Practice makes perfect.
Athletes in every sport say there is no better preparation than under “game” conditions. For Ryan Gifford at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway the process was incremental and came in three prior NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts at the .75-mile oval. That experience paid off in spades a year ago in the Blue Ox 100.
“Each time there, I’ve learned more and more,” said Gifford. “My first time there, I learned how the track transitions from day to night. My second time we had the car in position at the end, but I spun the tires on a late-race restart which kind of ruined it. And last year, we were able the put it all together.”
Putting it together meant getting his first K&N Pro Series East victory. The Drive for Diversity product racing out of the Rev Racing stable had been in position to win on more than a few occasions, but one thing or another untied the bow and left the Winchester, Tenn., native wondering if it would ever happen.
In last year’s race, Gifford completed a pass of Cole Custer with 23 laps to go and held off eventual runner-up Brandon Gdovic on a late restart, a place in which he came up short in 2012, to drive his No.2 Toyota Racing Development Toyota to Victory Lane for the first time.
“I was super excited,” Gifford said. “I was just happy to make it happen and find a way to win. We had found, I think, all of the ways not to win.”
Just over a month after that initial triumph, Gifford was named to the 2013 class for NASCAR Next, which spotlights the sport’s emerging stars. Later in the season Gifford got another opportunity and capitalized. In August, he made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa in a Richard Childress Racing entry and finished ninth.
This time around in the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond Gifford hopes to draw upon his experience at the track and successfully defend his victory in the Old Dominion State.
“I think my experience is an advantage,” he said. “I know what it takes to win there and how best to get into position to do it.
“The Richmond track is definitely one of my favorites. It’s real racy with top and bottom grooves that give us room to pass. The fans in Richmond are as good as anywhere and they’ll have a good show to watch on Friday night.”
The Race: The Blue Ox 100 is the fifth event of the season for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. It’s the fifth of 14 oval track events and 16 races, overall, on the 2014 schedule. This is the series’ fourth standalone event at the Virginia track. The series participated in five NASCAR Nationwide Series events in 1988-92.
The Procedure: The starting field is 36 cars, including provisionals. The first 32 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials while the remaining four starting spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 100 laps covering 75 miles.
The Track: Richmond International Raceway, known as “America’s Premier Short Track,” opened in October 1946. Lee Petty won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event in April 1953. The track operated as a half-mile oval through spring 1988 before being reconfigured to its current .75-mile, D-shape for the September 1988 date. Lights were added in 1991. The track is 60 feet wide with a 10-foot apron. There is 14 degrees of banking in the turns, eight degrees of banking on the 1,290-foot frontstretch and two degrees of banking on the backstretch that measures 860 feet.
The Records: The one-lap qualifying record for the series at Richmond of 21.948 seconds (123.018 mph) is held by Max Gresham and established on April 28, 2011. The 100-lap race record of 55 minutes, 20 seconds (81.325 mph) also was set on April 28, 2011 by Darrell Wallace Jr.
RICHMOND RACE NOTES
New Next Class: The NASCAR Next class for the 2014 season will be announced on Friday, April 25 at Richmond International Raceway. A total of 21 drivers have been in the program that spotlights NASCAR’s emerging stars since its inception in 2011. All told, the group has accounted for 76 NASCAR touring series wins, 10 NASCAR national series wins and four touring series championships. Most of the new class will be on hand for Saturday’s Track Takeover on the backstretch at RIR. Of the 13 NASCAR Next drivers for the 2013 season, eight called the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East home.
Been There; Done That: Of the drivers currently entered in the race only Ryan Gifford has gone to Victory Lane at Richmond. The Winchester, Tenn., driver won last year’s event.
Richmond Rookies: Eighteen of the 40 officially entered drivers in the Blue Ox 100 will be attempting to make their track debut in a K&N East machine. Only four drivers – Brandon Gdovic, Gifford, Eddie MacDonald and Daniel Suárez – on the entry list have made all three starts since the series returned to competition at the track in 2011.
Home Tracks Update: The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is set for Thursday, April 24 at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. The annual celebrity late model race will raise funds for the Denny Hamlin Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University. Hamlin, a native of Chesterfield, Va., started his racing career at the .4-mile oval. More information can be found at www.southbostonspeedway.com
LAST TIME OUT: Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 at Greenville Pickens Speedway
Ben Rhodes led a race-high 106 laps to pick up his first K&N Pro Series East victory in his 11th series start with Ronnie Bassett Jr. and Cameron Hayley finishing second and third, respectively.
· Rhodes started from the pole for the third straight race.
· With the win, Rhodes took the points lead for the first time in his series career.
· Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kaz Grala led (15 laps) for the first time in his series career.
NEXT TIME OUT: Iowa Speedway
Bragging rights will be on the line on Saturday, May 17 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. It’s the first of two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East/K&N Pro Series West combination events in the nation’s Heartland this season alongside the NASCAR Nationwide Series. A year ago in this event, Michael Self represented the K&N West and won to end a K&N East stronghold at the .875-mile oval. Dylan Kwasniewski finished second and was the top-finishing East driver while Brett Moffitt was third.