RICHMOND, Va. – In just nine Sprint Cup Series races this season, there may already have been more memorable finishes than in all of 2013.
Nearly every week, NASCAR races have ended with an edge-of-your-seat finish that has left the result in doubt until the checkered flag.
The 400-lap race at Richmond International Raceway was the latest example. Joey Logano lined up fourth on the final restart with nine laps to go, then somehow snuck by as the three cars in front of him -- Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski -- battled each other for the lead.
At the end of the races, Logano said, "patience is out the window."
"You've got the new point system where everyone just goes for wins, and you've got late-race cautions (to bunch the field)," he said. "Everyone has the same attitude: The heck with it. If we crash, we crash. We're going for wins."
The trend isn't likely to end this week, when the drivers will encounter Talladega Superspeedway and the restrictor-plate madness that bunches the field and often leads to harrowing finishes.
LOGANO: Wins at Richmond in wild finish
Exciting finishes have been the norm lately, even at the 1.5-mile venues where fans often complained of cookie-cutter tracks and boring racing. Each of the past five races and seven of the nine overall this season have had thrilling endings, including at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
VIDEO: See Logano's closing laps at Richmond
The reason behind the drama isn't clear, however.
Is it NASCAR's new playoff qualification format, as Logano suggested, in which drivers are more heavily rewarded for wins in qualifying for the 10-race championship? Is it the Gen 6 car package, which was tweaked in the offseason in hopes of providing better racing in its second year? Or is it Goodyear's tires, which have been under scrutiny due to high wear this season?
Perhaps it's all of the above -- combined with late cautions, of course.
Richmond runner-up Gordon said those frequent late-race cautions (which have come for reasons including crashes, debris and fluid on the track) have created shootout-style finishes. It also helps, he said, that NASCAR's changes have made the cars "fast, comfortable, fun to drive and you can be aggressive with them."
Gordon, who was one of Goodyear's most vocal critics last month when tires were a major factor at Fontana, Calif., said the good finishes can also be traced in part to the tires.
"As much as we're beating up on Goodyear right now, I think that's also contributed to some great races," he said. "… I think we seem to be at our best on the tracks where finesse is a little bit more important (with) tire management and things like that. That's where we're really shining right now."
Tires came into play again at Richmond, where several drivers had trouble with right front wear and saw fires ignite after the treads wore down to the cables and fabric holding the tire together. Reed Sorenson had to be pulled from his car on pit road as his No. 36 Chevrolet was engulfed in flames and heavy smoke. It was just another example of a race in which crew chiefs and drivers must walk a delicate line to balance tire wear vs. aggression.
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Here's a look at some of the memorable finishes this season:
--Daytona: After a multi-car crash set up a two-lap shootout, Dale Earnhardt Jr. played the finish perfectly and secured his second Daytona 500 victory when others wrecked behind him in the final turn.
--Las Vegas: A debris caution at the edge of the fuel window set up a strategy race for the final 42 laps. Earnhardt ran out of gas on the last lap, allowing Brad Keselowski to pass him for the win.
--Fontana: Clint Bowyer's late spin set up a green-white-checkered overtime finish. Kyle Busch went from third to first on the last lap, then edged hard-charging rookie Kyle Larson.
--Martinsville: Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson traded the lead three times in the final 28 laps until Busch made his final pass with 11 laps to go.
--Texas: Another debris caution set up a green-white-checkered finish and threated to thwart Logano's seemingly sure victory. But Logano passed Gordon on the final lap to win anyway.
--Darlington: Fluid on the track caused NASCAR to throw a caution with nine laps to go, followed by two more cautions and a pair of green-white-checkered attempts. Kevin Harvick, who had dominated the race, passed Earnhardt for the win as the white flag waved.
--Richmond: JJ Yeley blew an engine late in the race, setting up a restart with nine laps to go. Logano started fourth but slipped by Kenseth, Keselowski and Gordon as the leaders tangled in front of him.