Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kyle Larson Survives Smoke, Safety Vehicles & Overtime to Win Richmond

Who’s in the headline – It had to happen eventually. Kyle Larson is too good of a racecar driver to only win on two-mile racetracks. Richmond Raceway is a track that will highlight a drivers ability more than most any other one, so it would make sense that someone with Larson’s talent would shine there. In a year when people are screaming about competitive imbalance for Toyotas over everyone else, he continues to prove that the Chevrolet can be just as fast.

What happenedMatt Kenseth won the pole and led the first 90 laps of the race. He looked like he’d be in contention for the win all night until a bizarre incident on lap 257. The field was coming to the pits when they were opened under caution. An ambulance was in the pit entrance and stopped in front of the field. As cars checked up, Kenseth ran into the car in front of him and knocked the radiator out of his machine. His night was over.

In another bizarre incident, Kenseth locked up his tires to avoid contact with Danica Patrick near the end of Stage 1. NASCAR threw a caution because they thought his car had blown up. The official reason for the caution was smoke. Kyle Busch led the final laps of stage one and won it.

The second stage ran completely green and Martin Truex Jr. showed the dominance of his car, leading 104 laps through the end of stage 2 and the beginning of stage 3. While Larson showed strength during the race, it was Truex who had the fastest car, again. As the final laps clicked by Truex was cruising to the win when Derrike Cope bounced off of the wall with three laps to go. Teams pitted for tires and Larson was the first off of pit road. During the mayhem on the overtime finish, Denny Hamlin got into Truex, spun him out, and relegated him to a 20th place finish.

Why you should care – When it is all said and done, Truex is still the best car in the series right now. Kyle Busch is strong as well while Larson continues to be the class of the Chevy camp. The Ford crew has some hope with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch from Stewart-Haas Racing and Brad Keselowski for Team Penske. You can never count out Jimmie Johnson when you’re talking about playoff racing, but the No. 48 car still looks to be a tick off.

What your friends are talking about – The caution calls at Richmond have everyone scratching their heads. The first questionable call was the Kenseth tire smoke. While it did look like a blown engine initially, it still should have been given a chance to play out. The second call for Cope, seemed rather rapid as well. It wouldn’t have been a stretch to let the race finish without putting the yellow out.

The debacle that was the ambulance on pit road was simply laughable. Race control has communication with all safety vehicles. How they opened pit lane with an ambulance anywhere near Turns 3 and 4 was poor judgment at least and negligent at the worst. It harkened back to when they threw a green flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a safety truck in the middle of Turn 2. There is no excuse for this to have happened, and it negatively impacted several teams’ chances during the race.

Hamlin’s victories at Darlington were both encumbered after post-race inspection issues at the R&D Center for NASCAR in Concord N.C. The Cup failure is understandable. Every team is looking for every possible advantage and sometimes it goes to far. The XFINITY failure is simply unacceptable. When you have a Cup organization with Cup resources bringing a Cup driver to race in that series, you must play it conservative. There is simply no excuse for a Cup team in XFINITY to ever be found in violation of a rule.

There is a very easy way for it to be fixed. Any Cup driver who has an encumbered win in XFINITY or Trucks should be banned for life from ever competing in those series again. If they want to push the limits then, when they violate the rules, the hammer must come down and come down hard.

The backlash over the cancellation of the sponsorship of the No. 19 JGR car by Subway over the pre-race doughnut video at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July has been far reaching and very vocal. The main focus has been that Subway, a company who let a person who was suspected of being a pedophile by management of the company for some ten years before he was finally cut loose, is using something so petty to end their sponsorship. It is obvious that they wanted out of the deal since Carl Edwards left, but the negative PR is going to be hard for them to overcome. It will be interesting to hear if their earnings take a hit after this decision.

Hearing that Smithfield may be moving to SHR to sponsor the No. 41 and bring Kurt Busch back for 2018 and more. The company had been negotiating with Richard Petty Motorsports about renewing their deal but that seems to have fallen apart. SHR has been working hard to keep Busch in the fold and this would appear to be the kind of development that would do just that.

Who is mad – Can anyone be madder than Joey Logano now that the playoff field is set and he’s not part of it? An early season win was classified as encumbered because of a technical violation. Not only did that prevent him from advancing to the playoffs, the team never seemed to have the necessary speed to rebound the rest of the year. He came to Richmond, where he’s had considerable success, needing a win. When the checkered flag flew, he was one spot short of winning his way into the playoffs.

Kenseth won the pole and looked strong throughout the race. Looking to come into the playoffs with some momentum from a win and it all went to hell because of the ambulance incident. It has seemed all year like there has been a dark cloud hanging over the No. 20 team and this was yet another bizarre twist for the team. It would be fitting for Kenseth to go on a run in the playoffs and win a second title on his way out the door at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Who is happyJamie McMurray didn’t earn a single playoff point during the regular season. He didn’t win a race or a single stage. He did score enough points to make the playoffs, again. McMurray has made a habit of pointing his way into the playoffs.

Ryan Newman strategized his way to a win early in the year. He spent much of the season on a roller coaster of finishes that didn’t have anyone considering him for a spot in Homestead come Championship weekend. The last four weeks, Newman has been at the back of the top five and the middle of the top ten every week. Newman has found momentum at the right time. We’ll have to see if it continues through the playoffs as it has in the past.

When the checkered flag flew:

Kyle Larson won his fifth career race in his 137th career start.

Larson has four wins in 2017.

This is Larson’s first career victory at Richmond Raceway.

Five triumphs ranks Larson tied for 71st on the All-Time list with the likes of Ward Burton, Dan Gurney and Alan Kulwicki.

