Richmond to play host to more short-track racing

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to “The Action Track” at Richmond International Raceway this weekend for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (2 p.m. on FOX and MRN radio). Coming off the heels of a compelling short-track race from Bristol Motor Speedway, beating and banging will be guaranteed as 38 of NASCAR’s best take to the 3/4-mile D-shaped oval.

WHAT: Toyota Owners 400 (400 laps, 300 miles), stages of 100, 100 & 200 laps, respectively

WHEN: Sunday, April 30, 2017. Green flag scheduled to fly approximately at 2:14 p.m. ET

WHERE: Richmond International Raceway, 3/4-mile D-shaped oval in Richmond, Va.

FAVORITES: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson (6/1) and Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick (7/1)


LAST YEAR’S WINNER

Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Exactly like last week, the defending winner of the event will not repeat (or participate) on Sunday. Carl Edwards used the bumper to move his then-Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch out of the way for the lead in the final corner to win his second straight race. The race also marked Tony Stewart’s first in his return from an offseason back injury in 2016.


THE LINEUP

Matt Kenseth will lead the 38-car field to the green flag on Sunday afternoon, as he and his No. 20 Circle K team won their first Coors Light Pole award of the 2017 season. He turned in a lap of 212.076 mph (22.300 seconds) in the final round. The pole is Kenseth’s 19th of his career.

Photo: Getty Images

“This year has not been a good year for us, obviously, so far,” Kenseth told Fox Sports 1. “We finished strong at Bristol, but we didn’t get to qualify because of the rain, and that put us in the middle of the pack […] we haven’t been getting any stage points. We’re buried in the points back there and we finally got a decent finish last week, so hopefully this week we can start up front, stay up front and hopefully collect some stage points.”

Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano round out the top five starting spots with Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray rounding out the top ten when the green flag flies at RIR.

Some other notable drivers to roll off further down the grid include Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th, Chase Elliott in 14th, Brad Keselowski in 15th, Denny Hamlin in 16th, Jimmie Johnson in 17th, Kyle Larson in 18th and Danica Patrick in 21st.


TIME TO RACE FOR DALE JR.

Photo: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The news of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement has dominated headlines all week, and not just within the NASCAR world. Major publications such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, ABC, NBC, FOX, etc. have been covering the news all week. That’s the reach that driver No. 88 has.

But he has a race to run this weekend at Richmond—and a season to finish for Hendrick Motorsports. Although there are many distractions going on, he’s focused on winning.

“The team, the guys, they all and myself, we would love to win some races,” Earnhardt Jr., who has 10 career top-five finishes at RIR, told reporters on Friday. “I’m going to say ‘a race,’ but ‘some races’ would be great going out in your last season to get some victories. We just want to go to victory lane one more time, just to get that experience one more time would be awesome for me and I think the guys would love it, for sure.”


GO TIME FOR JOE GIBBS RACING

Almost a quarter of the way into the season, it might be time to reach for (but not hit) the panic button at Joe Gibbs Racing. None of their four drivers have a win thus far, but that could change this weekend. At Richmond, they have nine wins combined to go along with 29 top five finishes.

Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Kyle Busch has four career wins and an average finish of 6.5, a series-best. Kenseth has two wins and 319 fastest laps run, a series-best. Hamlin has three wins and a driver rating of 109.9 at his home track, which is second-best in the entirety of the Cup series. Daniel Suarez, of course, has zero career MENCS starts at Richmond and will be behind the eight-ball. It’s clearly no surprise that two of their drivers are betting favorites to win the whole shebang.


BOWYER KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Clint Bowyer’s most recent second-place finish before last weekend came at Richmond back in 2013. He has also mustered two wins, four top five’s and 12 top 10’s at the Virginia short-track in 22 starts.

“It would mean a ton to be back here where I’ve won a couple of races,” Bowyer told FOXSports.com in an exclusive interview. “We’ve had a lot of things happen in my career here, both positive and negative. A win here would be pretty special. There’s always been a great fan base here. I’ve always loved this race track; it races awesome. It’s a good blend of short-trackness with a touch of speed to it. “


No. 48 LOOKS TO STAY HOT

Photo: Getty Images

Coming on the heels of back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol, the seven-time champion looks to make it three in a row this weekend at Richmond. In his career, Johnson has three wins, seven top fives and two top 10 finishes in 30 career starts behind the wheel of the No. 48.

With 82 wins in his illustrious career, one more would tie him with his childhood hero and NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough. Two more would tie him with fellow Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison as well. Just your friendly reminder that he’s the G.O.A.T.


PREDICTION

Per usual, I’m sticking to my guns on Victory Lane this week and going with Chase Elliott to earn his first career victory in the MENCS for the No. 24 team. He has a solid starting spot (14th) and sits second in the point standings. He is way overdue for a win, and I think he gets it this weekend.