By Jared Turner
5 Lessons Learned at Richmond
Kurt Busch Comeback Complete
In practically every race since returning from an indefinite suspension for alleged domestic abuse, Kurt Busch has had tremendous speed in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. It wasn’t until Sunday’s race at Richmond, however, that speed finally translated into a win. The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion put a whipping on the competition at RIR, leading 291 of 400 laps on the way to his first victory in more than a year. Now, he’s locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup and looks to be one of the few drivers capable standing in the way of his teammate, Kevin Harvick, winning a second straight title.
JGR Still Has Issues
Joe Gibbs Racing arrived at Richmond riding high on the heels of two wins in the past three races – Denny Hamlin’s triumph at Martinsville and Matt Kenseth’s breakthrough at Bristol. But instead of continuing the hot streak, the organization floundered big time at RIR by failing to put even one of its four drivers in the top five at the finish of Sunday’s rescheduled race. Particularly troubling for JGR were the struggles of two-time Richmond winner Hamlin, who finished 22nd and two laps down at the track located just down the road from his hometown of Chesterfield, Virginia. Kenseth, in seventh, was JGR’s only representative in the top 10.
Chase Elliott Has The Goods
Following a disappointing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut last month at Martinsville Speedway where he limped home 38th in a fifth Hendrick Motorsports car, Chase Elliott fared much better in his second outing in NASCAR’s premier division. The reigning XFINITY Series champion qualified and finished 16th at Richmond – a respectable showing for the Dawsonville, Georgia native who last season turned heads around the motorsports world by becoming the youngest champion in one of NASCAR’s three major series. The second-generation driver has three more scheduled Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick this season in preparation for 2016 when he will take over driving duties on Jeff Gordon’s fabled No. 24 Chevrolet.
Junior, Smoke Aren’t On Good Terms
Known to be good friends, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart certainly didn’t act like it Sunday at Richmond. Racing for a position in the top 10 with around 40 laps to go, the two made contact that resulted in Stewart spinning into the inside wall. Unable to continue, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion finished 41st and refused to speak with reporters after exiting the race. He was heard cursing Earnhardt over his team radio, however, and then later seen throwing his HANS device and helmet into his team hauler. Earnhardt, whose car was undamaged in the mix-up, blamed Stewart for their collision.
The Cream Rises Again
A week after each driver failed to finish in the top 10 for the first time this season, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. returned to the top 10 at Richmond. That’s eight top-10 finishes in nine starts this season for each of the three drivers, who all compete for different organizations. While it’s still too early to proclaim them as the three drivers mostly likely to walk away with the 2015 title, it’s clear that Harvick, Logano and Truex are in it for the haul. That’s especially true for Harvick and Logano, who have combined for 12 top fives over a combined 18 starts.