Dale Earnhardt Jr. spins out of control after colliding with Kyle Busch during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond International Raceway on May 3, 2008. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Richmond International Raceway is one of the oldest tracks on the NASCAR circuit, hosting its first open-wheel race way back in 1946 and its first NASCAR race in 1953.
The track began life as a half-mile oval and in 1988 was converted to its present 0.75-mile, D-shaped oval configuration. As you would expect from a short-track, RIR has played host to a number of sensational races over the years. Here are five of our favorites:
1. 1986, THE INTIMIDATOR VS. JAWS – There was no love lost between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, bitter rivals for NASCAR supremacy in the 1980s. That much was obvious on the old half-mile RIR track, as the two waged a furious fight for the lead in the closing laps, repeatedly trading paint and beating and banging on each other. Earnhardt dominated the race, leading 299 laps and Waltrip was desperate to get around him. Finally, with just three laps left, Waltrip went down into the grass in Turn 1 to make the pass for the lead. But when the two went into Turn 3, Earnhardt gave Waltrip a hard shot, wrecking them both. That allowed Kyle Petty to win, despite leading just four laps all day long. RIR is the only track where Lee, Richard and Kyle Petty all won races in NASCAR’s top division.
2. 1998, BATTLE OF THE JEFFS – The fall Richmond race in 1998 was an epic battle between two top drivers and two of the best teams in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon was in the middle of his third championship season with Hendrick Motorsports, while Jeff Burton was having one of his best seasons with the team then known as Roush Racing. Over the final 30 laps, the two Jeffs were absolutely door to door, lap after agonizing lap, each one hoping the other would slip. Neither of them did, nor did they put a fender to each other. Instead, the raced exceptionally hard and exceptionally clean. When the two took the checkered flag, Burton was just 0.051 seconds ahead of Gordon in one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history.
3. 2008, BOWYER MAKES LATE CHARGE – The spring 2008 race had one of the craziest finishes ever at RIR. Local favorite Denny Hamlin dominated the action, but a flat tire kept him out of Victory Lane despite leading 381 of the scheduled 400 laps. When Hamlin’s tire went flat, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared poised to win. But with three laps to go, Kyle Busch hit Earnhardt in Turn 4, sending the No. 88 Chevrolet spinning, much to the dismay of Earnhardt’s massive fan base. That opened the door for Clint Bowyer to pass Busch and take the lead. Bowyer held on through a green-white-checkered finish to score his first victory at RIR.
4. 2004, THE FIRST CHASE – When NASCAR radically overhauled its points system for the 2004 season, no one knew what to expect. With RIR as the last race in NASCAR’s 26-race regular season, drivers had a final shot to race their way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And that’s exactly what Jeremy Mayfield did, as he won the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 and moved from 14th in points to 10th, earning the final spot in the first Chase. It was an unlikely performance from Mayfield, who had not won a Cup race in more than four years. But he put his Evernham Motorsports Dodge Intrepid into Victory Lane, knocking Jamie McMurray out of the Chase.
5. 1984, THE ROOSTER CROWS – In terms of tough guys, there was never anyone more determined in NASCAR than feisty Ricky Rudd, a/k/a The Rooster. After a horrifying crash in the Busch Clash at Daytona in 1984, Rudd ran the Daytona 500 with both eyes literally duct-taped open. One week later, he went to RIR, his eyes still black and blue, and he won the race. It doesn’t get any ballsier than that, folks.
Want even more great Richmond finishes? NASCAR Race Hub names a few others: