RICHMOND, VA — Saturday’s qualifying from a sunny, yet cool Richmond Raceway, was a mix of Joe Gibbs Racing vs. Stewart-Haas Racing for the pole for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN).
Each put 3 of their 4 cars into the final round. That’s 6-for-10 between them for a shot at the top starting spot for the seventh race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Instead, they didn’t even get the front row. The thing is, among the top five starters, four of which have typically struggled at Richmond before. Does the new car change that or does the old guard come through them?
Ryan Blaney scored his 3rd pole in the last 4 weeks and 4th straight front row starting spot in his No. 12 Ford. Blaney, qualified with a speed of 119.782 mph for his 9th career Busch Pole Award. He’s the 7th active driver to win a Richmond pole now
He’ll be joined on the top row by William Byron (119.585 mph). It was Byron’s 2nd top five starting spot of the season.
Neither have combined to have much success at Richmond before though. Blaney, is 0-for-11 in terms of a top five on the .75-mile Virginia short track with a best result of 10th last Fall. Byron, is 0-for-7 himself with a best result of 7th last year too.
Combined, that’s 2 top 10’s in 18 starts.
Chase Briscoe (119.163 mph) was fourth while Erik Jones (118.697 mph) rounded out the top five in fifth. Briscoe (16th, 22nd last year) and Jones (0 top 5’s in 9 Richmond Cup starts) are like Blaney and Byron to not have much success here in Cup.
The thing is, Blaney did qualify in the top 4 rows in both races last year too but didn’t finish in the top 5 in either. Byron, qualified in the top 5 in 3 of his last 4 Richmond starts now too but has no top fives to show for that either.
Throw 4 of the top 5 starters together and you get 3 top 10’s, 0 top 5’s in 29 Richmond starts.
Can they turn it around Sunday?
Kyle Busch (119.290 mph) will be there to capitalize if not. He rolls off third in his No. 18 Toyota for his third top five start of the season. Busch, was also fastest in practice and has 8 straight top 10’s on this track including 11 in the last 12 starts overall. This was also his 4th top 3 row starting position in Richmond in the last 6 starts too.
Busch, has made 32 Richmond starts by himself with more wins (6) than their top 10’s. In fact, his wins double their combined top 10’s.
Does this set up for a Busch win Sunday?
Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10 and could play a role in that.
For Truex, it was his top 10 starting spot all season but the 10th time of his last 11 at Richmond that he’s started in the top 4 rows. He’s also swept both Richmond races in 2019 and was runner-up in 2020. He also won the Fall race last year and was fifth in the spring. He’s coming into the weekend with 3 top 8’s in the last 4 weeks. Also, 11 of his first 19 Cup wins were on intermediate tracks. It wasn’t until his 20th win that came via a short track. But, over his last 11 trips to victory lane, 8 have come on tracks 1-mile in length or shorter including each of his last six. In fact, 3 of those last 8 came at the Richmond Raceway.
In his Richmond wins, he started 5th (spring 2019), 8th (Fall 2019) and 3rd (Fall 2021). Being sixth is within that striking distance.
Harvick, also qualified in the top 10 for just the 2nd time all year but the 10th straight time in Richmond though and 15th time in the last 16 tries.
Bell, now has 4 top 10’s in his last 5 qualifying tries and was in the top 10 for 3 of his 4 Richmond starts.
Almirola is similar with 3 top 10 starts in the last 4 weeks and 4 in his last 5 tries in Richmond too.
Remarkably, the top two favorites for Sunday’s race didn’t even make it out of the first round. Kyle Larson will start outside the top 10 yet again in 21st. This is the 3rd straight weeks that’s happened including 4 of the last 6 overall. That’s not too shocking in a sense he was only 14th in practice in his No. 5 Chevrolet and enters Sunday’s race having scored 3 straight finishes of 29th or worse as well as being there in 4 of the 6 races run this season.
Chase Elliott also failed to advance and will start 15th. This was the 3rd time in the last 4 weeks that he failed to get out of the opening round.
The thing I questioned was, why each were the favorites to begin with. Larson’s finishes on the season had him reeling a bit, plus he didn’t have a top five in any of his last six Richmond starts. For Elliott, he is 0-for-12 in terms of wins here and hasn’t won on an oval since Nov. 2020.
2 of the 3 Team Penske drivers also failed to advance with Joey Logano (11th) and Austin Cindric (20th) being eliminated in the opening round too. That’s shocking in a sense that Logano had qualified in the top 10 in each of the last 5 races and Cindric having 5 top 10 starts in the 6 races run. Logano also had 4 top 6 starting spots in his last 5 Richmond appearances including 10 in the last 14 overall.
Denny Hamlin (13th) also failed to advance too. He had made it out of the 1st round in 4 of the last 5 weeks but has just been off on Saturday. The JGR driver was 18th in practice and backed that up with qualifying in Row 7.
Practice also proved to be a precursor to qualifying. 9 of the top 10 in the session made it to the final round. Last week, it was 8 of the top 11 in practice advancing to the final round. In Phoenix, it was 5 of the top 7 and Vegas 5 of the top 8.