By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The last month of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule has been all about the short tracks, with Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway wrapping up a three race stretch at tracks under 1 mile in length.
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.
After missing out on its spring date last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cup Series returns to Richmond for a Sunday afternoon showdown, marking the first time since 2017 that NASCAR’s best have had a scheduled day race at the track.
Fresh off his win last weekend at Martinsville, Martin Truex Jr. will lead the field to green from the pole, with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Virginia native Denny Hamlin starting alongside. Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott will start third, followed by William Byron, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-10.
By the Numbers
What: Toyota Owners 400, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 9 of 36
Where: Richmond Raceway – Richmond, Virginia (Opened: 1946, First Cup race: 1953)
When: Sunday, April 18
TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 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
September 2019 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – Started eighth, 109 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 – 110.6
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 110.3
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 106.8
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 100.9
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 94.2
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 92.2
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 92.2
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.2
- Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford – 87.3
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 86.3
From the Driver’s Seat
“The driving at Richmond is honestly very straight forward,” said Chase Elliott. “I think that’s what makes Richmond really hard is because it’s just not a super challenging place, I don’t think, for the drivers to run the proper line. But what makes it really hard there is to just be different. And everyone is doing the exact same thing.
“Obviously, you have to have your car balance really good there and it has to be perfect. You’re riding that really razor thin edge much like you do at Martinsville. But it’s definitely a challenge. And I think the reason it’s a challenge is that everyone is just doing the same thing. Martinsville is different where guys really attack that race track differently. Whereas at Richmond, I feel like everyone is just in the exact same boat and it’s hard to be different. I think that’s what makes that place tough.”
Last Time at Richmond
Confidence was high for Brad Keselowski heading into Richmond last fall, knowing his team was bringing his race winning car from Loudon and how strong that car had performed the last time it was on the race track.
Turns out Keselowski was right to be so confident in that particular No. 2 Ford as he shellacked the field, leading nearly half the race and cruising to a 1.568-second win over Martin Truex Jr., who had won the two previous races at Richmond.
Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano finished third, followed by Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick. Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer in a top-10 sweep by drivers in the Playoffs. “Our Mustang was really hauling,” Keselowski said. “It’s nice that we broke the curse of the black and yellow car. Twice in a row it’s been in victory lane this year and we haven’t been able to win with it the last six years, so it’s good to do that for these guys. This car was really strong and I really got a great rhythm out on the racetrack. You’ve got to get a really precise rhythm for how you get around here and I was able to find that very early on, put a lot of thought into what I was going to do and it paid off.”