The NASCAR Cup Series regular-season countdown clock has reached three, and Sunday’s 400-lap, 300-mile race at Richmond Raceway will be the final short-track event before the playoffs begin Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway.
After Richmond, the remaining regular-season races are at the Watkins Glen road course Aug. 21 and at Daytona International Speedway Aug. 27.
Kevin Harvick added a slice of drama to the remaining regular-season schedule by winning Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, putting his name on the playoff grid. Fifteen race winners have claimed spots, leaving Ryan Blaney as the only driver currently qualified via points.
The Richmond race weekend includes an 8 p.m. ET Saturday playoff race for the Camping World Truck Series. Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m., ET) will be televised by the USA Network. The Xfinity Series is idle this week.
Elliott On The Edge
Chase Elliott, the season’s dominant driver with four wins (no one else has more than two), can lock up the Cup regular-season title at Richmond.
Entering Sunday’s race, Elliott has a 119-point edge over second-place Ryan Blaney in the regular-season standings. If he leaves Richmond with a 121-point edge over second, he’ll nail down the regular-season title with two races remaining.
Elliott has hit a bit of a dip the past two weeks after scoring six consecutive top-10 finishes, including three wins. He finished 16th at Indianapolis and 11th Sunday at Michigan.
Blaney In The Twilight Zone
Ryan Blaney is sitting on the edge of the precipice.
With Kevin Harvick becoming the season’s 15th winner Sunday, there is only one spot vacant on the playoff grid for a driver qualifying via points. Entering Richmond, Blaney sits in that position, only 19 points in front of Martin Truex Jr., the first driver below the cutoff line.
Oddly enough, thanks to a generally consistent season, Blaney is second in the seasonal point standings. If a winless driver scores a victory in the next three races and claims the 16th playoff position, Blaney could find himself in the unlikely position of finishing second in points but missing the playoffs.
Over the past four races, Blaney has lost 52 points to Truex, making the potential race for the final playoff spot very tight.
Looking at Blaney vs. Truex over the final three races of the regular season:
- Truex has four wins at the three tracks; Blaney has one.
- Truex has six short-track wins; Blaney has none.
- Truex has four road-course wins; Blaney has one.
- Blaney’s average running position this year is 11.16. Truex’s is 11.31.
- Truex has won three of the past six races at Richmond.
- Blaney has an average finish of 21st at Richmond, making it one of his worst tracks.
- Truex has led 1,285 laps at Richmond, his best track in that category.
- Truex is the first driver with seven consecutive top-five finishes at Richmond since Rusty Wallace from 1992-95.
Kyle Busch‘s Struggles Continue
Kyle Busch is recognized as one of the best wheelmen in NASCAR’s modern era, but his recent record is quite perplexing.
Busch’s finishes over the past eight races: 30th, 21st, 29th, 20th, 12th, 36th, 11th, 36th. A crash at Michigan Sunday left him next-to-last there.
Busch has not had a top-10 finish over that stretch, the longest such run of his career.
Richmond Raceway could provide some salve. Busch is the track leader in wins (six) among active drivers, and he also has the best average finish (6.94) there among active drivers with at least three starts.
Busch has won eight times at Bristol Motor Speedway, the only track where he has had more success than Richmond.
Busch is eighth all-time on the Richmond lap-leader list with 1,529. He has a distance to go to catch the all-time leader — Richard Petty with 5,128.
Thirty-six drivers are entered in Sunday’s Cup race. Among the non-regulars are JJ Yeley, Noah Gragson and Landon Cassill.
Forty-two drivers are entered for 36 slots in Saturday’s Truck race. Included are Norm Benning, Chad Chastain, Rajah Carruth, Kaden Honeycutt and Layne Riggs.
Hailie Deegan will have a new crew chief this weekend. Jerry Baxter has moved from the Tanner Gray truck to Deegan’s team. Mike Hillman Jr. moves from Deegan to Gray within the David Gilliland Racing operation. Gray has two top fives and five top 10s this season. Deegan has one top 10. Neither driver has won a race.
This weekend’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Saturday, August 13
Forecast: Sunny. High of 81.
- 3:05 – 3:35 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice (FS1)
- 3:35 – 4:30 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series qualifying (FS1)
- 5:05 – 5:50 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network)
- 5:50 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 8 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series race (250 laps, 187 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, August 14
Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 84.
- 3 p.m. — Cup Series race (400 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)