Richmond Raceway, Richmond, VA — April 18, 2021
Back-to-back short track races have the NASCAR Cup Series at Richmond Raceway this Sunday for 400 laps around the .75-mile D-shaped track. Last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr.(19) starts on the pole with teammate Denny Hamlin(11) on the front row beside him. The winner of last year’s fall race, Brad Keselowski(2), takes the green in the 20th starting position. Stages are 80/155/165 laps, a competition caution is scheduled for after lap 30 as no practice or qualifying was conducted.
Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski will be going for his second straight NASCAR Cup Series win at Richmond Raceway after taking last year’s event in dominating fashion. Keselowski led 192-of-400 laps in recording his second career Cup win at the Virginia short track.
Overall, Ford led 297 laps on the night and had five drivers finish in the top 10, including Joey Logano (3rd), Kevin Harvick (7th), Aric Almirola (8th), and Clint Bowyer (10th). In 22 career starts at Richmond, Keselowski has 6 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
In addition to Keselowski, fans will be watching Kevin Harvick(4), Denny Hamlin(11), and Chase Elliott(9). All four combined for 25 wins last year, none of them have visited Victory Lane this year. Truex broke the streak of no repeat winners this year at Martinsville, expect another 2021 non-winner to take the checkered flag at Richmond.
Truex drove off into Turn 1 with the lead, Hamlin spun his tires on the start and Elliott took advantage to grab the 2nd spot. Hamlin returned to his starting position quickly, he and Truex entered the pits 2-1 for the competition caution.
Most teams took four tires and fuel, it was Hamlin beating Truex off pit road to lead for the first time on the afternoon. On the restart, Joey Logano(22) slipped in between the pair and took the 2nd spot behind Hamlin. Truex passed Logano on the final lap of the stage to grab the extra bonus point.
Stage 1 Results
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr.||9|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Hamlin, Truex, Logano, and Ryan Blaney(12) led the pack as the race restarted in Stage 2. Until Truex moved back out front on Lap 104. Other than BJ McLeod(78) leading one lap under caution, the Joe Gibbs drivers have split leading every lap of the race so far.
Green flag pit stops began 56 laps into the Stage. Ryan Newman(6) spun in Turn 4 prior to the completion of the leader’s stops. Six drivers had not entered pit road with Keselowski in the race lead when the yellow came out. Most of the drivers that just pitted took the wave-around under caution, but the front of the pack looked a bit different as they rolled to the restart.
The race restarted with 87 laps to go in Stage 2. Harvick held the lead with Truex 2nd and Hamlin 3rd, followed by Alex Bowman(48), Logano, and Keselowski. It did not take long for Truex to reclaim the lead with Hamlin in 2nd.
The next round of pit stops started under the green flag with 52 laps to go in the Stage. Keselowski and Blaney stayed out opting to take advantage of improved track position. His crew may have miscalculated, Hamlin and Truex passed with 26 laps to go, and Keselowski was struggling on old tires. If he can remain on the lead lap it will minimize the damage. If Keselowski goes 1 or more laps down it will be disastrous to his chances at a repeat Richmond win.
With just 15 cars remaining on the lead lap, Hamlin was fighting to put Daniel Suarez(99) and Elliott a lap down. The battle helped Keselowski keep some distance between himself and the leader. Unfortunately, with just four laps left in the Stage Keselowski went a lap down.
Hamlin repeats as the Stage winner with Truex in 2nd again.
Stage 2 Results
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr.||9|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
At the start of the Final Stage, with 12 cars on the lead lap, Hamlin Logano, Truex, Kyle Busch(18) and Harvick are the Top 5. As has been the case, the top three begin to pull away. Logano peaked inside of Hamlin a couple of times but could not make the pass. He fell into a battle with Truex who tried the same route, only to fail as well.
Based on Keselowski’s experience in cutting a pit stop out of the previous Stage, all teams are expected to employ the three-stop strategy to keep fresh Goodyears under their race cars. Meaning, stops will likely occur at about 100 laps to go and again with 50 laps left. Cautions could throw a wrench into those plans.
Those green flag pit stops began with 108 laps to go in the race. Martin Truex Jr. was caught entering pit road too fast. The penalty a drive down pit road at 40 mph, sending him to the rear of the lead lap and in danger of going a lap down.
After stops cycled through, the Top 5 were Hamlin, Logano, Kyle Busch, Harvick, and Christopher Bell(20). It’s unlikely Truex will be able to rebound and steal the win from Hamlin as he did at Martinsville.
Keselowski has set in the “free pass” position since the restart. However, cautions are generally hard to come by during racing at Richmond.
With 70 laps to go, Logano again began to challenge for the lead as Hamlin was putting Elliott a lap down. Eventually, Logano made the pass.
The Final Pit Stops
The leader’s pit stops began on Lap 341. Barring a late caution, it will be the final stop of the day. Kyle Busch did not get fully committed to pit road on his stop and had the serve the same penalty as Truex. Dropping him from the lead lap.
With 50 laps to go Logano continued to lead, Hamlin, Bell, Bowman, and William Byron(24) rounded out the Top 5 group. Hamlin was staying close to Logano, while Bell was running 12 seconds behind. Almost a half-lap in arrears to the two drivers battling for the win.
Working lapped traffic, Hamlin began to pull up next to Logano. The final 30 laps should be exciting.
Hamlin laid a couple of bumper taps on Logano, not enough to spin the #22 car. Logano opened a slight lead when he put 8th place Matt Dibenedetto a lap down. With 20 to go, Harvick blew a right rear tire and hit the wall bringing out a late caution. Everyone hit pit road for fresh tires.
Hamlin took the lead exiting the pits, Logano followed. With Bowman, Bell, and Aric Almirola, having his best run of the year in 5th. Kyle Busch got the free pass and returned to the lead lap as 25 drivers opted to take the wave around, not all returned to the lead lap which held 14 cars for the restart.
The green flag flew with 12 laps to go, Hamlin drove off with the lead as Bowman passed Logano and dove to the inside of the #11 car. With 10 to go, Bowman was the new leader and Hamlin was again looking like the bridesmaid in 2nd.
Bowman had to negotiate lapped traffic on the final two times around, but Hamlin could not get to his bumper, and he loses late again after leading the most laps. The driver of the #48 car became the 8th different winner of a Cup race this year as Bowman put the car number made famous by Jimmie Johnson in victory lane for the first time in 4 years.
Denny Hamlin is walking away with the points lead, which is good as long as there are not 15 winners this year other than the #11 car. Some notable drivers are mired below the cut line, it’s still early and there is time to make a run. But, with Talladega next on the schedule another surprise winner is a good possibility.
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||353||In-Win (2)|
|15||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||222||+18|
|Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Richmond Raceway 400 Lap Spring Race
|5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||2.575||400|
|17||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||399|