When the sun goes down: Who are the drivers to watch at RIR?
When Kevin Harvick won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway two weeks ago, he became the first two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner of 2014, ending a streak of seven different winners in the first seven races.
Now, after the first off weekend of the season, the Sprint Cup teams are at Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400, race No. 9 of 36 on the long season. Mercifully, the weather has improved for the race, which will be aired on FOX, with pre-race coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Rain washed out qualifying on Friday, but the Cup teams were able to get two rounds of practice in. Rookie Kyle Larson was fastest in the opening round of practice, cranking off a best lap of 126.880 miles per hour in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet.
Per the NASCAR rulebook, speeds in first practice are used to set the field, with Larson on the pole ahead of Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Harvick and Brian Vickers.
Harvick, who already has won three Cup races here, has been fast at virtually every track this season and will come into Saturday night’s race as one of the clear favorites, especially after capturing Friday night’s rain-delayed NASCAR Nationwide Series race at RIR.
Here are some other drivers to watch, including guys who’ve won races and those who haven’t.
KASEY KAHNE — No doubt about it, Kahne’s season has been miserable so far, as he’s 23rd in points, far and away the worst of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers. And yet, he has the same exact number of points as Harvick, the season’s only multiple-race winner. If Kahne can notch a victory or two, he’s right back in the hunt. So far at RIR, he’s looked very good, running fourth in the Friday’s first practice and fifth in Happy Hour. In both sessions, Kahne posted the third-best 10 consecutive lap average speed. He needs a good, clean run tonight and he just might get it.
BRAD KESELOWSKI & JOEY LOGANO — The two Team Penske drivers have each won once already this season, and like Harvick have shown impressive speed at a good cross-section of tracks. They’ve looked racy at RIR, too, where Keselowski will make his sixth front-row start in nine races this year. In Happy Hour, Logano topped the charts in 10 consecutive laps average speed and was fourth in best single lap speed. They are ready to win again.
KYLE BUSCH — The only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win so far this season, Busch has four career victories at RIR and is a threat to win whenever he unloads here. Busch doesn’t have a great starting spot tonight — he’ll roll off 19th – but in Happy Hour, only Logano was faster over 10 laps.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. — It looks like the Earnhardt could well add to his impressive streak of five top-three finishes in the first eight races. In Happy Hour, Earnhardt was third behind Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, and in the first practice, he was tops on the 10-consecutive-laps chart. Earnhardt also has three race victories here.
CLINT BOWYER — The last time Bowyer was at RIR, he was a key player in the infamous "Spingate" controversy that ultimately cost Martin Truex Jr. a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and his ride with the team. This time around, Bowyer would like to forget that and go to Victory Lane for a third time at RIR, especially after getting married last weekend. He’ll start on the inside of Row 2.