NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Saturday Night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN) race preview

TRACK: Richmond Raceway (.75-mile oval). DISTANCE: 400 Laps — STAGE 1: 80 Laps, STAGE 2: 155 Laps, FINAL STAGE: 165 Laps, MILES (300 Miles)

Starting Lineup

Favorites – Toyota’s Race To Lose?

Martin Truex Jr. 

He has to be the overall favorite, right? Truex, swept both Richmond races in 2019 and was runner-up last Fall. He also won at Phoenix this spring and fifth at Richmond in April too.

Kyle Busch

He has six straight top eight results including a top two in nearly half of his last 11 Richmond starts.

Brad Keselowski

Hard to bet against him at Richmond. He won the lone race on the Virginia short track last year and has seven top 10’s in his last 10 starts there. Keselowski, had a top five finish in Phoenix and third in Loudon too.

Joey Logano

Two straight third place finishes and a runner-up in the spring race of 2019 gives Logano three top threes in his last four Richmond starts. He was second in Phoenix, sixth in Martinsville, third in Richmond, fifth at Dover and fourth in Loudon on short tracks this year.

Top Sleepers?

Christopher Bell

He enters as arguably the top sleeper with being on a hot streak for the season and finishing fourth on this very track this spring.

Aric Almirola

This could be the spot that helps Almirola advance to the next round. He has three top eight finishes in his last five Richmond starts including an eighth place run last year and sixth back in April.

Austin Dillon

He surprised everyone last Fall with a fourth place run at Richmond, But, he’s also had three top six results in his last five tries there overall too and was 10th in April.

William Byron

He has favorable odds and was seventh this past spring.

Tyler Reddick

His teammate runs well in Richmond and here Reddick was with an 11th place result on this very race track last September. Reddick, also had three straight top 10 finishes in his NXS career at Richmond as well.

Who To Fade?

Kyle Larson

Weird saying this, but Richmond hasn’t been a kind track to Larson lately. For his odds this week, I’d fade him. He’s not had a top five finish in his last five Richmond starts including being 18th in April.

Chase Elliott

Here’s another odd one. Three of Elliott’s last four Rihcmond starts have seen him finish 12th or worse.

Kevin Harvick

He’s had a rough year despite a playoff berth and was seventh in this race last year and 24th in the spring race.

Ryan Blaney

Not one of his better tracks. He’s not had a top 10 finish in any of his 10 starts there.

Race Preview

The penultimate race of the opening round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is here for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN).  won last Sunday’s Southern 500 and automatically advanced to the second round. 15 drivers are left fighting for 11 spots with four of them going home.

Right now, Alex Bowman (-0), Kyle Busch (-2), William Byron (-9) and Michael McDowell (-20) are on the outside looking in. They have two races to get themselves into the playoff picture to advance to the Round of 12. But, can they?

It starts at the Richmond (VA) Raceway for a primetime under the lights shootout.

The Toyota’s are the heavy favorites with them sweeping the action at Richmond in each of the last two years prior to Alex Bowman’s April triumph, to go along with seven trips to victory lane in the last 10 starts on the .75-mile D-Shaped Virginia oval.

Denny Hamlin is coming off of a win last weekend at Darlington too.

Both Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. dominated the spring race but a late race caution allowed Bowman to steal a win despite leading only the final 11 laps.

Harvick got into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier on Lap 382 of 400 to bring out the final caution. The drivers all came down pit road and there Bowman was getting an adjustment to his No. 48 Chevrolet that he didn’t even know was occurring.

His crew chief Greg Ives learned of this move when he was on top of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s pit box a few years ago.

Bowman, would restart third, one row behind Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. At that point of the race, Hamlin had led over half of the race and was restarting in the top spot. He took the lead on pit road during that yellow flag pit sequence when he got by Logano on pit lane.

See, Hamlin who had swept both stages prior, was on the bumper of Logano in the closing laps for the lead and what he thought would be the race win. Then, Harvick crashes and changes everything all over again.

Logano, led 49 laps, came out of the pits second and hoping it would be a battle between he and Hamlin for the win. Prior to the final restart, Logano and Hamlin had combined to lead 179 of the previous 182 laps. Instead, it was Bowman who came out of no where and snookered them both.

“I thought were were going to see a battle between the front row, especially the way we launched on the final restart there,” said Logano. “I could barely hang on to the 11’s quarter down into 1. I thought maybe I could roll the top here and get there, the front just want’ woken up yet. It jus wasn’t turning for about three laps and obviously the 48 was in a different league for about five laps. Pretty obvious adjustments they made to make that happen. He was decent all day, but he wasn’t the fastest car. They found a way to win. Congratulations to them. They deserve it but frustrating at the same time for probably two of the best cars getting beat by that at the end. You get frustrated being so close, but at the same time, at least you’re close so you kind of go back and forth with that in your mind.”

Hamlin, agreed with the frustrations.

“It’s frustrating for sure,” he said. “But honestly, I’d rather be where I am than Alex Bowman. I don’t care that he’s got a win. We’re smashing everyone. I’d still rather be where I’m at.”

Hamlin said then though that there’s nothing that they can do about it. There’s nothing glaring that he could do any different. It’s just wild circumstances that are keeping him shut out of victory lane.

Ives’ call for an adjustment paid off for them and put Hamlin behind.

“We just didn’t take off very good there,” Hamlin said of the final restart. “Definitely was the worse that our car took off after a restart. The 48, I’m guessing, his tires pumped up and he was able to take off there, get the lead and then build a lead big enough I didn’t have enough time to get back to him.”

Logano agreed with that too.

“I think that’s probably what it kind of came down to,” Logano said on Sunday. “They (Bowman) made great adjustments to make their car fire off better and what we saw was him being lights out for five, six laps. Then, it equaled out. Then last maybe four, five laps, Denny and I were able to catch him a little bit back.

“I’m just assuming he pumped up his pressure. I’m not sure how much. But seemed like the obvoius play to me. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the strategy of the play, right? IF he didn’t get to the lead in the first two or three laps, he was done, right? He was going to probably finish fifth or sixth. That’s the gamble they took. He took advantage of it, got by everybody pretty quick and kind of made us all look kind of goofy there for a minute.”

Bowman said that even he was surprised by the car coming around on that final restart.

“It did not go the way I thought it was going to go,” said Bowman. “We were pretty awful on short runs all day. To be honest with you, when the caution came out, I was like ‘man we’re going to struggle to get out of here with a top five.’ When we drove away, I was like, “oh my gosh, what is happening?’

“I don’t have a clue what Ives did. I didn’t see a wedge wrench go in it, so I would say air pressure stuff which is typically our go to for short run vs. long run stuff. I sure woke it up, that’s for sure.”

Last year, Brad Keselowski dominated this race and stamped his name into the second round. The Championship 4 drivers finished 1-3-5-12 that night. In the spring race, the same drivers went 14-3-12-2 respectively.

I think it should be a Penske vs. Gibbs show though with them combining to win five of the last six Cup races on the .75-mile short track including 10 of the last 11 overall.

Hendrick Motorsports did score their first win there since 2008, but it was kind of a fluke and none of the other three fared well. Chevrolet has won just five of the last 24 times at Richmond, so this could be a spot to where Penske and/or Gibbs dominates on Saturday night.

Top Stat

3 of the 4 Championship 4 drivers finished in the top 5 in this race at Richmond a year ago. Will Saturday night be a precursor to who’s battling for the championship in Phoenix later in the year?

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