Race: Toyota Owners 400
Date: Saturday April 21, 2018
Track: Richmond International Raceway
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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As predicted, Kyle Busch does it again! This guy’s on fire! Busch managed to take the checkered flag after a postponed race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday. The race was started and moved along, but not without a multitude of cautions along the way, some with some pretty devastating endings for teams. Nonetheless, Kyle Busch prevailed and showed what short track racing is all about with his late race bump and run move on Kyle Larson. With just 5 laps to go, Busch executed the move perfectly, easily pulling away from Larson to win his 7th race here at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In his own right, Kyle Larson dominated a huge portion of the race, with 200 laps led. The problem for Larson came with the late race caution. His car seemed to do very well on the long runs, but the short runs gave him trouble in pulling away from the field quickly. That being said, virtually no one can hold back Kyle Busch when he comes charging. He’s very good at blocking but also very skilled at getting around the block, evidenced by his move around Larson. That shows experience with a move like that. It can be challenging for some of the younger drivers to execute those moves and blocks perfectly, but the short tracks will always show that the veterans generally prevail. Larson shouldn’t be too disappointed with a 2nd place finish to Kyle Busch, but that’s easier said than done. Jimmie Johnson managed a third place run with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman rounding out the top five spots.
This weekend, we are headed to yet another short track. Richmond International Raceway is another track that really keeps the drivers on their toes and the fans at the edge of their seats. Although not quite as small as Bristol and Martinsville, Richmond still provides a small track feel but with some big track mentality. The drivers are able to pull away from the field here a little bit easier and gain some more speed through the track. There’s also an element to this track that creates some serious tire issues for one reason or another. This track is a 0.75-mile D-shaped asphalt oval with 14 degree banking in the turns, 8 degrees on the frontstretch, and 2 degrees on the backstretch. While it doesn’t boast the same degree of banking as Bristol, it provides more than the flat straights and turns of Martinsville, ultimately giving the drivers a few more options to spread out. With the banking, though, comes tire wear. We do tend to see tire issues at Richmond as we frequently have longer stretches of green flag racing. It will be interesting to see the setups this weekend and see how the teams perform after the unexpected weather and overall conditions of racing at Bristol.
Heading into Richmond, we can’t not mention Kyle Busch. He’s got something going on that the other drivers just don’t, but I’m thinking he’ll have more competition this weekend. Namely, that competition will come in the form of Denny Hamlin. Being that this track is much different than the previous two short tracks we’ve been to this year, Busch may falter somewhere. I’m not sure where, but it’s possible. The hard part about going against him is that he leads all active drivers with wins here. Hamlin is only one behind, with three wins at this track. I just have a feeling that someone else wants it more this weekend. The other drivers need to start punching their tickets to the playoffs, and this is one of Hamlin’s greatest opportunities at a win. His stats don’t lie, and as long as he can manage to get his pit road game together, Hamlin should be looking to the checkers on Sunday. Here’s a look at your potential winners heading back to Virginia:
My Pick to Win: Denny Hamlin
Middle of the Road Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Prediction: Ryan Newman
Clint Bowyer is doing substantially better this year and seems to be in competitive form. Short tracks are kind of his thing, and he actually has 2 wins here. This is a good place for him to come out with another win. He’s already won Martinsville, so don’t be surprised to see him up front and competing for the front row. Ryan Newman is also another driver that is having a better season than last so far. He’s had success here, albeit, a long time ago. That being said, he finished in the top 10 at both Richmond races last year. He’s got this track figured out pretty well, so let’s see if his team can give him a car competitive enough to drive towards the front. He is hanging on to the top 16, so he’s definitely one of those drivers that could use a punch to get to the championships. This is one of Newman’s best shots.
Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Joey Logano
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Clint Bowyer
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Ryan Blaney
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Denny Hamlin
9. Kyle Larson
10. Kurt Busch
11. Aric Almirola
12. Erik Jones
13. Alex Bowman
14. Austin Dillon
15. Ryan Newman
16. Paul Menard
Overall, the points are an interesting hodgepodge of drivers if you ask me. We have a nice mix of veterans and also some young guns. Throw in there the drivers who have been around but have never had a great run, and we’ve got ourselves a competition! Richmond is a good race. It’s not one of those short tracks that can take everyone out. It’s probably what you’d consider the great equalizer of short track racing. Stay tuned this weekend as we enjoy a Saturday night under the lights at Richmond International Raceway!
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