Richmond Raceway, Richmond, VA — September 11, 2021
Race 1 of the 1st round of the NASCAR Playoffs saw the carnage often associated with Darlington Raceway bite a number of playoff drivers. That theme could continue tonight at Richmond Raceway in the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders. Short-track racing means banging bumpers and denting doors lap after lap.
Tempers ran short last week and the same is likely to happen in this race. Dumping the guy in front of you when he is holding you up is just racin’. The layout of the .75-mile D-shaped race track means tight racing all 400 laps making up 300 miles of fender bending action.
Today is September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shocked our nation and the world. NASCAR is known for its tradition of drivers and crews lining up on pit road to observe the playing of our National Anthem. That tradition started when the series resumed racing after sports were suspended the week after the attacks.
Stages are set for 80/155/165 laps and tires are a valuable asset. Fresh rubber will be a must at each pit stop. The 2021 season marks the fourth time the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff’s second race has been held at Richmond Raceway. Prior to 2018, Richmond Raceway was the regular-season finale for the NASCAR Cup Series from 2004-2017.
Brad Keselowski(2) is the defending champion of the race. Kyle Busch(18) is the winningest active driver at Richmond, having visited victory lane there six times. Kyle Larson(5) was supposed to sit on the pole with Darlington winner Denny Hamlin(11) starting beside him. But, Larson’s car failed inspection twice and he will have to start from the rear of the field. Martin Truex Jr.(19) will move up and take his place.
|NASCAR Cup Series Driver Playoff Outlook Following Race No. 1 of Round 1|
|Rank||Driver||Points||Race Wins||Stage Wins||Playoff Pts||Pts From Cutoff|
|1||Denny Hamlin||2,072||1||6||21||In On Wins|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||2,062||3||5||24||36|
*Ford Mustang Drivers. Playoff Points carry into the next round for drivers that advance.
If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the next round, the following drivers could clinch by being 56 points above the 11th winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, or Aric Almirola.
Kyle Larson: Would clinch with 18 points if Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr. wins, 19 points if Kurt Busch wins, 20 points if Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, or Kevin Harvick wins, 21 points if Brad Keselowski wins, 22 points if Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott or Aric Almirola wins
Michael McDowell likely needs a victory to advance after his 37th place finish at Darlington.
Truex made a huge mistake at the start of the race. Hamlin inherited the pole and as the control car at the start, he must be the first to cross the start/finish line. Truex beat him to the line and was black-flagged by NASCAR for jumping the start. His penalty, Truex had to come to pit road for a drive-thru at 40 mph putting him almost a lap down to the field.
Fortunately, Truex was able to stay ahead of the leader Hamlin until the competition caution flew at Lap 30. Everyone came to pit road for fresh tires. Kurt Busch(1) was first off taking over the race lead, he was followed by Hamlin, then the Ford Mustangs of Joey Logano(22), Kevin Harvick(4), and Ryan Blaney(12).
Kyle Busch’s crew had a tire get loose and roll into an adjacent pit stall. NASCAR penalized the crew for interference with an opponent’s pit stop and Busch had to go to the rear for the restart. Kyle had blamed his crew for an ill-handling race car at Darlington in a profanity-laced interview when he exited the care center after wrecking out of the event. The relationship will likely be strained further if he cannot recover from their mistake in tonight’s race.
At the drop of the green flag, Hamlin quickly passed to regain the lead. Kurt Busch lost a left rear tire on Lap 40 and spun hard into the Turn 1 wall destroying the car. With just a 26 point cushion on the cut line, the accident may prove costly in his bid to advance to the next round.
After starting at the back of the pack to begin the race, Larson drove his way into 4th place at the end of the Stage earning seven bonus points to strengthen his advantage over the rest of the playoff competitors.
Hamlin held on for the Stage 1 win. As he did last week at Darlington, Ross Chastain(42) was the only non-playoff driver to earn Stage points with his 6th place finish.
Stage 1 Results
|1||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||10|
|2||9||Chase Elliott (P)||9|
|3||22||Joey Logano (P)*||8|
|4||5||Kyle Larson (P)||7|
|5||12||Ryan Blaney (P)*||6|
|7||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||4|
|8||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||3|
|9||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||2|
|10||10||Aric Almirola (P)*||1|
*Ford Mustang Driver (P)=Playoff Drivers
Hamlin retained the lead off pit road, he was followed by Chase Elliott(9), Logano, Larson, and Keselowski. Elliott wasted no time in moving to the front and with clean air on the nose of his car he began to build the lead.
Truex, who was penalized at the start of the race, also returned to the Top 10 early in the 2nd Stage. Green flag pit stops began 50 laps into the Stage as tires began to go away and teams opted to divide the 155 laps into three segments. When stops cycled through, Hamlin had regained the lead.
When the leaders caught lapped traffic, Elliott chased down Hamlin and went three-wide to take over the top spot. At the halfway point of the Stage, Kyle Busch had worked his way back into the Top 5 running 3rd. Truex and Logano rounded out the lead pack.
