By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After a rain delayed race at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend produced one of the best races of the season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads to another short track, the third in the last four weeks, with Saturday night’s running of the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Following a three-year experiment of running the spring Richmond race on Sunday afternoon, this race will return to Saturday night under the lights this year following an uproar from the fans and lagging attendance when the race was held on Sunday.
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.
By the Numbers
What: Toyota Owners 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race No. 9 of 36
Where: Richmond Raceway – Richmond, Virginia (Opened: 1946, First Cup race: 1953)
When: Saturday, April 21
TV/Radio: FOX, 6:30 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
September 2017 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – Started fourth, 53 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 – 109.7
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 109.6
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 109.3
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 97.3
- Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 94.8
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 93.0
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 92.7
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 90.1
- Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 89.6
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.2
From the Driver’s Seat
“Richmond is getting a little trickier, it seems like, just with the asphalt kind of getting older and the way the cars are,” said Kyle Busch. “The consensus at Richmond is, of course, just trying to get your car to turn, but also having really good forward bite. You have to be able to get off the corners at Richmond. You have to have good brakes, as well, and be able to turn the center. All of it correlates. Everything you want as a racecar driver, you’ve got to have most all of it and, if you don’t, then you better hope you have more forward bite than the rest of them. That’s sort of the equation of Richmond. It’s a fun place to race. It’s really cool. As a driver, you wish it could widen out and give you more options of being able to run around in different grooves, but it hasn’t shown us that the last couple of years.”
Last Time at Richmond
Martin Truex, Jr. looked to be en route to a win in the regular season finale at Richmond last September after leading 198 laps, but a late caution changed everything.
Kyle Larson would win the race off pit road, with Truex slotting in second for the upcoming overtime restart. On the restart, Larson took off with the lead and set sail toward his fourth win of the season, while Truex and Denny Hamlin fought for the runner-up spot.
Entering Turn 1 on the final lap, Truex and Hamlin made contact, sending Truex hard into the outside wall and bringing out the caution, handing Larson the win.
Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, and Hamlin would round out the top-five finishers. Truex would finish the night in 20th, though he would leave with the consolation prize of the regular season championship.
“We definitely stole the win, I guess you could say, or our pit crew I felt like stole the win because they got me off as the leader,” said Larson. “But yeah, Richmond and Martinsville are probably my worst racetracks, and you can throw Loudon in there, too. I know I’ve got some good finishes there and ran really strong there early in the year, but historically these styles of tracks don’t suit me.
“I know everybody says I grew up short track racing, but this is way different than sprint car racing on a short track. This is really, really slow, heavy braking, off the throttle a lot, taking care of your tires, where sprint car on a quarter mile you’re still wide open a lot of times, depending on how the track is. This is different, and I’ve had to learn a lot. I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better at it. I can go really fast on the short runs and stuff at all these shorter flat tracks, but it seems like I struggle on the long run, which I did tonight, but it came down to a short run, and we got the win.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, April 20
- MENCS Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Final Practice (12:35 pm to 1:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Qualifying (5:30 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Saturday, April 21
- MENCS Toyota Owners 400 (6:30 pm – 400 laps, 300 miles – FOX)