Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Race Preview

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back in action this weekend for the second race of the playoffs. Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) should feature another intense battle among the front runners to gain additional playoff points while some of the guys battling at the bottom of the grid could be in for a long evening.

Truex Eyeing 2nd Straight Win

Martin Truex Jr. won last weekend in Las Vegas. He had a quick car all night. Now, he’s looking to go back-to-back Saturday night in Richmond. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver actually earned his first career short track victory on this very track back in the spring race when he passed Clint Bowyer late.

So, the odds say he’s the favorite right?

The last driver to win on the season as well as the last driver to win at Richmond. Bodes well. It could happen too. Truex, won the Richmond race this past spring and finished third in last year’s playoff race. He has also led 100 or more laps in five of his last six starts there. I’d think he’s going to be a factor come Saturday too.

The last time a driver swept both races at Richmond? Last year in fact. Kyle Busch accomplished that feat. Jimmie Johnson did back in 2007 too. But, out of Truex’s 24 career Cup wins, none have come back-to-back. He’s actually never won two straight races in his career.

Can he do so on Saturday?

JGR/Penske Cars The Ones To Beat

Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske dominated the Cup regular season. Combined, they won the first nine points paying races to go along with 15 of the first 16 overall. That’s where it all changed. Over the last 10, they won just three, all by JGR.

Penske hasn’t won since June 10 at Michigan by Joey Logano. JGR did win two of the final three but parity stole the show over the final half of the regular season.

Now that we’re into the playoffs, JGR and Penske are back to the forefront.

In Vegas, Martin Truex Jr. won. Brad Keselowski finished third and Ryan Blaney fifth. Three of the top five went to JGR/Penske.

The site of this weekend’s race in Richmond will likely be a JGR/Penske show. JGR has won three in-a-row at the Richmond (VA) Raceway including six of the last eight. They’ve won three of the last four races on the season too.

Throw Penske in there and they’ve won nine of the last 11 in Richmond in general. The only two that they didn’t win was Kurt Busch with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2015 and Kyle Larson with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017.

Truex, won the Richmond race this past spring and finished third in last year’s playoff race. He’s also led 100 or more laps in five of his last six starts there. I’d think he’s going to be a factor come Saturday too.

Denny Hamlin has seven top six finishes in his last eight starts on the .75-mile short track. While he hasn’t had a top five finish since his win last month in Bristol, I do think his No. 11 Toyota can pull some separation on the bubble again on Saturday night.

Kyle Busch has six wins and 21 top 10 finishes in 28 Richmond starts. He’s scored four top two finishes in his last eight races and swept both races there last year. While he’s riding a 13 race winless streak, Saturday night’s race is the time it could end.

Brad Keselowski hasn’t finished worse than 11th in his last eight Richmond starts including eight top 10 finishes there since 2014. He’s also had six top 10 finishes in his last eight starts on the season including three top five’s in his last four starts overall.

Joey Logano hasn’t won since mid June but he does have 10 top 10 finishes in his last 11 Richmond starts including four top four’s in his last five overall.

Truex Ended His Drought, Can Busch Or Logano Do So Next?

I wrote about this leading into the playoffs how heading into the Month of July, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano had won 10 of the first 16 races of the season. But, over the final 10 races of the regular season, none had won since the month of June.

Busch last won on June 2 at Pocono. Logano last won on June 10 at Michigan. Truex, last won at Sonoma on June 23. With an off weekend between Michigan and Sonoma, they won all three races for the month.

Truex, ended his drought last Sunday in Vegas in a thrilling victory. Is Logano or Busch next?

Busch has six wins and 21 top 10 finishes in 28 Richmond starts. He’s scored four top two finishes in his last eight races and swept both races there last year. While he’s riding a 13 race winless streak, Saturday night’s race is the time it could end. He does only have two top five finishes over his last eight starts on the season, but Richmond is a track that suits him.

Logano has 10 top 10 finishes in his last 11 Richmond starts including four top four’s in his last five overall. But, he also only has just two top five finishes over his last 12 starts on the season as well.

Both need wins badly.

Can Hamlin Get Back Going Again?

Denny Hamlin was on a hot streak recently. From Kentucky in mid July to Bristol at the end of August, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had six straight top five finishes including five of which being in the top three.

But, over the last three races, he has just one top 10. Hamlin finished 29th in Darlington, sixth in Indy and 15th in Vegas.

It’s not like he didn’t have fast race cars though. He was running up front in the Southern 500 but was involved in a crash. A week later in Indy, he finished in the top 10 with a backup car while starting last. Vegas, was an anomaly.

Now, it’s to Richmond, arguably Hamlin’s best track.

