TORONTO - Just about every so-called expert inside the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage is picking either Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota or his teammate Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota to win Saturday’s Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The pair are easy picks, after all, with each winning two of the past four Cup races at the 3/4-mile Virginia short oval.
But there is one other driver whose stats at RIR are the best on the grid: Kevin Harvick.
Even though Harvick has only won once — in 2006 — he has an incredible nine Top 10 finishes in his past 10 races at Richmond.
“Yeah, this has been a great race track for us and no matter how our year is going or has been going, this is always a place you come to as a team we think we can run good,” Harvick said Friday prior to qualifying. “It’s a fun race track to race on and our car has always seemed to drive good in the race and we always seem to be able to produce a result here.
“So that’s fun when you can come to a race track knowing that in the back of your mind.”
Harvick said Richmond is almost the perfect track for stock car racing with its wide, banked corners and short configuration.
He said the track lends itself to producing the best kind of racing that is both aggressive and strategic, like combining the attributes of a Talladega Superspeedway with a short track like Bristol.
Harvick thinks his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team knows what kind of race he has to run to get a top finish at RIR and that is to be aggressive right out of the gate.
“Aggressiveness from a car standpoint, pushing the limits on your engine and taking chances on pit road that you probably don’t need to be taking as far as pit strategy and things like that,” he said. “It’s just trying to use strategy as part of your game.”
In Friday qualifying, Harvick finished 12th with a lap of 127.660 m.p.h.
Juan Pablo Montoya won the pole at 128.639 m.p.h. in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet with Regan Smith second in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. Rounding out the top three was Clint Bowyer in the No. 33 RCR Chevrolet.
It was 17 years ago Sunday that the much-loved Ayrton Senna died in a crash while leading the 1994 Formula One San Marino Grand Prix in Italy.
The Williams driver was already a three-time world champion with McLaren Honda when he lost his life on Lap 7 at the Imola circuit.
On Friday, several IZOD IndyCar drivers paid tribute to Senna in his native Brazil where they will race Sunday in Sao Paulo, where Senna is buried.
“Popped out to see Senna’s grave,” two-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon wrote on Twitter. “Very quiet in a busy city. What a legend!”
Helio Castroneves said Senna has always been an inspiration for him and for all Brazilian drivers.
“It would be an extremely important win to me because he was a hero not only to me, but for all of Brazil,” he said. “(Winning on Sunday) would be a memorable day for me not only to win here in Brazil, but on a very special day to many Brazilians. I am going to do everything I can to make sure that can happen.”
Vitor Meira will carry a very personal tribute to Senna during the race weekend. Meira had his helmet painted with a mural of Senna’s racing accomplishments.
“It’s just a way to say he’s still in our minds. I put him on my helmet and wanted to do something individually out of respect to what he meant to me.”
Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne missed Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Richmond after being hospitalized, still suffering from the effects of an insect bite he sustained earlier this month. The 20-year old driver had already been treated and released after a reaction from the bite on his left elbow that he suffered while at home in North Carolina two weeks ago. ... Buddy Rice has joined Panther Racing for an assault on this year’s Indianapolis 500. Rice won the race for Rahal Letterman Racing in 2004.