Photo via James H. Wallace/Richmond Times-Dispatch
MORE SHORT TRACKS. That has been the anthem of the NASCAR world throughout this season and America’s premier racing organization returns to Richmond Raceway tonight with the Federated Auto Parts 400.
This is the second race in the Round of 16, so tonight is pivotal for drivers, near that cutline, to pull out a solid run and avoid the worries that come with the chaos that the Charlotte Roval will provide next Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. has already locked himself into the Round of 12 with his win last weekend at Las Vegas and while he may be towards the front for a majority of the night, do not expect him to have the winning car as his team prepares for Dover, Talladega, and Kansas in October.
Nine playoff drivers will lead the field to green with Brad Keselowski starting on the pole and Kevin Harvick adjacent to him. Keselowski and Harvick have a comfortable margin ahead of the cutline but they are still going to fight hard and secure their Round of 12 spots. Clint Bowyer(-19 below cutline) and Aric Almirola(+6 above cutline) start inside the top ten and desperately need great runs tonight as neither driver is that great on road courses.
Erik Jones(16th), Ryan Newman(19th), Alex Bowman(20th), William Byron(25th), and Joey Logano(28th) have put themselves in a hole with their poor qualifying runs. At a track that has been deemed hard to pass on, they will need to strategize throughout the night to get the track position they need. Jones, especially, is going to need to collect the points to avoid a must-win situation at the Roval.
The drivers that need to make statements tonight are Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. Blaney has been silent all season long without a win or a significant run of great finishes. He holds a 12-point gap above the cutline and cannot rely on another win being handed to him at the Roval. Larson does come into this race with momentum after solid runs at Darlington and Las Vegas. With an average finish of 12.2 at Richmond, look for Larson to be a dark horse contender for the win.
The favorite for tonight’s race should be Denny Hamlin. Hamlin rolls off sixth and has won three races at this track. In 26 races at Richmond, Hamlin has 12 top-fives and an average finish of 9.4. If not Hamlin, then take the driver that has a 9.6 average finish in 37 races at Richmond: Kevin Harvick.
Stages are 100-100-200 with the fuel window around 105-110 laps.
You can watch tonight’s race on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. EST.