Richmond Weekend Preview: New winner would shake up playoff picture

Jamie McMurray. (Getty Images)

The last three drivers on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff grid are separated by a mere three points.

If there’s no new winner from off the playoff grid in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), those three drivers – Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray – would all make the postseason. But, if there’s a new winner from off the playoff grid, one of the three would be eliminated.

Going into the race, Elliott leads Kenseth by two points and holds a three-point advantage over McMurray.

“We need to continue to run like we have ran these past couple of weeks and have solid weekends altogether,” said Elliott, who has a high finish of 12th in four Richmond starts. “I feel like our qualifying efforts have really improved here lately, which is what we need and I think what is going to be even more important as time goes on, so we need to continue to do that. Getting in is one thing, but doing something when you get in, if you get in, is another thing and you want to be able to do something if you can get in.”

In 35 starts at Richmond, Kenseth claims two wins, six top fives, 16 tops 10s and a 16.1 average finish. He won the September race there in 2015 and won the Coors Light Pole at the .75-mile track in April.

“Because this is the last race before the playoffs start, this will be a big weekend for a lot of teams, since there are several still trying to lock themselves in to the playoffs,” said Jason Ratcliffe, Kenseth’s crew chief. “It’s always an exciting race, and thankfully, it’s a track that we typically run well at and I feel like it’s a place where we can win. Knowing that we need a win to get in or that we’re going to be fighting our way into the playoffs on points, I’m excited that we’re going to a race track that we’ve performed well at.”

McMurray has produced three top fives, eight top 10s and a 19.2 average finish in 29 Richmond starts. In his last eight starts at the Northern Virginia track, he’s logged three fourth-place showings and five top-seven performances.

“We have been really good at Richmond the last few times there,” McMurray said. “So I’m looking forward to having a good race for our team and securing a spot in the playoffs.”

Byron tries to close out the regular season strong

Only two races remain until the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 22: William Byron (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

For some drivers, the final two contests are chances to make the postseason. For William Byron, the last two regular season races are opportunities to pad his series-leading playoff point total of 17. The next-closest driver – Justin Allgaier – owns eight playoff points.

Byron’s next shot to add to his playoff point collection is Friday’s Virginia529 College Savings 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). In his lone start at the Virginia short track in April, Byron placed 30th after crashing out of the race.

“Richmond is always an exciting race and I am ready to get back to the track on Friday,” said Byron, who boasts a series-leading three victories. “We are racing under the lights, which is always a fun event for the fans. Our team has been working hard on this new composite body car and I think we will get a good feel for the car on Friday morning in practice. Hopefully we can grab another win before the regular season ends next week.”

Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Federated Auto Parts 400

Place: Richmond Raceway

Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 100), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 200), Final Stage (Ends on lap 400)

What to Watch For: Richmond marks the final race for drivers to qualify for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. … Joey Logano will try to sweep the Richmond races and earn a playoff spot. His April win at the Northern Virginia track was encumbered, so it doesn’t gain him a postseason berth. … Clint Bowyer – a two-time Richmond victor – will try to win his way in to the playoffs. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Erik Jones goes for his fourth consecutive top-five finish and a playoff berth. … Martin Truex Jr. will be formally crowned the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season champion following the race. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. tries for his third career Richmond win and the subsequent playoff spot that would come with it.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: Virginia529 College Savings 250

Place: Richmond Raceway

Date and Time: Friday, Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 187.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 75), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

What to Watch For: Brendan Gaughan attempts to increase is 20-point lead over Dakoda Armstrong for the final NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff spot. … Virginia native Elliott Sadler can clinch the regular-season championship at his home track if he has a 61-point lead over second-place at the end of the race. He is currently 91 points ahead of second-place William Byron. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. will run both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series races this weekend.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.