Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Richmond Betting Preview: 2019 Federated Auto Parts 400

Kyle Busch has 6 wins at Richmond.
Kyle Busch has gone 13 races since he last won a NASCAR Cup race at Pocono Raceway on June 2. He had a season-high four wins in the first 14 races and looked to be running away with everything. But since then, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. has passed him for the series lead with five wins and his other teammate Denny Hamlin has tied him with four wins.

The 'due factor theory' is one of the lamest gambling excuses ever, but when Kyle Busch takes the green flag Saturday night at Richmond Raceway’s 0.75-mile flat layout, being due for a win actually has some merit. That, and also the fact that he’s the best active driver at Richmond with six wins, six runner-ups and a 6.9 average finish between 26 Cup starts. He’s also got six wins there in the Xfinity Series.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has posted him as the 3/1 betting favorite to win Saturday Night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 with three drivers behind him listed at 6/1 odds, and two of them are his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Between the four JGR drivers, they’ve won 14 of the 27 Cup races this season and five different JGR driver have combined to win six of the past eight Richmond races.

Kyle Busch swept both Richmond races last season and in the spring race held on April 13, it was Truex winning there for his first career Cup win on a short track. It started a string of three straight wins for Truex when using the race package with engines producing 750 horsepower. He’d win at Dover and also at Sonoma using it. JGR drivers have won six of the nine races with it. Busch won at Phoenix and also the first Bristol race using it.

The most consistent driver using this week’s race package has been Denny Hamlin with eight top-fives in the nine races using it. In the last race with it, he won at Bristol. Beyond looking to improve his playoff position after a disappointing 15th at Las Vegas week, he’s also got some extra incentive going for him this week.

“I always love competing at my hometown track,” said Hamlin who grew up 25 minutes away from Richmond Raceway in Chesterfield. “I really appreciate the hometown support, and our team is working hard preparing to put us in the best position to get a W.”

All he’s done at his home track is grab three wins in 26 Cup starts, post 12 top-fives and his 1,659 laps led lead all active drivers. He also has three wins there in the Xfinity Series.

The other driver with Truex and Hamlin at 6/1 odds to win is three-time Richmond winner Kevin Harvick, who also has seven wins there in the Xfinity Series. His 15 top-fives in 37 Richmond Cup starts is second-most among active drivers behind Busch. Only Busch (6.9) and Hamlin (9.3) have a better average finish at Richmond than Harvick (9.8).

I like to group Richmond, Phoenix, and New Hampshire together because of a similar distance and being flat. If a driver does well on one of them they’ll do well on the others because of similar set-up requirements. Harvick happens to be the all-time winner at Phoenix and he won the July 23 race at New Hampshire in thrilling late-race battle with Hamlin for the win. By the way, Hamlin led 113 laps that day and Kyle Busch led a race-high 118 laps.

When putting the results of races at Phoenix, the first Richmond race, and New Hampshire side-by-side it’s Hamlin with top-fives in all three, Truex, Busch, Harvick, and Ryan Blaney with top-fives in two of them.

Chase Elliott is 16/1 to win at Richmond

Chase Elliott has top-5s in his last two races using the 750 HP package.
Chase Elliott on the intensity of the playoffs:
“I feel like it’s kind of self-inflicted. Either you have a pressure-packed 10 weeks or you don’t based on if you are running good. If you are running good you can kind of cruise through. If you are struggling to get stage points, and you are right on the edge of getting three or four points every stage and finishing eighth to 15th, then you are going to have a pressure-packed first handful of weeks. It really is what you make it and the big thing is that I think we are quick to forget the first 26 weeks of the season and how we could have had multiple wins to make this next 10 weeks a lot easier like a lot of these guys have.”

ROUND OF 16: This weekend marks the second race of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 16. Chase Elliott currently sits sixth in the playoff standings, 30 points above the cut line. Last season in the 2018 playoffs, he earned the most points (89) at the final two races in the Round of 16 (Richmond Raceway and the Charlotte road course). Elliott's two wins in the last nine playoff races are tied for the most in that span.

SHORT-TRACK PERFORMANCE: Elliott has made 24 short-track (Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway) starts in his NASCAR Cup Series career. In those starts, the 23-year-old driver has collected seven top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes and 425 laps led. So far in the 2019 campaign, he has accumulated an average finish of 8.25, which ranks as the fifth-highest average of active drivers. In 2019, Elliott has led 120 laps at short tracks – the sixth-most laps led at the track type this season.

LAST SIX: In the last six events of the season (Watkins Glen International, Michigan International Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Elliott is tied for the most top-10 finishes with five. He also has the highest average finish in the last six races (7.8). In the last two races alone, he has earned 67 points – the fifth-highest total.

NAPA AUTO PARTS: The primary blue, white and yellow NAPA AUTO PARTS paint scheme will grace the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 this weekend at Richmond. The Atlanta-based company will serve as majority sponsor for Elliott and the No. 9 team for a total of 26 NASCAR Cup Series races this year.

RICHMOND STATS: This weekend at Richmond, Elliott will make his ninth NASCAR Cup Series start at the 0.75-mile oval. In his previous eight starts, he has collected two top-five finishes – one being a runner-up result – and three top-10s. Additionally, he has made four starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Richmond, never finishing outside of the top five and collecting a win in 2015.

GUSTAFSON AT RICHMOND: No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson is set to call his 29th NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond from atop the pit box this weekend. In Gustafson’s previous 28 starts with five different drivers (Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Elliott), he has accumulated 12 top-five finishes – five being runner-up results – 16 top-10s and 566 laps led at the track. The only crew chief with more second-place finishes at the 0.75-mile track is Dale Inman, who has 10.

PIT CREW PROWESS: Among the teams competing in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, the No. 9 pit crew leads the field. The team owns the best average time for four-tire stops at 14.134.

