Recapping some takeaways after the rain-delayed Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway:
- 1. At Richmond, the difference is day and night: Most racetracks in the Sprint Cup Series are temperature sensitive, and that was evident in the third event delayed to Sunday over the past eight years at Richmond International Raceway. Denny Hamlin was a favorite entering the race after leading all but two laps in an Xfinity Series win Friday night at RIR, but he plummeted from his second-place starting position and never contended as crew chief Dave Rogers admitted the team “just missed it.” Meanwhile, the fortunes were reversed for two drivers who struggled in an early Friday evening qualifying session: Jimmie Johnson drove from 36th to third, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne went from 40th to sixth. In the past three rescheduled races at RIR, Johnson has a first, first and a third, suggesting that the six-time series champion might be suited better for running the 0.75-mile oval in the daytime when the surface is slicker.
- 2. Another rebalancing of power: Joe Gibbs Racing had won the first two short-track races of the season, providing some hope that the team was closing the gap on Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske after trailing for much of last season. But Sunday’s race at Richmond seemed a reprise of 2014. With Hendrick-supplied chassis and horsepower, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick swept the top two spots, followed by two drivers with Hendrick engines (Johnson and Jamie McMurray), Joey Logano’s Penske Ford and then another Hendrick driver (Kahne). The top Toyota/JGR finisher was seventh-place Matt Kenseth, who showed glimpses of strength after last week’s win at Bristol Motor Speedway. It was a reality check for the building narrative that JGR might be returning to its 2013 dominance on short tracks.
- 3. Split fortunes at Stewart-Haas Racing: While Busch and Harvick are posting results that prove their team is building the best cars in NASCAR’s premier series, the results have been equally as deflating on the other side of the Kannapolis-based shop. Richmond was another forgettable outcome for Tony Stewart, who placed 41st after tangling with Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was the worst finish since a 42nd in the Daytona 500 for the three-time series champion, who lost the momentum of a season-best sixth the previous week at Bristol Motor Speedway. Though Stewart seemed to put the blame on Earnhardt (Stewart declined to speak with the news media), it seemed reminiscent of his crash at Phoenix International Raceway – sliding up the track while battling for position. Ranked 30th in points and struggling to adapt to lower-powered cars, it might have been another instance of pressing for Stewart, who ran in the top 10 during the first half for a while before beginning to fade. Danica Patrick also struggled at Richmond (finishing 25th after a fifth-lap collision with Casey Mears), further fueling questions about the curious dichotomy between the two halves of SHR.
AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.
Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.
He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.
Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.
Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.
Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.
Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).
Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.
Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.
Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.
Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.
Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).
Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.
Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.
Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.
Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.
Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.
Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.
Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.
Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas
(All times Eastern)
START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.
PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.
TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.
FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.
LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.