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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Richmond Raceway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Toyota Owners 400
The Place: Richmond Raceway
The Date: Saturday, April 21
The Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 6 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)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: ToyotaCare 250
The Place: Richmond Raceway
The Date: Friday, April 20
The Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 187.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: JEGS 200
The Place: Dover International Speedway
The Date: Friday, May 4
The Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 4:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

There’s No Place Like Home For Hamlin

Denny Hamlin doesn’t just love to come home to Virginia for sentimental reasons, he considers Richmond Raceway, in particular, a place he can always contend for victory. And with good reason.

Hamlin has three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins at the track, where the series will race in the Toyota Owners 400 Saturday night (6:30 p.m., ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). His mark of 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 23 starts there makes him one of the most productive drivers in the field there. And no one on the track this weekend has led more laps (1,653 or 17.9%).

The three-quarter mile Richmond track is a place where Hamlin has always looked forward to competing. And it could prove to be exactly the shot of adrenalin Hamlin needs to reboot his 2018 season.

After a thrilling third-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin’s season has largely vacillated between near-misses and lost opportunity. He’s had four top-six finishes, but also four showings less characteristically out of the top-10 including a 34th-place finish at Texas two weeks ago after being involved in a crash.

He’s ranked eighth in the Monster Energy Series standings, but is among the top-three drivers in Richmond proficiency. Hamlin has top-10 finishes in his last six races at Richmond, including a win from the pole position in the 2016 fall race. He’s led 263 laps in the last five races there and had finishes of third in this spring race last year and fifth in the fall race.

“Obviously after some unfortunate circumstances in Bristol, I’m looking forward to returning to Richmond where I know we can be competitive,” Hamlin said. “This No. 11 FedEx team is more motivated than ever to get a win and competing in front of my hometown crowd always adds some an extra incentive.”

Win-Win-Win Situation

Kyle Busch’s win a week ago at Texas and this Monday at Bristol marked the fifth time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship career that he’s won back-to-back races. And he shows up at Richmond this week absolutely the driver to beat again. A victory Saturday night would mark the second time in Busch’s 14-year Monster Energy Series career that he’s won three straight races.

His four victories and 15 top-five finishes are most among his competition this weekend at Richmond. Busch’s 109.7 driver rating is tops in the series, as is his 7.4 average finishing position. His 8,855 laps run in the top-15 — (88.5% of the time) — is second most in the field.

Busch has five top-10 finishes in the last seven Richmond races, including back-to-back runner-up finishes in fall 2015 and spring 2016 races. His last victory was in the 2012 spring race, and he actually won every spring race from 2009-2012.

Penske Power

Although Ryan Blaney understandably left Bristol disappointed last weekend after being crashed out while leading early in the race, he can take some solace in yet another strong showing.

The Penske driver – who led twice for 100 laps at Bristol – is ranked sixth in the standings thanks to five top-10 runs in the season’s opening eight races, including a third place at Martinsville three weeks ago. Blaney’s best showing at Richmond was 18th last fall. But he does have a pair of top fives in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the track.

His Penske Racing teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski — ranked second and fifth in the standings, respectively, have three wins between them at Richmond. All three victories have come in the last eight races – the team swept the 2014 Richmond races – and Logano is the defending winner of this race.

So Close…

Kyle Larson led 200 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway but had to settle for a runner-up finish – his second of the early season and third top-three. And as “frustratingly successful” as that was, he is eyeing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stop at Richmond, where he won for the first time at the track in last September’s regular season finale.

Larson has a win and a runner-up in the last three races there and has posted an impressive 10.4 average finish in eight starts. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has led laps (73 total) in the last three races.

Taking the Lead

Darrell Wallace Jr. didn’t win the Bristol race, but the popular rookie certainly had a career-making day, leading his first-ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series laps. He led six laps from lap 375-380 – and ran among the top five for longer still.

Although Wallace’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ultimately faded to a 16th-place finish, it was still an accomplishment that Wallace will remember always.

