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Richmond could provide spark

Two weeks of ho-hum racing has left NASCAR fans starving for some on-track excitement, so a Saturday night stop at Richmond International Speedway couldn’t have come at a better time.

Short track racing traditionally produces some of NASCAR’s best racing, and the .75-mile oval at Richmond is the perfect venue for the bumping and banging that spices up the show. And there’s been a shortage of that of late.

The past two races, at Texas and Kansas, had a combined five cautions and four of them were for debris. It makes for long green-flag runs and spread-out fields, with a caution being the only hope for bunching the cars back together. Drivers seem to prefer that clean style of racing, but fans want more drama — some may even suggest they want wrecks — and they’ve been vocal the past month about their disappointment in the on-track product.

NASCAR’s top drivers are aware of the dilemma, and go into Saturday night’s race wondering if Richmond will satisfy the fans.

“I will not go down that path, I do not think it’s right to say we need wrecks. That’s just a messed-up thing to say,” Carl Edwards said Friday. “I think we need good racing, and I think if you’ve got guys who are able to race together, and are able to come through the field because their car is better and they can actually pass people, then you are going to get some excitement.

“And the excitement might come in the form of wrecks. A place like Richmond ... this place always seems to be a place where a guy can make something happen. And that’s good.”

Fact is, NASCAR has a solid schedule ahead, with the racing moving from Richmond to Talladega to Darlington and then the $1 million All-Star race at Charlotte. So, regardless of how drivers, teams or the sanctioning body views the present state of the racing, the on-track product could heat up without any effort.

Still, it’s made for interesting debate the past week, and drivers have varying opinions on why the racing has been so clean. It dates to the March 25 race at California, which went caution-free until rain brought out the yellow on Lap 125, and ultimately halted the race four laps later.

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson believes the tracks are the problem, with NASCAR making too many stops at downforce tracks.

“I think the venues play a larger part in the excitement, the action, and even the cautions,” he said. “I don’t think we can look at the garage area for the next change. I think the change comes with the venues. The change comes with the resurfacing of tracks and reconfiguring tracks to make more side-by-side racing.”