We’ve returned to Richmond for one of the last chances to break into the Playoffs, and we’ve now got 15 Winners on the season which leaves just Ryan Blaney in the Top 16 without a Win. He’s currently ranked 2nd by just Points, but hasn’t finished any race before any other driver yet this year. Martin Truex Jr., former Richmond winner, is ranked 4th in Points, but also doesn’t have a Win. One of these guys is slotted to be left out in the cold. Oh yeah, and there’s all those other guys without Wins, too.
Here’s what to look for:
–Kyle Larson is our Polesitter today. He doesn’t need the Win as he’s already slotted for the postseason, but he is nowhere near his total from last year. What has changed? Has Larson fallen off? Has the competition caught up? What’s the scoop? Larson finished 5th in the Spring.
–Denny Hamlin won that Spring race, one I was in attendance for! He only led 5 laps, but he was clawing closer as the race inched towards the finish. This is one of his home tracks, and he’s pretty good at it. He starts 3rd today, ten positions better than where he rolled off for his victory in April.
-So let’s talk about Ryan Blaney. He’s defending a tough position here: anyone who isn’t won yet can hop right in front of him today (or next week at The Glen, or the following week at Daytona), and knock him out of Playoff contention…for the moment. In the Spring he started 1st and finished 7th, leading 128 of 400 laps, today he should aspire for a bit more. And I’m sure he is. Hamlin won on a two stop strategy earlier this year, William Byron finished 3rd on a one stop strategy. Blaney and his team will have to figure out what works best as he starts 10th today.
–Martin Truex Jr. is that other guy we talked about earlier. He led 80 laps en route to a 4th place finish on a track he’s won at three times in the last six races. In fact, all of those finishes have been Top 5s, and his recent runs at this race have been 1-2-1 — wow! Could Truex (a fellow Toyota and teammate to Hamlin) snag the checkers today? He’s got more points than another other driver over the last ten races here.
–Christopher Bell looked like he could’ve got it done here at the Toyota Owners 400, and he looked like he may’ve had something for the boys in Qualifying on Saturday. Neither of those things happened, but Bell has been running pretty well recently. He led 63 laps and finished 6th, three Top 10s in his four attempts here.
Coverage of the race starts on USA at 3:00pm, green flag scheduled for 3:17pm.