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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Previewing the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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For the NASCAR fans that continue to remain hopeful about more short tracks being on the schedule, the stretch of races through the spring months on the 2019 calendar bring smiles to their faces. The third of those speedways is this weekend, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond Raceway for a Saturday night battle under the lights.

Through the first eight races this season, there have been four different winners – Kyle Busch (three), Denny Hamlin (two), Brad Keselowski (two), and Joey Logano (one).

It’s also in the very realm of possibility that one of these drivers could reach victory lane once again this weekend. Through the last 10 races at Richmond, Logano has the best average finish (5.4), followed Busch (6.3). The pair have combined to win four of the events during that stretch, with Logano having nine top-10 finishes. Keselowski isn’t far behind, either, boasting an average finish of 7.5 – and we know that Hamlin is a favorite being from Virginia.

It doesn’t mean you should start engraving the trophy yet, as there are plenty of other hungry drivers in the field – namely the bowtie brigade. Chevrolet has yet to win a race this season, with their last win coming with Chase Elliott at Kansas Speedway in October 2018.

As voted the Most Popular Driver last season, there are certainly a lot of eyes on the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet. However, that isn’t the only reason they will be watching Elliott this weekend. Hendrick Motorsports has shown a turnaround over the past three weeks, placing drivers in the top-10 each week, highlighted by Elliott’s runner-up at Martinsville Speedway.

The Dawsonville, Georgia native was also fast at Bristol Motor Speedway, as noted with winning the pole, though was spun out while leading on Lap 38 and fought power steering issues the rest of the event. He has shown speed at Richmond Raceway in the past, scoring a top-five finish in both races last season including a second-place finish in the spring.

Hendrick Motorsports isn’t the only team to be watching, though, as Chip Ganassi Racing is showing speed. While everyone expected Kyle Larson to run well, he has struggled with eyes focusing on Kurt Busch. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has not finished outside of the top-12 since Daytona in February, and finished second to his younger brother last Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While posting finishes outside of the top-10 in his last two starts at Richmond, he has scored six top-10’s in his last 10 races, including a victory in 2015.

As mentioned, this year has yet to be kind to Larson. He has not posted a top-10 since placing sixth at Phoenix Raceway. While Bristol Motor Speedway is known as his best track on the circuit with multiple runner-ups, he struggled last weekend, including being involved in a pair of incidents en route to finishing 19th. Richmond Raceway marks the perfect place for him to begin to turn the tide, with a top-10 finish in each of his three races there including a victory in 2017. 

Another surprise is not seeing Kevin Harvick in victory lane through the start of the season, either. It hasn’t been for lack of speed, as he had the quickest car at Bristol Motor Speedway, fighting his way back from being three laps down to the lead lap. He’s also been very consistent this year, with six top-10’s in the eight events run to date.

No doubt given the adversity faced last week the No. 4 team will be hungry this weekend, and they may be able to capitalize. Through the last 10 races at Richmond, Harvick boasts the third-best average finish (6.9), with seven top-five’s in that span. Notably, he has not won at the 0.75-mile oval since 2013.

His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate may reach victory lane before he does, though. Clint Bowyer led 24 laps at Bristol en route to finishing seventh, marking his third straight top-10 after a runner-up at Texas. In his last 10 starts at Richmond, he has posted five top-10 finishes. 

Lastly, don’t take your eyes off of Ryan Blaney this weekend. The past two weeks, he has shown speed capable of winning, before running into overheating issues at Texas Motor Speedway and contact with Ryan Newman at Bristol. With having led 158 laps on the short tracks this season, it’s only a matter of time before he joins his Team Penske teammates as winners in 2019. He hasn’t had the best of luck at Richmond through the years, though, with a best finish of 18th in six starts.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.