Memorable Night at Richmond

Reed Sorenson

Reed Sorenson heads down pit road after a right front tire issue triggered the fire. (Photo: Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. - Fun, fury and flames, what else could one want from a NASCAR race?

Wait, there was more from Saturday night’s frenzied, fractious, first-lap crashin’, four-car battlin’, fist-flyin’ affair. The evening started with a famed football player starring in selfies with drivers and ended with some of those same competitors frustrated after 400 laps.

Just think it’s less than five months until NASCAR returns to Richmond International Raceway.

Maybe by then we’ll be able to digest all that took place on a night that saw a driver score his first short-track Sprint Cup win, another crack the top 10 for the first time this season and Goodyear focused on bringing a better tire back for the fall.

Joey Logano was fast, Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears were furious and many others flustered.

Just what short-track racing is all about. 

The focus after the race wasn’t on Logano’s run or the thrilling racing at the end but the brouhaha between Ambrose and Mears. Exactly what led to their meeting in the garage was unclear but not the result. After a brief discussion, Mears shoved Ambrose, who responded with a right cross to Mears’ face. Moments later, someone else punched Ambrose.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said officials will investigate but “we don’t think it was anything too severe’’ after watching video of the post-race incident.

Ambrose and Mears quickly left without comment. Mears later tweeted “Interesting end to the night.’’

Had it not been for that, the talk about would have been about the finish. 

Although points leader Jeff Gordon finished second, he told his team on the radio after the race “that was fun.’’

Four cars battled for the lead in the final laps before a little roughhousing between Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski allowed Logano to slip by and score his second win of the season.

A season after Logano had to sweat his way into the Chase, he has no worries.

Logano said having another season with crew chief Todd Gordon is leading to the quick success.

“I think Todd really understands what I need in a racecar and what we've got to do and what we need to go fast,’’ Logano said after his fifth career Cup win. “Darlington was our worst race of the year, really, to be honest with you, and we were still a very good car. We led a lot of laps. But that was the one racetrack that we really didn't have any notes to go off of, and as we come to these racetracks over and over again, we've got something to build off of.’’

Many others weren’t as fortunate, as tire problems struck some, including Jimmie Johnson. He remains winless this season. This is only the second time in the past decade Johnson has gone so deep into a season without a victory. 

Johnson’s kryptonite again proved to be tires. He had tire issues at Bristol, Auto Club Speedway (which cost him the win) and Richmond.

“Not exactly sure why we had that issue, but we did have back-to-back tire issues there,’’ said Johnson, who finished 32nd. “That really just kind of put an end to our night. We didn’t have anything for the win, but I thought we could run top-five.”

Some others had tire problems and it led to some spectacular fires, including to Reed Sorenson’s car. Sorenson stopped his burning car on pit road and was pulled from it by a member of Kasey Kahne’s pit crew and a NASCAR official.

Stu Grant, general manager global race tires for Goodyear, said that it was “likely” that the tire manufacturer would test at Richmond before the September race.

“We were effective in being able to reduce the heat and improve the durability with the construction change that we made, but it looks like we’ve got some work to do on the wear because I don’t think we made any improvement on the wear with this particular package,’’ Grant said. “It looks like the operating window for being acceptable wear on he right front and unacceptable is pretty small.’’

Not everyone had tire issues. AJ Allmendinger finished a season-best sixth. Crew chief Brian Burns said Allmendinger overcame a couple of slow pit stops where he was blocked by Greg Biffle to rally for the team’s second top-10 finish of the season.

Martin Truex Jr., whose season has been plagued by all sorts of misfortune, finished a season-best 10th, leading Truex to explain his finish by saying: “Nothing fell out of the sky and hit us.’’

But there was one major star at the track. Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, invited by friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., attended and drove the pace car at the start of the race. Before those duties, Griffin spent time visiting fans and drivers and tweeting pictures with them. Afterward, he left an autographed Redskins football for the winner, which Logano happily claimed. 

On the football, Griffith wrote: “Congrats on Your Victory!!! Awesome Job!!!’’

Yes, this was a three-exclamation race. At least.               

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