Who’s In The Headline
It took pit strategy to get Joey Logano up front at Richmond International Raceway, but no one on the No. 22 team is complaining this Monday morning.
Not when you have a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy on your mantle.
After a late caution, while restarting behind cars that stayed on track, old tires left him ahead of a trio who were speedy late: Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin. That move afforded Logano the opportunity to carve through slower traffic, carving a path to victory. Despite a late push by Keselowski, he ultimately held on for the win, his first of 2017.
Matt Kenseth dominated the first stage from the pole, led the first segment and over half the second before the handle went away on his car. He was passed by Keselowski, who went on to claim the second stage win as the No. 20 Toyota faded into the background.
The third stage was then a battle between Keselowski, Harvick, and Hamlin at the front, with each of them holding an edge at certain points. However, two late crashes by Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed by a yellow flag for debris shuffled up the field. During that section of the race, Team Penske chose to stay out on older tires and were rewarded by a quick caution after that left them on the same pit cycle as the frontrunners. The move snuck Logano ahead after running in the back half of the top 10 all day.
A late caution for contact by Ryan Blaney with the outside wall on Lap 378 switched up some final strategy decisions. Logano made a last-second dive to pit lane after staying out on the previous caution. Kyle Busch, who had been surging was penalized for a commitment line violation from second place, partially brought on by Logano’s late move.
Several slower cars stayed out, but it only took two laps for Logano to chase down Kyle Larson and retake the lead. He then held off Keselowski’s charge to score the win.
Why You Should Care
It is another new winner for 2017, making it seven on the season. While it is still highly unlikely, ten more unique winners in the next 16 races would mean a driver with a win would not make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season continues to spiral downward with another finish of 30th or worse. Will his pending retirement be enough to swing momentum in the other direction?
Fords claimed four of the top-five positions while Toyota also flexed some muscle. By comparison, Chevrolet struggled with Larson and other weekly frontrunners taking a step back. Hendrick Motorsports was particularly invisible, an 11th-place finish from Jimmie Johnson the best from their four-car bandwagon.
What Your Friends Are Talking About
A funny thing happened with Earnhardt’s return from concussion symptoms. He decided that he doesn’t want to race in the Cup Series anymore. It is hard to blame a guy who is financially set for the rest of his life, and then some at age 42. Earnhardt also has a beautiful wife and wants to be an active part of his children’s lives once he has them. But from the sport’s perspective, this decision is just another huge blow over the last three years. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Earnhardt have all called it quits in that three-year span.
For a sport struggling to attract new fans, slowly losing old ones Earnhardt’s departure is a huge hurdle to overcome. Luckily, a large crop of tremendously talented young drivers is cutting their teeth in the sport’s lower series. It is up to the sanctioning body to market them effectively, providing opportunities for them to move up. They must cultivate the fan base that can sustain the sport for the next couple of decades.
Don’t look now, but you may be finding out more about your favorite driver’s race car during events than you ever have before. Google has filed for an experimental FCC license to test some new technology that will broadcast broadband data from race cars. They will be testing it at four different tracks this year: Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Richmond. There are a myriad of possibilities of how the data could be utilized if the test ultimately leads to usable, reliable data receipt. The information in the filing is rather limited at this time; sources are vague as to where this leads. But whenever cutting edge technology comes to NASCAR, it has the potential to add value for fans. Unfortunately, it usually means more expenses for anyone who wants to take advantage of it….
NASCAR Heat Mobile is now coming to handheld devices near you. 704Games announced the release of the game for iOS and Android devices, and it is available now for free. Not only does the game allow fans to race all 23 Cup Series tracks; they can also build a Fan Zone like many of the other role play games out for devices these days. Now, if they can just get someone like Kate Upton to be the spokesperson….
Indianapolis Motor Speedway has announced that, as of the Red Bull Air Race in October, their entire seating area will be smoke-free. The track had its first smoke-free seating areas for Carb Day in 2016, a successful experiment. Now, it is expanding those areas for events in May and the Brickyard 400 as part of the transition to a smoke-free atmosphere. Track president J. Douglas Boles stated they repeatedly received feedback a smoke-free option in the grandstands would be great. The track has responded and decided to make all stands smoke-free going forward.
Who Is Mad
Kyle Busch was issued a speeding penalty on Lap 67 and had to restart at the tail end of the field. He battled all the way back to second place, only to miss the commitment line with his right-side tires during the Lap 378 caution. The end result was a 16th-place finish and a feeling of what might have been.
Asked for a post race comment, Busch merely said, “Balls and strikes.” But thanks to television replay, it was obvious that he missed the commitment line – in part due to Logano’s maneuver.
Kenseth was tremendously strong at the start, leading a race-high 164 laps but he faded just before halfway and slowly faded backwards. At the end of the day, Kenseth had a flat tire late in the race and was relegated to a 23rd-place result. Kenseth has had some horrendous luck this season and it continues to rear its ugly head.
Who Is Happy
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. once again showed he’s a great short track racer. In the four races this year on ovals a mile or less, Stenhouse has a tenth, a ninth and two fourth-place finishes, including Sunday. The trip was a little rougher for Stenhouse this time, as he hit the wall hard enough to bring out the caution on Lap 67. He ended up at the end of the longest line and battled back the entire race to ultimately secure a top-five result.
Aric Almirola came home fourth in Daytona in the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. He has since been rather steady in the teens but has not managed another top-10 result until a ninth-place finish Sunday. Almirola is now only 12 points out of a playoff spot even though he’s currently 19th in the standings.
Many drivers have driven over their head thanks to segment racing. But Almirola has continued to conservatively get it done so it isn’t too surprising he’s in the mix for a playoff spot.
When The Checkered Flag Flew
- Joey Logano scored his 18th career Cup victory in his 300th start. He is the fifth driver to pull off that feat, joining Rusty Wallace, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Hamlin.
- Logano has two career wins at Richmond International Raceway.
- On the all-time win list, Logano ranks in a tie for 45th with Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, and Ryan Newman.
- Keselowski came home second for the second time in his career at Richmond.
- The runner-up performance was his fourth top two of the season.
- Keselowski ranks tied for 42nd on the all-time second-place finish list with 19 in his career.
- He is tied with Tim Flock, Dick Hutcherson, and Jack Smith.
- Denny Hamlin completed the podium at Richmond. The third-place run is Hamlin’s first top three of the season.
- Hamlin’s podium run gives him 86 for his career. He’s tied with Rex White for 29th all-time.
- Daniel Suarez came home 12th to win Rookie of the Race honors.
Nine races into the season, there have been seven different winners this year. With 17 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are 10 new winners then someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners.
Here are the remaining nine drivers in playoff points and their position.
Here are the drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total.
Brad Keselowski – 11
Martin Truex Jr. – 10
Jimmie Johnson – 10
Kyle Larson – 7
Joey Logano – 6
Ryan Newman – 5
Kurt Busch – 5
Kevin Harvick – 3
Chase Elliott – 2
Ryan Blaney – 2
Kyle Busch – 1
Matt Kenseth – 1
What is in the cooler (one to six beers, where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
It was an exciting finish to a race with multiple strategies, several on-track passes for the lead and three or four different racing grooves. How ironic that three of the last four races have been on short tracks and all three have had great racing, right?
Of course, NASCAR’s response has been to see the schedule lose yet another short track next season to an intermediate facility. New Hampshire will replace Las Vegas next season and Sunday’s race is one reason why that’s a shame.
But the on-track product at Richmond was excellent, so the race deserves five ice cold Stone Ruination double IPAs from the Stone Brewing Company.[poll id=”7″]
Where Do You Point Your DV-R For Next Week?
It is time for restrictor plate racing for the second time in 2017. The series will run at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, May 7 at the sport’s longest racetrack. The race will air on Fox at 2:00 PM ET. It can be heard on your local MRN affiliate, motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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