dodge this weekend. David Stremme was very strong at Bristol Motor Speedway and earned a 13th after running in the top 10 all day. He has had some of his best runs in the "cookie-cutter" races, earning a career first 10th at Texas three races ago and earning top-20s at Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedway this season. Although Talladega SuperSpeedway has little to do with Richmond in terms of setups, Stremme is coming off an eighth-place finish there, which should give him momentum.

Normally, Kasey Kahne would be among the top-five favorites at Richmond. That would be for good reason, as he won his first race there in 2005 and dominated the "cookie-cutters" in 2006. Yet something is wrong with the No. 9 Dodge team and they don't seem to be able to fix it just yet. They are deep in the points' standings this year and have struggled almost everywhere. On the days when it seems like Kahne is getting back to normal, something goes wrong. He is not entirely a red flag just yet, but his status will either rise or fall with his practice and qualifying speeds.

Casey Mears is one of those drivers who has performed well on the unrestricted, intermediate speedways in the past, but who has not had any good fortune on the short tracks. In fact, he has had very little luck since he climbed into the cockpit of the No. 25 Chevrolet. He came close to victory in the "cookie-cutter" races while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, but that seems like ages ago compared to his recent woes. Entering Richmond, he has just one top-10 during the year and was just seven points from falling to the dreaded 36th position in the owners' points' standings.

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Gordon wins pole; Jarrett misses first race since '94
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jeff Gordon rolled to his third consecutive NASCAR Nextel Cup pole position Friday, and former series champion Dale Jarrett was among those headed home as Toyota teams again struggled to compete.

Gordon, a four-time series champion, will start on the pole for the fourth consecutive week -- he started first as the series points leader when qualifying was rained out a Texas -- and for the fifth time in six races. He's also won two races in a row, and has opened a 203-point lead over second-place Jeff Burton after nine races.

"I'm kind of blown away right now with the roll that we're on," Gordon said.

Jarrett was blown away, too, by almost everyone. His Toyota finished 47th among the 50 cars attempting to make the field, with a fast lap at just 123.226 mph.

The 1999 champion, who used up his last past champion's provisional last week at Talladega, missed a race for the first time since 1994 in North Wilkesboro, N.C.

"It's tough, no doubt about it," the 50-year-old driver said while walking to his hauler. "You've got to be on top of your game to race out here at this day and time."

Especially the way Gordon is running these days in his Car of Tomorrow Impala, or his Monte Carlo. The next-fastest qualifier was Carl Edwards in a Ford at 125.657 mph.

"I don't know what it is," Gordon said. "All I know is everything I'm doing, I'm not going to stop doing it. We've been on some good rolls over the years -- it's been a long time, obviously -- and as competitive as the series is today, it surprises me when somebody gets on this type of a roll. I don't know how to describe or explain it."

Edwards has yet to finish in the top 10 in a COT race -- his best was 11th at Phoenix -- and was elated even before he knew he would start on the front row.

"That's a great big step for us," he said. "It's so much fun when it's going well and so frustrating when it's not, so, hopefully it's a good start."

Scott Riggs qualified third in a Dodge, followed by the Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne in another Dodge. The rest of the top 10 includes the Chevys of Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex and Mark Martin, and Dave Blaney's Toyota.

A.J. Allmendinger (13th), David Reutimann (14th) and Johnny Benson (31st) also made the race in Toyotas, while Jarrett, Michael Waltrip and Jeremy Mayfield did not.

The field also will include Virginian Ward Burton for just the fifth time in 10 races, and his brother, Jeff, who was 43rd fastest but got in with a provisional.

Ken Schrader of the Wood Brothers, another Virginia team, also failed to make the race for the second week in a row. They hadn't missed one before last week since 2000.

Saturday night's Crown Royal 400 will be the fourth race in which teams use the Car of Tomorrow, and early signs point to another good night for Hendrick Motorsports.

The teams have won the first three COT events, with Kyle Busch, Gordon and Johnson all winning one, and Gordon said he's felt good about his COT program from the start.

