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Facts Vs. Fairy Tales, Richmond Edition

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Tonight, the 26-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season concludes. Once the checkered flag falls on the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, the 16-driver field for the Cup playoffs will be set.

With a chance to race for a NASCAR championship on the line, there’s a lot at stake at Richmond tonight. Which makes it a good time to play a little game I call “facts vs. fairy tales.”

Fairy tale: A new winner

The big story line tonight is, will there be a first-time winner who’ll knock somebody out of the playoffs? In the immortal words of Chuck D. and Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe The Hype.” This is the 14th year NASCAR has had the playoff system. In the previous 13 years, only once has a driver won his first race of the year at Richmond in September. That was 2004 when Jeremy Mayfield won this race in one of Ray Evernham’s Dodges to make the playoffs in the first year.

Could there be a first-time 2017 winner tonight? Sure, there could be — most likely Erik Jones or Joey Logano. But there probably won’t be. It’s hard to argue with history, and history strongly suggests this isn’t a race where someone new comes in and wins.

Fact: Most underreported story

While most media outlets are focusing on the playoffs from a driver’s perspective, a huge story has flown completely under the radar: The three automakers in NASCAR — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — are in a virtual dead heat for the highly coveted manufacturers’ championship, which is a huge deal for them.

In the first 25 Cup races of the year, Chevrolets have won nine times, Ford and Toyota, eight each. The points are incredibly close: Toyota leads with 879, Chevrolet has 878 and Ford has 874. This battle likely will go down to Homestead and all three combatants want to win as badly as the drivers do.

Fact: Penalties

The fact that Denny Hamlin swept both races last weekend at historic Darlington Raceway but both his race-winning Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas flunked post-race tech was a huge black eye and embarrassment. And remember at the first Richmond race, winner Joey Logano flunked post-race inspection for a similar issue. Logano’s second-place Darlington NASCAR XFINITY Series car also failed tech.

Understandably and correctly, NASCAR doesn’t want it playoffs tainted by allegations of cheating. To that end, the sanctioning body has raised the penalties for violations of Section 20.14.2 Rear Suspension I-4 portion of the NASCAR Rule Book. Now, the penalty for breaking that rule in the Cup Series is an encumbered finish, the loss of 40 driver and owner points, a $75,000 crew chief fine and three-race suspensions of both the team’s crew chief and car chief.

Fairly tale: Johnson is out of it

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has had a terrible summer of racing. Since winning at Dover, Johnson’s last 12 races have produced a best finish of 10th, an average finish of 21.17 and just 16 laps led. None of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets have had much speed this summer.

Despite those awful numbers, when the NASCAR playoffs roll around, Johnson and the No. 48 crew always seem to find a way to rebound and rise up to the challenge. He’s never out of it until he’s out of it.

Fact: NASCAR tracks stepping up

This has nothing to do with tonight’s race, but kudos to Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway for opening their campgrounds for Hurricane Irma evacuees. That’s a very cool thing to do.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.