Who’s in the headline
To start the season, Kyle Busch couldn’t get over the hump to move from second to first. After three runner-up finishes and a third-place result, he has now reeled off three straight victories. Busch is now tied with Kevin Harvick for the most wins in the series. Joey Logano looked like he was going to be the car to beat at Richmond, winning the first two stages in the same race he suffered an encumbered win in last season. He failed to get back to the point over the final laps which opened the door for Busch. Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps in the race but a terrible final pit stop knocked him out of a shot for the win.
Kyle Busch attempted to save tires for the second round of qualifying on Friday but didn’t make that round, ultimately starting the race in 32nd. Truex started on the pole and led the first 38 laps, and Logano grabbed the lead on lap 39, holding onto it through lap 111 which included the caution to end the first stage. Kurt Busch led after the restart to begin stage 2, and Busch led 58 laps before Clint Bowyer snagged the lead. Logano retook the lead on lap 193 and held on through lap 211 to win stage two.
Kurt Busch retook the lead on the restart before yielding to Bowyer again. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin each led during green flag pit stops before Truex led a bunch of laps before green flag stops started again, and after another exchange of the lead through several drivers during green flag stop again, he regained the point.
The first caution for an incident was lap 355 after Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Cole Whitt got crossed up in Turn 4. Truex continued to lead through that caution period. The next yellow flew for fluid left on the track after Ryan Newman had an issue. As the teams came out of pit road for that caution it was Kyle Busch who grabbed the lead. David Ragan spun in Turn 3 with nine laps to go. Busch led off of pit lane after Truex had a terrible stop that eliminated him from contention. A final, questionable caution with three laps to go resulted in one more restart but Busch managed to hang onto the point and win the race.
Busch’s win from 32nd was the furthest back he’d ever started in a Cup race and gone on to win. He’d started 32nd or worse twice at Richmond before Saturday night and finished second in both of those races.
Why you should care
Everyone was ready to hand the championship trophy to Harvick after he won three straight races at the beginning of the season. Now that Busch has grabbed three straight wins of his own, on top of his three seconds and a third, he has thrown his hat forcefully into the ring for title consideration. The debate will rage for the rest of the season but Busch and Harvick are certainly two of the best drivers in the sport right now and will be hard to beat for the title.
Jimmie Johnson has had two solid runs and just might be in the mix as well by the time the regular season ends. For now, the biggest question is whether the Chevrolets will have anything figured out by the time Kansas rolls around in three weeks.
What your friends are talking about
The pit guns were a topic of discussion this week again. The Race Team Alliance (RTA) had a recent meeting and several owners were quite vocal in their displeasure over the program. The most vocal was reportedly Joe Gibbs, whose team was in the forefront of the gun development that led to this current program. The sanctioning body has not said anything about a deadline for improvement or if there is any thought of changing direction. There are rumors that a potential change could happen if performance doesn’t improve very soon.
Ford Performance announced this week that the Mustang will be the body of choice for the Cup Series in 2019. Roger Penske let the cat out of the bag a few weeks ago that Ford would be changing to a different model for the Cup Series in 2019.
Joe Gibbs Racing has renewed its affiliation with Toyota for an undisclosed amount of time. JGR has been the flagship organization for Toyota since they switched to the manufacturer in 2008. When questioned about the length of the contract, Gibbs would not disclose the terms but said it is “quite a while.”
Hamlin won his charity race at Langley Speedway Thursday night. During the race, the track used a choose cone to allow drivers to pick which lane that restarted in. Restarts at Richmond saw the outside lane at a distinct advantage. We have constantly heard that the Cup teams could not handle the cone, but apparently, at least two of the Cup regulars know how to pick at the cone after Hamlin and Kyle Busch did it all night at Langley Speedway.
Timothy Peters will make his Cup debut at Talladega next weekend for Ricky Benton Racing after his strong showing for the organization in Martinsville in its No. 92 truck. His debut comes just a week after Daniel Hemric debuted in the Cup Series this week in an RCR backed No. 8, coming home in 32nd.