"I think maybe the Car of Tomorrow fits my driving style a little bit more than the current car," he said, "but we've done our homework, and it's certainly paying off."

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Jim Stewart 400: Night Racing in Richmond   
by: Brian Gabrielle

Saturday night racing is just more fun.

Something about the paint schemes under the lights, the fact that drinking alcohol on a Saturday night simply feels less taboo than getting bombed at noon on a Sunday (call me old-fashioned), and that you can skip dinner and eat nachos for about four hours. Heck, a good Saturday-night race can be a terrific precursor to a long night of fun. Finish the race around 10 (in the east), gather up any remaining pork rinds, and hit the town. And hopefully hit it flush with some extra cash from well-placed wagers.

Richmond International Raceway is a funny little place: it's three-quarters of a mile long, but they call it the short track that drives like a superspeedway, because its front stretch is a lot longer than you expect, so the cars get some unexpectedly high speeds before having to brake hard in Turn 1. The guy who's best at the beginning of this race is almost never the race winner, simply because being good late requires you to be easy on your brakes early, and zooming out to an early lead almost always means you use up all your brakes on the first 200 laps. So this week we'll be looking at three things: (1) Richmond success; (2) Car of Tomorrow success; (3) patience patience patience. Let's look at our favorite wagers of the week.

Last Week:
It's pretty tough winning money at plate-track races, simply because of the randomness involved with cars driving 190 mph bumper-to-bumper, but win money we did. While none of our straight-up selections won the race (Jeff Gordon did), Kurt Busch managed to finish third and hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished seventh. That head-to-head victory gave us a net positive week of 0.45 units on 1.5 units wagered, a return of 30%. For the season, we're up 1.94 units on 13.5 units wagered, a return of 14.4%. (As always, note that if you eschew the conservative betting scheme we outline below and simply bet one unit for ever wager we recommend, you'd have lost 2.05 units on four units wagered last week, but you'd be up 15.47 units on 36 units wagered for the season, a return of 43%. Of course, on a week-to-week basis, this betting strategy is riskier.)

Take Denny Hamlin (+616), 1/6th unit. Hamlin grew up just 20 miles from RIR, and loves this place. It has been a lifelong dream of his to win a race here, and I think he can do it this weekend. Hamlin was second here in last year's spring race, and he's been exceedingly good in the Car of Tomorrow. He could've won at Bristol, he finished third at Martinsville, and he had the best car at Phoenix (a track that bears some resemblance to Richmond) but sped in the pits, and could only come back from a lap down to finish third. If that event had been 10 laps longer, Hamlin would've won, and I think he's due for a great showing Saturday night.

Take Jeff Gordon (+585), 1/6th unit. And if it's not Hamlin, it'll probably be Gordon. Oh, sure Tony Stewart (+563) has won here three times to Gordon's two, but I'm recalling the way they dueled in Phoenix just a couple Saturdays ago, when Gordon was able to zoom from behind and pass Smoke for the win. Gordon has won two straight races and has taken four of the last five poles, so you know the #24 is really clicking. Plus he legitimately could've won all three Car of Tomorrow races to this point. The Hendrick COT program is awesome (Hendrick cars have won all three COT races to date), and Gordon is the hottest driver around. Three wins in a row is something usually reserved for his teammate, Jimmie Johnson (+827), and there's no question Johnson could win this race, but Richmond is his worst track. I'm going to say Gordon outlasts Stewart, and threatens for the win.

Take Kyle Busch (+881), 1/6th unit. I know, I just made a big deal about patience, and Kyle Busch has very little. But it's hard to find a better finishing average anywhere than Busch's average at Richmond. Take a look at these four results: second, fifth, fourth and fourth. This just in: the younger Busch really likes this place. He's usually very good at flat tracks in general, too, and his COT program has Hendrick stamped all over it. (The younger Busch won the first-ever COT event at Bristol). I'm not going to be surprised to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. (+1034) win this event, because he's taken two of the last three night Richmond races, and he loves this joint. But the consistency of Busch's numbers is just too strong to ignore.

