Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Kurt Busch, the 2017 Daytona 500 champion, has struggled with consistency since winning the biggest race in NASCAR two months ago. Busch hasn’t had a top 5 since, and has only four top 10s in the first nine races of the season.
On Sunday, Busch had a much needed strong day, finishing eighth while trying to gain some momentum as the start of summer starts to come up on the field. This comes after, at one point, falling a lap down during the race with an ill-handling race car. He was also involved in the last wreck of the day, sending Ryan Blaney into the wall and out of the race with 22 laps to go.
“We had to drop back and punt,” Busch said. “We came down pit road a lap down, in the lucky dog position and just started throwing rubbers and went wholesale on it and made great improvements. We are somehow missing the balance but we were able to make changes today to improve the balance and be competitive enough to get in the mix.
“We got eighth and that is about as best as we could hope to attain.”
What… is the takeaway from this race?
Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are both in a bit of a weird spot right now in NASCAR. They aren’t part of the older crowd of drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, drivers who are in the twilight of their careers. At the same time, they aren’t part of the younger crowd of drivers such as Chase Elliott or Kyle Larson, due to both their age and experience levels.
There aren’t a ton of drivers who started racing in the Cup Series from 2008 to 2012. Names such as Kevin Conway and Andy Lally have, by and large, moved on from NASCAR to race in other series, with few fans even knowing they were in the Cup Series to begin with. And these were Rookie of the Year winners from those years.
From those five years, only Keselowski, Logano, Landon Cassill, Michael McDowell, and technically Aric Almirola and Trevor Bayne, remain in the series among drivers who competed for Rookie of the Year honors.
Right now, Team Penske is in a really great spot with its two drivers. Both drivers are still in their primes against a field of drivers that are largely either past it or before it. Richmond is Toyota’s stomping grounds, yet Keselowski was the class of the field for much of the day and Logano ended up winning after out-smarting Kyle Busch. Both are just really, really good right now and are going to be tough for anybody to beat in the years to come.
Where… did the pole-sitter and defending race winner end up?
Matt Kenseth led the first 163 laps and won the first stage of the race. But, save for a lap under caution, Kenseth couldn’t find the lead again after losing it to Keselowski and late race contact with Chase Elliott damaged the No. 20 Toyota. After pitting to repair damage and a right rear tire that went down, Kenseth finished 23rd.
Carl Edwards spent the week trying to lure Dale Earnhardt Jr. to come drive a tractor on his Missouri farm next year in retirement. After the race he had, Earnhardt might be willing to go out there a little earlier than planned.
When… did it all get sideways?
Believe it or not, there was not a single caution for BK Racing this week, after so many races this season with at least one. Instead, there was some teammate drama at Hendrick Motorsports.
Green flag pit stops were going on when Jimmie Johnson got into Earnhardt on Lap 344. Coming out of turn two, Johnson was on Earnhardt’s inside and apparently wasn’t aware that the sport’s most popular driver was hugging the high line. Johnson and Earnhardt sustained damage in the incident but both were able to continue on. Eight laps after the next restart, a spin in turn three by Earnhardt brought out another caution flag.
In the Fox Grid Walk before the race, Erik Jones was asked by Michael Waltrip if he could win his first MENCS race of his career, in which he responded that he thought so. Well, after completing four laps, the No. 77 Toyota was on the wrecker after contact from Kasey Kahne sent Jones into the turn four wall hard. Instead of winning the race, Jones ended up with the first last place finish of his career.
Why… did Joey Logano win?
A mix of strategy, treachery, and luck. On the second to last caution, Keslowski and Logano were the only two lead lap cars that stayed out. If the race had gone green from there, it’s not very likely either would have won the race, let alone both finishing in the top two. But a caution 10 laps after the restart put both Penske cars back on cycle with everybody.
Then, approaching pit road, Logano fooled the field into thinking he was staying out before coming in at the last possible second. Kyle Busch couldn’t react in time and, in his rush to get down to pit, committed a commitment zone violation that sent a fuming Busch to the rear of the field instead of contending for a win. Logano was able to cruise to his win due to getting around the cars that stayed out the best of any of the other leaders, even though Keselowski had the faster car and was able to make up a ton of time on Logano once he was clear of all the traffic.
Which… manufacturer reigns supreme at Richmond?
Toyota had won the last three races at Richmond prior to this weekend, often in dominating fashion. Last year’s race in September was pretty bad; for most of the night, Toyota swept the top four or five positions on the race track. For Joe Gibbs, who owns four of the six top Toyota’s in the field, Richmond is practically a home race; it’s the closest track to the home of the Washington Redskins, a team Gibbs coached to three Super Bowl wins.
But Sunday’s race showed the Toyota stranglehold on Richmond seems to be lessening. Kenseth and Denny Hamlin combined to lead over half of the race but lost both stage two and the race to Team Penske. Only two Toyota’s finished in the top 10, while there were four Fords in the top 5 and six overall in the top 10. The battle between Ford and Toyota will be interesting to watch when NASCAR returns to Richmond in the fall.