The Headline(s): Capitalizing on long-run speed and an ability to run both high and low like no other car in the field, Martin Truex Jr. passed teammate Kyle Busch with help from a pick from Austin Theriault’s lapped car on lap 374, riding off into the sunset to score his second consecutive win, sixth of 2019, 25th of his career and 38th overall NASCAR national series win.
Get out the broom, @MartinTruex_Jr has swept Richmond in 2019! 🧹
— Richmond Raceway (@RichmondRaceway) September 22, 2019
Truex led a Joe Gibbs Racing rout that saw the organization place Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones 1-2-3-4 until Jones was disqualified and dropped to a 38th-place result. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.
How It Happened: Any concerns Team Penske had about long-run speed were seemingly allayed, with polesitter Keselowski leading the first 53 laps. The JGR storm was brewing, however, with both Truex and Hamlin methodically making progress until Truex took the race lead on lap 54. With the lead in hand, Truex turned on the afterburners for the remainder of the first stage, lapping fellow playoff contenders William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano as he cruised to the stage one win. Truex lost the lead to teammate Busch on the ensuing pit stops.
The first incident of the race struck soon after the lap 109 restart. In a Hendrick sandwich between Byron and Bowman, Austin Dillon made contact with both machines, leading to tire rubs for both Byron and Dillon. Further contact angered Dillon, who turned Bowman on lap 111 to bring out the yellow.
A little Intimidator in the driver of that No. 3 car!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 22, 2019
Keselowski, Blaney and several others near the front opted to pit for tires during this yellow flag period, a move that would pay off as stage two stayed green the rest of the way, with Busch leading every lap to score the victory. Though the Toyotas dominated this stage, the Fords of Keselowski and Newman both capitalized on tire strategy to score needed stage points.
The race went green on lap 210 with Busch still in the lead, where he would remain until the next caution flew on lap 243, when Reed Sorenson’s race-long brake issues finally caught up with the No. 77 car, as it hit the wall in turn 2. The caution brought the field down pit road, where Keselowski’s crew bested the entire JGR organization to put the No. 2 back in front. Keselowski took advantage of Busch spinning his tires on the lap 251 restart to keep the lead, while Newman shocked the entire field by battling his way past Busch and Hamlin up to the third position. By lap 282, however, Newman began to fade back outside the top five, and Truex again capitalized on long-run speed to pass Keselowski for the race lead. Lap 295 saw the last of the JGR cars, Jones’ No. 20, use a bump of Newman’s Ford to get back into the top five.
The last major event of Saturday’s race came on lap 315 when leader Truex got spun by the lapped car of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had pitted for fresh tires and locked up his wheels trying to unlap himself.
The No. 19 was the leader! pic.twitter.com/aTN7mElH1O
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 22, 2019
Fortunately for Truex, the spin only dropped him to third given the gap he had built over the rest of the field. Kyle Busch led the race to the final restart on lap 322, a lead that he held until Truex’s winning pass on lap 374.
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
Joe Gibbs Racing followed up leading 238 of 250 laps in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race by leading 311 of 400 laps Saturday night, sweeping the top three finishing positions, and lulling those who were stubborn enough to keep the race on instead of switching back to college football or Live PD to sleep. Pick your poison… Truex has established himself as the title favorite, Busch proved that his latest faux pas off the track had no impact on his performance on it and Hamlin was Hamlin on a Virginia short track. Jones passed Newman, the man “harder to pass than a kidney stone” for a spot in the top five before the disqualification. This night made the organization’s 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 to open 2019 look pedestrian.
Keselowski gets a nod here for two reasons. One, he was the only driver not in a Toyota to lead a lap in Saturday’s race. Second, he supplanted Logano at the front of the Penske brigade, proving consistent up front on a night that both his teammates were out to lunch all race long. Consecutive top fives heading into the ROVAL is just what the doctor ordered for the No. 2 team after a less than stellar summer.
A month ago, there was a Bristol lynch mob gunning for Newman after contact with Matt DiBenedetto deprived Guido Nation of their first Cup win. Saturday night, Newman returned Roush Fenway Racing to relevance, proving able to contend with JGR Toyotas on the short run and demonstrating consistent top 10 speed that has been foreign to the No. 6 team in recent seasons. Newman has gone from playoff backmarker to expected to advance to the Round of 12.
