NASCAR notes: Richmond hosts a ‘big one’ of its own

RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond International Raceway is regarded as a short track that drives like a superspeedway because of its unique D shape, and just past the midpoint of Saturday night’s race, the track had its own version of “the big one.”

The accident that ended with about a dozen cars damaged, some seriously, started in turn three when Dave Blaney nudged J.J. Yeley, setting of a smokey chain reaction crash that caused NASCAR to throw the red flag, stopping the race after 230 of the 400 scheduled laps.

The delay lasted nearly 22 minutes.

“I was telling the guys that it was the big one here at a three-quarter-mile track,” said driver David Gilliland, whose car was knocked out of the race.

Rookie Patrick Carpentier, who started fourth, was among the drivers who had to pay a visit to the infield care center after his car hit or was hit by just about everybody.

“I was trying to avoid it, go to the inside wall and I got hit from behind, I think, spun around, hit the inside wall and almost accelerated,” Carpentier said. “I got back into turn three and hit some cars and then got hit and hit and hit. There was a lot of smoke.

“Man, these wrecks happen fast on a short track like that.”

Carpentier, and every other driver seen by doctors after the crash, was released.

Carpentier’s car seemingly bounced off the inside wall and back onto the track, where it was broadsided by Gilliland first, and then by Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth simultaneously.

“Just had nowhere to go,” Busch said.

The wreck also left two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, who swept both races here last year, with damage that had crew chief Chad Knaus looking over the car and waiting for pit road to open so the team could take some heavy duty sheet metal tools to it.

“We’ve got to cut a bunch of stuff off of it,” Knaus said.

Johnson, running without a hood after the accident, finished 30th.

Jeff Burton, the points leader coming into the race, also sustained damage. He bounced back to finish 11th, but fell 18 points behind runner-up Kyle Busch in the points race.

CRUSTY CURMUDGEON: Mark Martin has never been one to mince words, and he seems even less inclined to worry about ruffling feathers now that he’s only racing part time.

Take the topic of burnouts for example, that moment after a victory when many drivers smoke their tires so much that the car is enveloped in a cloud to the delight of fans.

“I think they’re real juvenile,” Martin said. “It’s disrespectful to the equipment, but it makes good TV. … If I did a burnout, I would wreck, so I’m not going to do it.”

Martin said the closest he’s come was when his car slid onto the grass at Lowe’s Motor Speedway after he won the Coca-Cola 600. The car slid across the Coke logo in the grass.

“That was a stretch for me,” he said. “I’ll just collect the hardware. I’d rather take the checkered flag and hurry on to Victory Lane and get there so I can start enjoying it.”

Many drivers, however, don’t share Martin’s view.

Humpy Wheeler, president of the track in Concord, N.C., has added a burnout competition to the activities associated with the All-Star race at his track on May 17th. Competitors will spin their tires, do two doughnuts and then spin into Victory Lane before the main event.

Five drivers will compete in the burnout competition.

Jimmie Johnson, whose 33 career victories have afforded him plenty of practice, said the key is getting the car into second or third gear to get the tires really smoking hot.

The coolest burnout he’s ever seen, he said, came when Jack Sprague got his tires going so fast they caught fire. He’s tried matching that feat, but said his tires always blow.

GIVING BACK: Three years ago, Denny Hamlin was a regular driver at local tracks with designs on becoming the next Virginia resident to make an impact in NASCAR’s top series.

Now, he’s an emerging star in the Sprint Cup Series.

In a weekend he described as “perfect” even before he started from the pole in Saturday night’s Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Hamlin kicked off the Denny Hamlin Foundation at Southside Speedway on Thursday night, raising $50,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, won the Sprint Cup pole and won Friday’s night’s Nationwide Series event.

His growing celebrity, Hamlin said, has opened his eyes to opportunities to use that notoriety to help others. Hospital visits have shown him how much it helps sick children.

“When you get to go there and see first-hand either the struggles or the success stories of these kids, it definitely gives you a need to give back and now that I have the chance to do that, it’s no better time to start it than now,” he said a few hours before the race.

“Ultimately it gives you a great feeling, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Hamlin presented an oversized check to the CF Foundation on Saturday.

PIT STOPS: Jeff Burton entered Saturday night’s race as the only driver to have completed all 2,887 laps run in the first nine races this season. … Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Virginia native Elliott Sadler shared the series lead with three DNFs through nine races. … Gordon started at the rear of the field after his crew had to change the starter in his car. He was running 36th when Denny Hamlin lapped him on just the 45th circuit.

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