NASCAR’s Cup Series and Xfinity Series practice and qualifying sessions were cancelled Saturday morning at Richmond (Va.) Raceway because of poor weather. The starting lineups were then set based upon the rule book.
Current NASCAR Cup Series championship leader Alex Bowman will start Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) from pole position in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with Kyle Busch completing the front row in the No. 8 Richard Childress Chevy. Defending race winner – and four-time Richmond winner - Denny Hamlin will start his No.11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota from 11th on the grid.
There have been five different winners in the last five NASCAR Cup Series races at the 0.75-mile Richmond track.
Justin Allgaier – a two-time Richmond winner – will start Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the ToyotaCare 250 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) from pole position in the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, alongside Joe Gibbs Racing’s rookie Sammy Smith in the No. 18 JGR Toyota.
JR Motorsport’s Sam Mayer and Kaulig Racing’s Daniel Hemric – who will start their Chevys third and fifth, respectively – join Allgaier and Smith being eligible for the first $100,000 prize from the Dash 4 Cash incentive program this week at Richmond. The top finishing driver among these four (they qualified for the bonus last week at Circuit of the Americas) takes the big check. The top four finishing fulltime NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers at Richmond will then be eligible for the next $100,000 at Martinsville (Va.) Raceway in two weeks.
Ty Gibbs is the defending Richmond race winner, but he is not competing Saturday.
Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and Richmond Raceway’s winningest active driver, Kyle Busch (six victories) says the overall parity in the sport since the introduction of the Next Gen race car last year is not a bad thing. There have been five different winners in the opening six races of 2023 with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron (Las Vegas and Phoenix) the only repeat winner.
“Parity is always good, right,’’ said Busch, who drives the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and scored a victory at California’s Auto Club Speedway in February.
“Last year we had 19 different winners. Every manufacturer, obviously. I think the guy who won the most races, it was four or five that they won and it’s been a while since it’s been that few races won by the top winner of the series. Typically, you see seven, eight, nine 10 race wins.
“It just showed good parity and I feel like a lot of that has more to do with this Next Gen race car than it does the manufacturers, but they are all working hard and doing best we can with what we continue to build on our program with RCR and Chevrolet and hopefully keep heading in the right direction.”
When comparing the NASCAR Cup Series competitiveness to other series, such as Formula One, Busch grinned.
“If you look at F1 I don’t think there’s much parity,’’ he said. “So you could argue, that you turn on NASCAR races and you kind of don’t know whose going to win each week. You know who’s good at particular race tracks but sometimes those guys, like myself, only win one race a year so they’re not winning every single week.
“Where you turn on an F1 race and you’re just wondering if anybody’s going to beat Red Bull right now. It was Mercedes. So, there’s obviously a distinct difference between our two series.’’
The Circuit of the Americas road course race last weekend provided a typically thrilling finish with Tyler Reddick scoring his first victory of the year in triple overtime – his first win in his new tenure with 23XI Racing. But there was also a lot of action on track well behind the race for the checkered flag. Bent fenders, hot tempers and hurt feelings characterized the COTA outcome and it will be interesting to see how that reconciles as the series moves to the .75-mile Richmond track, where tight racing is also the norm.
Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez even received a $50,000 fine this week for purposely running into his teammate Ross Chastain on the cool down lap heading to pit road.
Team Penke's Ryan Blaney acknowledged this week that high emotion is nothing new. It’s just a matter of how you handle it.
“No matter, if you’re a teammate, worst enemies, best friends, you do this enough, you’re gonna get into it with everybody intentional or not and those things just happen,’’ said Blaney, who won the Richmond pole position in this spring race last year and has top-10 finishes in his last three Richmond starts in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.
“The teammate side, Joey [Logano] and I have had a couple run-ins over the years, me and Austin [Cindric], and you get over that stuff. You talk about it. You get over it and you move on from it. Those things you have do, I think fairly quickly.
“There is still probably something in the back of your head, but, at the same time, you’re a team and if you’ve got two teammates pissed off at each other, that doesn’t help the camaraderie of the whole organization. So, I’m sure those guys Suárez and Chastain] got over it, but I don’t know their business. It’s important to try to set things straight when you and a teammate have a run-in because you can’t be walking around the race shop and crew members and have them being mad at each other too.’’