Monster Energy Cup Series News (16679)
Saturday night’s victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway was a first for Martin Truex Jr.—and more of the same for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Truex won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on a short track in his 81st try and in the process picked up his first victory with joe Gibbs Racing since moving from now-defunct Furniture Row Racing between seasons.
At the same time, Truex gave JGR its third straight victory in NASCAR’s top series and sixth in nine races this season. Joey Logano finished .178 seconds behind the race winner, as Gibbs and Team Penske maintained their stranglehold on the premier division. Penske drivers Logano and Brad Keselowski triumphed in the three races JGR hasn’t won.
“It means a lot to break through, especially here at Richmond,” said Truex, who won for the first time this season and the 20th time in his career. “I’ve always really enjoyed this track. I’ve always loved coming here. The short track win–everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen.
"I was struggling the last 40 laps. I had no front tire and got real tight that last run. I just had to hold them off. Thanks to the pit crew—they had a great night. I'm just really happy to get our first win with Gibbs. First short-track win is pretty awesome, too.
“Tonight, we didn't have the best car, but we've lost here with the best car a bunch of times. We just fought and battled. Being out front was just the key.”
Logano got past third-place finisher Clint Bowyer in the closing laps and got a strong run off Turn 2 on the final circuit, but Logano couldn’t find a way around Truex through the last two corners. To his credit, the reigning series champion kept it clean, opting not to move Truex as he had done on the final lap in last year’s Playoff race at Martinsville.
“I figured something out there toward the end with about 10 laps to go to make ups some speed,” Logano said. “I got a decent run off of (Turn) 2 the last lap… I though I could maybe get to the outside and then roll momentum—I don’t know.
“I couldn’t roll the bottom and get enough drive off of (Turn) 4 either way. My only move was to go up. I slid up and I got tight and couldn’t turn underneath him. Fun race, but, gosh, two weeks in a row I felt like we had a car that could win the race, and we haven’t won.
“That’s a little frustrating, but when you’re frustrated with second, that’s a good sign about where your team’s at.”
Two seconds behind Truex with 40 laps left, Bowyer quickly closed the deficit and made a move to the inside of Truex’s No. 19 Toyota with 17 laps to go, but Truex protected the outside and kept enough momentum to keep Bowyer behind him.
With fewer than 10 laps left, Bowyer brushed the wall and surrendered the second position when Logano got to his outside off Turn 4.
“It’s frustrating,” said Bowyer, who scored his fourth straight top-10 result. You get out there, and I ran him (Truex) down. I was faster on a long run than him, but by the time you get to him, your stuff is pretty wore out. And with this aero package, you are so aero dependent behind those cars that you get terrible tight.
“When I got behind him, I knew that wasn’t the place to be, so I changed that. I lost. It sucks. Then the 22 (Logano) got to my outside. I knew better than to let him out there, but I felt like when I was running high that I was probably losing ground to him. In hopes of still trying to win the race, I needed to stay on the bottom and hope that he slipped up in traffic or something. Next thing you know I lost my nose down there, and the 22 got to the outside.”
Pole winner Kevin Harvick ran fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard completed the top 10. Busch posted his ninth straight top 10 to start the season.
Busch led 101 laps—second only to Truex’s 186—but a speeding penalty under caution on Lap 131 after Kyle Larson’s hard crash into the Turn 1 wall knocked Busch back to 26th, and he was unable to work his way back to the front.
Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Maytag team backed up their sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway a week ago by scoring a 10th-place finish on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, which in recent seasons hasn’t been one of their best tracks.
Menard’s finish, coupled with three Stage points earned by finishing in the top 10 of both 100-lap Stages, moved him up three spots in the championship standings to 16th place. That puts him, for now, in the elite 16 that will compete for the championship in the 10-race, season-ending Playoffs.
Menard and the Menards/Maytag team started their Richmond weekend by qualifying a strong 13th, then moved up to ninth place for the start after four drivers ahead of them failed a pre-race inspection.
From that point on, Menard was rarely outside the top 10.
He finished ninth in the first Stage, earning two points. In Stage Two, he held off Jimmie Johnson and William Byron to finish 10th, earning another Stage point. It was the fifth time in the past six Stages – over the course of three races -that Menard has earned Stage points.
In the final 200-lap run to the checkered flag, Menard dropped to 12th at one point but passed Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch in the closing laps to score his first top 10 at Richmond since 2013. It was the first top 10 at Richmond for the Wood Brothers since Ken Schrader in 2006, but that span includes several years in which the team was running a partial schedule and did not compete at Richmond.