With the release of the NFL schedule this week, the inevitable has happened for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indianapolis Colts’ season opener will be on Sept. 9, the same day as the Brickyard 400. The struggles for attendees at IMS for this signature event have been well documented. The move to September, and the final race of the regular season, was an attempt to help bolster the attendance for the event. This turn of events can’t be helping.
Who is mad
After leading the most laps in the race, and dueling for the top spot, Truex had a bad break on the final pit stop of the race. The jackman did not get the car far enough off of the ground, on the left side, and the delay cost Truex any shot he had for the win. He still has two career victories at Dover, which count as short track wins in the Frontstretch world, even if the TV broadcasters don’t view it that way.
Stenhouse Jr. has had his struggles on intermediate tracks of late, and he was completely out to lunch at Martinsville. He had a strong run at Bristol and looked to be on his way to a decent finish at Richmond as well. Unfortunately, he smacked the outside wall, forcing a visit to pit road for extra attention to the right side of his car. While he managed to finish on the lead lap he was only in 23rd and will have to wait a long time before he gets back to one of his beloved short tracks again.
Who is happy
The season continues to be a struggle for Johnson but sometimes a driver will take a fortunate turn of events. On Saturday night Johnson went down a lap early in the event. With the lack of cautions, it took an extensive amount of time for him to make it back to the lead lap. However, after utilizing the wave around to get there late in the race, Johnson took fresh tires and used them to his advantage. In the end, a sixth-place finish was certainly more than he expected but just might be the turn of luck that gives the No. 48 team a boost to the playoffs.
Daniel Suarez has had his own struggles this season, and top-10 runs have been few and far between. In fact, the 10th-place run on Saturday night was his second of the season. His first was a Phoenix, which is a very similar track to Richmond. As Toyota continues to get back to a position of dominance, expect Suarez to rise with the tide and potentially grab his first Cup victory this year.
When the checkered flag flew…
Kyle Busch won his third in a row in 2018 for his 46th career victory in the Cup Series.
It took Busch 471 starts to get to 46 career wins.
The win is Busch’s fifth career triumph at Richmond, the most among active drivers.
Busch is tied with Buck Baker for 15th on the All-Time win list.
The runner-up Saturday night was Chase Elliott.
The second place result is Elliott’s best finish of 2018.
Elliott has one career second place finish at Richmond.
For his career, Elliott has eight career runner-up runs.
Denny Hamlin rounded out the podium.
Hamlin has two top-three finishes in 2018.
This is Hamlin’s ninth career top three at Richmond.
In his career Hamlin has 92 career podium runs.
Hamlin is tied with Herb Thomas for 26th on the All-Time podium list.
William Byron came home 12th to score the Rookie of the Race win.
Byron has won the Rookie of the Race award five times. Darrell Wallace Jr. has won four of them this year.
Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch are the five race winners in seven races of 2018. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will be locked into the playoffs based on winning a race. Harvick and Busch are locked into the playoffs thanks to three victories, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season.The remaining drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points:
2) Joey Logano – 2
5) Brad Keselowski – 3
6) Denny Hamlin – 1
8) Ryan Blaney – 2
9) Kurt Busch – 2
10) Kyle Larson – 0
11) Aric Almirola – 0
12) Erik Jones – 0
13) Alex Bowman – 0
15) Jimmie Johnson – 0
16) William Byron – 0
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
The new Richmond looked quite a bit like the old Richmond Saturday night. It took the whole track to make a pass and it was very hard to get around cars thanks to the dual groove surface. Multiple race strategies led to a lot of passing and intense battles all race long. The battle for the victory was up in the air until the very end. As a result, this one gets five cold Richmond Lagers from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week?
The series will run the second restrictor plate race of the season next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. The event will air on FOX, Sunday, April 29 at 2 p.m. ET. It can also be viewed on the FOX Sports Go app. If you want to listen while watching or instead of watching, the race will air on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.