NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams are set to run their next playoff race the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 22nd at 7:30 pm ET. Pre-race coverage is available at 6:30 pm ET on NBCSN, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Drivers are running 400 laps covering a distance of 300 miles with Stage 1 and 2 at 100 laps each and the last stage at 200 laps.

Updates from the Track:

  • Trying for his fourth straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Brad Keselowski showed no letup in speed in Friday’s practice at Richmond Raceway. The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford was 14th on the speed chart in the opening session and fastest in Happy Hour, turning a lap at 120.224 mph. The last driver to win four straight races at NASCAR’s highest level was Jimmie Johnson in 2007, the second of his seven championship seasons.
  • GoBowling will return as the entitlement sponsor for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff opener next year, Richmond Raceway president Dennis Bickmeier announced on Friday.

“GoBowling’s strong presence in motorsports continues to grow, and Richmond Raceway is a big part of the strategy to share their message,” Bickmeier said.

What to Watch For:

  • This is the second race in the series’ ten-race Playoff to decide the championship. Brad Keselowski won the Playoff opener at Las Vegas last week.
  • The last eight Richmond races have produced eight different winners.
  • Kyle Larson is the defending Richmond race winner, earning the regular season finale win as the race was placed in the 2017 schedule.
  • Kyle Busch won at Richmond this Spring. All five of his wins at the track have come in the Spring.
  • Larson boasts the best average starting position (8.4) among those competing this week.
  • Kyle Busch has been so good at this track, he has finished all but one lap in 10,429 laps of competition (26 races).
  • Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep), Joey Logano (2014 and 2017) and Carl Edwards (2013 and 2016) are the only repeat winners at Richmond in the last 12 years. Johnson is the last driver to sweep a season at the track since Rusty Wallace did so in 1989.
  • Brad Keselowski’s win at Las Vegas last weekend gave him three straight victories. He joins fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick who won three straight earlier this season. It’s the first time Ford has ever had two drivers win three consecutive races in a season.
  • The last Ford driver to win four straight was Mark Martin in 1993 (at Watkins Glen, N.Y., Michigan, Bristol, Tenn. and Darlington, S.C.). Ford last won four straight as a company with different drivers in 2014.
  • Kyle Busch (at New Hampshire) and Kevin Harvick (at New Hampshire) have won the last two seasons second Playoff race.
  • Pole position is the winningest starting spot in the field historically, producing 24 winners.
  • The farthest back on the grid a winner has started is 31st. Clint Bowyer did that in Spring, 2008.
  • Denny Hamlin’s 1,659 laps led (17.3 percent) in his career at Richmond is sixth-best all-time and tops among active drivers.

Keselowski On A Roll

Brad Keselowski earned his third consecutive win Sunday in Las Vegas and, also for the third consecutive time, hoisted the trophy without leading the most laps. His No. 2 Team Penske Ford team has obviously figured out how to be out front when it matters most. In the last five races, he’s had three victories and a runner-up at Michigan.

The Las Vegas trophy marked his team owner, and NASCAR Hall of Fame-bound, Roger Penske’s 500th win in motorsports competition.

And also historically speaking, this week’s Richmond venue has been a solid place for Keselowski. He led a dominating 383 of 400 laps when he won from the pole position in 2014. He’s finished 11th or better in the last six races and was runner-up in the spring, 2017 race while leading 110 laps.

His current winning streak puts him atop the leaderboard and advances him to the Round of 12.

Truex Looking Strong

Martin Truex Jr. reclaimed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points lead for only the second time this season, thanks to a third-place effort in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas and up-front showings in the opening two stages. It’s the first time the reigning Cup champion has been atop the points standings since a one-week turn thereafter he won at Fontana, Calif. in Week five of the season. He sits second on the Playoffs leaderboard behind Brad Keselowski with one win in the Round of 16.

His No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team arrives at Richmond for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 still looking for his first victory at the three-quarter mile track. Of his 18 career wins, none are at short track venues. He has two top-fives in 25 Richmond races.

However, Truex has looked strong at Richmond lately. This spring, he won the pole position and led 121 laps, but ultimately finished 14th. He led 198 laps in the 2017 fall race but crashed out. He led 193 laps and finished third in the 2016 race at Richmond, his best-ever showing there. He’s led 512 of his career 560 laps led at Richmond in the last four races.

Truex holds a two-point edge over regular-season champion Kyle Busch in the points standings with two races (at Richmond and at Charlotte’s road course) remaining in the first elimination portion of the Playoffs.

“We’re at a point where that short track mentality at Richmond could make for a crazy night, especially with late-race restarts,” Truex said. “You know some of the guys are going to do whatever it takes to try and get locked into the next round and that could cause some havoc. You never know, but definitely, need to be prepared for all possibilities.

“I agree it would be nice to not worry or depend on the Roval [new road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway] the following week to make sure you advance to the next round.”

Kyle Busch Looks To Bounce Back

Kyle Busch is the all-time winningest active driver at Richmond with five victories – a total behind only the sport’s Hall of Fame greats such as Richard Petty (13 wins), Bobby Allison (seven), Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson and Rusty Wallace (seven wins).

