Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Following a marathon Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas last weekend, 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.

Though the track has lost some of its luster in recent years, drivers and teams are hoping the introduction of the new short track/road course aero package will help to spice things up again. The package, which features a shorter rear spoiler and other underbody aero changes, has already been used at Phoenix and COTA, but this will be the shortest track yet that it has been implemented at.

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, five different drivers have won a race, but several big-name drivers have found themselves on the outside looking in.

Who will be the next driver to make a trip to Victory Lane? 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 2

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 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

August 2022 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – Started 13th, 55 laps led

April 2022 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – Started 13th, five 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:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 109.6
  2. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 109.2
  3. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 109.0
  4. Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 99.0
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 98.8
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 95.2
  7. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 95.2
  8. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.9
  9. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.3
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 81.1

From the Driver’s Seat

“I definitely think we’re going to have a lot to deal with behind the wheel,” said Ryan Blaney. “This aero package at COTA and Phoenix, we kind of got a decent idea about it and I thought it was better at COTA than last year. I thought the trailing guy could be closer. It’s kind of hard on a road course, but you can still feel it. 

“At Phoenix, I didn’t think it was too much of a change, honestly. In traffic, I thought you had your hands full a little bit more by yourself with just the lack of rear downforce, but the traffic side it kind of let me down a little bit. I thought it was going to be a little bit better. 

“I think it will be better at Richmond than Phoenix because Phoenix is pretty fast and Richmond you’re going a lot slower, tires wear out a lot more, so hopefully that helps it out. Richmond struggled a little bit last year, I thought, so I’m optimistic on going forward to Richmond and then Martinsville, I think, it’s going to be even better yet. 

“Drivers are going to have their hands full by themselves trying to keep tires on it with the lack of rear grip, and I’m hopeful that the traffic side is better. I think it’s going to be.”

Last Time at Richmond

Heading into August, Kevin Harvick was staring down the barrel of a 60 plus race winless streak, but got back into his winning ways at Michigan. As the Cup Series rolled into Richmond, the 2014 series champion parlayed that momentum into back-to-back wins for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team.

Though he ended the day in Victory Lane for a second straight week, it wasn’t a Sunday stroll for Harvick, who first used pit strategy to his advantage to jump into the lead with 48 laps to go and then hold off a hard-charging Chris Buescher down the stretch.

Buescher chewed up the track position between him and Harvick as the laps clicked down, eventually finding himself on Harvick’s rear bumper. However, the RFK Racing driver wasn’t able to complete the pass before the two started having to deal with lapped traffic.

Harvick more efficiently snaked his way through the lapped cars, increasing his advantage over Buescher, who was unsuccessfully fending off a challenge from Christopher Bell.

By the time the checkered flag flew, Harvick had pulled out to a lead of nearly half a second ahead of Bell, with Buescher having to settle for third.

“It’s like I said last week, the cars have been running good week in and week out, and you see that we have a lot better understanding of what’s going on with how we adjusted on the car after the first run and were able to get our car handling a lot better,” Harvick said.

“I think as it got dark, the racetrack really came to our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. Just got to thank Mobil, Busch Light, GearWrench, Hunt Brothers, Rheem, Ford, Xfinity, Morton Buildings, E-Z-Go, everybody who helps Stewart Haas on this 4 car.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Saturday, April 1
    • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (10:05 am – FOX Sports 1)
    • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (10:50 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • Sunday, April 2
    • Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond (3:30 pm – 400 laps/300 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.