Length: three-quarter mile
Banking: 14° in turns, 8° on front-stretch, 2° on backstretch
If we didn’t know better, we would have thought it was a full moon on Saturday night, during the Race for The Chase at Richmond International Raceway, as fans witnessed several head-scratching incidents – Danica Patrick running in the Top 10, Brad Keselowski owning up to his mistakes, and Tony Stewart purposely wrecking another driver. Okay, so maybe that last one isn’t so shocking, but the point is that the last race in NASCAR’s regular season presented several moving pieces that did not disappoint. With 16 cautions, 1 red flag, 21 lead changes, the race going into overtime, and then a green-white-checkered finish, emotions were running high for both spectators and drivers.
The race kicked off with a four-wide formation to salute fans during the inaugural Fan Appreciation Weekend prior to the start of the race. After the field re-organized themselves into their regular two-by-two grid, Virginia native Denny Hamlin led the field to green. Within 11 laps, the caution flag flew for Ryan Blaney who blew a tire and veered off into the safer barrier. He would finish the race 129 laps down.
The third caution appeared on Lap 95 as Jeff Gordon in the 88 car (still filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr who is out with a concussion) was pushed into the side of his successor in the 24 car, Chase Elliott. A cut tire and right-side damage caused Elliott to pit and lose his 15th position. The race resumed with 300 laps remaining and every driver ran solidly for 100 laps… that came to an end when Jimmie Johnson suffered a flat, left-front tire and hit the wall. As the track chewed up tires at an alarming rate, a lot of cautions ensued for single-car spins, flat tires, or debris on the track, and included drivers Casey Mears, David Ragan, Paul Menard, Michael Annett, Carl Edwards, and AJ Allmendinger.
One of the more controversial wrecks of the night happened on a restart when Brad Keselowski missed a shift and got into the side of Matt Kenseth. In his post-race interview, Kenseth said “I’m sure he’ll (Keselowski) send a tweet out or go on a TV show and explain how it wasn’t his fault. He knew that his angle was bad and he just drove way off into the corner because he made a mistake, was trying to make up for it and had no respect for those in the outside lane.” Given that these two drivers have a volatile history, many anticipated that the incident would escalate as it has in the past. Instead, in Keselowski’s post-race interview, he not only acknowledged what happened but apologized for it, too.
The big wreck that had everyone talking happened on Lap 363, when Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Brian Scott, Matt Dibenedetto and David Ragan piled on top each other…. quite literally as Dibenedetto’s car was suspended ON TOP of Ryan Newman’s. The disaster on the track caused the race to be red-flagged.
However, it wasn’t the wreck itself that created the big buzz, it was the interviews with Newman and Stewart that has people fired up. Stewart blatantly admitted that he drove into Newman on purpose and Newman called Stewart “bipolar”. Social media then quickly fired up as fans weighed in on Stewart’s on-track temper tantrums and Newman’s unfortunate and politically incorrect choice of words.
The race resumed with 32 laps to go. Hamlin got a solid start and thought it was smooth sailing into victory lane. However, with only one lap to go, Regan Smith hit the wall and caused the race to go into overtime. The restart was an intense green-white-checkered. Denny Hamlin ended up winning with Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick rounding out the Top 5. This makes Hamin’s 3rd win of 2016 which puts him in an excellent position going into the chase.
As mentioned, this was the last race before the Chase for The Championship begins. Those who advance into the chase includes: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and newcomers Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, and Jamie McMurray.
See ya’ll at Chicagoland Speedway for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400.