But this week’s Richmond race isn’t so much about historical standing as it is championship pursuit. He’s gone seven races without a win, which ties his previous long winless streak in 2018. Busch had several issues last Sunday in Vegas but still managed to rally to a seventh-place finish in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. And he’s eager to reclaim his place atop the leaderboard with a win at Richmond, where he boasts the best average finish (5.55).

Busch has 16 top-fives at the track in 26 starts, including six runner-up finishes to accompany his five wins. He won there just this spring (his third in a three-race streak), leading 32 laps and hoisting the trophy despite starting 32nd. He led laps in six of the previous eight races at Richmond.

“I love Richmond,’’ Busch said. “It’s one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five or more. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens there.”

Highly-Motivated Harvick

One of the most disappointing finishes at Las Vegas undoubtedly belonged to the season’s winningest driver. Seven-race winner Kevin Harvick crashed out early and finished 39th, collecting fellow Playoff driver Erik Jones in his crash.

The good news for Harvick is he still maintains the season’s top-driver rating (114.8 compared to Kyle Busch’s 110.6).

He has three wins at Richmond, but the last one came in 2013 before he was at his current Stewart-Haas Racing team. He was fifth in the spring there – and has finished fifth in four of the last six races at the track. He has 22 top-tens in 35 starts.

The historical perspective is good news for the driver of the No. 4 SHR Ford, but it’s been five races since his last win (at Michigan) and his fourth-place position in the points is the lowest since he was ranked fourth at Richmond this Spring.

Penske Power

Not only did Keselowski lead the three-car Team Penske parade to victory the entire team also finished among the top-five. Joey Logano was fourth and Ryan Blaney was fifth – the first collective top-five for the team this season.

All things are looking up at precisely the Playoff time they’d like it to. In addition to Keselowski’s three straight wins entering the Richmond race this weekend, both Blaney and Logano are turning in championship-contending statistics as well.

Although still working on his first victory of 2018, Blaney has six top-five and 13 top-ten finishes this season in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. His 586 laps led is tops on his team. Keselowski has led 431 laps total and Logano, who won at Talladega this spring, has led 385. Only four other drivers have led more laps than Blaney and they all have race wins.

Richmond will be a test for the 24-year old, however. His best showing in this race is 18th last year when he was driving for the Wood Brothers Racing team. However, Blaney hasn’t finished worse than 12th in a race since Daytona in July.

Logano shows up at Richmond feeling energized as well. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford has two previous wins and two pole positions at the track. He’s finished top-five in the last three races there, winning in the spring of 2017, finishing runner-up that fall and finishing fourth this spring while leading 92 laps.

It’s been a good late summer stretch for Logano, has three top-five finishes in the season’s last four races, including a runner-up showing to teammate Keselowski at Darlington. He’s led 41 percent (159 of 385 laps) of his season lap total in the last four races.

It’s Go-Time!

Four drivers find themselves in a more intense Playoff situation than they’d like – all taken out of contention in accidents during Sunday’s Las Vegas race. As they arrive in Richmond, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott, and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are ranked 13-16th, respectively – all facing elimination before the second round of the Playoffs if those slots hold.

The 0.75-mile Richmond track, which hosted the final regular season race for years, now becomes a vital Playoff venue. That’s all positive for Johnson and Hamlin, who have three wins each at the track. Both Elliott and Jones are looking for their first victories.

Johnson trails 12th-place Alex Bowman by six points. He is buoyed by his win total and 14 top-tens at Richmond. He is the last driver to win back-to-back races, sweeping the 2007 season. Hamlin trails Bowman by 20 points, but the Virginian has a positive relationship with the Richmond track, earning 11 top-fives there, including the three wins.

Elliott, who trails Bowman by nine points, has two top-tens in six starts at Richmond, including a runner-up finish this spring. Jones, who trails Bowman by 19 points, has one top-ten in two Monster Energy Series starts at the track.

“Obviously Las Vegas ended in a disappointing finish, so I’m looking forward to returning to Richmond where I know I can be competitive,’’ Hamlin said. “We’ve really got to work hard to collect Playoff points this weekend to put us back in contention, and we’re going to keep going after that win to make sure we set ourselves up to advance.”

Day Making Season Debut

Israeli driver Alon Day will be making his 2018 Monster Energy Series debut this weekend driving the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota at Richmond. The 26-year-old Tel Aviv native won the 2017 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship.

This will be his second Cup start and first on an oval. He started and finished 32nd at Sonoma last year, driving the same car for BK Racing. His best finish in one of NASCAR’s three premier series is 13th on the Mid-Ohio road course in the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series race there.

Maintaining Focus

Several non-Playoff eligible drivers finished the day smiling at Las Vegas. Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, and Paul Menard finished eighth, ninth and tenth, respectively. It marked back-to-back top-tens for Newman and Menard, who were tenth and ninth at Indy a week before.

Regan Smith, who is substituting for Kasey Kahne in the Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet, was 12th – the highest finish for the No. 95 this season outside of Kahne’s fourth-place run in the summer Daytona race. Corey LaJoie finished 16th – his best showing of the season and second-best Monster Energy Series finish after an 11th-place at Daytona International Speedway in the summer of 2017.