Kyle Busch captured his 50th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win by taking the checkered flag on the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night. It was the seventh win of 2018 for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
He was followed by the Ford of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick in second and Martin Truex Jr. in third, with Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott finishing fourth as the highest-ranked Chevrolet. SHR’s Aric Almirola rounded out the top five.
Harvick started on the pole for the third time this season, and he led the first 40 laps before being passed by Truex, who went on to win the first stage. Truex briefly lost the lead following the initial pit stops of the second stage, but regained it by the time the green flag waved was and never really challenged, winning the second stage as well.
There were only three cautions in total, the only “natural” caution came about halfway through the third stage for a spinning Jeffrey Earnhardt, driving the No. 96 this week for Gaunt Brothers Racing, who was 11 laps down at the time.
39 of the 40 entries were running at the finish, only 13 cars finished on the lead lap. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the highest-finishing non-playoff driver in 13th.
The only car not running at the finish was Gray Gaulding in the Rick Ware Racing No. 52, who exited early due to brake failure.
It’s safe to say that Aric Almirola is having the best season of his Cup career in his first season behind the wheel of the No. 10. His fifth-place run on Saturday was his 12th top-10 of the year, and his average finish is 13.7. He’s been in position to win several times, easily qualified for the playoffs and picked up his first career stage win, further proof that SHR is having an amazing year – the No. 10 is still the fourth-best team at their shop, but the gap has narrowed considerably since Danica Patrick’s departure.
Ryan Blaney started fourth, but lost 15 positions during the first stage, and though he climbed a little as the race went on, he finished one lap down in 19th. It was the third time in the past four weeks that the No. 12 has finished outside the top 10.
Driving a Cup car at Richmond just doesn’t agree with Blaney – his career results at the track are 28th, 39th, 36th (DNF), 18th, 22nd and 19th. That comes out to an average finish of 27th. In the XFINITY Series, though, Blaney’s never finished worse than ninth at the track.
Playoff racer Austin Dillon finished sixth Saturday night, his fifth top-10 this season, which the driver of the No. 3 was pleased with. This should keep him within playoff picture heading to Charlotte. More importantly, this was Richard Childress Racing’s third straight week with one of their cars in the top 10, after Ryan Newman finished up near the front the past two weeks. Speaking of the No. 31…
Newman announced this weekend that he will be joining Roush Fenway Racing for 2019, piloting the No. 6 that Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth shared this season. The No. 6 team has an average finish this season of 22.0 (Kenseth) and 23.7 (Bayne), with a best finish of 11th (Bayne) in the Bristol night race, and the car has finished in the top 20 in exactly half the races thus far.
Roush Fenway’s other car, the full-time effort of Stenhouse in the No. 17, has three top-10s and an average finish of 19.6. This is hard to fathom why Newman would join RFR.
Alex Bowman finished on the lead lap in 12th this week, his best finish since an eighth-place result in the Bristol Night Race. In his first full season driving quality equipment, Bowman has finished in the top 10 nine times this season, or just about once every three races. Given Hendrick’s performance much of this season, that isn’t bad. Bowman is averaging a finish around 16th. The driver he replaced did pretty well this weekend, too.
Matt DiBenedetto isn’t returning to Go FAS Racing and the No. 32 Ford after this season; maybe because of the struggles they’ve dealt with on the track? Not to mention the team’s somewhat inconsistent sponsorship issues. DiBenedetto has an average finish of 27th this season, which is slightly better than his average 29.2 starting spot. Outside of the seventh-place run in the July Daytona race, the team’s best finish is 16th at the spring Texas and Richmond races. This team was expected to be contending for top-20 runs most of the time going into this season, so the results have been rather disappointing.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Jimmy John’s has been promoting their new wheat bread for several weeks on Kevin Harvick’s No. 4, which essentially means flipping the usual paint scheme. It looked pretty good already, but given the colossal Twitter sticker the Race Team Alliance is testing out, flipping the paint scheme means Harvick’s emoji blends in, becoming a reasonable size. That’s good enough to go in this section for this week.
His SHR teammate Kurt Busch was sponsored by State Water Heaters this week, and they have never changed their paint scheme since Busch joined the team in 2014, which is kind of unheard of in this era. That also deserves a shoutout.
No one has any real idea of what might happen this weekend when the XFINITY Series and MENCS take on a (sort-of) brand-new course in the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
Brad Keselowski and the Busch brothers are two of the better road-course drivers in Cup, and Truex and Harvick are also strong road racers. It’s probable that one of those driver will capture the first trophy on this layout.
It’s also likely that many drivers will either spin out or wreck, judging by the testing sessions earlier this summer.
The only things we know for sure going into this weekend are that Busch, Harvick, Keselowski and Truex are moving on into the second round, and that the bottom four playoff drivers will be eliminated.
The Bank of America ROVAL 400 will be Sunday, Sept. 30, going green around 2 p.m. ET, with TV coverage on NBC.