Richmond Raceway adds short track tempers to Playoff pressure

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - APRIL 03: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Each of the final three races before the Playoffs offers a new level of unpredictability. And that starts for the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series in Richmond, Virginia, on Sunday with Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the 0.75-mile short track.

Kevin Harvick’s clutch win at Michigan means there’s just one Playoff spot left on points. And while that’s bad news for Ryan Blaney, who holds the spot for now, it’s good news for other drivers who might get the surprise win they need at Richmond, or the road course at Watkins Glen or the Daytona wild card.

And at Richmond, that includes two repeat winners on the outside looking in. Brad Keselowski has found victory lane twice, and Martin Truex has three wins at the track. All other past winners, including Kyle Busch, who has a series-best six victories, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, and Kyle Larson have already secured a Playoff berth.

Kyle Busch, the most successful active driver at the track, said Richmond is “a fun place to race.” He added: “Richmond is getting a little trickier, it seems like, just with the asphalt kind of getting older and the way the cars are. You have to be able to get off the corners at Richmond. All of it correlates. Everything you want as a racecar driver, you’ve got to have most all of it.”

Still, he thinks the ‘win-and-you’re-in’ Playoff format is good for drivers who haven’t scored a win, giving them “a sense of urgency” because “they know they need a win to get safely into the Playoffs.”

One of those drivers is Aric Almirola, who might not have earned a Playoff spot yet this year, but who knows what it takes to score a win from the outside, doing so in New Hampshire last year.

“First, you have to bring a fast car and put yourself in position to run up front,” Almirola said. “The rest is just executing and being perfect. This level of racing is so competitive and you have to do everything right. When everything falls into place, you have a chance at winning, but you’re still at the mercy of the guys around you. This NextGen car has made it even more competitive with all of the different winners.”

Despite all the Playoff talk, one champion might actually be crowned at Richmond. Points leader Chase Elliott will clinch the regular season trophy, and the Playoff points that come with it, if he scores 58 points in the race. Since the award’s inception in 2017, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex have all won the championship after winning it.

Richmond is a bigger track for the Truck Series 

The Camping World Truck Series is already in full Playoff swing, and heading into the second round of the Playoffs. Richmond hosts the second race of the first round of ten drivers, with the Worldwide Express 250 for Carrier Appreciation at (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) another chance to lock into a second-round berth.

Grant Enfinger has locked himself into the next round with the victory at the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, and won at Richmond in 2020.

However, Zane Smith still has a point advantage as regular season champion. After finishing runner-up in the championship in both 2020 and 2021, he’s hoping to get lucky on his third Playoff hunt.

More concerned are the ThorSport Racing teammates of Matt Crafton and Christian Eckes, who currently sit below the eight-driver cutline to make the next round. Crafton has a best finish of second at Richmond in 2020, but Eckes has never broken the top ten. Both drivers will be looking for a career race on Saturday.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – APRIL 17: Ben Rhodes, driver of the #99 Bombardier Toyota, leads the field to start the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway on April 17, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Federated Auto Parts 400
The Place: Richmond Raceway
The Date: Sunday, August 14
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,144,995
TV: USA, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 230), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Worldwide Express 250 for Carrier Appreciation
The Place: Richmond Raceway
The Date: Saturday, August 13
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Purse: $744,951
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 187.5 miles (250 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 140), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)

Owen Johnson