 

2019 Season

  • 6th in standings
  • 27 starts
  • 2 wins
  • 3 pole positions
  • 9 top-five finishes
  • 12 top-10 finishes
  • 543 laps led
 
 

Career

  • 140 starts
  • 5 wins
  • 7 pole positions
  • 42 top-five finishes
  • 71 top-10 finishes
  • 1,786 laps led
 
 

Track Career 

  • 8 starts
  • 0 wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 2 top-five finishes
  • 3 top-10 finishes
  • 34 laps led
 

Denny Hamlin is 6/1 to win at Richmond

Denny Hamlin has 3 Richmond wins. 
Denny Hamlin
#11 FedEx Office Toyota
Joe Gibbs Racing

Race Info:

Race: Federated Auto Parts 400
Date/Time: September 21/7:30 p.m. ET
Distance: 400 laps/300 miles
Track Length: .75 miles
Track Shape: Oval
Banking: 14 degrees
2018 Winner: Kyle Busch

Express Notes:

Las Vegas Recap:
A top-10 finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway slipped from Denny Hamlin’s grasp in the last stage of the race Sunday night, as a change in the FedEx Toyota’s handling led to the No. 11 team finishing 15th. Hamlin started 13th but got the FedEx Ground Camry running in the top 10 by Lap 25. Despite his car not handling as well as he wanted, he was able to keep it in the top 10 for the first two stages. He even took the lead for a Lap 185 restart during Stage 3 after rolling the dice on a two-tire pit stop. The car’s handling took a turn for the worse from there, sending Hamlin on a backward slide that saw him as low as 25th on the leaderboard. He climbed back in the final 40 laps to cross the finish line in 15th.

Richmond (Federated Auto Parts 400) Preview: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs heads next to Hamlin’s hometown track of Richmond Raceway for a Saturday night race on Sept. 21. With three career wins at Richmond, Hamlin and team will be seeking another strong performance in front of his hometown fans to earn a playoff victory, as they continue chasing Hamlin’s first championship.

Hamlin Richmond Statistics:

Track: Richmond Raceway
Races: 26
Wins: 3 (2009, 2010, 2016)
Poles: 3 (2006, 2008, 2016)
Top-5: 12
Top-10: 16
Laps Led: 1,659
Avg. Start: 10.2
Avg. Finish 9.4

Hamlin Conversation:

How does your team bounce back from a disappointing finish at Las Vegas?


“We had a pretty decent FedEx Camry for the early part of the race, and then something happened with the handling where we went dead backwards. We’ll take it back to the shop and figure it out, and we won’t let it affect us. There’s still a long way to go in the playoffs and our team looks forward to getting back to work at Richmond.”

Does competing at your hometown track of Richmond make you a little more nervous, or excited?


“I always love competing at my hometown track. I really appreciate the hometown support, and our team is working hard preparing to put us in the best position to get a W.”

FedEx Virginia Beach Team Along for the Ride at Richmond Raceway: The FedEx Office Virginia Beach team will be recognized for their achievement of top Customer Experience Index score in Q1, and will have the letters D130 on the B-post of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota this weekend at Richmond Raceway. This score encompasses direct customer feedback from We Listen surveys and represents a holistic measure of customer loyalty and store experience.

Matt DiBenedetto is 300/1 to win first at Richmond

DiBenedetto has top-5s in 3 of last 4 using 750 HP package.
Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway
No. 95 Toyota Express Maintenance Toyota Camry Notes:


DIBENEDETTO BY THE NUMBERS: In nine Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career starts at Richmond, Matt DiBenedetto has an average start of 29.1, an average finish of 30.3 and he’s completed 3,526 of 3,613 (97.6 percent) career laps at the 0.75-mile Virginia track.

THE TOYOTA EXPRESS MAINTENANCE DIFFERENCE: When your Toyota needs factory-scheduled service, Toyota Express Maintenance (TXM) helps keep our guests moving with quality, speed and value. Toyota Express Maintenance provides precision service that’s precisely timed to fit within the busy schedules of Toyota owners. The pit crew-inspired approach helps get our guests in and out quickly, all at the right price with the quality they expect from a Toyota dealer. Toyota Express Maintenance emphasizes quality workmanship, competitive pricing and fast service. Services performed under Toyota Express Maintenance include oil and filter change, brake inspection, tire rotation, fluid inspection/replenishment and multipoint vehicle inspection. Additional expedited services are available.

RACE INFO: The Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway (0.75-mile) begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 21st. The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN, Sirius XM Channel 90 and MRN Radio.

From the Driver’s Seat:

Matt DiBenedetto: “Looking ahead to this weekend at Richmond, it’s a track that is more of a strong suit for us as a team since it is a short track. I enjoy the fact that this weekend at Richmond drivers will need to lay off the gas, use the brake pedal, and that we slide around a bit more than other tracks. When we raced there earlier in the season, we learned that track position meant more there than it has in the past, so driving through the field was more challenging than before. Even though it’s a short track, we’re very grip-limited in the corner at Richmond, so dirty air was a big deal in the spring race. It made for a challenging day if you happened to have any problems during the race where you would’ve gotten stuck back in the field. Richmond is a better type of track for us than the 1.5-mile ones since we’ve typically been faster at the short tracks so far this year.”

From the Pit Box:

Mike Wheeler: “Richmond is as challenging of a short track as Loudon and Phoenix since each one of those tracks has their own unique characteristics. Even though it’s one of the smaller tracks, the aero contribution Richmond has because of the speed versus banking combined with the tire combination, is definitely a challenge. Richmond is only slightly bigger than Martinsville, but it reacts more like an intermediate track. Tire falloff can be substantial at Richmond and that can make for good racing, however, there’s not many multiple grooves that are really preferred so you can find it difficult to pass. Everyone has improved their packages since the spring race as it was one of the earlier short track races of the season. Practice was also cut short when we raced there in the spring due to rain and we found that if you were off to start, you generally didn’t get enough time on track to be able to catch back up which happened to our group. So hopefully some of the stuff we’ve learned through the summer with our success at Loudon we can apply this weekend at Richmond to hopefully be a few steps better.”

No. 95 Toyota Camry Team:
Driver: Matt DiBenedetto Crew Chief: Mike Wheeler
Car Chief: Greg Emmer Spotter: Doug Campbell
Engineer: J.R. Houston Engineer: Etienne Cliche
Mechanic: Bill Mares Mechanic: Matt Kimball
Shock Specialist: Sean Studer Mechanic: Zach Marquardt
Tire Specialist: Tony Ramirez Jackman: Charles Thacker
Fueler: Bailey Walker Rear Changer: Deven Youker
Front Changer: Jason Charles Tire Carrier: Chris Hall
Hauler Driver: Damon Lopez Pit Support: Brian Eastland

About Toyota:

Toyota (NYSE:TM), creator of the Prius hybrid and the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through our Toyota and Lexus brands. Over the past 60 years, we’ve built more than 38 million cars and trucks in North America, where we operate 14 manufacturing plants (10 in the U.S.) and directly employ more than 47,000 people (more than 37,000 in the U.S.). Our 1,800 North American dealerships (nearly 1,500 in the U.S.) sold nearly 2.8 million cars and trucks (2.4 million in the U.S.) in 2018 – and about 87 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 16 years are still on the road today.