In his post-race comments, Menard had words of praise for his pit crew’s quick work.
“The guys really stepped up their game on pit road and we gained some spots or we maintained and that is what you need when you start running up front,” he said. “It was a really solid day for us.”
Eddie Wood said he was especially proud of the Menard/Maytag team and echoed Menard’s assessment of the pit crew’s work.
“It was a solid, solid race,” Wood said. “The pit crew had a great night and gained spots on nearly every stop. Greg Erwin called a great race and Paul did some great driving.
“The car was good all night. They didn’t have to adjust it on pit stops, just put four tires on it and go.”
Menard and the No. 21 team will be idle next weekend for Easter then be back on the track in two weeks at Talladega Superspeedway.
You would have thought Kurt Busch would have been elated at his third-place qualifying effort for Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
After all, in the previous two races—at Texas and Bristol—Busch had failed to advance past the first round under the knockout format and started those races 30th and 27th, respectively.
And in the first round of time trials on Friday, the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet posted the fastest lap of the day at 125.815 mph before securing the third spot in the final round.
But was Busch overjoyed at his performance? Not outwardly, at least.
“I thought it was three good runs,” Busch said matter-of-factly. “The car had a good bit of rear grip to it, which has been our struggle, so I’m really happy that (Friday’s) practice run and the qualifying runs showed us that the car’s got the grip level. Now we just need to make sure the balance stays with it.
“We’re just trying to be more consistent and not have any weak areas. And I think the changes they made, we’re trying to adjust to the weaker areas. So that should help us.”
Busch may not know what to do with a start at the front of the field. His average qualifying position this year is 20.1, but he has picked up on average 11.5 spots during the races, heading into Richmond. Busch’s average finish of 8.6 is significantly better than his career average of 16.3.
GOODYEAR UNVEILS CHARLOTTE SIDEWALL HONORING FALLEN HEROES
On Saturday afternoon outside the Richmond Raceway media center, Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of worldwide racing, unveiled a special sidewall all Goodyear tires will display for the Charlotte races on Memorial Day weekend.
This is the 10th year Goodyear will replace its familiar “Eagle” branding with an inscription honoring the United States military and fallen heroes. This year’s tires will display the lettering “Honor and Remember,” a national Virginia-based organization whose mission is to “perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America’s military fallen service members and their families.”
“Goodyear and the military have always had a strong association,” Grant said. “We supply ground tires for a lot of military vehicles. We supply aircraft tires to a lot of military aircraft around the world. We’ve got programs to supply this kind of consumer tires to military bases around the world, and we’ve got a corporate initiative to hire veterans.
“Supporting the military is one thing, but what we want to do is also to support the fallen. That’s why we’re partnering up with Honor and Remember. They’re a terrific organization. They recognize the fallen, but in addition, they recognize the families of the fallen with a positive message.”
Honorary pace car driver Ronde Barber, a Pro Bowl defensive back with the Tampa Bay Bucs, said Friday at Richmond Raceway his identical twin brother and Giants running back could beat him in a foot race. “Back in the day, Tiki was always a little bit faster than me,” Ronde said. “He’s turned into a marathoner. He’s like Jimmie (Johnson). He runs the New York Marathon. I think he’s going to Paris to run a marathon. So I don’t think that I can outrun him. However, he drives around New York with a bunch of big SUV’s or whatever. I have the sports cars at my house. So I think I’m the better driver.”…
Eight cars, including those of second-place qualifier Erik Jones and three-time Richmond winner Denny Hamlin, failed post-qualifying inspection on Saturday and had their times disallowed. Joining Jones and Hamlin at the rear of the field were Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Gase, Chase Elliott and Matt Tifft. The cars of Elliott, Hamlin and Tifft all failed twice, and their teams suffered the additional penalty of the ejection of a crew member from the track. With the demotion of Jones, Kurt Busch earned the outside-front-row starting position next to pole winner Kevin Harvick.
Inspections for tonight at Richmond Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400 has seen a slew of cars failing and being sent to the rear.
Four of the cars come from inside the top-10. Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson starting 7th, 2nd, 9th and 10th respectively.
Outside of the top-10 tonight things were no better with Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Matt Tifft and Joey Gase all failing inspection.
Kevin Harvick who won the pole for tonight’s Toyota Owners 400 has passed and will retain his spot for the green flag.
Tonight’s Toyota Owners 400 is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. ET for 400 laps(300 miles) with stage breaks at lap 100, 200 and 400.
Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Maytag team found some of the Richmond speed they’d been seeking and came away with the 13th starting spot for Saturday night’s 400-lapper on the ¾-mile Richmond Raceway.
Menard started Friday at Richmond by posting the 19th fastest lap in practice with a best lap at 120.246 miles per hour.
In qualifying, he turned a lap at 124.081 mph on his fourth lap in the opening round. That was 20th fastest, but more importantly earned him a berth in the second round.
In Round Two, he toured the track at 123.581 mph, which was 13th best and just .007 seconds per lap shy of advancing to the final round of 12 drivers.
Friday’s qualifying session was the first since NASCAR officials reduced the time per round to five minutes, and Menard said he liked the change.
“The way the sport used to be you would do one lap and you either made it or you didn’t. You screwed up the one lap or you didn’t.” he said. “The five-minute rounds, it is nice having it like that again and having that one opportunity to go out.
“You have to make sure you hit all your marks. There are no redo’s. I thought it was cool.”
The team’s performance on Friday represented a significant pick-up from previous Richmond sessions.
It continued a strong start to the season, as Menard now has qualified 14th or better in six of the nine qualifying sessions to date.
“It was a really positive start to the weekend,” Eddie Wood said of the No. 21 team’s work on Friday. “Paul was really happy with the car in race trim, and it was good in qualifying.
“He barely missed making the final round.”
Saturday night’s race is set to start at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on FOX.
When Denny Hamlin rolls into Richmond Raceway it brings an air of familiarity, giving him a depth of knowledge about the Virginia track unlike any other on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
That knowledge stems not just from Hamlin having visited the track twice a season for the past 13 seasons, but because the veteran driver and native of nearby Chesterfield, Va., -- approximately 30 minutes south of RIR -- attended many races here growing up. Sitting in the grandstands he envisioned one competing on the track himself, something he’s now done 40 combined times across NASCAR’s three national series.
Hamlin will make his 41st start on what he considers his home track Saturday night in the Toyota Owners 400 (at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). As he is every time he turns a lap at Richmond before a partisan crowd filled with a multitude of family and friends, Hamlin isn’t lacking motivation to do well.
“It’s great,” Hamlin said Friday. “I’ll always love coming to this race track. It is home. It’s one that I’ve been to many, many times even when I wasn’t racing. It’s certainly the home track for me.”
Perhaps in part because of his intricate knowledge that comes with Richmond being his home track, Hamlin’s boasts a stellar record on the three-quarter-mile oval. Rarely is it that the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is not either leading or up near the front. Hamlin’s 1,659 laps led in 25 Cup starts are the most among active drivers, while only Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch has more wins (six to three).
But that past success also brings the expectation that Hamlin should be among those vying for the win Saturday night, if not outright being the driver to beat. Yet, it is an expectation that he embraces.
“It’s just exciting because I know that I very well could have a great weekend ahead of us and really focus a lot of my efforts on how can we go out there and dominate the race, not just win but dominate,” Hamlin said. “That’s been the primary focus for the last five days and hopefully we put it all together for tomorrow night.
“When I come home, it’s a special feeling for sure.”
Hamlin’s last victory at Richmond occurred in 2016, and in the subsequent four races he’s posted two third-place finishes and a fifth. Busch has won the won the past two races here and can become the first driver since Bobby Allison in the early 1980s to win three straight races at Richmond.
“I certainly feel like I know what I need out of the car to be successful here,” Hamlin said. “Just searching for that feel is really what you do every time you come here. Especially the races that we’ve dominated here, there’s that’s a special type of feel that you have to have in the race car.”
And as if he needs another reason to feel good at his home track, Hamlin comes into the weekend enjoying the best start to his career, having scored two wins -- one of which was the Daytona 500 -- and seven top-10 finishes in eight races this season, and is only 27 points behind Busch in the standings.
“Our cars have been running really good,” Hamlin said. “We’ve been finishing really well and running really well every single week.”
Where the short tracks are concerned, Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team appeared to have turned a corner.
And on Friday afternoon at Richmond Raceway, Harvick got through the corners better than everyone else in winning the pole position for Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the .75-mile track (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The Busch Pole Award was Harvick’s third at Richmond, his second of the season and the 27th of his career, setting up a showdown with the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske cars that have monopolized Victory Lane in the first eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events of the season.
Harvick posted a lap at 124.298 mph (21.722 seconds) to edge Erik Jones (124.081 mph) for the top starting spot by .038 seconds. The front-row start will be Jones’ first of the season.
Kurt Busch qualified third at 123.870 mph, a dramatic improvement over his 2019 average starting position of 20.1. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch completed the top five.
