Was Saturday night merely a reaffirmation of what the next 10 weeks could be like?
You know, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing dominating.
Denny Hamlin’s win at Richmond International Raceway marked the 13th victory for Toyota in 26 regular-season races. While Toyotas led 385 of 407 laps Saturday night, other teams can feel better that Richmond isn’t similar to any of the Chase tracks.
That doesn’t hide the fact that Toyota won six of the eight races this season held at tracks that will host playoff events.
Those wins were:
Martinsville – Kyle Busch
Texas – Kyle Busch
Kansas – Kyle Busch
Dover – Matt Kenseth
Charlotte – Martin Truex Jr.
New Hampshire – Matt Kenseth
Asked if Toyota will be the manufacturer to beat in the Chase, Hamlin said:
“I think that any one of these guys can get going. You don’t know what they’ve got at the shop waiting to come to the race track. I think it’s really hard to predict what happens from this point on. I mean, is it a continuation of the regular season or has somebody been laying in the weeds?
“I think obviously (Kyle) Larson has really stepped up his game over the last month or so, so I don’t know. I mean, obviously the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car’s got great speed week in, week out, so he’s definitely going to be a challenge no doubt about it. You just don’t know. The 24 (Chase Elliott) went on a run for about a month as well, so, like I say, until you get to Chicago, look at practice, look at how the first race goes, that’s to me the barometer of where we’re really at.”
The two tracks in the Chase that Toyota didn’t win earlier this year?
Phoenix — Kevin Harvick won
Talladega — Brad Keselowski won
Last year, Chevrolet and Toyota each had 11 wins entering the Chase, which ended with Kyle Busch scoring his first title and giving Toyota its first Cup crown. Chevrolet teams won seven of the first 26 races this year, and Ford teams won six.
In the seven races since NASCAR placed additional timing lines on pit road, speeding penalties are up 86 percent compared to the seven races before the extra timing lines were implemented.
Of the 42 speeding penalties that have been called by NASCAR since Indianapolis, 18 have been called against Chase drivers.
Jimmie Johnson’s three speeding penalties since the extra timing lines were enforced are the most among Chase drivers.
Other Chase drivers with multiple speeding penalties during that time are Denny Hamlin (two), Jamie McMurray (two), Martin Truex Jr. (two) and Chase Elliott (two). With one speeding penalty during that time are Chase drivers Tony Stewart, Chris Buescher, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and Brad Keselowski.
Kevin Harvick’s pit crew was solid Saturday night at Richmond. No doubt there was pressure on the unit after the front tire changer and tire carrier were swapped with Danica Patrick’s team, but that won’t be like the pressure they’ll face in the coming weeks of the playoffs.
Still, it was a good night for the unit, which included a final pit stop of 10.8 seconds, its best of the race.
“I am probably most excited about tonight because pit road was awesome,’’ Harvick said after the race, a week after he blasted his crew when their struggles were too much to overcome in the Southern 500. “They did a great job on pit road.’’
— Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher are the first rookies to make the Chase since Denny Hamlin in 2006. Hamlin finished third that season.
— Runner-up Kyle Larson has finished in the top three in each of the last three races.
— Kasey Kahne’s sixth-place finish marked the first time he’s scored back-to-back top-10 results in the last 33 races.
— Michael McDowell’s 12th-place finish marked his best result at a track other than a restrictor-plate speedway this season.
— What does it take to make the Chase? Jamie McMurray was the last driver to make it on points. His average finish for the regular season was 15.0. Chris Buescher, who had a win, had the worst average finish among all Chase drivers. His average finish was 26.7.