Kyle Busch is 3/1 favorite to win 2019 Federated Auto Parts

KYLE BUSCH
On to Richmond

Kyle Busch won both Richmond races in 2018. 
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 17, 2019) – It was the first race of the 10-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and 2015 champion Kyle Busch and his M&M’S Hazelnut team began their quest for their second championship Sunday with a disappointing result at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But in the playoffs, drivers and teams take the bad days, minimize them as much as possible and move on, which is exactly what Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens plan to do. The good news for Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry, is the next race on the schedule is at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, a place where he has the best average finish of any track on the current schedule.

A quick look at Busch’s Cup Series statistics at Richmond shows six career victories – most among active drivers – including two in the last three races there. In addition to his six career wins at the .75-mile short track, the Busch’s Richmond stat sheet shows 17 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s in 28 career starts, making him the most consistent active drivers at the track.

The Las Vegas native is at the top among active drivers in average finishing position at Richmond – 7.0. Next best is Kevin Harvick’s average finish of 7.9. Busch has completed all but one of the 11,229 laps available to him in his 28 Richmond starts. Of those, Busch has run in the top-15 for 9,947 laps, or 88.6 percent, which ranks second among active drivers.

His 19th-place finish in Sunday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas placed the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) pilot fourth in the playoff standings with a healthy 36-point buffer over 13th-place Ryan Newman. The 16-driver playoff field gets whittled down to 12 drivers after the third playoff race Sept. 29 on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway “roval” course. Only those drivers with a win or a top-12 spot in points get to continue their championship pursuit.

Back to Busch’s Richmond record – four of his six career wins came in consecutive spring races from 2009 to 2012, besting Richard Petty’s previous record of three Richmond spring-race wins in a row from 1971 to 1973. With his impressive statistics and records to back him up, it’s little wonder that a visit to Richmond is one of Busch’s favorite stops on the NASCAR tour.

So, as the series heads back to the “Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia” for the Richmond track’s new spot as the second playoff race, Busch and the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team look to bring home their seventh career win there. Whether or not they make it back to victory lane, history has shown they’ll have the driver and team everyone will be on the lookout for with the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in full swing.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 
What does it take to get around Richmond?

“Richmond is getting a little trickier, it seems like, just with the asphalt kind of getting older and the way the cars are. The consensus at Richmond is, of course, just trying to get your car to turn, but also having really good forward bite. You have to be able to get off the corners at Richmond. You have to have good brakes, as well, and be able to turn the center. All of it correlates. Everything you want as a racecar driver, you’ve got to have most all of it and, if you don’t, then you better hope you have more forward bite than the rest of them. That’s sort of the equation of Richmond. It’s a fun place to race. It’s really cool. As a driver, you wish it could widen out and give you more options of being able to run around in different grooves, but it hasn’t shown us that the last couple of years. We’re hoping to get our M&M’S Hazelnut Camry another win there and put last week behind us.”

Is a win at a premium right now?

“I think wins are always important and I think the biggest thing now is that each (playoff) round kind of has its own wild-card race, if you look at it – you’ve got the “roval” in the first round, Talladega in the second round and then Martinsville kind of turned into a crazy race in the third round. It’s all just going to be about trying to maintain and have a good day. If you can get top-five finishes, great, that’s going to propel us through with the amount of points we have and the point cushion we have, but wins are the ultimate. If you can get those, then you’re automatically in and that’s what we all strive for.”

How do you view the use of your bonus points in the playoffs?

“It’s kind of an insurance policy. We all pay for insurance to hopefully never have to use it, but it’s there just in case. For us, we’ve done a great job of being able to build those points up throughout the regular season and it’s nice to be able to have that point structure in place to kind of give you the opportunity to have your early season success help you through the postseason. I think it’s the most fair structure that we’ve had through the playoff era.”

Does having the points as insurance change how you approach any of the rounds?

“No, not at all. First and foremost, we try to figure out how we can win each and every week. Then as the races go on, we then kind of figure out what the points look like and where the cutoff is for guys who are or aren’t going to make it.” 

Can you compare Bristol and Richmond, both places where you’ve been successful?

“There’s really no comparison between racetracks, honestly, because Charlotte, Texas, Atlanta – they all look the same from overhead, but they all drive not even close to the same. Richmond and Bristol are more than oil and water, more than day and night. Bristol is an attack-type racetrack yet, when you attack, you can get yourself in trouble. Richmond is a very methodical racetrack and you have to be – you’re very much on edge there all the time, especially corner entry, getting into the corners. You’re always loose there and you have to be able to be loose there in order to carry the speed through the middle and have good drive off.”

Do you enjoy the atmosphere at Richmond?

“I think the coolest thing about Richmond is the atmosphere they have there with all the fans really getting into it. People love coming there and supporting that racetrack. It’s been around for a long time. It’s a fast racetrack. It’s only a three-quarter-mile oval but it has really high speeds that makes it fun for us drivers and makes excitement that’s fun for a fan. Martinsville is a short track and it’s slow, but Richmond is pretty quick.”

Clint Bowyer is 20/1 to win at Richmond for third time

CLINT BOWYER
No. 14 One Cure Ford Driver Wants Richmond Win, Charlotte Fun

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 17, 2019) – Clint Bowyer has some advice for his 15 fellow racecar drivers and their teams battling to advance beyond the three-race Round of 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, which began last weekend in Las Vegas and continues Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway Saturday, then concludes Sept. 29 on the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

“You don’t want your season’s hopes and dreams coming down to that roval in Charlotte,” Bowyer said. “You want to get your work done this weekend in Richmond. Nobody wants to go Charlotte knowing they have to have a great finish to advance to the next round. We did that last year and it made for some sleepless nights. We finished third at Charlotte but that was a tough weekend for everyone. This year, we want to go win Richmond and then go to Charlotte and watch all the other guys sweat.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver arrives at Richmond 15th in points after finishing 25th in Sunday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. To advance to the second round, which begins in two weeks, Bowyer must be in the top-12 among the 16 playoff drivers after the Richmond and the Charlotte roval. A win at either track means an automatic berth into the next playoff round. He heads to Richmond 20 points behind the top-12 cutoff.

