NASCAR PREVIEW: RICHMOND
By Brennen McCall, Racing Contributor
The three-quarter mile D-shaped oval of Richmond Raceway is the latest stop on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. It’s the third short track in three races. Richmond is known as “The Action Track” given for its multi-groove racing and short track tempers.
Richmond has been hosting NASCAR races since the early 1950s and has become a favorite for fans with two races a year. The track surface has taken some wear over the years and it’s 14-degree banking helps create side-by-side action throughout the field.
Richmond is a short track by nature. The driving style is very similar to what we saw last week at Martinsville Speedway. Speeds peak at the end of each straightaway around 140 mph and then it’s hard on the brakes into the first corner where speeds can plummet to 90 mph.
The corners are long and drivers will need to be cautious when getting back to the throttle. The exit of turn two comes up quickly. Unlike the exit of turn four, turn two exits on the back straightaway which is straight compared to the D-shape on the front stretch. This means the exit is very tight and drivers will need to crank the wheel far to the left to avoid smacking the wall.
Similarly, entrance to turn three differs from turn one’s entrance. Because drivers are entering the corner going completely straight, the driver must slow the car sooner than on the opposite end of the racetrack. A solid turn three sets the driver up for a good launch out of turn four against the outside wall.
Tire management will come into play as well as drivers will have the same amount of horsepower to work with as they did last week. Driving hard will produce strong lap times, but only for a short amount of time if the tires are abused for too long. Richmond is a wider racetrack than Martinsville and that presents options for the drivers if their car is handling poorly.
If the car is handling tight, meaning the car is having difficulty turning in the corners, the driver can break sooner into the corner or run a higher line to try and maintain momentum without scrubbing off too much speed. If the car is loose, that means if the car is turning too much in the corners, the driver may use similar tactics and not be so aggressive on breaks or throttle.
All this troubleshooting behind the wheel is exactly why short track racing puts on a great show. Drivers are always finding ways to find more speed throughout a run. Some are better at the start while others find speed late. These individual battles between driver and machine often find themselves scrapping with a fellow competitor. That is the nature of racing. And short track racing provides these battles all throughout the field from the back markers struggling to stay on the lead lap to the leaders chasing the checkered flag.
Speaking of the checkered flags, who is grabbing theirs come Sunday?
Most fans would give you Martin Truex Jr. Last week Truex secured another win at Martinsville Speedway and his second overall win of 2021. That #19 Toyota is red hot right now. Richmond drives similar to Martinsville and Phoenix, where Truex has won already. In his last four Richmond starts, Truex has two wins coupled with a second and third place finish. This has been a good track for him and barring any issues he should be a contender for the win.
Brad Keselowski is the most recent Richmond winner last Fall after leading nearly two hundred laps. His Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano has earned a second and third place finish in the last three Richmond races.
And how about Kyle Busch? The driver of the #18 Toyota swept both Richmond events in 2018 and managed two top-10s and a second-place finish since. This track typically is good to him and with a rough start to 2021, can he return to typical Kyle Busch form?
A strong dark horse pick would be Austin Dillon who has had solid success here in the last four races with two top-10s and a fourth-place finish last Fall.
The winner will be a driver who can make their car work well on the bottom and maintain a quick pace throughout the life of their tires. The best drivers who do this typically always find their way toward the front duking it out for win. The battles should be fun to watch up front and throughout the field at the Action Track.
Let’s have ourselves a race!
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