By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Not going to lie, Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway was a bit refreshing.
Rather than it being the same song and dance where a couple of drivers ended up schooling everyone, there was different faces who set the tone all night.
Brad Keselowski ended up victorious for his fourth win of the year to cap off a perfect Saturday for Team Penske. Like IndyCar driver Will Power earlier at Mid-Ohio, Keselowski was the man to beat as a few drivers just couldn’t match his pace when it mattered most.
In my first crack of reacting to key moments of the race, I discuss about key angles that contributed into a different outcome than the mundane most of us are accustomed to.
Where in the World Was This Austin Dillon?
No joke. I never thought this year’s Texas winner would have a snowball chance in hell of being a legit playoff contender two races into the 10-race odyssey.
In his seventh Cup season, Dillon has been the guy that shows up at the absolute bitter end for wins, but not once has it been out of pure pace. Tonight, he was strong, especially on long runs.
However, a rough Stage 3 opener where he was barely hanging onto the top-10 really hurt him from having the most ideal night possible. It still didn’t stop him from rallying hard to be back in the mix until two things cost him a shot of winning once more in 2020.
Those being missing pit road with 65 laps remaining and Keselowski’s fresh tires to get by him for the race lead with 47 to go. Dillon ended up finishing fourth.
“I overdrove that entry just a little bit thinking that I needed to avoid getting rear-ended, and then it was like ‘Oh no, I’m going to hit the red box,’” Dillon on his pit error. “I had to make another lap around the track. That cost us three seconds. It probably killed our deal, but it was still early, so who knows.”
Before those crucial pit falls, not only Dillon outright made passes on the elite competitors, but actually held his own real well which I was actually impressed. You don’t see that from Dillon which made for a much needed refreshment race and there’s no better time to step up than in the NASCAR playoffs.
Heck, 18 points which was the most among all drivers and a top-five result isn’t something to complain about. Yet, I’d imagine it stings to come up short of winning once again.
Tale of Two Hendrick Groups
It was hot and cold night at Richmond for Hendrick Motorsports. One half had a stellar showing on a track that hasn’t been great to them and the other half can just stick a fork in it and get the quickest Virginia train.
The good outings were Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, who were consistently in the top-10 throughout the race. Elliott led the duo with a superb fifth-place outing while Bowman ended up ninth. Not flashy, but convenient to leave Richmond on a high which may help them going into Bristol where the word unpredictable is a total understatement.
The same cannot be said whatsoever for William Byron and Jimmie Johnson. Good grief, they were just out of it all across the board and that’s how racing can be sometimes. One half is on it while the other half are just pitiful.
“It is what it is – we ran horrible tonight and no excuse for that,” said Byron, who finished 21st. “It was really kind of a slow death the entire race, so we’ll go to Bristol and regroup for that one.”
The less to be said about their night, the better it’ll be for them.
Pit Entry Chagrins
There was plenty of driver errors all throughout the 400-lap race. Even the best the sport has to offer like Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin weren’t immune to the dreadful pit penalties.
Once scoring the Stage 1 victory, Hamlin (and even Dillon) ended up speeding on pit road which sent them to the rear of the field. Dillon was able to fully recover, but Hamlin was largely absent for the rest of the race and crossed the line in 12th. Another disappointing race result for the Virginian as it marked his third result outside the top-10 in the last four races.
“It just seemed like once the track rubbered up, we just weren’t any good,” said Hamlin. “We couldn’t get off the corner good, couldn’t get in the corner. Just nothing was really very good with it.”
The only positive I can say about Hamlin’s night after Stage 1 is simple. He made the Round of 12 via points, so he’s one of only three that are safe heading into the Bristol Night Race (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
As for Harvick, there’s something people should pay close attention. That’s his bid of trying to become the second man to score 30 top-10s in a single modern era NASCAR season. After Richmond, the quest soldiers on, but a shot of trying to surpass Jeff Gordon’s mark of 30 from 2007 nearly ended tonight due to a costly pit mistake.
That mistake was a commitment line violation which set him back from being a true contender. Like an aspiring champion typically does in low points, Harvick persevered and ended up with a respectable seventh for his 23rd top-10 after 28 races.
The championship is real important and of course the only think on Harvick’s mind, but should he end up not scoring a top-10 at any point in the playoffs, he can only equal Gordon’s record. I’ll be paying close attention on that journey as a historic campaign can really become legendary when it’s all set and done.
My final thoughts of the race boils down to mistakes being the word of the night. There were plenty of them and while some recovered, it’s stuff drivers can’t be constantly doing on a frequent basis. It’s those mistakes, like on pit road, that will come back and haunt them in the long run.
Aside from that, it wasn’t a terrible Richmond night race. Not great, but a respectable one to follow. Let’s hope things really spice up going into the Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol, but consider this thought.
How will those cars do on long runs at night? If it’s anything like the All-Star Race, it’ll be a bit of chore to follow. I hope not, but you never know with certain rules packages.