Joey Logano came home in second Saturday night for his third career top two at the track.

It is Logano’s second top two of the season.

Logano has nine career runner-ups which ranks him 69th on the All-Time list with Tiny Lund, Ken Schrader, Bob Welborn, and LeeRoy Yarbrough.

Ryan Newman rounded out the podium at Richmond for his third top three of the year.

Newman has come home first, second or third at Richmond six times in his career.

This was Newman’s 52nd career top three which ranks him 45th along with Fred Lorenzen and Dick Rathman.

Rookie of the Race was Erik Jones. That is his twelfth such win of the year. Daniel Suarez has won the Rookie of the Race eleven times this season. Ty Dillon has been bestowed the award three times.

The drivers who have scored playoff points and are still in the playoffs along with their total:

Martin Truex Jr – 53

Kyle Larson – 33

Kyle Busch – 29

Brad Keselowski -19

Jimmie Johnson – 17

Kevin Harvick – 15

Denny Hamlin – 13

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 10

Ryan Blaney – 8

Chase Elliott – 6

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Austin Dillon – 5

Kasey Kahne – 5

Matt Kenseth – 5

Jamie McMurray – 3

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic) – While it isn’t the Richmond of the 90s and 2000s, this race was incredibly similar to the days when Richmond was the best. There were grooves from the bottom to the top, which is higher than we’ve ever seen there. Passing was tough but not as hard as it was in the heyday of the track. In the end it was a great race with some pit strategy thrown in and some idiocy from the safety crews once again. Richmond always seems to serve up something crazy. It all came together to earn the race five ice cold Legend Lagers from Legend Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The playoffs have arrived. Sunday, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m. ET. The coverage will be on NBCSN. The race can also be streamed on the NBC Sports app. It can be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.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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Anyone still wondering why I comment on Cope running in any of Brian’s products? He is a caution waiting to happen and a rolling road block.


Cope has been a rolling chicane and a ready-made caution for decades. He has ruined the day of untold numbers of competitors in both Cup and Xfinity. Every fan, driver and crew member has a story where things were going well and then along came Cope.


it’s funny, because its’ true….

Capt Spaulding

You think there might be a direct light from NASCAR contol, integrated in his electronic dash…..think Jeb Burton had it installed last year


And remember his nieces who masqueraded as drivers in the NW Series a few years back?

Kevin in SoCal

Right there with you Don. Morgan Shepard finally retired and its time for Derrike Cope to do the same.


i remember my last race i attneded – Morgan Shepard’s car caught on fire in the pit…just barely – but he still managed to be a moving chicane/caution the whole day.

With another classic J Logano quote (firesuit being best) –

“Logano was critical of Shepherd after the wreck, saying, “The slowest car on the racetrack took us out. … I feel like there should be, like, a driver’s test before you get out in a Cup car and make sure you know how to drive before you drive one.”

(crediting the following article http://www.sportingnews.com/nascar/news/morgan-shepherd-age-72-joey-logano-wreck-new-hampshire-reaction-criticsm-controversy/145k8vae440mw1l9zetudqz88t)

Bill B

What really should happen is for NASCAR to set and enforce a realistic minimum speed so that slow cars are parked. When someone goes down 15 laps without spending time in the garage they shouldn’t be out there. Somehow I think NASCAR likes them out there. More opportunities for additional cautions, commercials and restarts.

Bill B

What a joke of a race. It’s races like that which keep me from considering picking a favorite driver to cheer for. The best part of the race was that there was never much opportunity for the NBC crew to harp on who was going to make the chase and who wasn’t. We kind of knew that going in but I still thought they’d find a way to make it seem like there was some drama.


looks like I made the right decision to not watch the race. again the same people up front week in and week out. guess it was chevy’s week to win.

Bill B

No not really. Truex should have won but an unnecessary caution with 6 laps to go gave Larson the chance to steal a race he didn’t deserve and he did.


The World 100 for was held at Eldora on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The 50/50 draw on Friday paid $25.412.50 and Saturday paid $38,135.

Kevin in SoCal

“The main focus has been that Subway, a company who let a person who was suspected of being a pedophile by management of the company for some ten years before he was finally cut loose”

I’m not sure what you mean, Mike. As soon as the allegations came out, Subway fired him. Were there rumors before hand that I am not aware of?


yes there were Kevin … do a search and read up … there were warning flags for quite awhile and complaints from others

Mike Neff

As Gary said, there were red flags and not only did management turn a blind eye, they permitted him to be in situations where he was around children.


There would have to be people watching NASCAR races for Subway’s bottom line to take a hit from the sponsorship debacle.


Even then how many would blame Subway for pulling the plug instead of some young rich kid thinking it was cool to disrespect them by showing off a competitors product?


Russ, I am with you 100 percent….I have a had time understanding how people are making SUBWAY out to be the bad GUY when SUBWAY is paying Jesus Joe’s bills for that Suarez overhype. Must not own or understand business!


If Kenseth had been allowed to fix his car and lost 15 laps he would have finished a lap ahead of Cope.


There are also other cars in the event whose sole purpose seems to be to bring out cautions, no matter who is driving them. Seems like musical chairs sometimes. “You take the 23 this and I’ll take the 32 and next week we’ll switch.”

23, 32, 34, 83, 15, 55


Should be “this week”


The ambulance was inexcusable but a fluke situation.
The big issue are the dubious scrape the wall, single car spin near no one, and loose tire on pit road cautions.
Even Dale Jr. awoke from his retirement tour slumber and reflected on Carl Edwards losing a championship because of this type of caution and retiring a few months thereafter.

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