On a night when Chevrolet’s entire NASCAR effort was in shambles, the one bright spot was Kyle Larson, who was all but invisible in finishing sixth, his seventh top 10 in the last eight races. Larson is still toward the bottom of the standings, but running this consistent heading into a ROVAL race he nearly won a year ago is a place the No. 42 would gladly have taken at the start of the playoffs.
Daniel Suarez was the only driver not in the playoffs to finish in the top 10, a ninth-place effort that was his first top 10 since Bristol. Bubba Wallace finished 12th, his first career top 20 at Richmond and a career-best Cup finish on a short track. David Ragan finished 19th, his best short track finish of 2019.
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
Where to start with Chevrolet’s woes? Hendrick Motorsports’ two biggest guns in Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott both faded from top 10 runs early to finish an irrelevant 10th and 13th. Kurt Busch got snake bit pitting immediately before a yellow flag and proving unable to navigate back through traffic, finishing 18th. Joining them in irrelevance were both the JTG Daugherty Racing cars. Ryan Preece finished a distant 30th and still ran better than teammate Chris Buescher, whose streak of top-20 finishes dating back to the spring finally snapped. The No. 37 car was suffering such handling woes that he pitted early around lap 45 under green and still was nearly two laps down by the end of stage one.
Worse, however, were the nights of Hendrick’s young guns and Richard Childress’ flagship (Austin Dillon is back in 2020 despite doing nothing behind the wheel of the No. 3 this year). Watching these three drivers all bang each other up on the lap 109 restart was short-sighted enough, as it left Byron with a tire rub that would have forced the No. 24 to pit under green had Dillon not behaved like himself and dumped Bowman for no reason other than frustration. That incident led to possibly the quote of the year:
— Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer) September 22, 2019
The fact that Bowman, a playoff driver, had his night defined by mouthing off about contact with the 22nd place driver in the standings says plenty.
As previously mentioned, Logano and Blaney may as well not have shown up Saturday night, a ghostly performance by the defending champion.
And while Dillon did the Dillon on lap 111, the same could be said for Stenhouse’s gaffe on lap 315. The replays are abundantly clear that Stenhouse didn’t intend to spin race leader Truex, but he did. Spinning the leader as a lapped car is about as big a mistake as one can make on the track, and in Stenhouse’s case, it’s not like this is his first time offense.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News – Inside the Playoffs
While the lack of cars meant that the few Toyotas have had to cut deals with the bowtie brigade to be relevant on the superspeedways, the 2019 playoffs are so far proving that Toyota’s decision to run only five cars with factory support has rendered their top entries better resourced than any of their competitors. It’s essentially the equivalent what Formula 1 would call a factory team running in NASCAR, and when the talent level is as high as with Kyle Busch in the stable, five cars is more than enough to provide the data needed to dominate.
As much as the libertarian side of me hates seeing governance/oversight stick their hands in anything, I can’t help but wonder if NASCAR is nearing a point that something needs to be done to rein in what JGR’s Toyotas are doing. Between Christopher Bell stomping the Xfinity field into submission Friday night and Truex and Rowdy making the track their playground Saturday, the track formerly known as “Racing Perfection” was purely sedate this weekend.
That’s not all on Toyota, though if I was NASCAR I’d sacrifice a few goats praying that another make wins the ROVAL next weekend.
— Bryan Davis Keith (@BryanDavisKeith) September 22, 2019
Rutledge Wood carried on the screaming NBC commentary into his victory lane interview with Truex, exclaiming “spin and win” in describing Truex’s victory. Let’s get real. Truex suffered no damage after getting hit by Stenhouse and fell from first to third as a result. He won by making up two spots on track over a 78-lap run. There’s plenty to credit the No. 19 team for without inflating it “spin and win” is right up there with the compliments Truex got for rebounding to win the Coca-Cola 600 thanks to a caution he caused by dumping Bayley Currey.
Byron fell a second lap down to Busch less than one lap from the end of the second stage, though he didn’t put up much of a fight to prevent it. I couldn’t help but wonder would crew chief Chad Knaus, whose been instructing Byron on literally everything short of when to shift in recent races, have pushed Byron to put up more of a fight if he hadn’t made a royal mess of trying to pay Rowdy back at Watkins Glen last month?
Given the rather vast talent disparity, it may seem odd to be comparing Busch to Riley Herbst. But after listening to a week’s worth of criticism of Rowdy’s expressed frustration with media questions after last week’s Las Vegas race only to culminate with Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton essentially lecturing the man during Saturday’s pre-race show, I found myself again defending a No. 18 driver that I otherwise couldn’t care less about (back in March, I adamantly defended Herbst after Hannah Newhouse was somehow applauded for calling him a douchebag on a hot mic. I’d love to see the sympathy a male reporter would get for calling Hailie Deegan a comparable name).
