How the race was won
Junior Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 team had its car working early in the race, and Junior drove it towards the front. He took advantage of Kevin Harvick's (lack of) pit strategy, held off a hard-charging Denny Hamlin and performed one heck of a burnout.
Story of the race
Earnhardt Jr. returning to victory lane for the first time in about 10 months. Of course.
Also, Todd Berrier's pit call and the wild finish it helped to create. More on that later.
Give 'em credit
Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 team. Even though they've looked solid this season, sometimes it takes one big performance to add some legitimacy to a team's turnaround. Junior and Co. did that Saturday.
Great run by Denny Hamlin. His teammate Tony Stewart, who shared some noticeable bumping and banging with the Cup rookie, recovered nicely from early woes to finish sixth, but his streak of leading laps in every race this year came to an end.
Huge comeback for Greg Biffle, whose day almost was ruined when his teammate Carl Edwards got together with Clint Bowyer (who also had a nice run) just after Biffle made a green flag stop. Finally, Biffle survives some bad luck and collects a top-five. He can still make the Chase. Edwards, meanwhile, simply put together another solid performance – which he needs considering how few 1½-milers are on the schedule in the coming weeks.
Sterling Marlin collected a top-10. Isn't it amazing that that's even notable?
Harvick. He announces he's re-signing with Richard Childress, then he goes out and wins both the Busch race and the Cup event. Wait, not all of that quite happened. More on him below.
What were they thinking?
The Fox crew (on FX) took the time to brag about its Emmy wins. And to be fair, their coverage has been, and typically is, strong – with a couple of very obvious problems. For one, there was a missed restart after 13 laps of caution following Matt Kenseth's troubles. Still, most of the evening wasn't so bad in terms of missed action – until a missed restart with less than 10 laps to go when the race was on the line. That was inexcusable.
Todd Berrier. The No. 29 crew chief kept Kevin Harvick out during that caution when everyone else hit the pits. Harvick maintained his lead for a while but the call eventually cost him track position. Still, did it actually cost him the win? Maybe, maybe not. But it absolutely did cost Harvick a better shot at the win, as battling an ill-handling car in the waning laps while leading and trying to hold-off the field is preferable to doing so while trying to chase down the leader. That call absolutely hurt Harvick's chances.
Crown Royal. Not for sponsoring the race (some do get worked up about that, though apparently years of tobacco sponsorship was fine), but for having one of the most annoying commercials ever, mainly thanks to the, well, annoying music. That's right, we're taking a stand on the big issues here!
Better luck next time
Some big names had some bad days. Matt Kenseth's rotor and oil line/tank, Kasey Kahne's loose plugs, Jeff Gordon's mystery problem, Kurt Busch's tire (and subsequent problems, some of which were his or his team's doing) … Lady Luck was moody this weekend.
Burton might have had something for Harvick at the end of the Busch race before lapped traffic helped Happy Harvick pull away. And Burton should have had something more late in the Cup race if not for that pit mistake.
Martin Truex Jr. might have competed for a top-10 if his engine didn't give out.
Bobby Labonte. His team got its tires mixed up (perhaps they should be in previous category) and probably cost Labonte the chance to collect his fourth top-10 of the year.
By the way ...
We came oh so close to a third consecutive race with a full green flag pit cycle, but the contact between Bowyer and Edwards put a stop to that. Unofficially, the tally remains at four for the entire season.
There often is talk about drivers having DNF streaks. It's an interesting stat, but somewhat misleading, as finishing 83 laps down with a shredded car is enough to avoid a DNF. A far better and more useful stat is consecutive finishes on the lead lap, or perhaps no more than one lap down.
The in-car replay, with audio, of Junior avoiding the spinning Tony Raines in front of him was tremendous. While his spotter kept saying "go high, go high, go high" while looking at the on-track trouble in front of Raines, Junior had a better view and stopped short of all the trouble. Had he simply gone high, his chances to win Saturday probably would have been gone.
Speed Channel did a feature on Jerry Nadeau this weekend, which marked three years since his crash at Richmond. What a tough story.
Grading the race
This race's comeback was almost as dramatic as Biffle's. The early cautions made this one tough to watch initially, and Harvick's dominance gave the race the potential to be a yawner – particularly disappointing and uncharacteristic for Richmond, which did feature some strong action at various points on Saturday. But it wasn't until the Berrier pit call that everything really got going, as the finish suddenly was in serious doubt. There was plenty of late drama, with several cars capable of winning – including Hamlin, who made a great run on Junior. Exciting finishes have a way of making up for early boredom. Grade: B
From the source
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "Once I was in the lead, it felt like old times. We were haulin' and pulling away from those guys at the end."
Bobby Labonte: "On the last stop, the left rear tire got put on the right rear and the right rear got put on the left rear. That hasn't happened in about a hundred years. I was wrecking after that."