Weekend Preview: Toyota Owners 400


The Sprint Cup Series returns to the track under the lights for this weekend’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. This will be the ninth race of the season and the second night race of the year.  Toyota has definitely chosen a good track to be a race sponsor as the manufacturer swept both races last season at the ¾ mile Virginia oval.

Before we can preview this week’s race, we must first do a review of last weekend’s event at Kansas. Matt Kenseth and the #20 team held off a late charging Kasey Kahne for Sunday’s win. Kenseth dominated the weekend with a pole qualifying lap on Friday and the race win. Kenseth’s car and engine were taken to NASCAR Research andDevelopment as protocol for the race winning car. It was announced on Wednesday that Kenseth’s engine did not pass the post-race inspection as one of the rods in the engine was too light. NASCAR handed out a stiff penalty to the team including loss of owner/driver points, monetary fine and the six-week suspension of crew chief Jason Radcliffe. The weekend’s win and pole setting lap will also not be eligible for the “Wild Card” when the series returns to Richmond in the fall. Joe Gibbs Racing plans to appeal the penalty in the coming weeks.

Denny Hamlin fans watched Twitter and news media closely this week waiting for an announcement from their driver as to his status for this weekend’s race. It was announced on Wednesday that Hamlin would not be returning to the car this weekend for the race at his home track in Richmond. There is a possibility of Hamlin starting the race at Talladega next week but getting out of the car at a safe time and putting a relief driver in the seat. Hamlin was asked by media on Thursday at which point would he consider not returning this season. He replied “"I think if this goes past Darlington then I don't know what the chances of us making the Chase are even if we were to race this weekend, race next weekend or the one after -- I don't know the chances. There are a lot of good teams that you have to beat to guarantee you're going to win the races. Obviously, if it goes past Darlington our chances are crushed even harder. Eventually you have to have a shut down point of not going out there and racing for nothing at a point. I think a recovery on the kind of surgery that I would like to have is about a month-and-a-half or so -- I could potentially come back maybe for the tail end of the year. It wouldn't be a season-ending -- I don't think anything would be season-ending I guess you could say. Eventually you have to know the point at which you're looking at improbabilities of making the Chase and just being smart about it. If everyone keeps getting these penalties, I'm going to be the points leader soon." As you can see, Hamlin is still in good spirits and continues to go to the track every weekend. Brian Vickers will be behind the wheel of the #11 this weekend at Richmond.

Forty-three cars are entered for this weekend’s race meaning all cars entered are guaranteed a starting spot for Saturday night’s race. Teams will have 2 practices today prior to qualifying. Crew chiefs will have to use today’s hot track conditions to try to produce a set up that will race well under the lights on Saturday night. The track will have plenty of grip with a forecasted temperature of 47 degrees on Saturday night.

As with most night races, there will be several special paint schemes used on Saturday night. Kasey Kahne will be in the green and white Quaker State Chevrolet using the same chassis that he won with at Bristol last month. Brad Keselowski will be behind the wheel of the red deuce this weekend, rather than the blue deuce. Keselowski’s #2 Ford will be featuring Redd’s Apple Ale this weekend. The chassis for the #2 team is a new one for the team. Danica Patrick will be in her familiar bright green Go Daddy Scheme but will be in an unfamiliar car as she has to have a new chassis. Kevin Harvick will be piloting the #29 Bell Helicopter Chevrolet and Ryan Newman will be in the #39 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet. Both Harvick and Newman will be in new chassis this weekend.

This weekend will be an important race for the top teams in the sport as they not only are racing for a win this weekend but also preparing for the regular season finale when teams return to Richmond in the fall. As mentioned earlier, Kasey Kahne will be bringing the same chassis he won with at Bristol. The last time that the #5 finished second to Matt Kenseth, they won the following week. Kasey Kahne won his first race at Richmond in 2005. With momentum, a proven chassis and a good relationship between driver and crew chief, Kasey Kahne is my pick for Saturday night while Moon still longs for a Patrick victory.

Tune into Saturday night’s coverage of the Toyota Owners 400 beginning at 5:30 PM on WBKR and WBKR.com! Don’t forget to join my friend, Eli Gold on Tuesday at 6pm for NASCAR LIVE also on The Country Station 92.5 WBKR!


… Blake Smith and Moon Mullins