“You want a big enough cushion going into the roval at Charlotte because, as we saw last year, that’s going to be one of the biggest wildcards in the playoffs,” Bowyer said. “We really wanted to finish well last weekend in Las Vegas and this weekend in Richmond because nobody knows what’s going to happen in Charlotte.”

Bowyer has a realistic chance of getting that victory at Richmond and enjoying a pressure-free weekend in Charlotte. He has two Cup Series wins and five top-fives in 27 starts at the three-quarter-mile Richmond oval. Bowyer also earned an Xfinity Series victory there in 2007.

Bowyer feels he should have won this year’s Richmond spring race April 13. He eventually ran down leader Martin Truex Jr., in the closing laps and ran door-to-door but could not make the pass. Slight wall contact hindered Bowyer’s progress, and he lost second place to Joey Logano before finishing third. Passing Truex would likely have allowed him the clean air needed to keep the lead and win the race.

“I should have moved him and won the race for myself and the team,” Bowyer said. “I didn’t grow up racing that way, you know what I mean? I didn’t learn racing that way, but it is that way in today’s day and age. It’s not necessarily your character or anything else as a driver, it is just the way the racing is. You flat can’t pass ’em. I was three-quarters of a second faster than him and got to him and just rode. I had a window of about two laps there to do something and I kept thinking that I was going to wear him down like always and all it did was wear my stuff out and I was done.”

Bowyer said that Richmond race changed the way he and his SHR teammates thought about racing.

“It was also a learning moment for me,” he said. “I think it was a learning moment for all of us. We all came back from the competition meeting as a wakeup call for us. Those short tracks are my good tracks. I was a lot faster than him and you just knew. It never dawned on me in a million years that I would struggle passing him. I was so much faster.

"I thought I would catch him and roll right by him. As soon as I got to him, the air deficiency of being the second car, you are a little tighter. But I was so much better that I thought it would be fine. Within two laps at Richmond I was junk. I wore out the tires and now I am looking in the mirror to see who is catching me. In a matter of five laps, my mindset went from winning to having to block the guy behind me and manage this deal to get the best finish possible. We didn’t even finish second, we finished third. I had to let Logano go because I knew that if I got side-by-side with him, Kevin would pass me, too, and I would end up fourth. It was a learning moment for me for the rest of the season.”

This weekend, Bowyer will drive the One Cure Ford Mustang for SHR. One Cure is a project led by the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. The One Cure program is founded on the principle that cancer affects all creatures and that treatment breakthroughs come through collaboration between scientists and doctors working with people and animals. This approach is known as comparative oncology and it is the guiding concept of One Cure and the Flint Animal Cancer Center at CSU. The center works to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in pets, and teams with the human medical field to translate research findings that will help people with cancer.

The center, located in Colorado State’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, sees more than 1,500 new animal cancer patients every year, with approximately 130 patients enrolling in carefully monitored clinical trials specific to their cancer type. The canine and feline patients are helping pioneer cancer research, moving cutting-edge treatments out of the laboratory and into clinical practice, ultimately providing hope for the next generation of animal and human cancer patients.

Bowyer hopes race fans will visit www.OneCure.com, where they can learn about the research and offer financial support.

“Racing is a lot of fun and important to all of us, but what the folks at One Cure are doing is as important as anything happening on the planet,” Bowyer said. “I hope like hell they are successful and I think everyone in the racing community agrees.”

Clint Bowyer, Driver of the No. 14 One Cure Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Do you like the 10-race playoff to end the season and determine a champion?

“Those summer months are long, grueling and they drag on. You needed a wakeup call and shot in the arm. For me, that is the playoffs. New purpose. You are always racing for that win on any given Sunday and that championship all year long in the back of your mind. Now it is real. I like this new format – three-races, three-races, three-races, baby! It isn’t 10, screw the rest of ’em. You have to survive three races. Win one of these three and you are automatically on to the next round. For me, focus factor and everything else, it is a good thing for me.”

What are your thoughts on Richmond Raceway?

“It’s just a perfect racetrack. It’s always been that way. Ever since I started in the Xfinity Series with Richard (Childress), it’s always fit my driving style. It’s that short track and I’ve always said that I wish we had four or five of these all across the country. They certainly hit the mark when they were making Richmond. I have a lot of fun there – prerace and everything else. The fan base there has always been good. It’s a good vibe and a good feel for a racetrack being that it kind of reminds you of pulling into the old fairgrounds at a dirt track. There are houses across the street and this is what short-track racing is all about.”

Can you win the championship?

“I think we’ve got to go out and live up to our capabilities. If we do that, we’ll have a shot to go to Homestead. Everyone thinks they can win. I do. I really, truly do. It’s not smoke and mirrors. I believe I’ve seen enough out of our race team that I’m confident in our opportunity ahead. If we can go out and get those mistakes behind us, I’ve said over the last month and a half, we’re capable of winning. There is only one thing that makes you confident and that is success, and we’ve had that success to enable me to be confident.”

Kevin Harvick is 6/1 to win 2019 Federated Auto Parts 400

KEVIN HARVICK
One Down, Nine to Go

Kevin Harvick has three wins this season.
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 18, 2019) – In 2013, ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series profiled the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack men’s basketball team that won the national championship. The title was simple: “Survive and Advance.”

The same phrase applies to the NASCAR playoffs. With four drivers eliminated after each three-race round before the championship race Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, everyone needs to bring his A-game. Doesn’t matter how he moves on, he just has to “Survive and Advance.”

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has qualified for the Championship 4 at Homestead four times in the last five years. The team won the 2014 championship, finished runner-up in the 2015 title chase to champion Kyle Busch, finished eighth in 2016 and third in 2017 and 2018.

So SHR’s No. 4 team knows how the playoffs work and it got off to a great start at last weekend’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Harvick finished second. That moved him from fourth to second in the playoff standings with 2,079 points, three markers behind leader Martin Truex Jr. Harvick is now 52 points ahead of top-12 cutoff, which will occur after the Sept. 29 race on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway roval.

