By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Race No. 2 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is here as the championship contenders get set to take on the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
After a barn burner in last weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington to kick off the first round of the Playoffs, the traveling circus moves north to Virginia for its first visit to Richmond this season after the first race, originally scheduled for this spring, was moved elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, this year’s race at Richmond marks the first time since 1959 that the track has hosted just one Cup Series race.
Often described as the perfectly designed racetrack by drivers, the 0.75-mile track lends itself to not only short track characteristics of beating and banging, but also the characteristics of a larger track with the side-by-side racing that will take place throughout the event.
Saturday night’s race will go a long way in determining which drivers move on to the Round of 12, especially with the Bristol Night Race, in its first year as a Playoff elimination race, looms large next weekend.
Fresh off his Darlington win, Kevin Harvick will lead the field to the green, with Joey Logano starting alongside. The remainder of the top-10 includes: Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Aric Almirola.
By the Numbers
What: Federated Auto Parts 400, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 28 of 36
Where: Richmond Raceway – Richmond, Virginia (Opened: 1946, First Cup race: 1953)
When: Saturday, September 12
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 7:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 0.75-mile oval
Banking: Turns: 14 degrees; Straights: 8 degrees (front), 2 degrees (back)
Race Length: 400 laps, 300 miles
Stage Lengths: First stage: 80 laps, Second stage: 155 laps, Final stage: 165 laps
April 2019 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – Started fifth, 186 laps led
September 2019 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – Started eighth, 109 laps led
Track Qualifying Record: Jeff Gordon – No. 24 Chevrolet – 20.674 seconds, 130.599 mph – 9/4/2013
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Richmond Raceway:
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 111.0
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 110.1
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 107.6
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 99.1
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 94.7
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 93.9
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 91.4
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.0
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 90.0
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 89.0
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings
- Kevin Harvick (2106 points – Advances with Darlington win)
- Denny Hamlin (+54 over cut-off)
- Joey Logano (+27)
- Brad Keselowski (+22)
- Alex Bowman (+19)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (+16)
- Chase Elliott (+12)
- Austin Dillon (+10)
- William Byron (+9)
- Kyle Busch (+7)
- Kurt Busch (+4)
- Aric Almirola (Tied with 13th)
- Clint Bowyer (Tied with 12th)
- Cole Custer (-3)
- Matt DiBenedetto (-17)
- Ryan Blaney (-17)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Richmond is a big one where the falloff is huge,” said Matt DiBenedetto. “I think with this tire this weekend being my favorite tire we have ran on, I think you are going to see a drastic amount of falloff. I will be curious to see. I think the fans will enjoy watching that. The tire makes a big difference in how the race plays out, more than anything at Richmond. So, Richmond is up at the top of the list and people may not know that but it is way up there.
“If you have a guy, and I am predicting with this tire that it will be more drastic than ever, but if you have a guy that comes in and bolts on a set of tires and everyone else is on old tires, they will drive by everyone like they are in reverse. It is that drastic and that much falloff. I am really anxious to see how this tire races here. I am really appreciative of Goodyear and NASCAR that they went to work on this tire to actually have some wear and lay down rubber and to wear out because that makes for so much better stock car racing, especially at places like Richmond.”
Last Time at Richmond
After winning the first short track race of his Cup Series career in May 2019, Martin Truex, Jr. returned to Richmond looking to make it a clean sweep. While the end result was the same, it was anything but a clean sweep for Truex and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
With 85 laps remaining in the 400-lap event, Truex found himself spinning off the front bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s Ford as Stenhouse was charging forward with a new set of tires to his advantage.
The spin dropped Truex from the lead, handing it to his JGR teammate Kyle Busch, but luckily for Truex, he was able to stay in the fight after keeping his car off the wall in the spin.
Restarting third, Truex would chase Busch around the track for the next 50 laps before finally dispatching him with 26 laps to go and driving away to the 25th Cup Series win of his career.
Busch would finish second, with JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones crossing the line in third and fourth, respectively, to give the organization a 1-2-3-4 finish. However, Jones would be disqualified later that night when his car failed post-race inspection.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 11, 2020
“Luckily I didn’t hit anything,” Truex said of his spin. “I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up—because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again by (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) and (engineer) James (Small) and the guys.
“This is just freaking unbelievable. So, we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that… Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny all night long, really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit. Next thing you know, catching the 18 (Busch) for the lead, I’m like, ‘Cool, all right, here we go.’ Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”