NASCAR Weekend Preview — Richmond

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This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series head to Richmond, Virginia for the second short track in as many weeks. The defending race winner, Joey Logano, will lead the field to the green flag on Saturday evening, as he posted the fastest lap in Friday night’s qualifying session with a lap of 127.071 MPH (21.248 seconds).

“When you’re sitting 11th on the board [actually 10th after the second round], you’ve really got only one spot to lose, so we swung at it,” said Logano after winning his third pole of the young 2015 season for Team Penske and his No. 22 Ford Fusion.

He also managed to come home in second place in Friday evening’s Xfinity Series race, won by Denny Hamlin. Hamlin led a whopping 248 of 250 laps en route to another dominating win by a Cup regular in an Xfinity Series race.

“The 100th Xfinity win for Toyota — that’s a big one,” Hamlin said.  “I was able to get the 100th Cup win at Loudon a few years ago for those guys and JGR. This is a big win for everyone.”  He qualified in second place behind Logano for the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday evening.  But the questions remains, is his neck okay?

Considering he has already won one of the two major races scheduled for NASCAR this weekend at his home track of Richmond International Raceway, I would say he’s okay.  After saying he “[felt] close to 100 percent” earlier in the week, Hamlin came out and qualified second for the NSCS race, and handily won the NXS race. It was well documented that Hamlin only raced 20 laps last weekend before being relieved by Erik Jones due to “neck spasms”, but his neck is now fine.

Storylines are always abundant going into a weekend and this weekend is no different.  Some include points leader Kevin Harvick. His streak of top ten finishes ended last weekend at Bristol with a 36th place finish after getting swept up in an accident about halfway through the race. In the Xfinity race, he finished 18th, snapping his streak of 29 consecutive top ten finishes in that series. Something was wrong with his No. 88 car and the team never found out what it was.

Martin Truex Jr. and Logano both had the same fortunes as Harvick last weekend.  With Logano as the defending winner and Truex Jr. as a very strong force to be reckoned with this season, everybody in the garage expects those three to challenge for a win. Harvick and Truex Jr. will start fifth and sixth, ironically enough, for the race.

Other notable starting spots include Kasey Kahne in 40th (he was fastest in practice), Jimmie Johnson in 36th, Greg Biffle in 32nd, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 26th, Ryan Newman in 23rd, Danica Patrick in 21st, Carl Edwards in 18th, Chase Elliott in 16th (2nd career Cup start), Tony Stewart in 13th, Jeff Gordon in 11th, Matt Kenseth in eighth, Brad Keselowski in seventh and Kurt Busch in third place.

A dark horse pick for this weekend could be Danica Patrick. No, that is not a typo.  Coming off a solid top ten run last weekend at one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR schedule, she is in prime position to sneak into the top five and grab her first career win in NASCAR. Same with Kyle Larson, who has been knocking on the door for the last year and a half or so in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

On a somber note, the NASCAR community experienced some sad news this week with the passing of FOX Sports broadcaster Steve Byrnes, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 56 years old. Last weekend’s race was renamed the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer.  His final tweet before he passed away said “I went the distance” replying to a fan who asked if he was able to stay up and watch the race in it’s entirety after the rain delays and red flags. Byrnes was a staple in the NASCAR garage for so many years.

Among the outpouring of support and grief from the NASCAR community was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s tweet: “My hope is Steve was able to see how much he was loved & appreciated by so many. Rest easy friend. Prayers to his family. #ByrnesStrong”. The sentiment in Earnhardt Jr.’s tweet was echoed by everybody. The whole NASCAR community and sports world is thinking of the Byrnes family this week.

On a lighter note, it’s now prediction time. This weekend’s short track race will require tire management, brake management, temper management and possibly fuel management. Who’s one of the best in the sport at doing that? Brad Keselowski. I think “BK” gets his second win of the season at RIR this weekend. He has won there three times in his career, the most recent win coming in dominating fashion as he led over 380 laps in his Blue Duece for Team Penske to grab the checkered flag.

You can catch the race on FOX at 7:00 pm with pre-race beginning on Fox Sports 1 (RaceDay) and on FOX around 6:00 for more pre-race coverage from the 0.75 mile tri-oval.  Enjoy the race this weekend, everybody!