For the third time in four weeks NASCAR takes on a short track and this time it is Richmond in the daytime. That in itself should make for an interesting Sunday afternoon but there is one thing more I am sure has not gone unnoticed by most NASCAR fans…
That’s right; you didn’t even have to guess did you? Tony – Smoke – Stewart is returning to his car as not only the owner but also the driver for the first time since last season. For those that may be wondering why I bring this up, this was supposed to be his last season and he had high hopes of being competitive, possibly even winning another Championship. As it stands right now, he has quite a task before him to even make the Chase let alone be a real contender to win a Championship in his final year of competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
Just the fact that Smoke is returning to the driving side of his car is enough to make more people show up to watch, whether at the track or the TV side, simply because they want to know how he will fair and see whether or how his major back injury will affect him and whether or not it is really healed as they say. When it comes to the race, Richmond is a tough track and should show if there are any weak spots in his healing and recovery.
Richmond is usually a night time race so, with this one being in the daytime, it presents some new challenges for the teams, crew chiefs and the drivers as well. On top of all of that, Goodyear brought a different tire to this weekend’s race and it is supposed to (or at least should) improve the way the cars handle and make the racing a little bit more interesting.
Recently at Richmond, it seems that one car has shown up and dominated the race and it is my hope that will not be the case on Sunday afternoon. With the dominance the JGR teams have shown early in this 2016 season, this fan wonders if this might not be a weekend that some other team or teams show a little more strength than they have recently. Judging from the first practice – which was rain shortened – and with no qualifying, the starting lineup may be a little deceptive. It is difficult to say if anyone really has an advantage or if the teams really have a grip on how the track and tires will hold up. The Saturday morning practice was interesting and, from this fan’s view, it was obvious the teams were looking for good information that might carry over to race time Sunday afternoon. Whether they found what they were looking for or not remains to be seen.
Kevin Harvick posted the fastest time in the first practice on Saturday and that gave him the pole position for starting the Toyota Owners 400. Of course my favorite driver to root against, Joey Logano, is starting on the outside pole. It could mean he will be a contender when it comes down to crunch time but it could also mean he won’t even be close if the last couple of finishes or so give any insight into how he might finish. In fact, lately, the two Penske Fords just haven’t shown the same strength on race day they often did last year. I’m not saying they’re in trouble competitively at all but they just haven’t been in the mix at the end like they were last season. This may the weekend they begin to turn that around but, from this fan’s view and judging by what I’ve observed this weekend, I just don’t think that’s the case, (at least not yet.)
Jimmie Johnson was the fastest during the Saturday practice session and he was followed by his team mate Kasey Kahne posting second fastest. It does make this fan wonder if the Hendrick teams might make a strong showing on Sunday afternoon but I’m not sure I’m ready to make a bold statement in that direction. It is a possibility but there is the ever present JGR team of Kyle Bush lurking right behind them after posting the third fastest practice time in Saturday’s practice. He was followed by Kevin Harvick and his team mate Carl Edwards. In fact, there were four Toyotas and five Chevys posting the fastest times in the top ten. Barring the unforeseen, that could mean another dominating day for the JGR teams on Sunday afternoon.
When it comes to Tony Stewart (Smoke) and his return to being a driver in the Sprint Cup series, his practices weren’t stellar but he did put in a lot of laps and, at least to this fan, he was none the worse for wear when the practices were over. Of course the race is 400 laps and 300 miles and I will be interested to not only see where he finishes but how he exits the car when the race is over. The hope is he will come away unscathed and confident about moving on to the next race as far as his back is concerned.
Many are pulling for him to come away with a win at Richmond Sunday afternoon so the only thing he would have to do is work his way into the top thirty in points after that. Judging from his practice times, he is a long shot to win the Toyota Owners 400 but he has as good a shot as anyone else that starts (and finishes) the race to come away the winner. Personally, I don’t think he will win but I am glad to see him back in the lineup…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© April 23, 2016 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
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All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated