5 things I’m watching for Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN)

Richmond offers decent opportunity for Truex to catch Blaney

Of the three remaining tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule, this weekend’s Richmond Raceway offers the best opportunity for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. to get his first win of the 2022 season. Looking to snap his 31-race winless streak and solidify his spot in the Playoffs this weekend, Truex heads to Richmond as the winningest driver at the 0.75-mile track among the competitors that haven’t won yet this season with three victories (2019 sweep and 2021).  

Truex is currently riding a steak of seven consecutive seasons of making the Playoffs (2015-2021). This year, he has put up three top fives and 10 top 10s and currently resides in the first position outside the postseason cutoff trailing Ryan Blaney by 19 points.

Don’t be surprised even if Truex doesn’t win this weekend that he at least closes the points gap on Blaney. In 32 series start at Richmond, Truex has amassed three wins, nine top fives and 15 top 10s. On the other hand, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney has made 12 series starts at Richmond posting just two top 10s.  Truex also betters him in average finish at the track with a 16.0 to Blaney’s 20.9.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – APRIL 03: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Hamlin looks to pull off Richmond sweep this season

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, from Chesterfield, Virginia, will look to win this weekend’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway to become the 12th different driver all-time and just the third active driver to win consecutive races at the 0.75-mile track. And what would make the achievement even more special is to do it at his home track.

A total of 11 different drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Richmond Raceway; Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are the only active drivers to accomplish the feat:

·       Joe Weatherly (1962-1963)

·       David Pearson (1965, 1966 sweep)

·       Richard Petty (1970, 1971 sweep, 1972 sweep, 1973 sweep)

·       Cale Yarborough (1976-1977)

·       Bobby Allison (1982, 1983 sweep)

·       Dale Earnhardt (1987 sweep, 1990-1991)

·       Rusty Wallace (1989 sweep)

·       Terry Labonte (1994-1995)

·       Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep)

·       Kyle Busch (2018 sweep)

·       Martin Truex Jr. (2019 sweep)

Denny Hamlin won at Richmond Raceway earlier this season, taking the checkered flag after passing William Byron for the lead with just five laps to go. In total, the 41-year-old has made 31 series starts at Richmond, putting up three poles, four wins (2009, 2010, 2016, 2022), 16 top fives and 20 top 10s. His average finish is 8.516 – third-best among active drivers.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 10: (L-R) Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, crew chief Alan Gustafson and NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Rick Hendrick stand during the national anthem prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Elliott can clinch Regular Season Championship presented by Coca Cola at Richmond 

Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott and current point standings leader can clinch the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship presented by Coca Cola this weekend if he earns 58 points at Richmond Raceway.

If Elliott wins the Regular Season Championship this season, he will become the fifth different driver to accomplish the feat since the award was created in 2017; joining Kyle Larson (2021), Kevin Harvick (2020), Kyle Busch (2019, 2018) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017).  

The NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship presented by Coca-Cola not only awards the winning driver with a prestigious trophy but also an additional 15 Playoff points (equivalent to three race wins) to take into the postseason. Elliott currently leads the series in Playoff point with 25, if he wins the regular season title his Playoff points total will balloon to 40 points. The most Playoff points a driver has taken into the postseason is 57 by Kevin Harvick in 2020.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #1 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Who is the next to end a winless streak?

After Stewart-Haas Racing Kevin Harvick snapped his 65-race winless streak last weekend at Michigan, everybody in the garage has got to think they have a chance to win this season. So, who else is facing a mounting winless streak they would like to see ended? 

The top 10 longest active winless streaks by drivers that have previously won in the NASCAR Cup Series are – in descending order – Chris Buescher (218 races since last win), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (186 races), Justin Haley (113 races), Erik Jones (103 races), Cole Custer (78 races), Austin Dillon (77 races), Michael McDowell (58 races), Brad Keselowski (49 races), Aric Almirola (37 races) and Ryan Blaney (33 races). Of the group listed trying to end their winless streak, only RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski has won at Richmond Raceway (2014, 2020).

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – APRIL 03: Cody Ware, driver of the #51 Nurtec ODT Ford, Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 ONX Homes/iFly Chevrolet, and Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 SiriusXM Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Momentum

With the final 3 races during the final month of the regular season now ahead, one has to wonder in a season of unpredictability, can you build momentum starting now to enter the playoffs hot?

We’ve seen this in all sports before. Whomever is on a hot streak coming into the postseason are usually the ones to triumph in the end.

Last year, Kyle Larson had 3 top 3 finishes over the final 4 weeks of the regular season.

In 2020, Chase Elliott had 3 top 5’s over the final 4 races.

In 2019, Kyle Busch had 3 top 6’s in the same stretch.

In 2018, Joey Logano had 3 top 10’s including 2 top 4’s over the final 3 weeks.

For 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had just 2 top 10’s and 1 top 5 over the final 4 week stretch, but prior to those 4 races he had three straight top 3’s.

In 2016, Jimmie Johnson had 3 top 11’s.

For 2015, Kyle Busch had 4 top 11’s including 3 straight top 8’s to close the regular season out with but on the grander picture, he had 6 top 2 results over the final 11 weeks.

Finally in 2014, Kevin Harvick had 2 top 10’s, both in the top 5 in this stretch.

Moral of the story is, you better be on top of your game at this point. So who is so far?

Elliott has 5 top 2 finishes in his last 7 starts. However, his last 2 results were 16th and 11th respectively. Truex Jr. has 3 top 7’s in his last 4 with Larson having 4 top 7’s in his last 7. Logano has 2 straight top 6’s. Bell has 2 top 4’s in his last 4. Harvick has 5 top 10’s in his last 8 including 3 of which in the top 5. Reddick has 2 top 2’s in his last 3 including 2 wins since July 3. Suarez has 5 top 10’s in his last 8. Erik Jones has 3 top 10’s in his last 5. Bubba Wallace has 4 straight top 8’s with 3 of which in the top 5.

Who needs some work?

3 of the last 4 finishes for Ryan Blaney have been 18th or worse. Austin Cindric has been 13th or worse in 3 of his last 4. Ross Chastain’s last 3 finishes have been 32nd, 27th and 24th. Kyle Busch has 8 straight finishes outside the top 10. Chase Briscoe has 9 straight finishes outside of the top 10 himself. William Byron has 1 top 10 in his last 14. Alex Bowman has 1 in his last 9. Neither have had a top 5 in months with Byron going 15 straight races without a top 5 and Bowman 12. Denny Hamlin has 1 top 5 in his last 9.

As you can see, with 3 races left in the regular season, who stays hot among the top list and who can get hot among the ones needing some work.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s