From the Marbles

Hot/Not: Jeff Gordon knows a thing or two about hard crashes

Geoffrey Miller
From The Marbles

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After a week off for the Sprint Cup gang, the NASCAR show got back at it for 400 laps Saturday night in Richmond. Here's the highs and lows from every corner of RIR's three-quarter mile.

NOT: Jeff Gordon needs to work on crashing in more opportune spots, eh? (Jest, of course.)

Four-time looked to be one of the few able to stick with the Joe Gibbs Racing tandem of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, but contact from behind sent the No. 24 into a lazy slide on Richmond's backstretch that ended with a tough hit to the inside wall. Gordon's car slapped the non-protected inside wall with the driver's side — a quick, knock-the-wind-out-of-you hit.

The negative here isn't Jeff Gordon's crash — although you have to wonder where he'll stand come time for the Chase — but that Richmond hasn't protected that wall with SAFER barrier. Step up to the plate, RIR.

HOT: You know that Kyle Busch won Saturday night at Richmond for his third straight spring victory at the 0.75-mile track. However, the extent of Busch's personal domination of the Sprint Cup Series at the Virginia track runs much deeper.

In 13 races, Busch has 11 top 5s, has never finished off the lead lap and has an average finish of 4.9 at Richmond. It's easily his best track statistically on the Sprint Cup circuit.

NOT: The anger, frustration and otherwise dramatics that we've grown used to courtesy of Richmond International Raceway's tight spaces is seemingly gone. Yeah, there were a few dustups – Juan Pablo Montoya/Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson/Joey Logano. But the entire first half of the race played out like a polite game of canasta, with little contact and only two cautions, both for debris.

For reasons I can't entirely define — be it tires, the track surface or a general improvement in race driver temperament (doubtful) — the number of teams leaving Richmond with an axe to grind seems to have plummeted.

Instead, racing at Richmond has become a fabricator's dream with long green-flag runs and few cautions.. The numbers back it up, too.

In the past three Sprint Cup races at Richmond, officials have waved the yellow flag on average just south of six times. During the previous six races, NASCAR slowed the pace almost 13 times per event.

Combine the lack of cautions with Kyle Busch turning Richmond into a personal playground, and NASCAR may have a bad recipe for selling tickets at a track once regarded as the single-best design for stock car speed and paint swapping. I don't know what the solution is — or if fans really crave one — but Richmond is different now, and I don't know why.

HOT: At one point Saturday night, Jimmie Johnson couldn't find a line around Richmond that wasn't slow. He had been lapped, and Chad Knaus started giving him driving instructions.

But then, Johnson proved why you're silly to bet against the No. 48 team for yet another year of NASCAR competition by squeaking out a ninth-place finish due to some pit strategy and good fortune.

However, Joey Logano, whom Johnson spun at one point Saturday night after bouncing off the apron, probably wasn't as impressed as I was. {ysp:more}

NEUTRAL: With the way it was played up on the TV broadcast and via Twitter, you just knew the idea of a confrontation between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman after the race was going to go up in smoke. And that's just what it did when Montoya left his car and headed for the Richmond's exits while Newman simply explained he was going to go talk to NASCAR officials.

Despite NASCAR's in-race warnings to Montoya about avoiding further retaliation against Newman (Newman contributed to Montoya slapping the wall early in the race; Montoya responded by spinning Newman on lap 238) one can bet this feud isn't close to over. Newman and Montoya both have a penchant for long, disgruntled memories in addition to being two of the toughest drivers to pass in the sport.

NOT: NASCAR's jaunt to Texas a few weeks ago left those tuning in to Kurt Busch's in-car audio channel with a terrific mental souvenir as the former champion lambasted nearly everything about Penske Racing amidst a bad night on track.

The sentiment only got worse Saturday night at Richmond, with Busch continually assailing his crew's preparation of a car that later finished 22nd. The former champion even lashed out at Penske's technical director Tom German by name over the radio — likely a no-no in the conservative environment in place at Penske.

There will likely be little officially said about Busch's conduct from the team, but one can bet that Roger Penske will have some form of a heart-to-heart this week with the eldest Busch. And really, it's about time.

HOT: Dave Blaney, long a racer in the Cup Series, has had a bit of a tough go in recent years while trying to find a ride with some a decent level of competitiveness. Leading several laps at Talladega two weeks ago may have started to change that.

Blaney's entry, in Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 36, picked up sponsorship from Golden Corral and Big Red late last week that should carry them most of the season and avoid more start-and-park scenarios from the still-young startup team. Blaney responded with a 13th-place finish Saturday, his best since a 12th at Dover in September of 2008.

Happy the Blaneyacs must be.

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