At one point, the feeling of heading to Richmond for many teams was one of anticipation, and eagerness. For the longest time, this track was the one that decided who was in the playoffs, and who was out. The first playoff bracket battle in 2004 is proof of that.
Even prior to that type of hype, Richmond had it’s moments that still stand out. Dale Earnhardt crawling out his window to clean the mud off his windshield, and then Earnhardt again getting into Darrell Waltrip causing both to wreck also has it’s place. The battles between Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace, one that led to finger pointing out the window, and another that led to one car in the fence that caused the crowd to erupt in happiness.
What happened to this place?
Since the early 2010’s, this 3/4-mile track doesn’t feel like the Richmond that had battles resulting in arguments like Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd had in 2003. Something just feels off now that Richmond has experienced not only changes in when it lands on the schedule, but also when the green flag waves.
How can a track that once decided the playoff field feel like just another week of racing?
Perhaps the catalyst to feeling that the track has not been the same goes back to the debacle of the 2013 regular season finale, and the track has not recovered.
We all know how that night went, and how one team’s future was written on the wall the moment certain actions happened. Manipulation, confusion, and captivation all took place in one night, and caused confusion and anger among competitors, and fans. In the week that followed, it was revealed the manipulation to get one driver into the playoffs, and the domino effect that came of it. Sponsors pulled their backing, and drivers were left without rides, and a team ultimately lost everything.
NASCAR took one driver out, added another back in…then added another days later.
One night in Richmond changed everything.
Was it the fault of the track, of course not, no one that works for Richmond Raceway knew what was coming that night. The only expectation was to have an exciting way to set the playoffs, and instead they got controversy and chaos.
In the years since, NASCAR has seen the track go from a pair of night races, to having daylight be the source of sight at the track. The track endured a pandemic where no fans attended for an entire year, and a limited amount followed in the early part of the following season. The intense action that once brought a lot of excitement and anticipation, seems to have just become another stop on the schedule.
In 2011, NASCAR would race under the lights on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, and it saw a majority of the event run under green flag conditions, and many fans leaving early after their favorite driver had to retire.
What was once “Racing Perfection” has since felt like “Racing in Peril” because this place just does not feel the same any longer.
That needs to change. This place is still a popular facility, it still draws a crowd, and it can provide some excellent moments. It could happen Sunday, if the right set of circumstances come together.
It needs to, because if not then this short track will be much like many other tracks on the tour…reduced to one weekend.