With race two of this year’s playoffs Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, Harvick head to the three-quarter-mile oval where he has been stellar over the years. He has three wins, four poles, 15 top-five finishes, 24 top-10s and has led a total of 1,139 laps in his 37 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Richmond. The last time he finished outside the top-15 there was April 2012, and he’s finished in the top-five nine times in the 14 races since.

As always, Harvick will have the support of Mobil 1 as a technical partner and sponsor this weekend. Mobil 1 isn’t just the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand, it also provides the entire SHR organization with leading lubricant technology, ensuring that all SHR Mustangs have a competitive edge over the competition on the track. In its 17th consecutive season as the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR,” Mobil 1 is used by more than 50 percent of teams throughout NASCAR’s top three series.
Harvick and the rest of the No. 4 team are looking for another good run at Richmond, which certainly help them “Survive and Advance.”
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 
What do you think enabled Stewart-Haas Racing to really take off so quickly with Ford?

“We are finishing our third year, now. For us, we were obviously involved in the new design of the Mustang from a team standpoint, so you got to develop a car with Ford. Ford is very into racing. I think in the beginning, in 2017, there was a very big effort in order to get the company switched over. It all comes down to people, having good people. And we have great owners who let us do the things we need to do to put the cars on the racetrack and be competitive.”

What is the game plan as the playoffs continue?

“We want to just hammer away race by race. I think the backup plan is to survive and advance, but we want to win. We want to be racing for the lead and trying to win stages and be aggressive. I think being aggressive is just going to bite you less than kind of being passive and just trying to mediocre your way into the next round by looking at the points. We want to go out there and try to do the things we have done all year and lean on our experience of being in these types of situations before there is nothing that is going to surprise us. Anything that happens that is off the wall shouldn’t be a surprise to us because we have been a part of some of those situations and seen them as we have gone through the playoffs. You have to adapt and adjust as the weeks go by, but it is definitely an aggressive, one-week-at-a-time approach.”

Is there a track you raced at this year that you can apply toward Homestead, where this thing will get decided?

“I don’t think so. I think Homestead is obviously a very unique racetrack on its own and you have to prepare for that racetrack a little differently because it isn’t your normal 1.5-mile setup you need because of the way you enter and exit the corners with the flat straightaways. As a driver, you have to be prepared to run up against the wall and do the things it takes. It is always a challenging weekend because of the fact things are different and you scramble and it is hot. It will be different, just like everywhere else has been this year.” 

Why do your prefer Mobil 1 synthetic?

“I’m a synthetic guy because, in 1993 when we were sitting in the engine shop, we dumped Mobil 1 synthetic in and that’s all we did and gained seven horsepower. From that day on, we would actually save our money and then go to the local auto parts store because, at that time, it was like $5.50 a quart and the conventional and other oils were like $3.50. At the big races, we would put the Mobil 1 in the car and the regular races would put the regular oil in there. You know I’m going to say synthetic.”

Aric Almirola is 80/1 to win at Richmond

DANIEL SUÁREZ
100th Cup Series Start

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 18, 2019) – Daniel Suárez and the No. 41 Haas Automation Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will race for a win in Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Suárez’s No. 41 machine will have the traditional red-and-black Haas paint scheme for the second race of the NASCAR playoffs.  

Last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, SHR’s weekend as a whole was off to a solid start with all four entries qualifying in positions one through four for Sunday’s race. Teammate Clint Bowyer took the top spot with Suárez earning the outside-front-row starting spot. SHR’s Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola qualified third and fourth, respectively. Earlier this year at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, the four-car SHR contingent also qualified 1-2-3-4. Last Sunday in Las Vegas, Suárez led 29 laps from his No. 2 starting spot, but his night was troubled after receiving damage to both sides of the No. 41 Ford Mustang. He ultimately finished 20th at the 1.5-mile oval.
 
This weekend at Richmond marks Suárez’s 100th Cup Series start. The 27-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, has made his way from racing go-karts as young kid to living in the United States for the last eight years while advancing his racing career. After being noticed by a Joe Gibbs Racing team representative several years ago, Suárez climbed through the ranks from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, to the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He won the 2016 Xfinity Series championship en route to the pinnacle of racing stock-car racing – the Cup Series. Suárez is in his third full-time Cup Series season and first with SHR.
 
At Richmond, Suárez has five career Cup Series starts with two top-10 finishes. Overall, Suárez has an average starting position of 24.8 there, an average finishing position of 12.8, and has completed 99.9 percent of all possible laps. While the track has completed a multi-million-dollar facility makeover, including a renovated infield, the .75-mile Richmond oval remains one of the most action-packed venues each season.
 
In the Xfinity Series at Richmond, Suárez has six starts with one top-five finish and three top-10s. He has an average starting position of 8.3 and an average finishing position of 11.7. Additionally, Suárez has four Richmond starts from 2011 to 2014 in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with a best finish of 20th in 2011.
 
The Haas Automation driver is currently 17th in the point standings with nine races remaining in the season after accumulating three top-five finishes and nine top-10s, along with 134 laps led. He has an average start of 14.6 and an average finish of 15.0. He earned his second career Cup Series pole, first with the No. 41 team, in July at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
 
Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What goes through your mind when you’re on the track?
 
“My mind is very clear when I’m on the track. I’m not thinking about anything else other than driving. I’m 100 percent focused. I’m not worried about what I’m going to have for dinner. If I’m worried about something like that, then I’m not doing my job to the best of my ability.”
 
Not being part of the playoff field, are you racing a little bit differently now that points may not be as important?
 
“I feel like we had a little different mentality before the playoffs started when we were trying to make them. I don’t think we were as risky, but now we can be. I want to win a race. That’s my goal and that’s my team’s goal. Obviously, we wanted to make the playoffs, but we didn’t, so now we’re focused on winning races. We still have nine opportunities this season to put a race together and end up in victory lane.”

Aric Almirola is 50/1 to win 2019 Federated Auto Parts 400

ARIC ALMIROLA
Richmond Ready

Aric Almirola has a 16th-place average finish at Richmond.
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Sept. 18, 2019) – Richmond (Va.) Raceway hosts the second race of the opening round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs where Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will compete in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 looking to continue his quest to advance to the next round. 

Almirola is optimistic heading to the three-quarter-mile oval as he sits 12th in the playoff standings with six points ahead of the cutoff line for the Round of 12. 

