Craig Murto: Richmond left some impressions

Craig Murto

Saturday night’s 400-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway sure left some impressions.

The direction the rules are headed is the proper direction. Lower down force and tires that fall off created exciting races at Richmond, both in the spring and on Saturday night. When the tires fell of, drivers used every inch of that track in an attempt to find grip. That led to a lot of three- and four-wide racing.

Nobody expected the record 16 caution periods. Even Goodyear, which only provided teams with 10 sets of tires for the race, was caught off guard. The “shortage” led to interesting strategies as far as the use of scuffed tires, and saving new sticker tires. Perhaps NASCAR should consider limiting teams to 10 sets at every race. Most of the time it won’t be a factor, but when it is it makes things interesting.

On paper, Denny Hamlin dominated much of the race to win from the pole. In reality, there was plenty of action. Restarts featured Kyle Larson jumping to the outside, making it three wide, to gain multiple positions. Every time. He’s a very brave, talented racer. Or very lucky.

Chris Beuscher is the underdog heading into the Chase. There was a real chance that he could have dropped out of the top 30 in points and been eliminated from the Chase. But even as other competitors suffered problems that ensured the 23-year-old rookie and surprise Pocono winner would drive his Front Row motorsports entry in the Chase, Beuscher continued to drive the wheels off the car. Good for him.

Tony Stewart is angry.

At Darlington, Stewart dumped Brian Scott for no good reason and was rather flippant after the race when asked about it. Now, a week later at Richmond, Stewart loses his temper and creates a multi-car accident that brings the race to a halt with a red flag and ruined the race for a number of competitors, including himself.

Maybe the three-time NASCAR champion is angry because the track he owns, Eldora, has been named in a $16.5 million lawsuit filed by a number of dirt Late Model competitors. One of the racers, Scott Bloomquist, wants his $100,000 victory in last year’s Dream reinstated. Bloomquist claims the scales at the track were out of calibration when he was ruled light in post-race tech, and that the disqualification hurt his reputation and made it difficult to attract sponsorship.

Or maybe Stewart is angry because a judge ruled that his insurance is not responsible to cover him in the wrongful death suit filed by the parents of Kevin Ward Jr., the Sprint Car driver killed on a track in New York when he exited his crashed car and ran toward Stewart’s, which struck and killed him.

A grand jury determined that Stewart was not criminally responsible. An autopsy revealed that Ward had been smoking marijuana. The 2014 tragedy prompted a number of race sanctions and tracks to institute rules to keep drivers in their cars after a crash until safety personnel arrive, and to keep drivers from running onto a racing surface and into harm’s way. Racecars do not offer drivers the best visibility, and running in front of a moving racecar is never a good idea. The racing community generally believes that Ward’s actions were the biggest factor in his death.

But civil suits can be won in cases in which criminal charges aren’t even filed. There is no “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement for a jury to award millions in a civil case. Just a thought, but perhaps with the Ward case pending, Stewart should refrain from acting like a hot head inside his racecar.

Kevin Harvick was correct to publicly call out his pit crew following the Darlington race.

Harvick used to complain about his crew when he raced for Richard Childress, so the fact that he whined publicly about his Stewart-Haas over-the-wall crew was no surprise. But the organization made some personnel changes prior to Richmond, and Harvick was rewarded with some of the quickest pit stops all night.

The crowd may be returning. Though not a sell-out crowd, the impression most in attendance had was that there were more people at Richmond for Saturday night’s race than have attended the track in the last couple of years. And the crowd that was there left satisfied. Overall, the impressions were positive, and that may bring in a bigger crowd next spring.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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