Afternoon delight: Sprint Cup drivers on return of scheduled day racing at Richmond

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Things will be a little different this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

With the Sprint Cup Series’ Toyota Owners 400, the series will have a scheduled day race on the .75-mile track for the first time since 1997.

While RIR has had day Cup races in recent years, they were a result of rain-delayed events. This resulted in teams using night-time set ups when the sun was out.

The most recent beneficiary of that situation was Kurt Busch. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver started third in last April’s race and led 291 of 400 laps on the way to the win.

“Our set-up really loved the track and daytime race,” Busch said in a press release. “I could just hug the white line all day long. Just didn’t want to get but a few inches off of it. Just lap after lap after lap, it was almost like a checklist of brake, turn, acceleration. You have to be really smooth at Richmond not to chew up the tires.”

The return of a planned day race at Richmond, which first hosted a Cup race in 1953, brings with it a new tire compound from Goodyear. The tires came out of a Goodyear test March 29 at Richmond with Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Danica Patrick.

“Day races always make for great racing,” Hamlin said in a press release. “The hotter the temperature is, the more (tire) fall off. Really extremely pleased so far with what we’ve seen with the aero package and really the tire that’s gone with it. The aero has gotten all of the credit for the great racing this year and the great finishes, but that aero has allowed Goodyear to make some adjustments and give us a tire that we’ve been looking for for a long time.”

Another vocal supporter of what the low-downforce package has brought to competition is Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has three wins at RIR but none since 2006.

“The surface is worn out and slick, so that makes it fun to drive,” said Earnhardt. “It’s a wide track and I think with the new tire, we’ll be able to pass and that’s always good for the racing. I really enjoy short-track racing in general, and I think we’re going to have a good race.”

Jamie McMurray believes the amount of tire fall off will be “insane” with the lack of downforce. McMurray’s best finish at Richmond is fourth in three of the last five races.

“Richmond is almost like a Darlington or Rockingham where you can really go good for five or six laps, then at the end of a longer run you can never get wide-open,” McMurray said in a release. “It will even be worse this year with the small spoiler and lack of downforce, the amount of tire fall off is going to be insane, which to me, makes for really good racing.”

Looking to defend his win in the last Richmond race is Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won only once since the September race.

“In the past when we’ve come to Richmond, we did all of our practice and qualifying during the day and then we’d race at night,” Kenseth said in a press release. “With it now being a day race, at least now we’ll be racing in more similar conditions to what we practiced in.”