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 Salute to First Responders 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 to take on the 0.75-mile oval, which will go a long way in determining which drivers move on to the Round of 12, especially as the Bristol Night Race, the first cut-off race of the Playoffs, looms large next weekend.
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.
Points leader Kyle Larson will lead the field to the green, while Denny Hamlin, who is fresh off his win last weekend at Darlington will join him on the front row. The remainder of the top-10 includes: Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, and Christopher Bell.
With Saturday night’s race falling on the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington, Richmond will have a special pre-race ceremony to pay tribute to the victims, with the field paced by first responder vehicles and teams displaying the American Flag on pit road.
In addition, a number of teams will run patriotic or tribute paint schemes on Saturday night. Among those that will have special schemes include: Larson, Tyler Reddick, Almirola, Chris Buescher, Truex, Bell, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Erik Jones, and others.
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 11
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 2021 Race Winner: Alex Bowman – No. 48 Chevrolet – Started 24th, 10 laps led
September 2020 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – Started ninth, 192 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 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 110.1
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 109.8
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 107.8
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 100.5
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 93.8
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 93.4
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 93.3
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 91.1
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 87.6
- Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford – 86.2
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings
- Denny Hamlin (Advances with Darlington win)
- Kyle Larson (+80 over cut-off)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (+36)
- Kurt Busch (+26)
- Ryan Blaney (+22)
- Joey Logano (+21)
- Kevin Harvick (+20)
- Brad Keselowski (+12)
- Christopher Bell (+5)
- Chase Elliott (+4)
- Aric Almirola (+3)
- Tyler Reddick (Tied with 13th)
- Alex Bowman (Tied with 12th)
- Kyle Busch (-2)
- William Byron (-9)
- Michael McDowell (-20)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Richmond has always been a challenging track for me,” said William Byron. “The track already has very low grip and making sure the tires last during a long run is key. The surface resembles Atlanta (Motor Speedway) but has characteristics of Phoenix (Raceway). I feel like every time I’ve run there that I’ve learned a bit more and improved each time. With Darlington not going the way we hoped, we will need to really execute this weekend and maximize whatever situation we are in to set us up for Bristol and advancing on through the playoffs.”
Last Time at Richmond
Denny Hamlin had been the dominant driver for the majority of the day when the Cup Series last raced at Richmond back in April, but everything changed with a late race restart, allowing Alex Bowman to steal the win away in the final 10 laps.
After leading a race-high 207 laps, a Kevin Harvick spin in Turn 1 gave the rest of the field a shot at taking down Hamlin. When the green flag flew on the restart, Bowman was able to get to the inside of Hamlin, with the two drivers battling side by side for a couple of laps before Bowman cleared him for good.
Once clear of Hamlin, it was smooth sailing for Bowman to the finish as he took home his first win driving the No. 48 car.
“Did not go the way I thought it was going to go,” Bowman said. “We were pretty awful on short runs all day. To be honest with you, a caution came out, I was like, Man, we’re going to struggle to get out of here with a top five. Felt like we had such an amazing long run car, but really struggled on the short runs.
“We took off. My strong suit all day was being able to get into the corner really deep. I was able to get in deep, aside Denny. I knew I had the preferred lane, could probably clear him. I kind of figured he would get right back to me and be faster than us.
“When we drove away, I was like, Oh, my gosh, what’s happening? We had some really fast laps there. I was super loose the last couple laps. I did my best to get it back away. We just really improved the race car there, had a lot of grip taken off.”