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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kyle Busch Sweeps Up at Richmond

Who’s in the headline

Kyle Busch has the most wins of any active driver at Richmond Raceway, but prior to this spring, it had been five years since he won a race there. He had also never won a fall race at the Virginia short-track. Not only did Busch win the spring race earlier this year, he also worked like a surgeon through the field all night long Saturday night and swept the Richmond races for the year. His seventh victory this season puts him in a tie with Kevin Harvick for the most wins in the series. Martin Truex Jr. dominated the early portions of the race, taking both stages before a pit road miscue mired him back in the field where he was never able to fully recover.

ALBINO: Truex Feels Richmond Owes Him

What happened

Harvick started the race from the pole and grabbed the point for the first 40 laps of the race. Truex chased Harvick down just before the mid-point of the first stage and passed him, on-track, for the lead. Truex led the remainder of the stage for the playoff point. An interesting development during the stage came when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came to the pits for fresh tires. When he came back on the track, he was much faster than the other cars. As he came through the field, he made contact with Denny Hamlin, all but spinning out the No. 11. Hamlin was forced to pit for tires, which ultimately afforded him the ability to come back through the field and grab a ninth-place finish in the first stage, his only stage points of the evening.

The second stage saw Truex lead on the restart and control every lap of the stage for his second win of the evening. Unfortunately for Truex, he had an uncontrolled tire on the pit stop which led to a penalty, burying the dominant car of the race deep in the field. Chase Elliott led the start of the final stage but was quickly overtaken by Brad Keselowski. For 30 laps, it was Keselowski at the point. But his car was not good on long runs.

Elliott was able to reel him back in and retook the point. Green flag stops shuffled the field for a few laps from lap 268 through lap 272 before Keselowski reestablished himself in the lead. Kyle Busch ran down Keselowski and wrested the lead from him on lap 287. Busch led until Jeffrey Earnhardt spun to bring out the only caution of the night for an on-track incident.

On the restart, Busch had the lead for nine laps before Keselowski regained the top spot. Busch bided his time, knowing that Keselowski’s car had been fading on long runs. Sure enough, Keselowski began to slow. While it took three different attempts by Busch, he eventually cleared Keselowski, pulled away, and never looked back, en route to his 50th career triumph.

Why you should care

The drama can be hyped endlessly for these playoff races. But in the end, there is usually little movement in the standings from race to race. That very well might not be the case next weekend. After Richmond, you have two of the three drivers who have won three consecutive races this season locked into the next round along with Truex. While Harvick is not locked in, he’s all but guaranteed to make it into the next round. The remainder of the field is incredibly apprehensive about the unknown of the Charlotte ROVAL. The top four in points right now are very likely to be the four that will battle for the title in Homestead-Miami.

What your friends are talking about

Ryan Newman is heading to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019. Why? Who knows. Roush is in disarray from a competition standpoint. The organization is in dire need of a major overhaul. Instead, it’s bringing in a veteran at the end of his career who has won the vast majority of his races through strategy rather than speed. Newman’s engineering knowledge might be of some help, but the company is so far behind right now. RFR needs far more than a grizzled veteran to right the ship. If you don’t think the team is in need of a major overhaul, check the average finishes versus JTG Daugherty Racing this season. JTG – AJ Allmendinger 23.0, Chris Buescher 21.4. RFR – Matt Kenseth 22.0, Stenhouse Jr. 19.6 and Trevor Bayne 23.7.

ROVAL, ROVAL, ROVAL is dominating the conversation leading up to next week. The fact that there is a race to end a round of the playoffs at a track where the series has never competed is crazy. Add in that it is a make-shift track with minimal run-off areas where cars are highly likely to lose control and you have a recipe for disaster. There is a huge possibility that half of the event next weekend could be run under yellow. Passing is going to, most likely, be ultra rare which is going to place a huge premium on qualifying and strategy. This race could be a watershed moment for the sport or it could absolutely suck out loud. We’ll find out next Sunday afternoon.

Like him or hate him, Kyle Busch crossed the magical 50 win plateau in the Cup Series on Saturday night. That is the 13th driver in the history of the sport to amass that number. The debate always circles around the 200 win number whenever Busch’s name comes up in victory discussions. There is no denying that 50 Cup wins is a huge number and Busch just joined a very elite fraternity of NASCAR Hall of Famers and Jimmie Johnson, who certainly will be.

