Richmond Raceway, Richmond VA — September 12, 2020
Race 2 in Round 1 of the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs is a Saturday Night Short Track Shootout at Richmond Raceway. Drivers will attempt to stake their position in the Top 12 spots that guarantee advancement into Round 2. One driver will advance automatically with a win, unless last week’s winner at Darlington, Kevin Harvick, goes back to back in consecutive weeks. Or a first-time winner this year, not in the playoffs, steals a win.
Dominating the off-track NASCAR news is the continuation of the silly season when driver moves grab headlines. Bubba Wallace has opted out of Richard Petty Motorsports(RPM), he carries a number of sponsors with him and is currently a hot commodity. His name will get throw into every open car seat on the circuit, it’s good to be Bubba right now.
Look for Ty Dillon to fill Bubba’s seat, RPM already has a working relationship with Richard Childress Racing(RCR) and grandpa will push to keep his grandson in the Cup Series. Hey, things are just starting to heat up with free agents Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie, and Kyle Larson looking for seats. Expect that Daniel Suarez will be the next name to pop up on the moving agenda.
Jimmie Johnson is retiring after this season. Let’s clarify that, Jimmie Johnson is retiring from full-time racing on the NASCAR Cup Series. This week he announced a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive part-time on the Indy Car circuit.
Kyle Busch’s Bad Luck Continues
After Darlington, post-race inspectors found two loose lug nuts on Kyle Busch’s car. His crew chief Adam Stevens was suspended for tonight’s race. Today his car failed inspection twice and he will start at the rear of the field. Making his drive to win his first race of the year that much more difficult.
Kevin Harvick sits on the pole for the Federated Auto Parts 400, fellow Ford Mustang driver Joey Logano joins Harvick on the front row. Martin Truex Jr. swept both Richmond races in 2019, he starts 14th tonight. Stage lengths are 80/155/165 laps, the 400 circuits around the .75-mile raceway result in 300 miles of racing. The “choose rule” is in effect for this race.
Kevin Harvick(4) drove into Turn 1 with the lead as Joey Logano(22) battled with Austin Dillon(3) for the 2nd position. Logano prevailed and the field sorted out into a single file line. The leaders here catch the end of the field quickly, Kyle Busch(18) began picking off spots on Lap 1 to move as far away from the rear of the field as possible.
After working over Logano’s bumper with a couple of shots, Dillon moved past into second trying to become the upset specialist in Round 1. Harvick led for the first 20 laps until Dillon passed him with ease, Logano moved into 2nd just prior to the competition caution that came out after 30 laps.
Dillon, Logano, and Harvick held their positions off pit road. Followed by Denny Hamlin(11), Alex Bowman(88), and Brad Keselowski(2). Kyle Busch restarted in 16th position after the caution period.
Hamlin chose the bottom line and restarted right behind Dillon. A good jump on the drop of the green allowed Hamlin to close to Dillon’s bumper. Hamlin passed for the lead and Logano followed to drop the #3 car to 3rd.
The battle for Stage points heated up with 20 laps to go. Dillon got back past Logano and began to reel in Hamlin. Martin Truex Jr.(19), Chase Elliott(9), and Clint Bowyer(14) jousted for 7th to 9th over the closing laps with Bowyer almost getting booted from the top 10.
Hamlin held on for the Stage win with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) crashing the party as the only non-playoff driver to earn Stage points with his 9th place finish.
Stage 1 Results
|1||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||10|
|2||3||Austin Dillon (P)||9|
|3||22||Joey Logano (P)*||8|
|4||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||7|
|5||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||6|
|6||88||Alex Bowman (P)||5|
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||4|
|8||9||Chase Elliott (P)||3|
|9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2|
|10||14||Clint Bowyer (P)*||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Cole Custer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, William Byron, and Matt DiBenedetto, and Ryan Blaney were the Playoff drivers who failed to cash in on bonus points. Austin Dillon was caught speeding on pit road and sent to the back of the lead lap, forcing him to restart in the 29th position.
Logano led off pit road as he grabbed the top spot for the 1st time. Keselowski, Truex, Harvick, and Elliott rounded out the Top 5 as the race settled into Stage 2. Kyle Busch worked his way into the Top 10 and was riding in 7th.
Keselowski moved up to Logano’s bumper and the two teammates fought side-by-side for several laps until Logano was forced high as Keselowski took the top spot.
Green flag pit stops started on Lap 60 of the 155 in Stage 2, with some drivers opting to divide the stage into two stops instead of one. The group included Harvick, who’s team opted for fresh tires to make up time on the leaders despite going a lap down. Dillon had worked his way back into the Top 10 when he pitted on Lap 72. The leaders began to come in at different intervals once the Stage reached a distance where the option remained to finish without another stop is they choose to do so.