“Onto the next. …” he wrote on social media after sharing his thoughts post-race; so competitive that he seemed nearly as frustrated not to finish inside the top-10 as he was happy to have led the laps.

“Small team making big gains and that’s what we need,” he said on Twitter immediately after the race.

“Good to see the 43 back up front leading laps and doing good things. Still have momentum on our side,” he added, making a point to stay positive, thinking big picture.

In addition to the laps out front Monday, Wallace has a pair of top-10s this season – including a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 and an eighth-place finish at Texas – to bring to his Richmond Monster Energy Series debut this week.

In six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Richmond, Wallace never finished worse than 16th. He had a pair of top 10s, including a sixth place in his last race at the track last April.

Making Progress

Jimmie Johnson didn’t finish his Bristol long race weekend in Victory Lane however, his third-place finish marked a season-best effort from the seven-time championship team and provided great optimism that a win may be close. He moved from 20th to a season high 17th in the championship rankings – a single point out of the Playoff-eligible top 16.

It was his first top five of the year and second top 10 in the eight races. But for a sport accustomed to Johnson winning. … and winning. … and winning, it has been a highly-publicized trophy gap. It’s been a career-long 31 races since Johnson last celebrated in Dover’s Victory Lane.

Johnson’s work at Richmond is encouraging, however. He has three victories – only Kyle Busch has more – and he’s finished 11th or better in the last seven races there, including a pair of top-five finishes.

“The finish in Bristol is exactly what this team needed,” Johnson said. “I’ve known that every week we have been getting better, but it’s nice to finally have a finish to back that up.

“Now if we could just fix these bouts of bad luck we have been having. I’m already ready to get back in the Lowe’s for Pros Chevy and looking forward to Richmond. We have put together some solid runs there lately and with the momentum from Bristol, I’m ready to roll.”

Success in Stealth Mode

Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman quietly turned in a career best-mark of fifth at Bristol. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last three races and he is the top-ranked of the four Hendrick drivers – 13th in the standings.

His seventh-place finish at the Martinsville half-miler two weeks ago, coupled with his fifth place at Bristol, makes him one of only five drivers to have top-10 finishes on both short tracks in 2018. The others include Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano.

Bowman, who turns 26 next week, has four previous Richmond starts but is looking for his first top-20 showing there in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He does have a ninth-place NASCAR Xfinity Series showing in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet in 2016.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Xfinity Dash 4 Cash Round Two: Richmond Raceway
Fighting through some great short track action last weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ryan Preece banked the first $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus at Bristol Motor Speedway when he grabbed his second NASCAR Xfinity Series win of his career.

This weekend, the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program continues at Richmond Raceway for some more short track beatin’-and-bangin’ as Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler and Spencer Gallagher will compete for the second $100,000 bonus of the season in the ToyotaCare 250 on Friday, April 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The highest finisher at Richmond between Allgaier, Hemric, Sadler and Gallagher will win the $100,000 prize, and that winner and the three highest finishing full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers, for a total of four contenders, will qualify for the next week’s Dash 4 Cash event at Talladega. Last weekend’s winner, Ryan Preece, would have qualified for the second round of the Dash 4 Cash at Richmond, but was not scheduled to run this weekend due to his part-time schedule and therefore the spot went to the next-highest finisher – Spencer Gallagher.

The Dash 4 Cash races are being held at Bristol Motor Speedway (April 14), Richmond Raceway (April 20), Talladega Superspeedway (April 28) and Dover International Speedway (May 5) this season. This is the first year Talladega has participated in the Dash 4 Cash program.

Comcast is also donating a total of $40,000 to local organizations within race markets on behalf of the Internet Essentials program. Comcast’s Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest program for getting low-income households online, having connected 4 million low-income Americans since 2011. Comcast’s $10,000 Internet Essentials donation during the Bristol race weekend went to the Quest Foundation for Washington County Schools in Tennessee.

All four of the Dash 4 Cash qualifiers for Richmond Raceway this weekend have run well, but none have won, at the 0.75-mile raceway. Daniel Hemric (3.5) has the best average finish of the four qualifiers at Richmond; followed by Sadler (13.5), Allgaier (14.6) and Gallagher (16.3).

