The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season has been filled with unpredictable finishes and stellar on-track competition producing five different winners in six races. Plus, the Cup Series has seen four different driver point standings leaders through the first six races, with Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain currently out front.
This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series prepares for the close, beating and banging racing the fans love at short tracks like Richmond. Originally known as the Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds, Richmond Raceway held its first race in 1946 as a half-mile dirt track.
The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway was held on April 19, 1953 and won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty in a Petty Enterprises Dodge with an average speed of 45.535 mph. The track surface was changed from dirt to asphalt between races in 1968. In total, Richmond Raceway has hosted the NASCAR Cup Series 132 times producing 57 different pole winners and 53 different race winners.
The best in a Next Gen on tracks less than a mile in length – short tracks
When looking back at the inaugural season of the Next Gen car (2022), the NASCAR Cup Series competed in six events on tracks that measure less than a mile – Richmond Raceway (0.75-mile), Martinsville Speedway (0.526-mile), Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt (0.5-mile) and Bristol Motor Speedway (0.533-mile) – and below is look at the drivers that excelled on these type of tracks.
Wins – Six different drivers won on short tracks in the Next Gen car in as many races last season. The six winners were Denny Hamlin (Richmond-1), William Byron (Martinsville-1), Kyle Busch (Bristol Dirt), Kevin Harvick (Richmond-2), Chris Buescher (Bristol), and Christopher Bell (Martinsville-2).
Runner-Up Finishes – Six different drivers finished runner-up in the six short track Cup Series races last season: Kevin Harvick (Richmond-1), Joey Logano (Martinsville-1), Tyler Reddick (Bristol Dirt), Christopher Bell (Richmond-2), Chase Elliott (Bristol), and Kyle Larson (Martinsville-2).
Top Fives – A total of 14 different drivers scored top-five finishes in the six short track Cup Series races run last season, led by Kyle Larson with four top-five finishes, and followed by Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and William Byron with three top fives each.
Top 10s – A total of 23 different drivers posted a top-10 finish in the six short track Cup Series races run last season, led by Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney with five top 10s each.
Average Finishes – A total of six different drivers had an average finish of 10th or better in the six short track Cup Series races last season – Christopher Bell (6.6), William Byron (7.2), Chase Elliott (8.2), Kyle Larson (8.2), Ryan Blaney (9.8) and Joey Logano (10.2).
Lap Led – A total of 20 different drivers led at least one lap in the six short track Cup Series races last season. Here are the top five lap leaders on short tracks last season – Christopher Bell (356 laps led), William Byron (334), Chase Elliott (240), Denny Hamlin (230) and Joey Logano (223).
Veterans have dominated Richmond recently in Cup
Looking at the recent visitors to the Richmond Raceway Victory Lane in the NASCAR Cup Series, and eight of the last nine races have been won by veteran drivers – Kevin Harvick (2022), Denny Hamlin (2022), Martin Truex Jr. (2021, 2019 sweep), Brad Keselowski (2020) and Kyle Busch (2018 sweep) – the one lone exception is Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman who won in 2021. Will the veterans prevail again this weekend or will we see one of the ‘young guns’ hoist the trophy this weekend?
A total of eight former Richmond winners are entered this weekend, led by Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch with six victories at the 0.75-mile track (spring 2009, spring 2010, spring 2011, spring 2012, 2018 sweep). The driver with the most wins recently at Richmond though, is Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. who has earned all three of his wins since 2019.
Th level of competition is always fierce at Richmond. Only five first-time winners have earned their first NASCAR Cup Series career win at Richmond Raceway, and it hasn’t happened since 2005 – Kasey Kahne (2005), Tony Stewart (1999), Kyle Petty (1986), Neil Bonnett (1977) and James Hylton (1970).
Ross Chastain is the driver to catch in points
Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain has retaken the NASCAR Cup Series points lead following his fourth-place finish at the Circuit of The Americas last weekend – Chastain is one of three different drivers to lead the driver standings this season (Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano). Now, the Florida native is 19 points up on Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch in second and 25 points ahead of Team Penske’s Joey Logano in third place.
This season, Chastain has put up two top fives, three top 10s, and has an average finish of 10.8 – third best on the year, behind Alex Bowman (7.0) and Kyle Busch (9.0).
Looking to this weekend in Richmond, Chastain will have his work cut out for him to hold off Logano and Busch in the standings. Chastain has made eight career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the 0.75-mile track posting one top-10 finish. His average finish at Richmond is 23.2. He finished 19th in this event last season.
Cup Series driver milestone starts to watch for – Over the next few races several drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series will reach milestones starts if they continue to run fulltime in the series.
At Richmond Raceway in two weeks on April 2, Team Penske’s Austin Cindric will be making his 50th career NASCAR Cup Series start. Five different drivers all-time in the NASCAR Cup Series have won on their 50th career Cup start – Glen Wood (1960, Winston-Salem), Dick Hutcherson (1965, Lincoln), Charlie Glotzbach (1970, Daytona), Darrell Waltrip (Nashville Fairgrounds) and Jeff Gordon (1994, Indianapolis).
Then at Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt on April 9, Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch will be making his 650th NASCAR Cup Series career start. Busch will become the 27th different NASCAR Cup Series driver all-time to make 650 or more starts. Only one driver all-time has won on their 650th career NASCAR Cup Series start, and it was NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty at Dover Motor Speedway on Sept. 15, 1974.
And at Talladega Superspeedway on April 23, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick will be making his 800th career NASCAR Cup Series career start. Harvick will become just the 10th different NASCAR Cup Series driver all-time to make 800 or more starts in the series. Only one driver all-time has won on their 800th career NASCAR Cup Series start, and it was NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty at Dover Motor Speedway on Sept. 16, 1979.