“I’m excited to head to Richmond after a descent weekend at Vegas,” Almirola said after last weekend’s opening playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he finished 13th. “We put ourselves in a better position than some, and Richmond is a great place to head to next when we need to get an even better cushion. I’m confident that we’ll bring a fast Smithfield Ford Mustang this weekend. We just have to stay out of trouble and race smart like we did last year.” 

At Las Vegas, Almirola qualified fourth to round out SHR’s third-ever 1-2-3-4 qualifying effort. In the first stage of Sunday’s late-afternoon race, he piloted his No. 10 Ford to third to earn eight bonus points. As the temperature changed, so did the handling of his Ford Mustang and he ultimately finished 13th when the checkered flag flew. A handful of other playoff drivers endured bad luck and experienced lower finishing positions, leaving Almirola content to come home with a top-15 finish. 

“Every single point matters,” he said. “The difference between going to the second round or getting kicked out could be the result of me passing a car at the line every stage and every race. It happened to us last year at the roval (at Charlotte Motor Speedway). We were out of contention until that last-lap crash, so every second of the race this weekend will be focused on earning one more spot. It doesn’t matter if you’re in 20th or fifth – you still strive for one more pass.”

Almirola finished fifth in last year’s Richmond playoff race after leading the first lap of his career there. He raced in and around the top-five for the entirety of the 400-lap race. 

In 15 starts at the Richmond oval, Almirola has captured two top-five finishes and four top-10s. He earned his best finish of fourth in September 2015. He has six Richmond starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with one top-10 finish, 10 laps led and an average finish of 16.2. 

As the playoffs continue this weekend, fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access in following “Aric ‘Beyond the 10’” by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Tune in this weekend for full access to Almirola’s playoff media day, NASCAR Burnout Boulevard and the Vegas race weekend. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.

Last week, Almirola and Smithfield announced the “Racin’ for Bacon” 1 million slice giveaway program. If Almirola pilots the No. 10 Ford to victory lane Oct. 13 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, 10 lucky fans will earn 100,000 slices of bacon. To sign up, visit www.racinforbacongiveaway.com.

Sunday’s 400-mile race at Richmond marks the 24th points-paying event during which the Smithfield livery has adorned Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Mustang this year. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, based in Smithfield, Virginia, is in its eighth season with Almirola and its second with SHR. Founded in 1936, Smithfield is a leading provider of high-quality pork products, with a vast product portfolio including smoked meats, hams, bacon, sausage, ribs, and a wide variety of fresh pork cuts. 

From his 12th position in the playoff standings, Almirola’s 2,033 points are six more than 13th-place Ryan Newman.

Aric Almirola: Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

What kind of challenge does a short track like Richmond bring? 

“I would say Richmond is one of the most challenging racetracks we go to for managing your tires throughout the run. The first 10, 15 or 20 laps of the run can make you feel like Superman roaring through the field, but you will pay a major penalty for that by lap 40. It makes it fun because, when we show up to Richmond, it really is about managing tire fall-off and making sure your car stays consistent throughout the run as the tires fall off.”

What’s it like to race at Richmond? 

“Richmond is an awesome track to race at. It’s Saturday-night racing at its finest. Beating and banging, and the track has very little grip and the tires wear out, so it’s a really fun racetrack. You can see the sparks flying, and having the glow of the brake rotors and everything lit up is neat. It’s also pretty close to Smithfield, Virginia, so it’s a hometown race for Smithfield. It’s just a lot of fun to go there and race.”  
 
Is it difficult to adjust from the larger tracks you race on to all of a sudden being at a smaller track like Richmond? 

“No, I think that’s what makes racecar drivers special, especially the ones who are at the top of what they do, like us. We’re able to adapt so fast. Whether we go from a big track like Michigan International Speedway, or to a place like Martinsville Speedway, we all get really good at adapting to whatever racetrack we go to.”

Richmond NASCAR Cup Series Notes - 2019 Federated Auto Parts 400

Kyle Busch leads active drivers with 6 Richmond wins.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Federated Auto Parts 400
The Place: Richmond Raceway
The Date: Saturday, September 21
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 100),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 200), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)
2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch


Mike Stefanik decal to honor late legendary champion
This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series will honor NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Mike Stefanik, who died in a plane crash last Saturday. A decal commemorating his life will be placed on the A-Pillar on each car. The decal will reflect the red of his most recent paint schemes, as well as his stylized name from his car. Additionally, the years of his nine NASCAR championships (seven in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and two in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) are listed on the decal (1997 and 1998 are repeated for his championships in both series in the same year).

The decal will also run on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Pinty’s Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East cars competing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. The Modifieds will then carry the decal for the remainder of the 2019 season.


Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Truex locked into second round of Playoffs
For the first time this season, Martin Truex Jr. takes over the top position in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings thanks to a hard-fought victory in last week’s Playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And he arrives at Richmond Raceway for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) the most recent winner there – earning the win last April.

Truex’s five victories in 2019 are most in the series. He and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch are the only two drivers in the series to win at least four races a season the last four years. They each have won a series high 21 races since 2016. And neither appears to be slowing down. 

Truex, specifically, boasts some important momentum. He has 11 top-five and 16 top-10 showings through the opening 27 races and holds a three-point edge on second place Kevin Harvick in the Playoff driver standings following Las Vegas. He has five top-six finishes in the last seven races. His previous wins came in April (at Richmond), May (at Charlotte, Dover) and June (Sonoma).

Richmond has been a good place for Truex, who was third in this Playoff race last year and has five top-10 runs in the last seven races there. Ironically, his worst finish in that stretch was a 20th in the 2017 regular season finale at Richmond and Truex would go on to win his first Cup title two months later. He won four of the 10 Playoff races that year, including the Homestead-Miami season finale.

Kyle Busch looking to bounce back by defending at Richmond
After a couple challenging weeks behind the wheel, Kyle Busch welcomes the opportunity to restore his Playoff course this week at Richmond Raceway, where he is the defending race winner. The Monster Energy Series Regular Season Champion has suffered back-to-back rough outings in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – a season-worst 37th-place finish at Indianapolis two weeks ago and a 19th place in the Las Vegas Playoff opener last week.

Although Busch’s work this season earned him the top ranking to start the Playoffs, the tough luck at his home track of Las Vegas has now dropped him to fourth in the standings – 19 points behind the points leader, his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. It’s the lowest Busch has been ranked since the first Las Vegas race of the season, when he was also fourth in the standings. The upside for the 2015 Monster Energy Series champion is that he led the points for 14 weeks. And he leads the Monster Energy Series with six victories at this week’s venue, Richmond Raceway.

