2021 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Richmond 1

A three-race stretch of short tracks comes to an end Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway. It’s a bittersweet weekend as there will not be another short-track event in the NASCAR Cup Series until a return to Richmond in the second race of the Round of 16 on Sept. 11. There is still much to look forward to in the NASCAR schedule, but the lack of short tracks sticks out like a sore thumb.

Martin Truex Jr. was awarded his first Busch Pole Award of 2021 after finding the speed late at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday to become the first two-time winner of the season. Truex Jr. has thrown his name into the hat as a Cup Series title favorite as he’s won at Phoenix Raceway (championship race) and Martinsville (final Round of 8 race). His recent success at short tracks and road courses will also bode well for his odds to start building up enough playoff points to secure his spot in later rounds as early as possible.

In 2019, Truex swept the Richmond races and has finished no worse than third in the last four races on the 0.75-mile short track.

Denny Hamlin will join his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate on the front row. Even though he doesn’t have a win on the season, he’s scored seven top-five finishes in the first eight races of the season along with three stage wins. Hamlin hasn’t won at Richmond since the fall 2016 race, but has scored a top five in five of the last seven races at the track.

Brad Keselowski won the lone race at Richmond in 2020, leading 192 of the 400 laps. The win marked his second victory at the track and fifth-straight, top-five finish. Keselowski will start 20th, his worst start at Richmond since the spring of 2018.

With the abundance of winners early in 2021, one driver that can continue the trend and throw another wrench into the playoff field is Austin Dillon. After finishing runner-up at Darlington Raceway to open last season’s Round of 16, he followed it up with a fourth-place run at Richmond and led 55 laps. Dillon has finished sixth or better in three of the last four races at Richmond.

2021 has seen many ups and downs already for Chase Elliott. He’s still without a win, but does have three top fives and four top 10’s to his resume this season. However, he’s had lackluster finishes as well as he DNF’d at Atlanta Motor Speedway with an engine failure, finished outside the top 20 at the Daytona Road Course after a controversial caution and finished 14th and 13th at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway respectively. Elliott gets his best starting position of the year since winning the pole at the Daytona RC with a third-place start Sunday.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher will look to continue their highly-overlooked seasons Sunday. Stenhouse sits 13th in points and has yet to finish outside the top 20 this year. His worst finishes were 18th at the first two races of the season in Daytona. Buescher is on-pace to obliterate a career-best average finish for a single season. His average finish this season sits at 15.9 with his career-best coming in 2019 at 17.8. After being involved in the early “Big One” at the Daytona 500, Buescher hasn’t finished worse than 19th since and has a stage win after leading 55 laps at Homestead.

Buescher will start 12th, while Stenhouse rolls off 14th.

Stages for the Toyota Owners 400 end on lap 80, lap 235 and the finish on lap 400. There will be a competition caution on lap 30. You can tune into the race at 3:00 p.m. EST on FOX. The Motor Racing Network will provide your auditory necessities.

Starting lineup:

Pit stall assignments:

Goodyear tire notes: https://www.jayski.com/2021/04/13/goodyear-fast-facts-richmond-5/

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