The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway ended exactly the way a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Saturday night short-track race should end: With a great fight to the finish and some angry and frustrated boys having at it afterwards.
Some key takeaways from Richmond:
1. HATE IS GREAT — I’ve said this over and over and over again, but it’s worth repeating: In racing, hate is great. You need good guys and bad guys. Fans get excited and involved when drivers are angry with each other. All the buzz from Richmond is about Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose duking it out after the race, instead of the great four-way battle for the victory. Social media and the Internet have exploded over Mears vs. Ambrose, and no wonder: It’s compelling human drama. Which leads us to the second point:
2. SHORT TRACKS RULE — Richmond almost always produces great racing, as do Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. NASCAR was built on bullrings like these and it would be a huge shot in the arm for the sport to have more than six short-track races a season. Rearranging the schedule is difficult, for sure, but it would be absolutely fantastic to have more short tracks on the schedule. How about two Sprint Cup races a year at Iowa Speedway for starters?
3. RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD — While no one wants to see cars immersed in flames, tire problems added to the drama Saturday night. The cars could go about 80 laps on a green-flag fuel run, but the Goodyear racing tires typically would start failing at around 55 laps, sometimes causing huge drama in the form of front-end infernos. Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were among the drivers who saw their respective nights ruined — sometimes dramatically — by tires woes. But like it or not, tire management is now a critical part of the racing equation. For my money, that’s a whole lot better than rock-hard tires with no give up at all.
4. TO THE POINT — NASCAR’s new championship system has made winning so much more important than it used to be. Any coincidence that the racing up front has improved noticeably this season? I think not. With NASCAR’s Sprint Cup regular season about one-third of the way over, only two-time winners Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick have clinched spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup already. That leaves 14 Chase slots still to be settled over the next 17 races. Five other drivers have won one race so far this year, which gives them a leg up, but with star drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and others still winless, the pressure to win will ratchet up dramatically over the summer. It ought to be riveting.
5. LITTLE BIG MEN — AJ Allmendinger had a tremendous run at Richmond, where he finished sixth to move up to 17th in points with the single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team. The ‘Dinger already has a pair of top 10 finishes this year, which is pretty good considering the team only had seven top 10s in its first five full seasons combined. Kudos also to Martin Truex Jr., who scored his first top-10 finish with Furniture Row Racing.
6. LAST BUT NOT LEAST — If you want to look at how far Joey Logano has come since joining Team Penske, consider the three other drivers he outgunned in the final restart to win under the lights at RIR: Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth have won a combined five series championships and 130 races. You’ve got to be pretty good to hang with that crowd. And Logano is that good now.