Busch swept both Richmond races in 2018 and is coming off an eighth-place finish at the track in April. He has top-10 finishes in eight of the last 10 races. And he is one of only four active drivers to win a Richmond race from the pole position (2010). He has the best average finish (7.0) in the field since 2005 and boasts the second-best driving rating – 110.2, compared to Kevin Harvick’s series-best 110.4.

Since 2005, Busch has a series best 17 top-five finishes in 28 starts at Richmond - 60 percent of the time he finishes in the top five. His six career wins is twice that of any driver in this week’s field. His victory in May 2018, from the 32nd starting position is the farthest on the grid a race winner has started in the track’s 126-race history.

Busch’s four wins this season have come at ISM Raceway, Auto Club Speedway, Bristol-1 and Pocono-1 – however that last win was June 2. He’s been runner-up at Sonoma and Kentucky since then.

The good news for Busch is that both his 13 top-five and 21 top-10 efforts are tops in the series. And the 15 bonus points Busch earned for winning the regular season title carry over to the next Playoff round.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy,’’ Busch said. “We all pay for insurance to hopefully never have to use it, but it’s there just in case.

“For us, we’ve done a great job of being able to build those points up throughout the regular season and it’s nice to be able to have that point structure in place to kind of give you the opportunity to have your early season success help you through the postseason. I think it’s the most-fair structure that we’ve had through the Playoff era.’’

Harvick is peaking at the right time
Kevin Harvick conceded two weeks ago that maybe his 2019 Playoff push would benefit from better timing. Last year he had a career-high eight-win season but had won five of those before the midpoint of the regular season. This year, Harvick seems to be peaking just in time for the 10-race Playoff.

The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has won two of the last five races, three of the last eight. He won the Indianapolis regular season finale from the pole position and led a dominating 118 laps. Last week he led 47 laps and finished runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. in the Las Vegas Playoff opener.

Harvick shows up at Richmond Raceway ranked second in the points – tying his best points position of the year (he was ranked second for two of the season’s opening three weeks).  And more bad news for competition: Harvick is the highest rated Playoff driver at Richmond.

He has three wins – the last in May 2013, won four pole positions, and earned a series best 24 top 10s and 15 top fives in 37 starts. He has finished top 10 in 64.8 percent of his starts. His seven Xfinity Series victories is most all-time, and he tied an amazing statistic – winning three Xfinity races in a row (2005-06) – to equal a mark set by Harry Gant in 1991-92.

Harvick is currently on a seven-race streak of top-10 finishes at Richmond and was runner-up to Kyle Busch in this Playoff race last year. He’s led laps in four of the last five Richmond races and twice – in 2006 (272 laps) and 2011 (202 laps) – led more than half the race total laps.

“I think the back-up plan is to survive and advance, but we want to win,’’ Harvick said. “We want to be racing for the lead and trying to win stages and be aggressive. I think being aggressive is just going to bite you less than kind of being passive and just trying to mediocre your way into the next round by looking at points.’’

Virginia is home for Hamlin
Denny Hamlin has long considered Richmond Raceway his “home” venue. Having grown up in nearby Chesterfield, Va., doing well at Richmond was always a goal. And he’s succeeded.

Hamlin has three Monster Energy Series victories and three Xfinity Series wins at the 0.75-mile oval. His 1,659 laps led in Cup there is most in the field. He is one of only four active drivers to win from the pole position (2016).

In seven of the last eight Richmond races, Hamlin has finished sixth or better. He was fifth this April. He has 12 top-five and 16 top-10 efforts in 26 starts, including a runner-up finish to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2006 - his first ever Monster Energy Series race at his home track. Six times he’s led at least 100 laps, including 381 of 400 laps from the pole position in 2008 – only to finish 24th while Clint Bowyer celebrated in Victory Lane.

Hamlin could really use some of his hometown magic. He tumbled from second in the points standings to start the 10-race Playoff push to a season-low seventh place following a 15th-place finish in the Las Vegas Playoff opener last week. 

Still Hamlin’s season statistics are impressive. He has 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes through the opening 26 weeks and is averaging a 9.9 finish. In seven of the last nine races he’s finished sixth or better – and that includes two victories, at Pocono2 and then Bristol-2 from the pole position.

Team Penske performing
All three Team Penske drivers – Brad Keselowski (third), Ryan Blaney (fifth) and Joey Logano (ninth) – earned top-10 finishes in the Las Vegas Playoff opener. And Logano’s 105 laps led was most among all competitors.

They arrive in Richmond with a lofty record to launch from. Logano is a two-time Richmond Monster Energy Series race winner (in 2014 and 2017). Keselowski won in 2014 and has four Xfinity Series victories at the track.

The reigning Cup champion Logano is ranked third in the Playoff standings – only seven points behind leader Martin Truex Jr. Keselowski is fifth, 24 points out. And Blaney is 10th, 43 points behind Truex and 12 points up on 13th place Ryan Newman with two races remaining to settle which 12 drivers move on to the next round of the Playoffs.

Richmond has been a stellar overall venue for Team Penske, which swept both race wins in 2014, including one of the most dominant performances in track history from Keselowski who led 383 of the 400 laps to win the fall race.

Logano has the second-best average finish (10.2) on the season among the top five in the points. Of those drivers, only regular season champ Kyle Busch (8.6) has a better average finish.

On the bubble
Four drivers came out of the Las Vegas Playoff opener ranked below the top-12 cutoff with two races left to try and get inside that group to advance to the Round of 12.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman is 13th in the standings – six points behind 12th place Aric Almirola. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch, the 2004 Monster Energy Series champion, is ranked 14th, 14 points behind Almirola.

Clint Bowyer, who won the pole position last week at Vegas but finished 25th, is ranked 15th – 21 points behind his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Almirola. And Erik Jones, who is points leader Martin Truex Jr.’s teammate, is currently 16th in the standings – 26 points behind Almirola. Jones has had horrible luck the last two weeks with a finish of 39th in the Indianapolis regular season finale and then 36th last week at the Vegas opener with his No. 20 Toyota suffering a mechanical problem.

Newman, Kurt Busch and Bowyer all have previous victories at Richmond. Both Busch (2005 and 2015) and Bowyer (2008 and 2012) have two wins. Newman won in 2003.