Steve Phelps has been promoted to President of NASCAR, replacing Brent Dewar, who is moving to a consulting and advisory role. Phelps will report to Jim France in this new position. It is hard to say what this means for the sport because there still has been no communication from the upper levels of management since the Brian France arrest months ago. Hopefully, someone with the best interest of the sport is making some kind of decisions in the glass tower down in Daytona.

Silly season continues to heat up, even with the announcement of Newman going to Roush Fenway. Gene Haas was asked about Cole Custer going into the No. 41 this weekend but he said he doesn’t feel that Custer is ready since he has only one victory in XFINITY and two in Trucks. With Custer out of consideration, that leaves the seat open for the likes of Kenseth, or Bayne if they want an experienced Ford driver. On the development front, there is only Austin Cindric and Ryan Reed beyond Custer. It should all come clear in the next month, but it is a tough call right now as to who will end up in the No. 41.

With the announcement of Bayne being out of Roush Fenway Racing and Newman taking over the No. 6, some folks might be wondering what Kenseth is going to do. He has no interest in leaving Roush Fenway and he also has no desire to run full-time. It looks like Kenseth will assume a role somewhere within the RFR organization.

Daniel Suarez is reportedly out at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019. He has removed references to JGR from his Twitter bio. When asked about it Suarez responded, “I don’t really have anything good to say. When you don’t have anything good to say, it is better not to say anything.”

A change in upper management at Lowe’s Companies resulted in some new negotiations with Hendrick Motorsports about possibly returning in a limited role to the No. 48 in 2019. However, after discussions, Lowe’s has decided to continue its previous plan for marketing going forward, which does not include an investment in NASCAR.

Who is mad

Hamlin views Richmond as one of his two home tracks in Virginia. Coming in with the lowest point total in the playoffs he had to feel good about what hay he could make at the 3/4-mile oval. Unfortunately for Hamlin, it didn’t materialize. He was barely in the top 10 at the end of the first stage and was on the outside looking in the remainder of the race. To say the deck is stacked against him is an understatement heading to the ROVAL. Hamlin is going to have to hit a Hail Mary to make it to the second round of the 2018 Playoffs.

MASSIE: Hamlin Struggles at Home Track

Joey Logano won the spring race at Richmond in 2017. It was then classified as encumbered thanks to a post-race inspection failure. He was second in the fall race last year and fourth in the spring race this season. He was poised to make a run at a win and locking himself into the second round of the playoffs Saturday night. Instead, the team could not get a handle on the car and he ran 10th in both stages before a lackluster 14th-place finish.

CATANZARETI: Logano Upbeat After Quiet Richmond

Who is happy

The Stewart-Haas Racing squad had an okay Saturday night with three drivers in the top ten at the end of the race, including Harvick in the runner-up spot. Aric Almirola was the second strongest of the organization, coming home with a fifth-place finish. In his career, Almirola has two top-five finishes at Richmond and this was the first since 2015. He is sitting sixth in the point standings right now and, while no one is feeling any kind of comfortable heading into Charlotte outside of Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Truex, Almirola has to at least feel he has his destiny for round two in his own hands. He’s the only driver at SHR without a win in 2018 so far but it would not be shocking to see it happen before the end of the year.

ALBINO: Almirola Proud of Team’s Richmond Effort

Austin Dillon has not had a great season since his win in the Daytona 500, but lately, his team has found some speed and he’s starting to post some solid runs. A sixth-place finish at Richmond has Dillon sitting in the 10th position in points which, for now, has him in the second round of the playoffs. He is far from cozy in his position but the team has confidence which can be irreplaceable at this point of the season.

SEGAL: Dillon Optimistic After Top 10 at Richmond

When the checkered flag flew

Kyle Busch won his 50th Cup series race in his 490th career start.

This is Busch’s sixth victory of his career at Richmond Raceway.

For 2018 Busch is tied with Kevin Harvick for the most wins in the series at seven for the year.

On the all-time list, Busch is tied with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 11th .

Harvick finished as the runner-up on Saturday for the 11th top-two finish of 2018.

This is the sixth time in his career that Harvick has come home in the top two at Richmond Raceway.

Checking Harvick’s position on the all-time second place list, he is 10th with 54 career second-place runs.

Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the podium at Richmond.

In 2018, Truex has 10 top three finishes.

In his career Truex has come home top three at Richmond twice.

On the all-time list, Truex Jr. is ranked 43rd with 56 all time podium runs.

William Bryon came home in 20th to garner the Rookie of the Race award for the 18th time in 2018.

