Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Preview

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 races, with Sunday’s running of the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International 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.

By the Numbers

Opened: 1946 (as a half-mile dirt track); First Cup race: 1953

Track Size: 0.75-mile oval; Banking: 14 degrees in turns, eight degrees on frontstretch, two degrees on backstretch

Race Length: 400 laps, 300 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 100 laps each; Final Stage: 200 laps

April 2016 Race Winner: Carl Edwards – No. 19 Toyota – Started on pole, 151 laps led

September 2016 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – Started on pole, 189 laps led

Track Qualifying Record: Jeff Gordon – No. 24 Chevrolet – 20.674 seconds, 130.599 mph – 9/4/2013

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Richmond:

  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 110.8
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 109.9
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 109.9
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 95.0
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 94.7
  • Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 93.5
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 90.6
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 89.6
  • Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 89.5
  • Kasey Kahne – No. 5 Chevrolet – 87.4

From the Driver’s Seat

“Richmond is one of those tracks where you will get almost a 100 percent consensus from the drivers for track likability,” said Martin Truex, Jr. “It’s not an easy track to maneuver but a fun track to race at. You have to have a short track mentality to race there because there are a number of differences for a track that is only 0.75 mile in length. The straightaways are long and corners one and two are completely different from corners three and four. You have to have the right balance, and after what we accomplished at Bristol I feel good about our chances in the Toyota Owners 400.”

Last Year’s Results

In this race one year ago, Carl Edwards entered Richmond looking for his second win in a row, while his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, was looking for his third win in the last four races. By the time all was said and done, the win would come down to those two drivers.

Taking the lead from Edwards with 35 laps to go, Busch looked to have a clear path to victory on the 0.75-mile oval, but as his tires began to give up over the closing laps, Edwards made up a significant amount of ground as the laps wound down, pulling up just behind Busch on the final lap.

Entering Turn 3, Edwards applied the bumper to Busch’s car, nudging his up the track and paving the way for him to be able to get past him and to the finish line first.

“So going into the white flag Dave (Rogers, crew chief) said something on the radio basically like, ‘Get your butt in gear and go get him,’ said Edwards. “So, I thought, ‘Heck, I’ll drive down there in turn one really far and it looked like Kyle (Busch), his car got real slow that last lap like his tires were just burnt up. He did a really good job keeping me held at bay ‘til then but then we went down the back straightaway and I saw him spin the tires. So, going back down the back straight away I thought, ‘I’m going for the bottom. That’s where I’m going.’ He went down there and just parked it and his car was sliding and I was just so much faster I had to give him a little tap and we got by him. I didn’t think I was going to get him hard enough. I thought it would just be a bump and go but we got the win. We both got wins so it’s just racing hard and having fun. I can’t thank XFINITY enough for being here and being a part of this. It’s really cool.”

While Edwards was ecstatic about the win, Busch had a bit of a different tone once he returned to pit road and emerged from his car.

“It was just racing I guess,” said Busch. “We had a great car. The Banfield Pet Hospital Camry was really good today. We were fast. Maybe not as good as Carl (Edwards) was on the long run but we did everything right. We did everything we were supposed to do and put ourselves in the right position. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) made some awesome adjustments to this car. We lost it there the second to last run and were fading a little bit but the guys gave me an awesome pit stop, got me track position and got us out front and we had a shot to win so that’s all that matters.”

Following Edwards and Busch to the finish was Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Kevin Harvick.

Who to Watch

  • Kyle Busch – Though Kyle Busch has yet to win in 2017, Richmond could provide a prime opportunity to finally end the day in Victory Lane. Busch came within a half of a lap of winning this race one year ago, so he will be looking for redemption when Sunday comes. In 23 starts, Busch has four wins (2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012), 15 top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1018 laps led, and an average finish of 7.0.
  • Denny Hamlin – As the winner the last time the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Richmond, Hamlin will be looking to make it two in a row as well as winning his first win of the season this weekend. The Virginia native has three wins (2009, 2010, and 2016), eight top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, three poles, 1594 laps led, and an average finish of 10.1 in 21 starts.
  • Kevin Harvick – One of several drivers still looking for his first win of the season, Harvick has had past success at Richmond and will have his sights set on winning for the fourth time at the track. Along with his wins in 2006, 2011, and 2013, Harvick has 11 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, one pole, 1050 laps led, and an average finish of 10.5 in 32 starts.
  • Kyle Larson – The series points leader will be looking to continue his hot streak this weekend by scoring his first win at Richmond. In six starts, Larson has one top-five and one top-10 finish, with 15 laps led, for an average finish of 11.3.
  • Clint Bowyer – In the midst of his best season in a handful of years, Bowyer came close to his first win of the year last week at Bristol and will be looking to improve on that at Richmond. With 22 starts at the track, Bowyer has two wins (2008 and 2012), four top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, 348 laps led, and an average finish of 12.8.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, April 28

  • MENCS Practice (11:30 am to 12:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (4:45 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, April 29

  • MENCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:30 am to 12:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, April 30

  • MENCS Toyota Owners 400 (2:00 pm – 400 laps, 300 miles – FOX)

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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.