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Is There a Place for Races Like Richmond in NASCAR?

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The Richmond race on Sunday was quite polarizing amongst NASCAR fans. A far cry from the previous week at Pocono, where there were side-by-side battles, a late race restart and tempers flaring, Richmond was more drawn out, with long green flag runs and pit strategy primarily deciding the outcome.

While the race received mixed reception from fans, drivers also had their say in it as well. It raises the question about the place for races like we had last Sunday at Richmond.

Driver Comments

Race winning car owner and sixth place finisher, Brad Keselowski, had some comments on the race at Richmond. He pointed out that he liked the long green flag runs, and he felt that races like Sunday allow for elite talent to rise to the top.

He obviously said a lot in the post race press conference, but here is probably his most telling quote. He made this while discussing what it was like to have the long green flag runs that they had at Richmond.

It feels like there’s a game of chess going on, and you’re trying to play it as smart as you can and trying to have the feedback loop with the team so they don’t over-adjust because you burnt the tires off and all of these different things. That’s what Cup racing to me is. Every once in a while you get these short run races where there’s a lot of wrecks. The variability to me is what makes Cup racing so much fun is just now knowing what you’re going to get. By nature, that means you have to have races with long runs.

Brad Keselowski

It does not seem that Keselowski was outright bashing other types of races, but he also later went on to say that races like today, “Makes elite drivers want to be in this series.” That is quite a strong statement from Keselowski.

Denny Hamlin had more to say about the race. He analyzed both sides of the argument surrounding this race.

Denny Hamlin truly played both sides. He looked at it both from the standpoint of the “Racing purist” and the perspective of fans.

As a purist, I loved it because I controlled so much of my destiny to the things I was doing driving, but the fan doesn’t really care about that. They just want to see close side-by-side racing.

Denny Hamlin

In light of these comments, what does that say about a race like Richmond?

Analyzing what Keselowski and Hamlin had to Say

Brad Keselowski hits on something very interesting when he talks about variability. NASCAR Cup Series races are incredibly variable in how they play out. From the race tracks to the racing product itself on a week-to-week basis.

Richmond was a different cup of tea from other races in the NASCAR Cup Series. Instead of it being about aggressive racing, it was all about finesse and strategy. There is something to be said about this race being a bit more straight forward as opposed to the chaos we saw at Pocono.

Richmond is also different than any other race track on the calendar. It is a 3/4 of a mile D-shaped oval, and no other track on the schedule is like it. Because of that and the old surface, the racing at Richmond is much different than what we see at other tracks. It was a different kind of race.

However, Keselowski also brings up that races like this bring “Elite” talent to the Cup Series. To that, you could easily argue that drivers like Kimi Raikkonen, Shane Van Gisbergen, and Jenson Button all raced in NASCAR this year on the road course at COTA and/or the street course in Chicago. Those races were definitely the more “chaotic” brand of NASCAR, and SVG is looking to go to NASCAR full-time next year.

NASCAR naturally attracts elite talent because it is the most-watched motorsport in the United States. Are drivers not challenged enough by the finesse it takes to go around Martinsville or Bristol or by the tight racing at Daytona and Talladega? If that was the case, then SVG would go nowhere near NASCAR.

Hamlin, offers some interesting insight on the driver side. Races like Sunday are fun for the drivers because their talent is so well on display. The race on Sunday was all down to which drivers could manage their car and tires the best, combined with how their crews could execute on pit road.

Hamlin’s comment regarding fans is a bit shortsighted. To say that every single racing fan did not like what they saw on Sunday is just simply inaccurate. As of this writing, Jeff Gluck’s “Was it a Good Race Poll” garnered about 55% of people saying “Yes” that Richmond was a good race.

Now that still means that 45% of fans who voted did not enjoy that race. Hamlin is right in that it did not appeal to everybody. Not even every driver loved the race, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. even suggested adding resin to the upper lanes at Richmond.

Hamlin and Keselowski’s comments are both interesting, but they do not tell the whole story. It was a different kind of race that simply did not appeal to everybody.

Is There a Place for Races Like Richmond?

On one hand, there is something to be said about Richmond being a race that allowed strategy to play out naturally. Those that prefer cleaner, more straight forward races enjoyed that aspect of what was seen on Sunday.

On the other hand, the race was also very drawn out. Two of the three cautions were for stage breaks, so, the race did not have many restarts or incidents. The long green flag runs also meant that passing was less common as the cars got strung out.

It was a different kind of show than what we saw at tracks like Pocono, Chicago, and Atlanta. Was it a bad race, or a good race? That’s up to each individual fan to decide for themselves.

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Joshua Lipowski

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