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There is a lot to consider this weekend at Richmond. Short track racing, night racing and the car or tomorrow. I think it's clear that Hendrick has the car of tomorrow down way more than any other team right now. And they have 2 of the best drivers. Still, it's a short track and weird things happen at short tracks.

Top pick: Jeff Gordon
What can you say this guy is unstoppable lately. Not real good value at 4/1 or 4.75/1 but if you have a guy you think is gonna win the race you have to bet on him.

Good value: Kasey Kahne
25/1 on Kasey Kahne is a gift here. Kahne has run well at Richmond and has won here. He also runs well when he starts out front. If he can stay there I think he has a good chance to battle for the win.

Longshot: Dale Jr.
A lot of people think this is where Jr. breaks the winless streak and becomes even more of a hero. I personally don't think so. But on the outside chance that the racing gods align for Jr. he is getting a decent price at 7.5/1 to 8/1.

Sleeper: Jeff Burton
If something happens to Jeff Gordon and he can't win this race Jeff Burton will probably have placed himself in a position to take the checkers by the end of the race. Burton's stock is rising each week and at 15/1 he could be a big payoff if it's a wacky night.

Manufacturer to win: Chevy, I don't need to tell you why

Matchups: Mark Martin -115 over Clint Boywer and Elliot Sadler +160 over Ryan Newman

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Junior Looking for Repeat Performance

Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans get ready — this could be the weekend you have been waiting for all season long.

Following disappointing finishes in the first two races of the year at Daytona International Speedway and California Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has repeatedly shown he has a competitive car and has scored several strong finishes, including a top-five result at Martinsville Speedway and top-10 finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

But, this weekend could be the breakout point of the year for Earnhardt Jr.

Heading into Richmond International Raceway, Earnhardt Jr. comes in as not only the defending race winner of the event, but also as the driver with the best average finish who has competed in more than four events at the .75-mile speedway. His 9.9 average finish in 15 starts here is his best at any NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series venue.

"It’s always good for me and the team to see the word Richmond on the calendar. It’s a place where we’ve not only had consistent success for a lot of years, but the racing is as much fun as anywhere we go," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It’s great for the drivers because you can run different lines to suit how your car is handling and that means a lot of side-by-side racing. That’s fun and it puts more control in the hands of the driver. But it’s even more fun for the fans."

Should the driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet defend his victory, it would be his fourth visit to Gatorade Victory Lane at Richmond and the 18th of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series career.

More importantly, however, a victory tonight in the Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 would be his first in a Car of Tomorrow race.

In three previous COT events, Earnhardt Jr. has led the fourth most laps, 137 circuits, and scored an average finish of 10.3.

"I’m anxious to see if we’ll have the same kind of race with the Car of Tomorrow," Earnhardt Jr. said. "No one has really solved the problem of making these cars get through the corners. With very little practice time this weekend, I hope we’re able to put on the same type of show."

If anybody can solve that COT problem at Richmond International Raceway tonight, look for Earnhardt Jr. to be the one.

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Michael_Cash wrote:

Longshot: Dale Jr.
A lot of people think this is where Jr. breaks the winless streak and becomes even more of a hero. I personally don't think so. But on the outside chance that the racing gods align for Jr. he is getting a decent price at 7.5/1 to 8/1.

I have Jr at 15/1 and hope the gods are nice to me  wink

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Rain Postpones Crown Royal 400
May 5th, 2007

Richmond, VA (Sports Network) - The Crown Royal 400 Nextel Cup race at the Richmond International Raceway was postponed Saturday night after 12 laps due to rain.

Jeff Gordon led the 43-car field around the .75-mile oval as the race started under caution conditions due to wet spots on the track from earlier rain showers.

After 12 laps NASCAR officials decided to red flag the race as the rain started to fall. The steady rain was too much and NASCAR officials decided to postpone the race.