Logano pitted on Lap 82, the leader Keselowski pitted a lap later. When pit stops cycled through, Harvick was in the lead. With 54 laps to go in Stage 2, Dillon caught Harvick and with fresher tires regained the lead. Three laps later, Harvick pitted for fresh rubber.
Unfortunately, Harvick did not make it inside the pit road commitment box and had to return to pit road to serve a drive-through penalty. The mistake put Harvick two laps down.
Dillon led for 36 laps until Keselowski drove past as the laps in Stage 2 wound down. Harvick was able to get back to the lead lap with 9 to go in the Stage. Keselowski held on for the Stage win, with Dillon 2nd.
Stage 2 Results
|1||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||10|
|2||3||Austin Dillon (P)||9|
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||8|
|4||22||Joey Logano (P)*||7|
|5||9||Chase Elliott (P)||6|
|6||18||Kyle Busch (P)||5|
|7||1||Kurt Busch (P)||4|
|8||10||Aric Almirola (P)*||3|
|10||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Playoff drivers Matt DiBenedetto(21), Byron, and Blaney are a lap down starting the Final Stage.
The Final Stage
Keselowski, Truex, Logano, Dillon, and Elliott were the Top 5 heading to the restart. Keselowski and Logano jumped out to a three-car length lead at the drop of the green. Kyle Busch moved into the Top 5 as drivers settled into to make laps until the next round of pit stops. There has not been an unscheduled caution yet in the race. The Final Stage at Richmond Raceway has never gone caution-free. Will that factor into the one or two stop pit strategy?
Hamlin was the first to pit with 108 laps to go. Within five laps, all the leaders had come to pit road with the exception of Kurt Busch(1) and Matt Kenseth(42) whose crews opted to make it to the end with just one stop.
Of the leaders who did pit, Logano, Keselowski, and Truex were the Top 3 cars. Logano returned to the lead when Kurt Busch pitted. Keselowski was able to close on his teammate and passed Logano with 84 laps to go. The next set of green-flag pit stops should occur with 55-60 laps to go.
With 75 laps to go, Keselowski led, followed by Logano, Truex, Dillion, and Elliott. Keselowski, clearly with the fastest car, continued to stretch the lead. Dillon was the first to pit with 64 laps to go. He tried to pit a lap earlier but could not get the car slowed to enter properly. Hamlin, Elliott, and Logano pitted with 59 to go and most of the leaders pitted within the next two laps.
Kyle Busch and Harvick stayed out an extra five laps, hoping the fresher tires would pay a dividend at the end of the race. Kurt Busch returned to the top spot but led Dillon and Keselowski by less than a second.
Once both drivers passed Kurt, Keselowski easily drove past Dillon for the lead. With 20 laps to go Keselowski led Truex by 2.5 seconds. Logano, Dillon, and Elliott rounded out the Top 5. With 10 to go, Dillon and Logano traded positions in the fight for 3rd.
Keselowski maintained the advantage and took the win moving him into the next round of the playoffs. Truex, Logano, Dillon, and Elliott finished 2nd through 5th.
Brad Keselowski joins last week’s winner, Kevin Harvick in earning a spot in the 2nd round by virtue of their victories. Denny Hamlin advanced on points thanks to the bonus points he carried into the playoffs with his six wins during the regular season, despite mediocre performances during the first two races of this round.
Austin Dillon improved to 36 points above the cut line and can breathe easy if he stays out of trouble at Bristol. Kyle Busch, brother Kurt, Aric Almirola, and Clint Bowyer have a narrow margin to protect and all four are in danger heading into next week.
William Byron and Cole Custer can drive their way in with solid finishes if one or two of the drivers in front of them have an off night next Saturday. Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney are going to need a win to advance. DiBenedetto has come close at Bristol but has yet to score his first Cup Series victory.
|5||Martin Truex Jr.||2096||+38|
|Round 1 Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Next week, the first elimination race of this year’s playoffs is set for Bristol Motor Speedway. The World’s Fastest Half-Mile is the wild card in this round. Things happen fast at Bristol and avoiding trouble will be a big key for the playoff contenders. Another Saturday Night Short Track Shootout, don’t’ expect that race to be run caution-free. Four drivers will not advance out of the Round of 16.
Results of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway
|1||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||—||400|
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||2.568||400|
|3||22||Joey Logano (P)||4.011||400|
|4||3||Austin Dillon (P)||4.362||400|
|5||9||Chase Elliott (P)||5.150||400|
|6||18||Kyle Busch (P)||7.243||400|
|7||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||13.973||400|
|8||10||Aric Almirola (P)||14.328||400|
|9||88||Alex Bowman (P)||17.551||400|
|10||14||Clint Bowyer (P)||20.565||400|
|12||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||-1||399|
|13||1||Kurt Busch (P)||-1||399|
|17||21||Matt DiBenedetto (P)||-1||399|
|18||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-2||398|
|19||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||-2||398|
|21||24||William Byron (P)||-2||398|
|30||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-4||396|