Commentary

Observations: ToyotaCare 250 from Richmond Raceway

By Cole Cusumano

Although the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series didn’t compete at Martinsville Speedway last weekend, in many ways it felt as if the sport didn’t leave the .526-mile track throughout the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.

The opening stage exuded the illusion of a typical event  at Richmond. Last year’s winner, Grant Enfinger, paced the opening 71 laps and towards the end of the green-flag run teams were coming to the forefront as contenders with quality race management. 

Coming out of the opening stage there was even some semblance of normalcy, as Kyle Busch took control before the first organic caution of the day. From there it was John Hunter Nemechek who took advantage of his owner’s poor truck handling woes, and this served as a perfect primer for what followed,

To put it lightly, all hell broke loose.

Six out of the 11 cautions on the day occurred in the final stage, which accounted for 40-percent of the laps in the closing stint. This prevented any form of strategy from being implemented, as they were unable to formulate consistent runs. In fact, the field failed to run double-digit circuits beyond the second segment until the closing 29.

This was a byproduct of intensity ramping up and opportunities dwindling to challenge Nemechek. There was frequent three, even four-wide racing on the restarts and contact, leading to tempers flaring — namely between Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed in the closing laps.

Nemechek dominated the ToyotaCare 250 and took his mentor to school after leading 114 laps and holding off Busch for the second time in 2021. What added more weight to an already sweet victory was this was his first win since the birth of his daughter, Aspen, and she was at the track with his wife for this moment.

“Traveling for the first time with her was definitely a stressful journey, so this was just the icing on the cake,” Nemechek told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It definitely makes you smile knowing they’re here supporting. For them to be here and for us to bring home the trophy for the second win of the year is definitely super special.”

This marked the fourth consecutive victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and while the team owner seemingly took solace in defeat, it’s starting to feel like a trend where he’s tasked with an ill-handling truck and is complacent with results from his developmental drivers.

That’s not to say Busch didn’t get heated. He used terms like “extinct” in reference to quality of his truck diminishing throughout the race, but he ran down Nemechek in the closing laps and appeared to have something for coming to the white flag.

“I felt aero-tight with my truck a lot and it was hard for me to get in the power and keep pressing the gas pedal down constantly off the corner,” Busch told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Those situations kind of prevented me from having what I felt like was better straightaway speed. It’s just an overall lack of air in traffic, but that’s a part of getting out front and being where John Hunter was.

“I felt like we finished a little bit better than where we should have, so we should take that and [Nemechek] definitely deserved the win today.”

Ultimately, this felt like a true short track event at Richmond for the first time in over a decade. The frenetic pace, racing in close quarters and a gritty, yet dominant victory made for one of the most eventful and entertaining races at the three-quarter-mile venue in recent memory. The product on display proved once again the Truck Series demands more attention and exposure.

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