The two drivers swapped the lead again as pit stops began with 54 laps to go in Stage 2. Elliott made a mistake pitting when he backed up thinking he had run past the front line on his pit stall. The car dropped off the jack and tires became stuck under the fender wells damaging the sheet metal. The confusion caused a significant delay in completing the stop, Elliott returned to the track just behind Hamlin, but a lap down to the leader.
Elliott managed to pass Hamlin before pit stops were completed, so when Hamlin gained the lead back Elliott was on the lead lap but almost a lap down to the #11 car. With only 15 cars on the lead lap, Hamlin will be able to return to the lead pack at the end of the Stage.
Hamlin caught Elliott in lapped traffic with 20 laps to go in the Stage and put the #9 car back down a lap. As Hamlin continues to lap slower traffic, Elliott has to stick to his rear bumper to stay the first car a lap down to be eligible for the free pass when the caution flies.
Hamlin lapped Austin Dillon(3) and William Byron(24). However, Elliott managed to pass both of the lapped cars prior to Hamlin taking the green and white checkered flag to hold onto the “luck dog” position and get the free pass back onto the lead lap.
Stage 2 Results
|1||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||10|
|2||18||Kyle Busch (P)||9|
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||8|
|4||5||Kyle Larson (P)||7|
|5||22||Joey Logano (P)*||6|
|6||20||Christopher Bell (P)||5|
|8||10||Aric Almirola (P)*||3|
|9||48||Alex Bowman (P)||2|
|10||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers (P) Playoff Drivers
The Final Stage
At the start of the Final Stage, it was Joe Gibbs Racing at the front of the pack with Hamlin leading, Truex 2nd, Kyle Busch 3rd, and Christopher Bell(20) 4th. Logano ran in the 5th position.
Bubba Wallace(23) drove straight into the Turn 1 wall and the caution waved again on Lap 249. The leaders stayed on the track and resumed their battle on the restart.
Truex passed Hamlin and led for the first time on the evening. Following the same pit schedule from Stage 2, teams should be hitting their pit stalls with about 110 laps to go.
Pit stops shuffled the order of the leaders. Chastain, who pitted first of all the leaders, moved to the front. Kyle Busch, Truex, Hamlin, and Logano made up the rest of the Top 5.
Kyle Busch passed Chastain for the lead and Truex followed. Chase Elliott returned to the Top 5 by moving past Logano for 5th. The final pit stops should occur with 50-55 laps to go.
Making a clean stop on the final visit to pit road is imperative. After all the stops were complete Truex was back out front. Kyle Busch was 2nd. But, Busch was flagged for entering the pit road too fast. The speeding penalty required him to return to the pits for a drive-through at reduced speed. Busch did not lose a lap, his shot at the win is likely gone as he returned to the track in 10th, the last car on the lead lap 20 seconds behind the leader.
With 40 laps to go, Truex led followed by Hamlin, Bell, Elliott, and Logano. Hamlin was closing the interval between himself and the leader, there may not be enough laps remaining for him to make a run at Truex.
With 10 laps to go, the lead was 3.6 seconds first to second. Hamlin cut the interval below two seconds but Treux held on to take the checkered flag and advance to the next round. Two races, two Joe Gibbs drivers into the Round of 12.
Joe Gibbs Racing also finished 1-2-3 with Hamlin in 2nd and Bell in 3rd. Kyle Busch finished 9th, the last car on the lead lap.
Larson’s 6th place finish advanced him to the next round based on points. Logano has a comfortable 40 point advantage on the cut line. The rest of the Top 12 must avoid a major incident at Bristol to prevent slipping out of a position to advance.
Kurt Busch’s early exit was not as costly as it could have been due to bad finishes by Alex Bowman and William Byron. Busch sits tied for the final spot guaranteed to advance, he can move forward with a solid race next Saturday night.
William Byron and Michael McDowell did nothing to help their chances and both are likey to need a win to advance.
|1||Denny Hamlin||2127||Advanced Win|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||2113||Advanced Win|
|3||Kyle Larson||2151||Advanced Points|
|NASCAR Playoff 1st Round Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Driver
Results of the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders from Richmond Raceway
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||—||400|
|2||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||1.417||400|
|3||20||Christopher Bell (P)||12.916||400|
|4||9||Chase Elliott (P)||16.625||400|
|5||22||Joey Logano (P)||18.891||400|
|6||5||Kyle Larson (P)||21.953||400|
|8||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||23.222||400|
|9||18||Kyle Busch (P)||23.850||400|
|10||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||-1||399|
|12||48||Alex Bowman (P)||-1||399|
|13||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||-1||399|
|14||10||Aric Almirola (P)||-1||399|
|15||8||Tyler Reddick (P)||-2||398|
|23||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-3||397|
|28||34||Michael McDowell (P)||-5||395|
|37||1||Kurt Busch (P)||-360||40|
(P) Playoff Drivers