On Friday afternoon when Kyle Busch won the pole for the Virginia529 College Savings 250 at Richmond Raceway, he became the the 0dds-on favorite for the race victory.
Until lap 53, it looked like it was going to be the Kyle Busch show, when Bobby Dale Earnhardt blew a right front tire, which brought out the caution. A split pit strategy led to a thrilling last 20 laps of the stage that saw Ty Dillon victorious.
Keselowski passed Busch on the final lap of the second stage en route to the stage victory. During the final stage, the No. 18 car controlled the pace of the race, until the No. 22 car caught him in lap traffic with 20 laps to go.
The 2010 series champion made the pass for the win with 15 laps to go, getting around Busch. The theme of this race was Keselowski’s car coming in on the long runs as the tires began to wear.
“We weren’t quite where we wanted to be on the short runs but good enough to be right there,” Keselowski said of the victory. “We just hung with him [Busch] and got the long runs and we were able to pounce. That is a testament to the team. I am happy to get another win in this series, it is a lot of fun and the first one in these new bodies. At least you know it isn’t an aero advantage.”
This marks Keselowski’s second victory of the season in his ninth and final race. It’s his fourth triumph at Richmond, the last coming in 2013.
Tire management makes for the best kind of racing.
Richmond is one of the oldest asphalt tracks on the schedule and it wears tires quickly. There was no better evidence of that then the end of the opening stage when Dillon picked up his first stage win of the season, while running toward the back half of the top 10 through the opening 50 laps.
Dillon restarted in 15th, and was the first of a handful of drivers that pitted. The No. 3 car charged to the front and took the lead within 10 laps, after Busch and Keselowski ran away with the first stage until the caution flag flew for Earnhardt. The duo were the only drivers within 10 seconds of the lead.
Once Dillon got clean air, the stage was over. Keselowski fell to fifth, as Busch faded to sixth to close the opening stage. Much like last week at Darlington Raceway, and other old, worn out tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, if you stay out on old tires, you’re losing track position quickly.
I truly believe that tire management creates the best racing in NASCAR. It allows drivers the opportunity to charge early in the run, or wait until later to pounce. Keselowski mastered it late in the event, passing Busch for the victory on worn out tires.
Brendan Gaughan was among the drivers that took advantage of the lap 53 caution and charged to the front in the waning laps of the opening stage. The No. 62 earned valuable points, finishing third.
However, when the stage ended, crew chief Shane Wilson left Gaughan out on the racetrack on old tires. The No. 62 team was a sitting duck, as it was the only team to remain on the track.
Within 40 laps, Gaughan was one lap down, in desperate need of fresh rubber. The No. 62 was getting eaten alive because the rest of the field had fresher tires, and ultimately, the first stage was a short-term gain, long-term loss.
Throughout the remainder of the race, Gaughan went an additional lap down, coming home 21st. This was a race of opportunity as two of his Richard Childress Racing teammates finished inside the top five. Overall, Gaughan gained five points on Dakoda Armstrong, but the team must be thinking what could have been as it could have had an easier regular season finale next weekend at Chicago.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Christopher Bell made his fourth XFINITY start of the season on Friday evening for Joe Gibbs Racing. The 22-year-old started from 14th, his worse qualifying effort of the four races.
Through the opening 50 laps, Bell raced just outside the top 10. However, when crew chief, Christopher Gabehart, called him to pit road when the first yellow flag flew, the No. 20 became a missile over the final 20 laps of the stage.
Bell raced all the way to the runner-up position after restarting in 16th. He raced to the back bumper of Dillon, making a move for the lead with a few laps remaining, ultimately coming up short. For his first time seeing Richmond, the Oklahoma native was disappointed to not have a better outing.
“It was kind of an up and down day,” Bell said after finishing sixth. “Overall I’m just kind of disappointed right now. I felt like we had a better car than that, but to turn out sixth was really – honestly it was a pretty good day for me. To be able to run top 10 and close to the top five – brought the car home in one piece and finished all the laps, that was the main goal for today.”
Coming off two consecutive finishes outside the top 10, Bell was happy to get back on track with a sixth-place finish. However, he wants it to come a bit easier.
“I just want to win,” Bell said. “After going to the Charlotte [Motor Speedway] and running fourth in my first race and then I went to Iowa [Speedway] and led a bunch of it and I just had a really strong Toyota Camry today and I felt like we were in position to have a really good finish if I didn’t screw up the restart.”
Bell is scheduled to be in a JGR Toyota in four of the final eight XFINITY races of the season.
Double Duty Interlopers
Keselowski and Busch dominated the event, leading 216 of 250 laps.
Dillon picked up his best finish of the season, coming home third. Dale Earnhardt Jr., making a rare XFINITY Series start, finished ninth after running in the top three for the majority of the first run. Paul Menard brought the No. 2 car home 19th, after having to make an unscheduled pit stop late in the event due to a vibration.
Reed Sorenson was the only other Cup Series driver in the field, turning just 33 laps before retiring from the race.
” I got screwed up by the [No.] 40 [Bobby Earnhardt] about 60 times out there tonight – that was pathetic.” – Kyle Busch
“This was a good run, we needed this. We’ve had a rough last few weeks as far as execution. This is the time you want to run good. I’m proud with how far we came with this thing today.” – Daniel Hemric
Overall, this was one of the mist uneventful XFINITY Series events of the season. Outside of the lap 53 caution, Brandon Jones was the only other driver that had significant issues, spinning in Turn 1 as the opening stage came to a close.
Though the racing was relatively calm, there was action all around the track. In a race that was much cooler than the spring event, the groove still ranged from the white line to the wall.
The XFINITY Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for its regular season finale next Saturday, Sept. 16. The green flag is scheduled to wave shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Erik Jones is the defending winner of the event, en route to his fourth and final triumph the of the season.