Murto: Richmond fans see dominance

NASCAR’s final regular season race weekend at Richmond International Raceway only goes to prove that every race can’t be a barn burner.

Richmond has been the final chance for drivers to make the Chase ever since the Chase started. And we’ve seen a lot of drivers race their way in with a spectacular performance at Richmond.

This year the race was hyped more than others because 19 drivers came into the race who could earn a spot in the playoffs by simply winning at Richmond. A lot of fender-banging, sheet-metal-rubbing action was expected as desperate drivers did what they had to do to save their 2014 season.

But what we got was Brad Keselowski domination in a race that saw only four cautions.

The first yellow was a competition yellow due to the rain after the Cup cars had their final practice. The second caution was for a small piece of debris on the backstretch. The third caution also was for a piece of debris on the backstretch, but the debris sat out of the groove for nearly 100 laps and through one round of green-flag pit stops before NASCAR obviously decided to take advantage of it and hit the reset button.

The fourth caution was the strangest. A drunk fan decided he could see the race better if he climbed to the top of the catch fence in Turn 4. Once the yellow flew, law enforcement successfully talked the future Darwin Award winner down, cuffed him and took him downtown to get booked and sober.

But what does it say about the most hyped race all year when fans believe the most excitement all night was delivered by an intoxicated fan looking for a better view?

Friday night was a preview when Kyle Busch led every single lap of the Nationwide race. Every single lap.

Usually it seems that when the preliminary race is a snoozer, the headlining event is more exciting. We did have some good side-by-side racing for the lead early in the Cup race when Kevin Harvick challenged Keselowski, but for the lead, Keselowski refused to let go the final 300 laps.

But was the race boring? Well, perhaps on TV; ESPN/ABC does like to focus on the leader. But if you were at the track and really watched the race, there was plenty to entertain.

First of all, positions behind the top-five cars changed a lot throughout the race. Watching those guys scramble to even try to get in a position to challenge made for interesting viewing, even if it wasn’t for the win. But the most interesting thing about Saturday night’s race were the lines cars used to get around the track.

Once tires got about 10-15 laps on them, cars ran up the track looking for grip and a quicker way around. Never before has Richmond been a three-groove racetrack, and it was all due to the tire Goodyear brought. It’s amazing there weren’t a lot of accidents as cars came off Turn 2 three wide and struggled to find running room down the back stretch. The three-wide racing for position throughout the pack would have thrilled fans of Formula One, who are used to seeing domination up front.

There were a few cars that scraped the wall, but none that brought out a caution. And there wasn’t much attrition. So counting all the cars that finished the 400-lap event, fans witnessed an incredible display of driving talent as there were about 15,000 laps run without a single car turned the wrong way.

Most sports celebrate dominating performances. But in racing, whether it’s dominating a single race as Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski did at Richmond, or dominating the points as Jimmie Johnson has done for years, race fans resent those who stink up the show.

Maybe it’s time to start celebrating the dominating performances. They don’t always happen, and they’re not easy to come by. Every race can’t be a barn burner. The dominating performances should make you appreciate the barn burners that much more.

South Boston Speedway expects a barn burner this weekend as the NASCAR Modifieds take to the track and the final Late Model race for points gets the green. Langley speedway has twin features for Late Models, and Shenandoah hosts Late Models and the Virginia Sprint Series. On dirt, Potomac Speedway hosts the URC Sprint Cars, as Hagerstown features the Small Car Nationals, Late Model Sportsman and a demolition derby to end the night.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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