The Playoffs Will Continue At The Federated Auto Parts 400

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 28: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Valvoline Instant Oil Change Chevrolet, enters his car to start the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With the 2021 NASCAR season moving into the playoff phase, it is fair to say that the drama is soon to heat up and with 16 men advancing through to the next stage of this year’s championship, only one will eventually be crowned the overall winner.

For that to happen, a number of playoff hurdles will have to be cleared beforehand and when the checkered flag is waved at the aptly named Season Finale 500 in November, we will know just who this year’s NASCAR champion will be.

With 10 races making up the schedule from September onwards, the first opportunity to glance at the betting odds will be during the Cook Out Southern 500 in South Carolina and whoever wins that race, should offer an insight into just who the form drivers will be.

Of course, for those who are wanting to already take a glance at the form guide, the regular season standings will offer something in the way of an indication and when it comes to Kyle Larson, he will look to extend his own high level of performance in 2021.

That’s because Larson was crowned as regular season champion for the first time in his NASCAR career and although that accolade is both well deserved and welcomed in equal measures, it alone will mean little in the grand scheme of things.

Then again, the 29-year-old cannot call on immediate good form, as he only managed a 20th place finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and although his playoff berth was already well secured, this would have undoubtedly been a race to forget.

When it comes to who is the hottest driver right now, the argument starts and ends with Ryan Blaney and with wins at the last two regular season races (FireKeepers Casino 400 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400), there is a sense that he is the man to beat.

While if he is not the man to beat, he is certainly the man that everyone is keeping an eye on as of late and when it comes to success in the playoff, a large part of it boils down to the capturing of momentum.

Momentum is certainly what Blaney has in his possession at present and if it can continue, he will certainly be one of the favorites to make the round of 12 – which subsequently begins at the South Point 400 in Nevada at the end of September.

However, there are still three races that need to be contested before that stage in proceedings and one of those is the Federated Auto Parts 400, which will take place at the legendary Richmond Raceway.

The track in Richmond, Virginia has been staging this race since 1958 and the first person to claim honors at this venue was the man who may possess the best ever name within American auto racing.

The man in question was Speedy Thompson and he took his Chevrolet to the flag after 200 arduous laps of fender bending. That format was kept in place for the four years of racing here and Thompson won again just two years later.

While after a number of early format changes, 1976 was the first year in which 400 laps were scheduled each year and last time out, it was Brad Keselowski who took his No.2 Ford to the checkered flag before anyone else.

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 02: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Verizon 5G Ford, sits in his car prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 02, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In terms of his own overall championship hopes, Keselowski may have some work to do and after only finishing 10th in the regular season standings, a good performance at Richmond this month will be necessary.

That’s because he finds himself in the bracket of drivers who are in danger from being eliminated at the first playoff hurdle and although there are four men with lesser points tallies at present, that can very quickly change.

A change that the quartet of Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, and Kevin Harvick will be hoping soon and in terms of the latter, it has been something of a disaster in 2021 compared to the year before.

Harvick was last year’s regular season champion and had the standard points scoring format be in operation for each of the NASCAR races within 2020, it would be he who would eventually be crowned champion and with a handful of events to spare.

However, the powers that be, have long since left the world of standard points scoring behind and when it comes to entertainment, the race to the playoff final is certainly one that puts plenty of eyes on the prize.

A prize that Harvick himself is unlikely to win and although 2021 will not be his year, there are plenty of other drivers who will feel that this is theirs and success at the Federated Auto Parts 400 will undoubtedly help championship their cause along the way.

Greg Engle