Last season, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in this event; just like they did this past weekend at Bristol. Allgaier took home the check at Richmond in 2017 and in doing so became the only driver to win at least one round in the Dash 4 Cash program the past two seasons (2017 Phoenix, Richmond; 2016 Indianapolis).

Series Different Winners Streak Is Still Rolling

Through the first seven races of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season there have been seven different winners, which has all eyes on Richmond Raceway this weekend to see if the streak can stay alive and give the series its eighth different winner in as many races. If an eighth different winner happens this weekend, the 2018 season will tie the 1998 and 2006 seasons for the third longest different winner streak to start the season in series history.

Since the series inception in 1982, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has had seven different winners in the first seven races just seven times; including 2018.

The record for the highest number of different winners to start a NASCAR Xfinity Series season is 13 back in 1988; followed by 1987 with 10 different winners, then 1998 and 2006 with eight, and then 1989, 2004 and 2018 with seven.

The 1988 and 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons are tied for the series-most different winners for the entire season with 18 each.

This season’s winners include Tyler Reddick (Daytona), Kevin Harvick (Atlanta), Kyle Larson (Las Vegas), Brad Keselowski (Phoenix), Joey Logano (California), Ryan Blaney (Texas) and Ryan Preece (Bristol). Reddick is the only driver with a win this season entered this weekend at Richmond Raceway. Reddick made his series track debut at Richmond last fall; starting 25th and finishing 17th.

Don’t Look Now Sadler, Hemric Is Closing In On The Standings Lead

NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings points leader Elliott Sadler has a rearview mirror full of second place Daniel Hemric as the series heads to Richmond Raceway for the ToyotaCare 250 on Friday, April 20 (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In what started out to be a JR Motorsports-dominated season in the standings, Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric has proven he plans to shake up the championship hunt. The 27-year old is just six points back from Elliott Sadler following his third-place finish at Richmond, and now the rising star is looking to take the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings lead for the first time in his career.

Emporia, Virginia’s Elliott Sadler has been the class of the field this season. He has led the points for all but two weeks, and among championship contenders he leads the series in average finish (5.142), average running position (8.099), top fives (five) and top 10s (seven). Through seven races he holds a six-point lead in the championship standings over second-place Daniel Hemric and a 14-point lead over his JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick in third.

While Sadler has been Superman-like this season, Hemric just might be the Kryptonite to his title run. The Richard Childress Racing driver has been stellar this season, posting the second-best average finish (8.5), second-best average running position (8.113), fourth-most top fives (three) and second-most top 10s (five). And his 2018 season accolades don’t end there, he is also tied with Sadler in driver rating (102.4, second-best) and has bested him in percentage of laps run in the top 15 (Hemric 95%, Sadler 86.9%) and percentage of laps completed on the lead lap (Hemric 95.35%, Sadler 94.32%).

Without a doubt these two will be formidable contenders this weekend at Richmond. Sadler has made 29 series starts at his home track, posting five top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 13.5. In Sadler’s last four starts his average finish at Richmond has been a 4.75. Hemric made his series debut at Richmond last season and in just two series starts has posted a pole, two top fives and an average finish of 3.5.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Latest Xfinity Series Addition: Noah Gragson

Lots of new faces climbing into the driver seat this season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and this weekend will be no exception as Joe Gibbs Racing has tapped Kyle Busch Motorsport’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series contender Noah Gragson to pilot the No. 18 Toyota Camry this weekend at Richmond Raceway in the ToyotaCare 250 on Friday, April 20 (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In total, five other drivers have made their NASCAR Xfinity Series career debuts this season. Gragson will attempt to be the sixth, joining Kaz Grala (Daytona), Chase Briscoe (Atlanta), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta), Bayley Currey (Texas) and Shane Lee (Bristol).

Noah Gragson has worked his way up the ranks of NASCAR to get to this point in his career.