Of the four, Newman has the best career average finish (12.5) and top 10 mark (19) in 35 Richmond starts.  Bowyer is averaging a 12.7 finish in 27 starts with 15 top 10s. Busch has a 15.3 average finish in 37 starts. Busch and Newman have the most top-five finishes (seven) among the four drivers.

Best of the rest
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson made good on his promise to remain highly-competitive in the Playoffs even though for the first time in his 16-year Monster Energy Series career, he is not part of the championship mix.

Johnson finished 11th  - best among non-Playoff drivers at Las Vegas. He and Austin Dillon (12th) were the only non-Playoff competitors among the top 15.

Daniel Suarez, who is ranked 17th in the points – tops among those drivers that did not qualify for the championship run – started second and led 29 laps but finished 20th. He holds a 35-point edge over Johnson in the standings. Johnson holds a 35-point advantage on Paul Menard.

Johnson is easily the most successful at Richmond Raceway among those not to secure Playoff berths. He has three victories at the track – scoring those three wins in a four-race span between 2007-09. He’s finished 12th or better in the last 10 consecutive Richmond races – seven times among the top 10. He is the only driver not competing in the Playoffs with a victory there.

Competition highlights
In winning his first pole position in 12 years, Clint Bowyer became the 13th different polesitter this season and completes a four-driver pole sweep for Stewart-Haas Racing. SHR is tied with Hendrick Motorsports with the most pole positions on the season (eight). Kevin Harvick leads all drivers with five. Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron is next with four.

Team Penske is the only team other than Stewart-Haas Racing to have a pole-winning sweep. All three of its drivers – Joey Logano (two), Brad Keselowski (two) and Ryan Blaney (one) have also earned the top qualifying spot.

When it comes to race wins, Joe Gibbs Racing continued to set the high mark with Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Las Vegas on Sunday. There have been 11 winners representing six race teams. But JGR has nearly tripled the work of the next best – earning 14 wins. Next closest is Team Penske with five. Truex, alone, has a Cup Series high five victories.

The average Margin of Victory through the opening 27 races is 1.610-seconds and there have been 15 races where the Margin of Victory is less than a second.

Green flag passes for the lead are up considerably – 41.2 percent – compared to last season. In fact, there has been record green flag passing this season at Las Vegas-1, Bristol-1, Kansas-1, Chicago, Kentucky and Indianapolis.

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media rotations
Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ryan Preece, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Richmond Raceway in advance of Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m., ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Alex Bowman, 26, of Tucson, Ariz., had a stellar top-10 start to his 2019 Monster Energy Series Playoff run, finishing sixth in the Playoff opener at Las Vegas last week. He’s ranked 11th now in the championship – good enough to keep him inside the 12-driver cutoff for the next Playoff round in two weeks. It is, however, only his second top 10 since notching his first career win at Chicago in June – 11 races ago. Bowman has certainly turned in an improved scoresheet at Richmond since joining Hendrick Motorsports fulltime last year. In the three races he’s competed in for Hendrick at Richmond, he has three top 20s, including a best of 12th in this fall race last year. He was 17th at the track in April. Prior to joining the Hendrick team, Bowman had four finishes of 28th or worse at Richmond. He’s led only one lap in his career at the track – this race, last year. 

Ryan Preece, 28, of Berlin, Conn., comes to Richmond with an encouraging mark of three top-20 finishes in the last five races. He was seventh at Michigan in August – one of three top 10s he’s earned this season. The driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet started 16th and finished 20th in the series’ April stop there. It’s been a challenging venue in Preece’s young career as he is 0-for-3 in top-10 finishes in the Xfinity Series as well. His best showing at the track, an 18th place last fall. Preece does still remain hot on the pace of Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader Daniel Hemric, who sits 25th in the championship standings with only a 29-point advantage.

Aric Almirola, 35, of Tampa, Fla. is making his third consecutive Playoff appearance and started the title run with a 13th-place finish at Las Vegas on Sunday.  He hasn’t scored a top 10 since a seventh at the summer Daytona race. He has 10 top 10s and one top five (ISM Raceway-1) on the season and heads into the second race of the three-race opening Playoff round ranked 12th – with 12 drivers advancing to the next round. Richmond has been a solid venue for Almirola in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He was 23rd there in April but was fifth in this race last year and led his first career lap at the 0.75-mile oval. His best showing is fourth in the 2015 fall race. He has a pair of top fives and five top 10s in 15 Richmond starts.

Kyle Larson, 27, of Elk Grove, Calif., is coming off a solid eighth-place finish in the Playoff opener at Las Vegas and is ranked eighth in the championship - his highest ranking since the fifth race of the season. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has six top-10 finishes in the last seven races, including a runner-up showing at Darlington, S.C. three races ago. He’s led laps in the last four races – 113 of his 304 laps led on the season. Richmond Raceway has been a strong venue for Larson. He won this fall race in 2017 and finished seventh in the 2018 Playoff race there. But Larson crashed out and finished 37th in April. He has a pair of top-five and four top-10 finishes – three of those top 10s in the last four races.

Clint Bowyer, 40, of Emporia, Kans. won his first pole position in 12 seasons at Las Vegas last weekend, but a late race collision dropped him to 25th in the final race standings and he heads to the second race of the Playoffs at Richmond in a precarious 15th-place ranking. Two races remain in this Playoff opening round to decide which 12 drivers will advance to the next round of the Playoffs. The good news for the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team is that Bowyer’s tough luck at Vegas was the first time he’d finished outside the top 10 in the last four races. He is a two-time winner (2008 and 2012) at this week’s Richmond Raceway Playoff venue. He was third at Richmond this April and has three top 10s in the last four races there. Plus, he has 15 top 10s in 27 starts at the track – better than 50 percent.

Ryan Newman, 41, of South Bend, Ind. is coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes – including a 10th-place showing in the Las Vegas Playoff-opening race. He has 10 top-10s on the season now and has finished 12th or better in four of the last five races. He is a Richmond Raceway winner (2003) and polesitter (2004) and has 19 top-10 finishes in 35 starts at the track. He was ninth in April in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and has finished top-10 in three of the last five races there – leading 29 laps in that span. He goes to Richmond ranked 13th in the championship, only six points behind 12th place Aric Almirola with two Playoff races remaining to set the 12 drivers who will advance to the second round.