After the twists and turns of COTA, NASCAR heads to Richmond Raceway for its first points race at a short track this season.
The Cup Series hits the track for 400 laps Sunday (3:30 pm ET, Fox) at the ¾-mile D-shaped oval as the Next Gen car makes its maiden voyage to Virginia for competition.
This week marks the first of three short tracks in a row, with Martinsville and Bristol ahead in the subsequent weeks, although Bristol will be covered in dirt for the second consecutive year. But for now, take a look at the storylines entering Richmond.
Notes to lean on?
While this week marks the first points race on a short track this season, it isn’t the first time the Next Gen has raced within tight confines.
The season began with the exhibition Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a ¼-mile track built within the stadium that has hosted NFL, MLB, NCAA and Olympic events.
Consider that Richmond is three times bigger than the Coliseum’s track and modeled completely differently than the paperclip-shaped LA track, which compares more to Martinsville. But teams are still learning how to navigate setups on each different track type. With a stretch of short tracks ahead, teams may look at how their cars reacted at the Clash in preparation for this weekend’s event.
And while the car is different from years past, tire conservation may still play a prevalent role come Sunday.
“I would say Richmond is one of the most challenging racetracks we go to for managing your tires throughout the run,” Aric Almirola said in a press release. “The first 10, 15 or 20 laps of the run can make you feel like Superman roaring through the field, but you will pay a major penalty for that by lap 40. It makes it fun because, when we show up at Richmond, it really is about managing tire fall-off and making sure your car stays consistent throughout the run as the tires fall off.”
Welcome to the House
The eighth-generation Floridian watermelon farmer has led the second-most laps in the series and has four consecutive top-three finishes. As a whole, Trackhouse has run extremely well all season, with Suarez controlling the first stage at COTA by leading all 15 laps in addition to his top fives at Auto Club and Atlanta.
Whether the team will maintain its competitiveness remains to be seen. In its inaugural season, Suarez finished 16th and 17th in the two Richmond events in 2021, while Chastain turned in finishes of 15th and seventh for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Winning makes everything better though. And if things were already good at Trackhouse before Chastain’s breakthrough victory, it’s fair to believe more of those may be on the way.
Can Toyota get back on track?
Richmond has been Joe Gibbs Racing’s best track. The organization has collected 17 wins there — more wins than it has scored at any other Cup track — including Martin Truex Jr.‘s victory in September.
As noted by Racing Insights, JGR has finished 1-2-3 in two of the last five Richmond races, and Denny Hamlin finished runner-up in both events in 2021 after leading the most laps in each. Kyle Busch still leads the series with 16 short track victories but has none since the Bristol spring race in 2019. Truex has six short track wins since then.
Busch was in contention for a top-five finish at COTA before two spins on an overtime restart relegated him to 28th place. He and Truex lead the team with three top 10s apiece, while Christopher Bell notched a third-place finish at COTA. Hamlin finished 18th Sunday and is still searching for his first top 10 in the Next Gen.
Perhaps Richmond can be the start of Toyota’s turnaround.
Thirty-seven cars make up this week’s Cup Series entry list. The lone open team appearing this weekend is the No. 44 Chevrolet of Greg Biffle, fielded by NY Racing Team. AJ Allmendinger returns to the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing and Landon Cassill, his Xfinity Series teammate, gets back into the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.
In the Xfinity Series, 42 cars will fight to qualify for 38 starting spots in Saturday afternoon’s race. Ryan Preece will make his season debut in the series, piloting the No. 5 Ford for BJ McLeod Motorsports. John Hunter Nemechek will pilot the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Making his series debut in the No. 44 Chevrolet will be Rajah Caruth with Alpha Prime Racing. Additional debut drivers include Derek Griffith in the No. 26 Toyota and Howie DiSavino III in the No. 45 Chevrolet.
This weekend’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Saturday, April 2
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 62 degrees, low of 45 degrees
8:30 – 9 a.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
9 – 10 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
10:30 – 11:15 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)
11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN)
1:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (250 laps, 187.5 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, April 3
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 65 degrees, low of 40 degrees
3:30 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps, 300 miles; FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)