Since 2015, Gragson has competed in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West as well as the ARCA Racing Series. He made his NASCAR national series debut in 2016 at ISM Raceway (Phoenix) for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. From there he jumped to full-time competition in the NCWTS for KBM last season, and as a rookie he posted a win (Martinsville-2), four top fives and 13 top 10s. He finished the season 10th in the championship standings.

This weekend the 19-year old from Las Vegas, Nevada, will be paired with veteran crew chief Eric Phillips and the No. 18 JGR Toyota team, who just led Ryan Preece to a win last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Gragson will be the fifth different driver in the No. 18 this season, joining Kyle Busch, Kyle Benjamin, Ryan Preece and Daniel Suarez.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 team is currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner standings just 24 points back from the Team Penske No. 22 team in the series lead.

Joe Gibbs Racing has been a pillar in the series at farming up-and-coming talent for the sport. Since 2008, Joe Gibbs Racing has given 11 different drivers the opportunity to make their series debuts – Joey Logano (2008), Marc Davis (2008), Matt DiBenedetto (2009), Darrell Wallace Jr. (2012), Justin Boston (2014), Erik Jones (2014), Daniel Suarez (2014), Ross Kenseth (2015), Matt Tifft (2015), Kyle Benjamin (2017) and Christopher Bell (2017).

Note: Tony Mrakovich will also be attempting to make his series career debut this weekend for JGL Racing in the No. 28. If Mrakovich makes the event, it will bring the total of drivers making their series debuts this season to seven.

NASCAR Xfinity Series & The State Of Virginia

The ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway on Friday, April 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will be the 156th time the state of Virginia has hosted a NASCAR Xfinity Series race. The previous 155 Xfinity Series races in Virginia were held at five different tracks – Richmond Raceway (68), South Boston Speedway (35), Martinsville Speedway (34), Langley Field Speedway (14) and New River Valley Speedway (4).

The first NASCAR Xfinity Series race held in the state of Virginia was at Richmond Raceway on February 20, 1982 and won by Tommy Houston in a Pontiac. The event was just the second race ever run in the NASCAR Xfinity Series following the season-opener at Daytona of the 1982 season.

Richmond Raceway has held 68 series races producing 36 different pole winners and 33 different race winners. Kyle Busch leads the series in poles at Richmond with six and Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins at Richmond with seven.

A total of 180 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Virginia. Of the 180 drivers from Virginia, 19 have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series. Denny Hamlin (Chesterfield) leads all drivers from Virginia in NASCAR national series wins with 50 (MENCS 31, NXS 17 and NCWTS 2). Jeff Burton leads all Virginia drivers in NASCAR Xfinity Series wins with 27. Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler (Emporia) are the only two drivers from Virginia to win in all three NASCAR national series.

The following drivers from the state of Virginia are entered this weekend at Richmond Raceway – Elliott Sadler (Emporia) and Jeb Burton (Halifax).

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Jeb Burton To Make Season Debut With RCR – One driver extra eager to get back behind the wheel this weekend is Jeb Burton, who will be making his series season debut in Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 (7 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at his home track Richmond Raceway. Burton will be piloting the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro this weekend with crew chief Nick Harrison on the pit box. Burton hasn’t made a series start since August 18, 2017, at Bristol Motor Speedway. Burton has 22 series starts to his name, having posted one top five and three top 10s. He has two series starts at Richmond, he finished 19th in both.

Sunoco Rookie Update – Tyler Reddick opened up his Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings lead to 21-points after he posted his fifth top-10 finish of the season. Second-place Christopher Bell struggled at Bristol and for the third time this season finished outside the top 20. Sunoco Rookie points following Bristol: Tyler Reddick (247), Christopher Bell (226), Austin Cindric (136), Kaz Grala (131), Alex Labbe (116), Spencer Boyd (59), Vinnie Miller (55), Josh Bilicki (37), Chad Finchum (22) and Matt Mills (13).