When the race starts tomorrow Jeff Gordon will lead the field after winning his fourth pole of the season on Friday Night.

Starting alongside Gordon will be Carl Edwards. Scott Riggs and Jimmie Johnson will start in row two.

The race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.(et) on Sunday.

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Johnson, HMS finish in victory lane again

RICHMOND, Va. -- In a sport that prides itself on parity, NASCAR has a runaway freight train in Hendrick Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson did the honors in Sunday's rain-delayed Jim Stewart 400 at Richmond International Raceway. The 2006 Nextel Cup champion passed teammate Kyle Busch after a restart on Lap 381 and drove away for his fourth win of the season and the 27th of his career.

At the end of a 20-lap green-flag run to the finish, Johnson crossed the finish line .723 seconds ahead of Busch, as Chevrolet claimed the top four finishing positions. Denny Hamlin came home third, followed by points leader and polesitter Jeff Gordon, who had won the previous two Cup events from the pole.

Kurt Busch, older brother of the race runner-up, ran fifth, despite an inopportune late-race pit stop that cost him precious track position. Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth completed the top 10.

"It means the world to win here," said Johnson, who recorded his first victory at RIR. "We haven't been that strong here. This reminds me of Indy last year, when we beat a track that's been tough on us."

With Kyle Busch winning at Bristol, Johnson at Martinsville and Richmond and Gordon at Phoenix, Hendrick is undefeated in the first four Car of Tomorrow races of 2007. That string will be on the line Saturday at Darlington, where Gordon tested tires for Goodyear in March.

Hendrick has won seven of the 10 Cup races this season -- including seven of the last eight -- and Chevrolet nine of 10.

"In some ways, I'm surprised that we've been able to win as many races this year as we have," said Johnson, who moved to second in points, 211 behind Gordon. "We've had a lot of great competition from other teams, but we've put a lot into the current car, the restrictor-plate programs and the Car of Tomorrow. So, I am surprised to see at the end of the day, Hendrick's still at the front, and we're taking trophies home.

"We still have a lot of competition. I think today the 29 (Harvick), the 11 (Hamlin), the 24 (Gordon), at different points in the race those cars were really, really strong, but they had some issues -- the 2 (Kurt Busch) pitted early, the 29 had a problem on pit road -- things that have just been eliminating people from fighting for the win.

"That's one thing I've been proud of my team. Our pit stops keep getting stronger throughout the day … we're making the car better. So all those things are building toward that finish, and we've done a great job of that. As I think, as a whole, that's why Hendrick has been getting to victory lane so much."

Despite finishing third, Hamlin indicated he simply feels outnumbered by the Hendrick juggernaut.

"I'm looking out my front windshield, and I see all Hendrick cars and me -- and a few cars sprinkled behind me," Hamlin said. "You can argue that Hendrick's just got all the best drivers. It's tough to beat when you've got four very, very good teams (including Casey Mears)."

Harvick had established his No. 29 Chevrolet as the car to beat until a pit road accident on Lap 253 knocked him to the back of the field. As Harvick exited his pit stall, the No. 29 clipped David Ragan's No. 6 Ford, which came to rest near pit wall after a 180-degree spin.

Harvick, who had led 106 laps to that point, made several pit stops under caution and also incurred a pit road speeding penalty, which forced him to restart at the tail end of the longest line on Lap 261.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another strong car that also became a casualty. On Lap 285, Jeff Green's No. 66 Chevy lost grip in Turn 4 and clipped Earnhardt's No. 8 Chevy. Earnhardt kept the car off the wall, but the resulting loss of track position dropped him to a 13th-place finish.

Kyle Busch held the lead on Lap 372, when a multicar wreck on the frontstretch -- involving Ward Burton, Dave Blaney, Ricky Rudd, Martin Truex Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and Stewart -- brought out the 14th and final caution of the afternoon.

Busch was scored as the leader at that point, but Johnson passed his teammate on the first lap of green-flag racing after the final restart and held on for the win.

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