“The cars definitely had a little fall-off,” Harvick said. “I was just really just managing the fall-off and just trying to be consistent with the laps, but stickers (new tires) were definitely faster in the first round than they were in the second and third round.”
Harvick was sixth in the first round, second to Kyle Busch in the second round and first with the pole at stake. Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson earned positions six through 10 on the grid, respectively.
For the first time, NASCAR limited each round to five minutes, with seven minutes between, condensing the entire qualifying session to 29 minutes. For Jones, who had a pit stall near the exit from pit road, the time limits weren’t an issue.
“Short tracks, I think it’s fine,” Jones said. “It’s a little hectic in the first round and even in the second round, but it’s easy for me to say. We had a great pit stall being first out. I could just roll out, and here it doesn’t benefit you to wait so you just roll out and get your lap in.”
Harvick was fast last week at Bristol, only to have his prospects crushed by a pre-race penalty for multiple inspection failures and an early loose wheel that forced an unplanned pit stop. But at Richmond on Saturday, he’ll be leading the field to green.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of unknowns, including a new Goodyear tire combination.
“As you look at this place, this is really one of those places where you kind of have to go off of what happened last time,” Harvick said. “New tire, so you don't really know exactly what the cars are going to do deep into runs as far as how bad they will push, will the get looser.
“What conditions will you be fighting? We wind up guessing a number of times when they change the tires like this, because you don't know what to anticipate.”
The hurt still lingers for Chris Buescher.
Headed for a possible top-five finish last Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Buescher had to make a late pit stop to fix a loose wheel and saw a potential breakthrough performance deteriorate into a 22nd-place finish.
“We didn’t qualify very good (25th), and that caught us a little off guard, because we usually qualify better,” Buescher said. “But as soon as the race got going, we started moving forward. We got in the top 10 pretty quickly—and right near the top five and held on. There’s no doubt in my mind that was a top-five day.
“That’s very encouraging for the team and for us. We expect it, but at the same time, when you actually get it, for us trying to fight for 15th every week… The whole race—we were there. It’s a boost. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t finish it out. It hurts. That one hurts.”
Buescher likewise showed speed in opening practice at Richmond Raceway, which has not been one of his better tracks. In race trim for the entire session, he was third on the speed chart behind Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin.
“I’m very pleasantly surprised with how practice went,” Buescher said. “I shouldn’t say I’m shocked. We ran a lot better at Phoenix (in March) than we have in the past. This one (Richmond) has kind of compared to that race track for me throughout the years, and all of our group was really excited coming into this. They worked really hard to find something different.
“We showed up with something different, and it had good speed. We’re trying to make it hold on a little longer (throughout a tire run). That’s always something you’re looking for here at Richmond.”
Buescher’s No. 37 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet also was third fastest in 10-consecutive lap average behind Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Busch swept both Richmond races last year.
ELLIOTT SADLER ENJOYING LIFESTYLE CHANGE AFTER FULL-TIME RACING
Until he got behind the wheel of the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet on Friday morning, Elliott Sadler hadn’t sat in a race car since his exit from JR Motorsports at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.
But that doesn’t mean Sadler hasn’t been enjoying the radical change to his life retirement from full-time racing has brought. And even though he’s returning for two races this season—at his home track of Richmond and at Las Vegas—Sadler has no regrets about his decision to step away from the weekly routine.
““I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my life,” Sadler said on Friday at Richmond Raceway. “I definitely made the right decision stepping away full-time. I was worried when Daytona came. I really was. Wondering how I was going to feel – how I was going to take it. But it was right on my son’s birthday, and we had a cool birthday party.
“This cures kinda a little bit of the itch to come back here to my home track, and we’ll come back to Vegas in the fall – but I don’t regret my decision at all. I love being a fan of the sport at home. Been very happy with this decision.”
Even though he’s not running for points, Sadler nevertheless felt butterflies as Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race approached.
“I was nervous this week—I’m not going to lie,” Sadler said. “It’s got a way different feel to it, coming to run one race as compared to each and every week knowing what’s going on and everything going inside the garage. It had a pretty good feel.
“I didn’t sleep much this week wanting to come here, excited and nervous and all of that good stuff to come back to my home track. It was a little different. Different team, different car, the switches are in a different spot and gas, brake and clutch all work a little different – steering wheel a little different. It was good to be back in the office for a little while.”
CHRISTOPHER BELL ALREADY PLANNING STRATEGY FOR HOMESTEAD
Christopher Bell entered last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a clear favorite.
