By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After 500 miles around the historic Darlington Raceway last Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond Raceway for the final regular season race that will set the 16 driver field for the playoffs with Saturday night’s running of the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Often described as the perfectly designed race track 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.
As of now, there are 13 drivers with wins that are inside the top-30 in points, leaving three playoff berths up for grabs on Saturday night. So how do the points stack up for those not completely locked in heading to Richmond?
With one race to go, Chase Elliott (+94), Matt Kenseth (+92), and Jamie McMurray (+91) are the only drivers that can make the playoffs on points and are relatively safe if things stay the way they currently sit.
However, should a driver outside the current top-16 (Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., etc.) win on Saturday night, the slim points margin between Elliott, Kenseth, and McMurray will come into play to see which two will make it in and who will be on the outside looking in when the checkered flag falls.
By the Numbers
What: Federated Auto Parts 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race No. 26 of 36
Where: Richmond Raceway – Richmond, Virginia (Opened: 1946, First Cup race: 1953)
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 two stages – 100 laps each, Final stage – 200 laps
April 2017 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started fifth, 25 laps led) – Encumbered win
September 2016 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – Started on pole, 189 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:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 110.4 – 3 wins
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 110.3 – 3 wins
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 109.8 – 4 wins
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 96.9 – 1 win
- Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 94.3 – 2 wins
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 93.5 – 2 wins
- Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 90.5 – 2 wins
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 90.3 – 3 wins
- Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 89.7 – 1 win
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 88.3 – Best finish: 2nd
From the Driver’s Seat
“Richmond is a really unique short track that we have,” said AJ Allmendinger. “Three-quarters of a mile, it is kind of an egg-shape, makes it a lot of fun because there is not another track on the circuit like racing at Richmond. It’s an interesting place that unfortunately, used to be one of my favorite short tracks. We have struggled at it lately. The biggest thing about racing at Richmond is it’s all about saving rear tires. The track is very slick, grains the tires a lot. A lot of great short-track racing, but if you can save those rear tires you have a great shot to win.”
Last Year’s Results
In last year’s Richmond night race, hometown hero Denny Hamlin and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex, Jr. were the class of the field all night long as the two drivers combined to lead 382 of the 407 laps in the race. Truex walked away with the most laps led on the night, but it was Hamlin that was out front when it mattered most.
Though Hamlin and Truex dominated, it wasn’t a walk in the park for the eventual winner (Hamlin) as there were seven cautions over the final 100 laps, including the final caution on lap 399, pushing the race into overtime.
While Hamlin and the other leaders stayed out, Kyle Larson pitted under the caution for fresh tires, which make a big difference at a track like Richmond, and powered his way from 12th on the restart up to second, but came up short on catching Hamlin for the race win.
Truex finished the night in third, followed by Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano to round out the top-10.
“That’s what’s so special about it, so you get to do it at home and there’s just – I see all the extra Denny Hamlin shirts and hats and everything and fires me up every time I get here,” said Hamlin. “I’ve also got to thank Sport Clips for their support this year as well. Got all that covered and, man, this is a great car. Hopefully we can use it in the Chase.”
“I said that I thought we were like an eight and a half on momentum. I don’t believe in 10, so nine, nine and a half would be optimum. I said if we won this race we’d go to a nine. Hard for me not to say it’s nine and a half at this point. It’s a great team effort here. We’ve got everything going for us. A total team effort – just everyone at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) building these fast, fast cars. Can’t thank everyone enough.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, September 8
- MENCS Practice (10:00 am to 10:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (Noon to 1:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (5:45 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, September 9
- MENCS Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 pm – 400 laps, 300 miles – NBC Sports Network)
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