After the dramatic finish to the Next Gen car’s road course debut at the Circuit of the Americas, the NASCAR Cup Series made its first points-paying trip with the new machinery to a short track, the three-quarters of a mile Richmond Raceway. The wheel-to-wheel action did not disappoint. Side-by-side racing was frequent. There were several three-wides on restarts and even a four-wide moment or two.
In qualifying, Penske’s Ryan Blaney put his Ford Mustang on the pole for the third time this season, beating Hendrick’s William Bryon. However, Blaney was quick to reiterate how he lacked confidence around the track. He told Racer, “I will say, it’s definitely not been my best place at all. I struggled here really bad for years, and I still don’t feel like I’m great here at all.”
The race began cleanly as the front of the field quickly filed down to a single line. It was only a matter of time until the tires came up to temperature for the drivers and the action truly began. Though before then, the first caution came out on lap ten. 23XI’s Kurt Busch shut off his Toyota’s engine after puttering around the track with a fuel pickup issue.
The rest of the first stage went smoothly as Ryan Blaney led every lap of the first stage. And, he still led for the start of the second stage after a round of pit stops. Blaney accelerated away nicely for the restart, but it didn’t go as well for the driver behind him. Hendrick’s Chase Elliott ran into slight trouble as his tires broke traction as he took the restart from third. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch took advantage of the opportunity to shoot the middle gap into turn one and pass Elliott three-wide.
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Blaney finally yielded the lead to Christopher Bell when the Penske driver pitted on lap 132 under green flag conditions. Bell held on for over 20 laps before pitting for fresh tires. His teammate Martin Truex Jr., one of the first drivers to pit, cycled into the lead. It didn’t take long for Bell to find himself back in the fight for the lead. Truex would go on to win the stage.
During the third and final stage, the JGR Toyotas of Bell and Truex began to fade due to tire wear. This was around when William Byron took the lead and his teammate Kyle Larson made his way toward the front. A third JGR Toyota entered the picture as Denny Hamlin had fresher tires and was putting a second per lap into the margin up the track to Byron. In the closing laps, Hamlin passed Byron for the lead, cruised to the finish and won the Toyota Dealers 400.
The NASCAR Cup Series will race again on another Virginia short track next weekend, Martinsville Speedway.