After all, Bell had dominated the series with seven victories before the finale. But Homestead turned out to be the most frustrating race of the year for Bell, who rolled home in 11th place and finished fourth in the final standings.
Tyler Reddick, on the other hand, found a home near the wall and parlayed his ability to run the top lane into a series title.
Bell has been thinking about the final race ever since. And based on the likely assumption he’ll be one of the four qualifiers at Homestead, Bell’s approach will change when he gets there.
“We definitely took the conservative approach of ‘Do not run the wall, do not run the wall, do not run the wall,’” Bell said Friday at Richmond Raceway. “I think Cole Custer proved the last couple years that he got his car good enough to where he didn’t have to run the wall. (Kyle) Larson, I think Larson ran the year that Cole won, and his car wasn’t very good so he couldn’t run the wall.
“And so everyone was like, ‘Oh, you can run the middle, you can run the middle, you can run the middle.’ Well, Reddick proved it again last year that the wall is the fastest place to be at Homestead. I think I’m just going to go up there and run the wall.”
STEWART-HAAS, CLINT BOWYER ANNOUNCE TOCO PARTNERSHIP
Stewart-Haas Racing has landed a new partner, Toco Warranty, for four races as primary sponsor of Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford, the organization announced in a Friday morning press conference at Richmond Raceway.
In addition, Toco, a new generation of vehicle service contracts with pay-as-you-go plans, will serve as an associate sponsor for the rest of Bowyer’s races, as well as supporting the efforts of Tony Stewart Racing and driver Donny Schatz and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart in winged sprint cars.
“We’ve always had partners that have been a part of our NASCAR program or part of our grassroots program with the World of Outlaws or our All-Star Circuit of Champions,” Stewart said. “But this is one of the first times that we’ve had a partner that spans all the way across and utilizes these two organizations to get the coverage to the right people.”
Kyle Busch has a lot of fond memories of Richmond Raceway, though not among them is the first time he competed at the three-quarter-mile Virginia track. That race was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2001, and by Busch’s recollection it was a night to quickly forget.
“Hit about everything but the pace car,” Busch said Friday at Richmond, site of the Toyota Owners 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “It was an ugly, ugly venture for me. It was pretty bad.”
While Busch may have had an auspicious debut at Richmond (he finished 22nd, three laps behind race-winner Jack Sprague), it wasn’t long before he would make better memories. Busch’s next start at Richmond came three years later in an Xfinity Series race, and did not feature any run-ins with the pace vehicle. Instead, on that night Busch put forth a dominating performance where he led 236 of 250 laps to score his first-ever victory in a NASCAR national series event.
“I remember that day and being able to score that first victory and remembering going to victory lane and jumping
off the car and all the guys catching me behind me and just having a good celebration,” Busch said. “That was certainly a lot of fun. Fifteen years, that’s scary.”
Ever since, regardless of the series he’s competing in, Richmond has been a place where Busch has excelled. In many instances, it has looked as if he knows sometime about the track that few could even comprehend.
Busch’s six Cup wins at Richmond are most among active drivers, as is his 6.9 average finish. That superiority also extends to the Xfinity Series where Busch leads all active drivers in wins (6), top-five finishes (16), top-10 finishes (19)
and laps led (1,497).
On Saturday, Busch can further assert that Richmond is his own personal playground. He has won the past two races here, and a third consecutive victory would make him the first driver since Bobby Allison in the early 1980s to accomplish the feat. The only others besides Allison in the three wins in-a-row club are David Pearson and Richard Petty, rarefied company as Allison, Pearson and Petty are each members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“If we can win three in a row here at Richmond and match names like that -- the Godfathers of our sport that built our sport to what it is today -- would be pretty cool,” Busch said.
A win Saturday would be more than just Busch cementing his status as one of the best-ever at Richmond, it would also be a continuation of the best start to a season of his career and one of the best overall in the Cup Series modern era (1972-present).
Busch already has three wins in eight races this season, and not once has he finished outside the top 10. The last time a driver began a season with that many consecutive top-10 finishes was Terry Labonte in 1992
There is considerable distinction between the respective streaks compiled by Busch and Labonte, however. Labonte had neither a victory during nor led the series standings, whereas Busch has multiple wins and currently atop the standings by 27 points over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
“We’ve been doing really well and the results have been coming, too,” Busch said. “We’ve had a little luck on our side as well. I always tell you when we don’t have any luck on our side, so I might as well tell you when we do have a little luck on our side. It’s been nice to have. We just have to continue with the way we’re running and the way that we’re doing it. Keep being successful.”