NASCAR: Live from Richmond

Kenseth bounces back quickly

Matt Kenseth didn't waste any time putting his difficult week behind him, qualifying for the pole on Friday for Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400.

His lap at 130.334 mph is a record at Richmond International Raceway, a tricky three-quarter mile track with a long history in the sport.

More than that, it means back-to-back poles for Kenseth, although last week's pole at Kansas was stripped from him this week in the wake of the penalties handed down by NASCAR on Wednesday for an engine part that came in under specified weight. And now he's again quailified for the upcoming Sprint Unlimited.

"I tell you what, when you only win nine poles in 14 years, you're pretty fired up for all of them," he said. "For sure, it was one of
our goals this weekend was to come here and sit on the pole and kind of quiet down at least part of the noise. I was pretty
glad we were able to accomplish that."

Brian Vickers came up just short of the pole subbing in for the injured Denny Hamlin with a speed at 130.303 mph. Jeff Gordon was third at 130.252 mph.

Starting Grid

-- K. Lee Davis



Edwards' big adventure

Not everyone gets a ride to school from a NASCAR star, much less from a NASCAR star driving a real race car.

Christopher Wooten, a local high school student, got a lift from Carl Edwards Friday morning.

"I drove Christopher to school this morning in our Fastenal Ford, which has to be one of the coolest things I've ever done," Edwards said.

Wooten quickly added, "It was definitely the coolest thing I've done."

So how did it all play out for the 15-20 minutes they were on the road with a police escort?

"I think we got some interesting looks on the way," Wooten said. "I was hoping no one was gonna wreck in front of us because we'd go by and they'd be looking out the window to our side and not looking at the road, but it was definitely something that I've never done anything anywhere close to what we did today, and it was just an incredible experience."

And, Edwards pointed out, it came with a side benefit.

"I noticed a lot of young ladies waiting for you there when we showed up," he said. "That was pretty big. The firesuit really helps a lot. He wore a firesuit. That's like a magnet."

-- K. Lee Davis

Ready for some 'Dega?

Jeff Gordon said he's looking forward to next Sunday's race at Talladega after what was learned in the season opener at Daytona about the Gen-6 car and restrictor-plate tracks. He was quick to remind everyone, though, that the racing might not be quite the same.

"I'm certainly very anxious to see it because it's a bigger, wider race track compared to Daytona," he said. "In Daytona, I feel like we learned a lot about being very patient and picking and choosing your moments to try to make passes. I certainly tried to make some that didn't work out and cost us a lot of positions. We saw single file through the middle section of the race, but yet still be extremely exciting in the closing laps. I think that you are going to see certainly that at the end."

So what does he expect to see in the way of a surprises?

"The unknown is, with this bigger, wider track, are we going to be able to complete those passes that we weren't able to at Daytona?" He said. "We did see handling be a bigger issue at Daytona when you were around other cars on the longer runs.

"That doesn't normally seem to be the case at Talladega, so we won't know until we get there, get in practice, start drafting and run our race."

-- K. Lee Davis



Gibbs speaks up

Joe Gibbs isn't pleased with the position he finds himself and his race team in after NASCAR levied heavy fines and penalties this week against the No. 20 car driven by Matt Kenseth. More than anything, he said it feels like a hit on his and the team's reputation.

"That is something that I think about all the time," he said. "I turn on the radio sometimes and hear things, you know. Those, to me,
are real personal things because you spend your life trying to live a certain way. That's a real personal thing, something that
has a big effect on me.

"I don't think it's anything that you kind of talk about. Whatever. Hopefully, you live your life, and you try to live it a certain way and that comes across, and I think people will treat you -- they will probably have their own opinion on that. That's kind of part of life, particularly when you're fortunate enough."

Among the penalties against Gibbs himself is a six-race suspension, but that is only for the No. 20 car, so he still expects to be at the track.

"First of all, I do know this: I still have two more cars here," he said. "I'm going to be at the race track."

-- K. Lee Davis

Talking points

Danica Patrick has plenty to discuss on Friday: Her divorce is finalized, she has funny-man Stephen Colbert's likeness on her car this week and she was on his show, she has a simmering feud with David Gilliland, and she is going to race at Richmond for the first time in the Sprint Cup Series.

So what else is on her mind? Should drivers be responsible for penalties such as the ones incurred by Matt Kenseth's team this week.

"Oh gosh, I hope not because I have absolutely no idea what goes on other than when I am driving the car," she said. "If you are asking if it's just the driver that should be held responsible, then I don't [think so]. If you are asking if they should get a penalty then it's the team that puts the car out there that gets that result so it all kind of goes hand-in-hand, but I definitely don't think it should be all the driver's penalty.

"But you are driving for a team where NASCAR found something they didn't like, so the biggest penalty is the car that is out there running for the championship points, so that is where they get them. That is what hurts the most, you know?"

How about her disagreement with Gilliland and whether she thinks he races her the same way he races everyone else?

"No, I don't think he races me like everyone else," she said. "I watched him move over, and let someone by, so no, I don't think he does. And that is what makes me mad. He is just getting more attention for this than he deserves. I think he was just driving in a way that I didn't think was appropriate, and I haven't thought was appropriate for a long time, but it was just too much that time."

And finally, any comment on the divorce from Paul Hospenthal?

"No. It is just the end," she said

-- K. Lee Davis

Gordon rolls to fastest time in practice

Jeff Gordon was fastest in Friday's Happy Hour practice, posting a speed of 126.963 mph. Juan Pablo Montoya was second at 126.103.

They were the only two drivers to break 126 mph, but Brian Vickers did manage to put the No. 11 third on the chart with a 125.792 as he subs for the injured Denny Hamlin again this week.

-- K. Lee Davis



On the defensive

Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Matt Kenseth, joined his driver by saying he feels the penalties NASCAR handed down on Wednesday against the team are too harsh.

Toyota Racing Development builds the engines for JGR, and Ratcliff said that although a rule was broken, the intent wasn't there.

"It's difficult," he said. "Obviously, it's a mistake. I'm not going to call it a simple mistake because it's a big mistake. I respect NASCAR's view on it as far as the part was illegal so by the letter of the law, the part's illegal and there's consequences for that.

"I do not feel like the spirit of the law was compromised. That's where we felt like the severity of the penalty is extremely harsh."

NASCAR docked Kenseth with a 50-point penalty, gave owner Joe Gibbs the same in the owner's standings and fined Ratcliff $200,000 and suspended him for six points races. JGR will appeal the penalties, but there's no guarantee of any relief.

"We've obviously had time to sit down as a group and talk about it, but short term it was like, 'Hey let's appeal it, let's get back to the racetrack and focus on Richmond,'" Ratcliff said. "We'll get a little more time next week, especially with a Saturday night race. We'll be able to go in with a much clearer head on Monday morning and make some good decisions for Joe Gibbs Racing. As far as what we're trying to get out of it, we're -- I don't know that exercise our rights is a good word, but we're going to see how the appeals process works."

-- K. Lee Davis