Out of his last eight starts there, he’s finished in the top six in seven of them. He’s +29 in the playoff standings and if he wants to avoid a hectic weekend for the ROVAL, a solid top five would suffice.

Jones/Bowyer Facing Must Wins Who Else Is Worried For Richmond

Las Vegas was a spot that was circled on a lot of drivers’ schedules this season. The reason? They’re fearful of the Charlotte ROVAL. No one wants to go into the ROVAL facing a must win. So, in order to not be in that position, you had to have started the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on the right footing.

Unfortunately for a few, they didn’t.

While Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished 15th and 19th respectively, they’ve built up a ton of playoff points in their bank to remain in a solid position. For Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch, well they haven’t.

They sit as the bottom three right now in the playoff standings and honestly two of them are likely facing must-win scenarios over the next two weeks.

For a second straight year, Jones found early troubles in Vegas. Last year, he was caught up in a crash while leading with Kevin Harvick. This year, his car got stuck in second gear at the start of Stage 2. He’d finish 36th last Sunday and falls to 26 points below the cutoff line.

Bowyer, had a bad handling race car and finished 25th. He’s 15th, 21 points out. Kurt Busch crashed and finished last in 39th. He’s 14 points out in 14th.

With looking ahead of these drivers’ past stats at Richmond and the ROVAL, they have to be concerned.

Jones, has never finished in the top five at Richmond. In fact, he has just one top 10 in five tries.

Busch, has one top five in his last eight Richmond starts. Furthermore, his last three finishes there are 11th, 18th and 11th respectively.

Bowyer, did finish third back in the spring to go along with three straight top 10 finishes.

What’s going against Busch and Bowyer though is Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones’ organization has won three straight Cup races on the .75-mile short track and six of the last eight overall there. Throw in Team Penske and JGR/Penske has won nine of the last 11.

For drivers facing must wins, that’s a tall task to ask of them. If they fall further back, it’s onto the ROVAL…

But, they’re not the only ones who has to worry. Ryan Blaney is only +12 in 10th but he’s never finished better than 18th in seven Richmond starts. Aric Almirola is 11th but he’s finished 17th or worse in two of his last three Richmond tries including no top 10’s on the season since Daytona and no top fives since Phoenix.

Ryan Newman meanwhile is six points below the cutoff but has seen top 10 finishes in his last 12 Richmond starts including seventh and third respectively in 2017 and ninth this past spring.

Hendrick Cars Find Momentum, Can They Keep It?

None of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars would wind up in victory lane last Sunday night at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the South Point 400 sure felt like a win for them. See, I didn’t expect two of the three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff eligible drivers from HMS to even make it out of the first round.

After how this weekend went, I may be questioning my initial thoughts.

Chase Elliott had a quick car all weekend and would bring his No. 9 Chevrolet home fourth on Sunday night. The Georgia native was in the top 10 in both single lap and 10 lap averages in both practice sessions on Friday. He even qualified in the top 10 too.

Elliott, now has five top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the season. He’s sixth in the standings +30 right now too heading to a track in Richmond where he’s had three top 10’s in his last four starts including a fourth place run in last year’s playoff race.

I’m actually more impressed with Alex Bowman and William Byron though. Bowman, finished sixth in his No. 88 Chevrolet for his best finish on the season since his win at the Chicagoland Speedway on June 30. Over the last 10 races now, Sunday’s race and the race last month in Michigan are the only two times he’s finished better than 14th. I figured he was down and out and likely a candidate to get eliminated this round.

Now, he’s +10 and on the good side of the playoff grid with two races remaining.

For Byron, he overcame a midrace incident to still finish seventh in his No. 24 Chevrolet. For Byron, it was his third top eight finish in his last five starts on the year. He’s +13 in the standings now too.

Byron, has two top 13 finishes in three Cup tries at Richmond. Bowman, hasn’t finished worse than 18th in three Cup tries with HMS at Richmond.

The guys behind them in the standings all have struggled on the same .75-mile short track. This could be a solid week for them.

Can Johnson Play Spoiler

Jimmie Johnson earned his best finish last Sunday in Vegas since Daytona. Since Cliff Daniels took over as his crew chief, the speed is starting to show for his No. 48 Chevrolet. The problem is, they’ve struggled to put a whole race weekend together.

Maybe they can in Richmond.

Johnson, is hoping to play spoiler and Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 could be just the spot. Johnson, finished 12th at Richmond back in April. He was sixth and eighth respectively on this track last year. Furthermore, the 12th place finish in the spring was his worst result in his last 10 Richmond tries.

If anyone is going to play spoiler, it’s Johnson this weekend.

 

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