For the year, Byron’s 18 awards are eight more than Darrell Wallace Jr’s 10.

The playoffs are upon us. 16 drivers are eligible to win the title but only 12 will advance beyond the first round. The playoff contenders are listed below with their associated points. Race winners, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are bolded and will automatically advance to the next round. Martin Truex Jr. is also locked into the second round by virtue of his point advantage over 13th position.

1) Martin Truex Jr. – 2141

2) Kyle Busch – 2125

3) Kevin Harvick – 2113

4) Brad Keselowski – 2111

5) Joey Logano – 2081

6) Aric Almirola – 2079

7) Kyle Larson – 2073

8) Kurt Busch – 2071

9) Chase Elliott – 2066

10) Austin Dillon – 2066

11) Alex Bowman – 2061

12) Ryan Blaney – 2060

13) Clint Bowyer – 2056

14) Jimmie Johnson – 2054

15) Erik Jones – 2039

16) Denny Hamlin – 2031

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

Saturday night was one of the most exciting short track races you’ll see with only one caution flag for an incident involving a car on the race track. The race was filled with intense racing, strategy and playoff implications. When the checkered flag flew, the end result was little movement in the playoff standings around the cut-off line and more fear of what next week holds. As a result, we’ll give this one four cold Richmond Lagers from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

It is going to be amazing or it is going to be an abject disaster. Either way, the ROVAL is where we will be next weekend. Coverage from Charlotte Motor Speedway begins at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 30 on NBC. It can also be viewed on the NBC Sports app. If you want to listen to the race it will be on your local PRN affiliate, www.goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
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.

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11 comments

  1. Enough with the “does KyBu have 200+ wins.” No. Officially, Tom Brady has 224 wins. Those are all in the NFL. You don’t see anyone trying to count his college or high school wins. I see it as the same thing. 50 cup wins is impressive, and although I can’t stand his personality, I certainly acknowledge his skill behind the wheel.

    • I don’t think Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs include any from high school. Maybe Kyle should lawyer up before interviews and let her do his talking for him. Just another viewpoint.

  2. oh yeah, another thing,, i was watching the fedex championship golf game. lol…..they kept showing scenario of if this happens, this particular golfer will win the “championship” and this golfer will win the tourney.

    i so thought of na$car with their constant reminder of clinching scenarios.

  3. what i saw, which was little….hamlin definitely does not look happy with anything.

    roval……i can’t help by thing of the playground game “red rover” when i hear roval. will the teams be permitted to run rain tires if it’s raining in charlotte for the race?

    i can’t help but think this will be a race that po’s a lot of drivers!

    • Shouldn’t be a problem for a group thats advertised as “the best drivers in the world”. After all a lot of money has been spent making a track that road racers, even amateurs have raced on for years, suitable for them to race on. Sure looks wider and smoother than I remember it being.

  4. I thought this was a great race. Lots of green flag racing, guys getting lapped and not being given entitlement laps to get them back on the lead lap, lots of close racing and passing, and battles for the lead with the second place car actually being able to pass if they were faster (no aero). That’s the way races used to unfold before NASCAR tried to manufacture excitement.

    I’m sick of hearing about the roval. Stop talking about it and let’s just race and see how it goes. My only gripe with it is that I don’t think it should be a cutoff race because of the unknowns (they should have swapped Richmond and Charlotte). I am looking forward to it because it will be different and challenging. Whether or not it will produce a good race, I have no idea.

    I wonder who gets Newman’s ride at RCR. How would you feel if you were Ty Dillon and didn’t get it? Like maybe grand pa doesn’t have faith in you? Or Austin is his favorite? By the way, even if Dillon makes it through the 1st round, the only way he makes it through the 2nd round is to win the crapshoot restrictor plate race at Talladega.

    Glad to see Hamlin struggle. He seems to feel entitled more so than other drivers and whine more too. But maybe that’s just my perception.

  5. NASCAR and it’s stupid rules. How is a tire just sitting on pit road in the pit box uncontrolled? That rule needs to be changed! If it goes rolling out of the pit box then yes it’s uncontrolled. I believe that’s two weeks in a row someone was caught on a tire just sitting there minding its own business during a pit stop.

    • The rule is pretty clear. The tire must be in someone’s control. It can’t just be sitting there unattended. You may think that’s a silly rule but it is the rule and everyone knows it. If the crew member leaves the tire before the carrier picks it up then it’s on the crew member.