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It's Richmond! Short-track action, Talladega-style, and watch out for Toyota

Brian Vickers, ever closer to that next big tour win, and on the pole for Saturday's Richmond 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Short track: short fuses.
   Especially here.
   The wild card Saturday – looks like those Toyotas.
   Brian Vickers Friday evening snaked Chevy's Jeff Gordon out of the pole for Saturday night's Richmond 400, and Denny Hamlin – who ripped the field here a year ago, until that zany finish cost him – will start third.
   "We've made a big effort to improve our short-track program the last year and a half, and it's paying off," Vickers says.
   And Joey Logano, though still just an 18-year-old rookie, is looking strong in another Joe Gibbs' Toyota, running with the Greg Zipadelli team that has always been a powerhouse here at this lightning-fast three-quarter-mile track.
   Consider too Scott Speed, a raw rookie who's had trouble getting a feel for this sport – he's starting in the fourth row. And yet another Toyota driver, David Reutimann isn't far behind.
   And then there's Kyle Busch too, starting 14th.
   What to say about Busch, the best driver in the sport today?
   Well, if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr., you can usually find a few things to say.
   Last year here it was Earnhardt-versus-Busch down the stretch, after Hamlin's flat tire. And Busch and Earnhardt crashed.
   It was Busch's mistake, and the crowd let him know it. But Earnhardt was magnanimous about it all, in a classy post-race performance.
   Now, though, well, it's been exactly three years since Earnhardt won a rock-n-roll Cup race (ignoring Michigan). And he's getting more than antsy to prove he's worthy of Rick Hendrick equipment.
   But to beat Kyle Busch Saturday Earnhardt will have to play catch-up, starting 25th.
   Kyle Busch has been flat showing Earnhardt up. And Earnhardt knows it.
   Of course Busch comes into the deal with a chip on his shoulder, since Hendrick fired Busch in order to hire Earnhardt.
   Is there an issue between Earnhardt and Busch?
   "It's pretty relevant to what happened last year, and what they need to showcase to sell tickets," Earnhardt says. "And that's perfectly fine with me. I'm okay with it.
   "I think he's probably over it, and so am I. At least I hope he's over it. We'll find out."
    So does Busch race Earnhardt harder than he might race another driver?
   "He doesn't like a Hendrick race car," Earnhardt says. "And everybody knows what he says on the radio every time he gets around us…all the things he says.
   "He just doesn't have a good perception of any one of us…and I guess me."
    But certainly Busch does 'like' Earnhardt, doesn't he? Isn't this just a professional rivalry?
   "I don't think he does," Earnhardt says. "I think that's pretty obvious.
   "But Kyle's a hard racer, and I think the older he gets, the more I like him."
   Earnhardt, at 34, is 10 years older than Busch.
   In career wins, Earnhardt has 18 tour victories in his nine seasons; Busch, 14 tour victories in his five seasons.
   The race – promotionally billed as 'Crown Royal presents the Russ Friedman 400' – will be a pressure-packed event for Dodge teams, with Chrysler's bankruptcy this week. The leader of the Dodge boys – looks like Kurt Busch, but he'll have to fight from back in the pack.
   For Busch, like many drivers here, it's been difficult to wipe clean the Talladega slate and start afresh, as ragged and wild as last Sunday's 500 was.
   And drivers have been after NASCAR with a flurry of suggestions about changes for Talladega.
   "They like suggestions," Kurt Busch says with a grin. "But they ultimately go with their own, when it comes down to it. 
   "We've always felt like there is some tweaking we can adjust at Talladega -- whether that's restrictor plate size or more drag or less drag. 
    "The last lap pass with Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski:  Just rewind to a year previous when Regan Smith went below the double-yellow to not wreck Tony Stewart…and then was black-flagged and finished the last car on the lead lap. 
    "So all you have to do is not go below the double yellow, let the guy come across your nose, wreck him, and you win.
    "That's what happened.
    "That's the rules we race under. And nobody is going to fault Brad for doing what he did.  Nobody is going to fault Carl for doing what he had done.
    "We hate to see what happened last week.  You hate to see a car go up into the catch-fence. 
    "Race fans were injured. 
      "Now if I were a Talladega race fan," Busch added impishly, "and I've got some cuts or bruises from shrapnel from a car, I'd be like 'Yeah, this is Talladega 2009 right here!'  I'd be all gung-ho for it. 
    "Now I don't know if I'd be sitting in the front 10 rows, but it's Talladega. 
    "We're always going to have this debate.  It's always a tough balance of putting on a great show and what speeds we should be running…as well as safety, whether it's the drivers or the fans. 
    "It's a tough call.  Everybody did what they needed to do. 
    "Maybe there was too much bump-drafting.  I feel like a few years ago the grill that we had on our old cars, if you bump-drafted too hard you would close up your front grill and begin to over-heat. 
    "There need to be side-effects to too much bump-drafting, and that could come into play."


No there doesn't, Kurt. The

No there doesn't, Kurt. The old car they reinforced the nose to keep it from stoving in, and it helped make the racing better. There needs to never be side effects of great racing. Racing is lead changes, and how they race at Talladega is how they're supposed to race, period.

"...how they race at

"...how they race at Talladega is how they're supposed to race, period."
I respectfully disagree. One giant wad of 30-some cars is not racing. The 09 car was junk all day long. Then in the final laps, he catches a draft and wins the race. That ain't racin'.

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