Rewind back to Las Vegas last week. Rowdy, a driver whose history of post-race interviews after incidents is widely known to result in short, terse answers, had very little to say about finishing 19th after contact with a lapped car ruined a top-five run. After offering a few smarts remarks, Busch expressed frustration with stupid questions before leaving the media bullpen.
What did the throngs expect him to say? Either Busch was the victim of an inexperienced driver running 15 mph off the pace in a playoff race, or he made a self-inflicted mistake that cost his team 15 positions on track. In both cases, how can anyone be surprised that a competitor doesn’t walk to talk about it? Anyone, from the best race drivers in the world to the fry cook down the street can and will get frustrated answering questions where the answer is already known. That so many feigned surprise or disgust by Busch’s remarks made me yawn almost as much as Saturday’s race.
But Petty took it even a step further, with his remark that what he “saw last week is a disrespect to the sport, is a disrespect to the media and is a disrespect to the fans.” Let’s be very clear: getting short with the media is not disrespectful to the fans. Making life difficult for the media fortunate enough to cover this sport does not equivocate to conduct detrimental to stock car racing. Petty closed his remarks telling Busch to “get over yourself….” All the media on their high horses about Kyle being Kyle this week could do the same.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News – Outside the Playoffs
Once again, NBC’s broadcast this weekend left no shortage of stories uncovered over the course of 400 laps. And while seeing Corey LaJoie get a shout out early in the race was a welcome episode, there were a number of omissions that were true headscratchers.
Let’s start on lap 35 when Rick Allen led a discussion about glowing brake rotors that focused on Elliott, whose brakes weren’t exactly glowing. This went over the air at the same time Twitter was ablaze about Sorenson’s brakes, being, well, visibly ablaze.
Sorenson is in for a long night if he doesn't give his brakes a break. Hardly stops glowing down the back before he gets to the next turn. #NASCAR | #Federated400 | #ALLINRICHMOND pic.twitter.com/usQIubsewk
— JJ (@TomcatNASCAR_2) September 21, 2019
Fast forward to lap 105. Truck Series title favorite and media darling Ross Chastain ended up behind the wall for an extended period with brake issues, a development that went entirely unmentioned on the broadcast. Maybe NBC doesn’t want the star of a FOX broadcast property getting air time on a rival network? (I kid, I doubt many in the booth knew who was actually driving the No. 15 this weekend).
And perhaps the best example of the ever-narrowing coverage window?
— Matthew Ryan (@Matthew_Ryan4) September 22, 2019
During Through the Field coverage later in Saturday’s race, the NBC booth noted that Suarez needed the top-10 run he delivered Saturday, as he may need to look over his shoulder at teammate and Xfinity Series title contender Cole Custer after missing the playoffs this season. After seeing Stenhouse’s latest headscratcher, and what Newman’s been able to do with the lesser Roush Fenway Fords despite having that for a teammate, maybe Ford needs to put some pressure on the driver of the No. 17 instead. Imagine what the Rocketman could do with a contender for a teammate?
Best Paint Scheme: Garrett Smithley, for the most trigger-happy, or triggering, scheme of 2019 depending on one’s persuasion.
— Rick Ware Racing (@RickWareRacing) September 20, 2019
Though after last week, maybe the crosshair looking thing should have been on the rear bumper?
Parental Warning Sticker: Richmond fall race. Most unfortunate acronym ever.
— Jacob Nelson (@Jacob_J_Nelson) September 22, 2019
Though maybe not, if you agree with this Tweeter.
Where It Rated: The night they drove old Dixie down. NASCAR’s commitment to high downforce race cars has remedied the on-track product on their intermediate ovals, but Richmond Raceway has been neutered by this package. Richmond is my beloved birthplace, but I went to bed relieved I didn’t make the trip.
What’s the Point(s)? Leaving Richmond, Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and find themselves on the wrong side of the cut line. Bowman currently trails Byron by two points for the final spot in the top 12. After winning, Truex has locked himself into the Round of 12. Based on unofficial points available, both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have locked themselves into the Round of 12 on points.
Dust Off the VCR: The final race of the Round of 16 of the 2019 playoffs comes on the roval formerly known as Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coverage from the Old North State starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.