By Cole Cusumano
Virginia isn’t only for lovers but NASCAR, too, as the circuit heads 174 miles east to Richmond Raceway. It will be a tough act to follow the madness that occurred in the closing stages at Martinsville Speedway, but not out of the question. Who can forget 2008 when Kyle Busch became enemy No. 1 after spinning Dale Earnhardt Jr. or, most recently, Carl Edwards giving Busch the bumper on the final lap in 2016?
Those moments may be far and few in between nowadays, but at the very least, Richmond serves as one of the oldest tracks on the circuit and demands respect for its 75-year history across motorsports. After running just one race in the NASCAR Cup Series last year due to COVID-19 for the first time since 1958, there’s good reason to believe the Toyota Owners 400 could present much intrigue.
NASCAR Cup Series
In 2020, Brad Keselowski led 192 laps and dominated the sole event at Richmond, as was the case for Team Penske all of last year on the flat, short tracks using the 750-horsepower low downforce package. As seen towards the end of the previous season and one race into 2021, competitors at Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are catching up.
Chase Elliott won the series finale at Phoenix last year, while Martin Truex Jr. won the Spring race in 2021. It should be noted the No. 19 wasn’t the dominant car in the desert. Instead we saw a mix of the three powerhouse teams taking turns up front, and could expect more of the same Sunday.
It’s difficult to predict trends for Richmond, being only one race has been run with this package, whereas Phoenix hosted three events since the alterations. Hence why there could be unknowns for the 400-lapper.
One thing we can always expect is for Richmond to be a playground for Toyota, as it’s always been. Joe Gibbs Racing has won seven of the last 10 races at the three-quarter-mile track and this may be the case this weekend.
Denny Hamlin has been on the cusp of breaking out since week one. He’s placed top-five in all but one race this season and he’s riding back-to-back third-place finishes. The hometown hero has three wins at Richmond and should be a force on Sunday.
Busch is off to an uncharacteristic start once again, but hasn’t been nearly as off as last year. The winningest active driver will have a chance to tie for the second-most all-time wins at Richmond, should he capture his seventh this weekend. Failing to place lower than eighth and two wins over the last five races, you can’t count Rowdy out.
Of course, there’s the driver everyone’s chasing right now, Truex. Coming off his second win of the season at Martinsville and a dominant performance at Bristol Motor Speedway on dirt, Richmond is exactly where the 2017 Champion wants to be. He swept both races in 2019 and finished runner-up last year, while leading 579 laps over the last three years.
Lastly, 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion Austin Cindric will make his third Cup start for Team Penske in the No. 33.
Trending on Twitter: Puppy in the shop! Ryan Preece‘s dog, Memphis, enjoys some coffee beside the newly dressed No. 37 for this week.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
This will be the first Truck Series race since Truex went out and dominated the thriller that was Bristol dirt, but there will be no let up in the ToyotaCare 250.
Busch will be chasing history this weekend. With 12 victories between Cup and Xfinity, he’ll be seeking his first Truck victory at Richmond, in addition to tying or surpassing Richard Petty as the all-time winningest driver at the three-quarter-mile track. The No. 51 rolls off 12th on Saturday.
Last year, Grant Enfinger won, but it was Austin Hill and Ben Rhodes who split time pacing the field. Making just his fifth start in 2021, ironically, the driver of the No. 98 will take the green flag directly behind the No. 99 and 16 on the front row.
Finally, the ToyotaCare 250 will be plentiful in opportunity for many drivers throughout the field. Howie DiSavino and Keith McGee will be making their Truck Series debuts, with second starts of the season for Sam Mayer and Jett Noland. Ray Ciccarelli and Josh Reaume are back for the first time in 2021, as Ryan Reed returns to racing for CMI Motorsports following a hiatus since 2019, where he ran one race and finished top-10.
Trending on Twitter: Marcus Lemonis is the man that keeps on giving, this time with a Camping World sponsorship for Reed’s return, accompanied by a sweet looking ride designed by “Lefty.”
You can catch all the action from Richmond Raceway beginning with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ToyotaCare250 on April 17 at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1 with the NASCAR Cup Series capping things off the following day at 3 p.m. ET on Fox.