5 burning questions for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN)

Is Day Time The Right Time For Richmond?

For the second straight year, Richmond won’t host a NASCAR playoff or playoff deciding race this season. In fact, they also will host a pair of day races this season again. Is this the better path for the track?

In theory it could because in an era with less practice, you have to strategize this weekend. More on that later..

From 2004 through 2017, Richmond was always the regular season finale. In 2018, it was moved to the postseason. Now, they’ve moved the race up to the summer.

The thing is, this race used to always be a Sunday afternoon race following the Daytona 500. However, lights were installed in the early 90’s around the track. It wasn’t until 1998 that they finally scheduled this for a Saturday night race in primetime.

In 2002, 2007 and 2015, the race was rained out until Sunday. For 2016, it was moved back to Sunday afternoon before 2017, 2018 and 2019 this being back under the lights. Now, we’re back in the day this weekend.

Day racing is typically better for Richmond in the sense that the track is slicker and allows for more passing. Night racing adds more natural grip which makes passing much more difficult.

Both races last year were a strategy battle. What will this one look like?

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – APRIL 03: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford, leads the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Why Does Qualifying Not Matter Anymore In Richmond?

At one point, qualifying was everything on this race track in Richmond. It was a track position race. However, that’s maybe since changed and the races here last year were a prime example. Qualifying these cars on tracks like this takes over driving them. You’re getting the most out of your car and driving it in deep in the corners. You’re on top of the wheel. You have to be. However, you race the track vastly different a day later. Quite the opposite really.

If you drive hard in the race, you’ll burn up your tires and fall quickly. It’s why this is a veteran race. There’s a right combination of pushing and saving your tires and the younger drivers who can push hard in qualifying, step too far over the edge in the race. They haven’t mastered the art of finesse yet.

That’s why qualifying is all out pace and no worry on tires. It’s why the race is all worry about tires and slowing enough in your pace to go faster. 3 of the last 4 race winners each started outside the top 10 here.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – AUGUST 14: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on August 14, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

How Much Does HMS Not Having Crew Chiefs Affect Pace?

Sure, Hendrick Motorsports has arguably had the top speed this season. However, it’s hard to pick them on a track that they’ve won on just once since 2009 (27 starts) and even that lone victory, was on a late race pit strategy and not with the quickest car.

Alex Bowman (+1800) lucked into that 2021 for his only Top-5 in 10 Richmond starts. William Byron (+400) used strategy and strategy only to lead 122 laps in his only Top-5 in nine Richmond starts last spring. Again, he didn’t have a top five car that day in terms of speed and chances to win. Kyle Larson (+600) has just one Top-5 finish in his last eight Richmond starts and that was only a fifth placed run in last year’s spring race.

They just haven’t had the speed to win at this track and I can’t bet on them to do so now either. Not for their odds.

Also, how much of a role does not having any of their four crew chiefs this weekend play? Richmond is a place to where setups and pit calls make the world of a difference. It’s the reason why Byron led 122 laps last year and why Bowman won in 2021. However, they don’t have their 2023 crew chiefs on top of the pit box this weekend.

For Josh Berry, Byron and Larson, this will be a factor. For Bowman, it may not. That’s because Bowman had a new crew chief this year anyways. Now, he has his old crew chief back in Greg Ives who he’s had success with here. They can go back to what they had just last year even.

The others, I think this plays a role.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – AUGUST 14: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on August 14, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Will The Big Teams Win Again?

Richmond typically doesn’t allow for smaller teams to prevail at. Just look at the recent winners. Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing have won each of the last nine including 13 of the last 14 overall. Chip Ganassi Racing’s win with Kyle Larson in the 2017 playoff race was the only exception.

That means the big teams should be on top when the checkered flag drops on Sunday.

Hendrick Motorsports though may struggle. When Jimmie Johnson won for them in 2008, it was their third in the last four tries. They’re 1-for-27 since though.

Alex Bowman won the 2021 spring race, but it was more of a fluke rather than on merit. The race that day was a JGR/Penske battle that saw a late caution swing the race in Bowman’s favor. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano had the cars to beat that day. He has 1 top 5 in 9 Richmond starts.

William Byron used strategy and strategy only to lead 122 laps in his only top 5 in 9 Richmond starts last spring. Kyle Larson has just 1 top five finish in his last 8 Richmond starts and that was only 5th in the spring race.

What about Team Penske?

This isn’t one of Ryan Blaney’s better tracks. He’s never had a top 5 in 13 Richmond starts. Austin Cindric was 20th and 12th as a rookie and Logano was 17th and 6th himself.

What about JGR?

They’ve won 9 of the last 14 races in Richmond including dominating the spring race again last year. All four cars finished in the top 10 that race including going 1-4-6-9. They combined to lead 149 of 400 laps too.

Martin Truex Jr. has to be a favorite, right? Truex has 8 top 5 finishes in his last 9 at Richmond including 4 top 2’s in his last 7. He was 4th last spring after leading 80 laps and scoring a stage win and seventh last summer.

Kyle Busch had 9 straight top nine results including a top two in nearly half of his last 14 Richmond starts. He moves over to RCR, but Ty Gibbs is in this ride now.

Christopher Bell was fourth and third respectively in 2021, 6th in the spring race after leading 63 laps and scoring a 2nd place finish in the 2nd stage and runner-up last summer. He was good again last month in Phoenix too.

Then you have Denny Hamlin. He was runner-up in both races in 2021 including leading 207 laps in the spring and 197 in the Fall. He won the spring race last year and fourth in the summer. Hamlin, has 11 top six finishes in his last 13 Richmond starts.

Can they beat the field?

2 weeks later, we go to Martinsville to where JGR, Penske, HMS have won 16 of the last 17 Martinsville races including 3 of the last 5 belonging to HMS at that. Can anyone top them there either?

The big teams can clean up nicely this month ahead.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – AUGUST 14: A general view of racing during the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on August 14, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Will The Drivers Play Nicely?

NASCAR races are starting to get out of hand. It’s arguably the worst among the pure “racing” standpoint among the big divisions in motorsports. Formula One is more of a spectacle than actual racing but they still police rough driving. INDYCAR is the best pure racing in all of motorsports with tons of on track passing and no true rough driving allowed.

NASCAR, well there’s no morals. Yes, you can’t bump and bang in an open wheel car, but just because they have fenders, everyone in NASCAR feels like you should use them.

Kyle Busch was well ahead of this a few weeks ago saying that he feels like the respect level in NASCAR is gone to a new low.

“When you intentionally drive over somebody because they made a move on you or something you didn’t like then, you’re going to get punched in the face afterwards,” Busch said a few weeks ago in Atlanta.“ We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage area between drivers at all.

“That’s where the problem lies. Nobody gives two (expletive) about anybody else. It’s a problem where everybody takes advantage of everybody as much as they can.”

Then, you hear the comments from newcomers Jordan Taylor and Jenson Button at COTA and you get a sense that there’s a real problem brewing here.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Button said. “First, it was terrible. I mean, I must’ve been last by the end of it. And I was just like, ‘Everyone: Go. I just need to drive and find a rhythm.’ I’ve never gone through a corner too wide so often. And trying to place my car in the right place — I just got it wrong every time.

“Normally, if you’re a little bit slow through a corner, nobody tries to overtake you from the outside. Because they’re not going to make it all the way on the next one. But here they do, because they get a wheel inside for the next one, and if you turn in, you turn around.”

Taylor, was in the top 10 on the final restart. He lost 14 spots due to bad driving of others.

“Yeah, it was definitely wild,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t say I survived; I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side. So, yeah, it was pretty much just survival. The guys knew I’d be a little bit more hesitant, so they would take advantage of it. At the end, I got more aggressive and made our way almost back to the top 10. On the last restart, I don’t know who went down on the inside, but they were never going to make the corner and used us to stop themselves. I’d say it was a disappointing day. We had good pace, but we just got shuffled back every restart. Tough day.”

Just listen to what they’re saying. Instead of racing clean, drivers are just diving their cars into the corners and using other cars to slow down. It’s not pure. It’s not racing. It’s trash.

Drivers say that if they don’t drive this way, then someone else will. That’s absolute trash. If you feel that way, then speak up and deal with it in the garage because the alternative is complete hogwash.

That’s what NASCAR racing is becoming and I don’t like it one bit.

Yes, I get in cars that are made as equal as ever and with track position meaning as more now than ever, plus with the rules being what they are, drivers think that it’s okay to race over their heads and apologize later. That’s not racing. Never has been. Never was. Can’t happen much longer.

There’s a saying, “you are what your record says you are.” Well in racing, you are what your position on track says you are. You can’t just go from 10th to first because you feel your car is better than everyone else’s. You’re 10th for a reason.

You can’t divebomb the car in front because you feel your car is faster than their’s or that you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsors to be in front of them. How about maybe passing them clean? If you can’t, then you’re not good enough. Simple. You can’t take what’s not yours and if someone is in front of you, that spot isn’t yours unless you can get by them clean.

NASCAR has to start policing this. Especially when the end of these races become a shitshow of drivers crashing all over each other. Each of the next 3 weeks are on short tracks and places to where driver code gets even worse.

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