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NASCAR At Richmond: Juan Pablo Montoya On Pole, Denny Hamlin Looking For Hometown Sweep

The green flag in tonight's Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 is about an hour away. Richmond International Raceway always provides 400 thrilling laps of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, and there's no reason to believe that trend won't continue this evening.

Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) has the pole for tonight's event, his second pole of the year and seventh overall but his first on a short track. Flat, shorter ovals have always seemed to suit Montoya's driving style since his full-time move to stock cars in 2007. He hasn't recorded a victory on an oval since September 2000, in a Champ Car race at the now-defunct Gateway International Speedway outside St. Louis.

Montoya - and everyone else - will have to contend with hometown hero Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), who starts 11th. He is on a roll, winning his charity event at the track Thursday night and taking last night's Nationwide Series 250-lapper. Hamlin has won the last two fall races at Richmond, and he came tantalizingly close to winning the 2008 edtion of the Crown Royal 400. That night, he started on the pole and led 381 of the first 382 laps before a flat tire ultimately ruined his night.

That race, of course, was the event that cemented Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) as NASCAR's newest villain - or anti-hero, depending on who's opinion one asks for. Busch and perennial Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) dueled for the lead late, with Earnhardt ending up backed against the turn three wall. Busch also lost that night, but he has won the last two Crown Royal 400s and rolls off 20th in tonight's race.

The winner of that 2008 race at Richmond and another threat for the victory is Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet). Rolling off third, Bowyer is a consistent threat at flatter short tracks like Richmond and Loudon, where he has two victories including last September. Bowyer has been on a roll lately, recording four straight top-tens, including back-to-back runner-up finishes. In the process, he has climbed from 24th to 10th in the standings.

Visit Jayski.com for the entire starting grid for tonight's race and stay tuned to SB Nation Atlanta, SB Nation's NASCAR hub, and NASCAR Ranting and Raving for all the coverage of the Crown Royal 400.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.