By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Fresh off a thrilling race at the Circuit of the Americas and the road course debut of the Next Gen car, the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to the short tracks starting with Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
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.
Richmond kicks off a three-race stretch of short tracks for the Cup Series, with races at Martinsville and Bristol next up on the schedule after Sunday’s race.
Through the first six races of the season, six different drivers have visited Victory Lane, but several big-name drivers have found themselves on the outside looking in. Most notably the Toyota camp and Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won five of the last seven races at Richmond.
Could this be the week JGR finally gets its mojo back? 400 laps on Sunday will tell the tale.
By the Numbers
What: Toyota Owners 400, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 7 of 36
Where: Richmond Raceway – Richmond, Virginia (Opened: 1946, First Cup race: 1953)
When: Sunday, April 3
TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 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: 70 laps, Second stage: 160 laps, Final stage: 170 laps
September 2021 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – Started third, 80 laps led
April 2021 Race Winner: Alex Bowman – No. 48 Chevrolet – Started 24th, 10 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 – 109.9
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 109.3
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 108.3
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 99.9
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 97.0
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.4
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 94.2
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 92.2
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 88.6
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 88.5
From the Driver’s Seat
“This Gen 7 car has changed how I drive at a lot of the tracks,” said Ross Chastain. “So really, the fastest learner of this car is probably going to win and we have some tried and true things that work at Richmond, but that doesn’t mean that’s going to be the case this year. I think things like managing tire wear, getting good forward drive off of the corner, wrapping the yellow line at the apron, are still going to be important.
“The tire wear that always happens at Richmond,” Chastain added about key items to watch this weekend. “We run pretty soft tires so they’re pretty fast right out of the gate and whatever compound Goodyear brings, will probably fall off quite a bit. Choosing when to pit, setting your car up to turn better, to have more forward drive – ideally you want both but we’re probably not going to get that. That’s what we’ll try and balance during practice.”
Last Time at Richmond
Martin Truex, Jr may have ended the night in Victory Lane the last time the Cup Series visited Richmond, but he had his work cut out for him to be able to get there.
Flagged with a penalty for passing polesitter Denny Hamlin before the start/finish line on the opening lap of the race, Truex dropped to the tail end of the field and would be in catch-up mode for the majority of the race.
While Truex was dealing with his setback, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were on the opposite side of the spectrum, especially Hamlin, who led 197 laps and won the first two stages.
Busch led 39 laps himself, but during the final green flag sequence, he would be hit with his second pit road speeding penalty, dropping him out of contention for the win.
It was during that same pit stop sequence in which Truex, who had clawed his way back from his Lap 1 setback, was able to turn the tables on his teammates, taking over the lead for good when Hamlin found himself mired in lapped traffic.
Leading the final 51 laps of the race, Truex was able to cross the line 1.417 seconds ahead of Hamlin to score the win – his third in the previous five races at the track.
“It’s a big day,” Truex said. “It’s an important day in our history. I think all of us here — yeah, we’re proud to win, and this car is amazing and there’s so many people to thank, but what a day to win on. It reminds you of the honor and the privilege it is to get to come out here and do this.
“All these great fans that come out here, we couldn’t do any of these kind of things without the men and women that take care of us and all the first responders, police officers, firefighters, the military, you name it. NASCAR is very patriotic and we’re very proud, and Johnny Morris is very patriotic; that’s why this thing is red, white and blue. So very proud of everybody to be able to do this today.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern
- Saturday, April 2
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (10:30 am to 11:15 am – FOX Sports 1)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (11:15 am – FOX Sports 1)
- Sunday, April 3
- Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond (3:30 pm – 400 laps/300 miles – FOX)