Joe Nemechek Nears Historic National Series Start – The 1992 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Joe Nemechek is entered in this weekend’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway, and it will be his 1,141st NASCAR national series race (667 MENCS, 431 NXS, 42 NCWTS), just one start shy of tying NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin (1,142) for the second-most NASCAR national series starts all-time. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty holds the record for the most NASCAR national series starts at 1,182. In Nemechek’s 431 Xfinity Series starts he has posted 16 wins, 74 top fives, 126 top 10s, 18 poles and an average finish of 18.5.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Championship Pairing: Joe Shear, Jr. and Johnny Sauter

After an emotional win in Daytona to start the 2018 season with Johnny Sauter behind the wheel, Joe Shear Jr. was asked if he would trade the experience of working with the veteran Sauter for anything.

“No, I would never do it.”

And that bond and loyalty is evident in the success they have shared. Shear and Sauter have had a long friendship off the track and a strong relationship at the track. The two paired up full-time for the first time starting with the final 10 races of 2009. That carried through the 2012 season, as the duo put together six wins over that span.

Shear then worked with a rotating cast of drivers from 2013 until he was put back on Sauter’s pit box for the seventh race of the 2016 season – which proved to be the perfect reunion as they won two races and the Camping World Truck Series championship that season. (Sauter also won the 2016 season-opener at Daytona with then-crew chief Marcus Richmond.)

The two have stayed together since, putting together a career-best season total (for both driver and crew chief) of four wins in 2017 and starting off 2018 in Victory Lane.

Together, Shear and Sauter have visited the upcoming Dover track four times together with a truck (2010, 2011, 2012, 2017) and won in their most recent trip to the Monster Mile. It was the first win at the track for both members of this powerful Camping World Truck Series partnership.

OEM Parity Recently At Dover

In the last three races at Dover, a different manufacturer has won each race. Will the streak continue when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to the track in May for the JEGS 200 (Friday, May 4, 5 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)?

Johnny Sauter piloted a Chevrolet to Victory Lane last year while Matt Crafton’s Toyota won in 2016 and Tyler Reddick took the win in a Ford the year prior.

Before that?

Seven years of Toyota dominance at the track.

So far in 2018, Chevrolet and Toyota each have two wins, while Ford is waiting for the confetti to fall.

Patiently Waiting To Return

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is in the third week of a four-week hiatus while the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series go to Texas, Bristol, Richmond and Talladega.

The trucks will return to the track at Dover International Speedway for the JEGS 200 on Friday, May 4 (5 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Looking back on the last 10 seasons and the first race back after the early month-long hiatus in April/May, 2011 was the lone year in that time frame in which the trucks returned from break at Dover. Kyle Busch was the race winner that year.

Here’s a look at the last 10 seasons and the race winners of the first race back on track after the spring break:

2017 – Kansas: Kyle Busch
2016 – Kansas: William Byron
2015 – Kansas: Matt Crafton
2014 – Kansas: Kyle Busch
2013 – Charlotte: Kyle Busch
2012 – Charlotte: Justin Lofton
2011 – Dover: Kyle Busch
2010 – Kansas: Johnny Sauter
2009 – Kansas: Mike Skinner
2008 – Kansas: Ron Hornaday Jr.

Dover By The Numbers

Here’s a quick look at some numbers associated with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Dover:

3 – Three different drivers have won from the pole at Dover – Kyle Busch (2014), Scott Riggs (2001) and Kurt Busch (2000)

4 – Kyle Busch’s four truck series wins at Dover are the most among all race winners. In fact, Kyle Busch is the only driver to have multiple truck series wins at the Monster Mile.

5 – Five times the race winner has started 10th or worse.

5.7 – Average starting position of the race winner at Dover.

15 – The farthest back in the field a driver has come from to win the race (Ron Hornaday, Jr. – 2007).

17 – Matt Crafton’s 17 starts in the truck series at Dover are most among all drivers (he has participated in all but the inaugural series race at the track).

18 – There have been 18 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Dover International Speedway.

2000 – The first truck series race at Dover was run in 2000 and was won by Kurt Busch.