Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2018 Toyota Owners 400

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

The knock on Jimmie Johnson has long been that his cars were better than the driver was. This year, he’s proving the opposite to be true. Johnson finished sixth after being mired in the 20s in the first half of the race.  It wasn’t the result that commanded attention, though, as much as it was how Johnson got there.  In a show of vintage Johnson, the No. 48 took the field three, then four wide on the final restart.  The car wasn’t good enough to win, and Johnson wasn’t really a contender, but it wasn’t really a top-10 car either until the driver made it one.

That’s the kind of performance that made Johnson dominant for so many years, and why, if he had a car capable of a top-five, sometimes even a top-10 finish, he was a threat to win.  A good driver can usually finish a race where the car is capable of finishing, with a little luck on his side.  The best drivers can finish better than where the car should have wound up.  That’s what Johnson did Saturday night.

What… is the takeaway from this race?

The racing was better in the early going before the sun went down, but in the end, clean air won, and late in the race, the leader had a big clean-air advantage.  The end of Stage 2 was particularly racey, but after night fell over the track, it was all aero all the time.

Richmond is a bit of a pseudo-short track because clean air matters too much for it to produce the same type of racing as Martinsville or Bristol.  It’s hard to execute a bump and run if you can’t get to the leader’s bumper, and that was often the case in the second half Saturday.

Richmond moved this race back to nighttime after running on Sunday afternoon last year, at the request of fans.  Why fans would request racing that’s less than the best a track can offer is a bit of a mystery.  Cars look pretty under the lights, but they look prettier when they can race better.

Where… did Kyle Busch come from?

Busch started a miserable 32nd on Saturday but made his way to the front when it counted, and extended his win mark at Richmond to five, most among active drivers.  That’s a Richmond record for the deepest starting spot for a winner, and it certainly provided for an entertaining run as Busch sliced his way to the front. It’s a little bit misleading in that he never had a 32nd-place car, and that’s why he was able to make his way to the front.

While it’s rare for a winner at any track to come from so deep in the field, it’s also rare for a diver with equipment as good as the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to qualify so poorly.  It’s not as uncommon for drivers in top cars to start at the rear for an engine change or other by-the-rules reason and contend for a win, so nobody should be surprised that a driver of Busch’s caliber in the best cars in the field was there at the end.

When… was the moment of truth?

It doesn’t take much to change everything.  Martin Truex Jr. has long had a monkey on his back when it comes to the Cup Series’ short tracks.  He hasn’t won on a track under a mile, even in his stellar 2017 championship campaign.  Saturday looked like it might have been the night – Truex won the pole and led laps – but a series of late cautions after running most of the night under green ultimately ended any chance Truex might have had to end the drought.

On the other hand, the race was caution free until the final 50 laps, save the two stage breaks, and it showed that cautions aren’t really necessary to make a race exciting.  While it’s true at some tracks that restarts provide the most action, that wasn’t the case at Richmond. There was plenty of action for much of the night, a lot of it among the top 10. Once again, NASCAR can’t win for losing. Plenty of fans called the race boring for a lack of yellow flags, but they don’t watch for the crashes….

Why… didn’t second-place Chase Elliott pull it off?

Elliott’s eighth runner-up finish ties his father Bill in second-place runs before his first win, but that’s probably not one the younger Elliott was hoping to tie. He’s been fast, had the best car some weeks, but has yet to win.  Saturday, Elliott simply didn’t have a strong enough car to make a move. It wasn’t until the sun went down that Elliott became competitive, and he certainly put himself in position to take advantage of any mistake by Kyle Busch on the final restart.

But Busch didn’t make one, and his Toyota again proved stronger than Elliott’s Chevrolet. The advantage wasn’t just behind the wheel as Toyotas dominated the late laps.  As Elliott matures, he looks closer than ever to that first win, but his biggest competition may just be his own manufacturer as the Chevy camp continues to struggle for a foothold.

How… much of a driver’s wife on camera is too much?

As has too often been the case in recent years, FOX missed the boat late in the race by getting more creative than necessary with the cameras.  Late in the race as Kyle Busch was gunning for his third win in a row, the broadcast cut to his wife, Samantha, several times.  While there’s nothing wrong with showing reactions in the pits from time to time (heck, during the race it can add to the drama), this time, FOX cut to the reaction shot almost the moment Busch crossed the line, and some viewers were unhappy that it cut away from some critical action, namely several cars fighting tooth and nail for spots all the way to the line.

Two-time Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton even weighed in on the situation on Twitter.

Several of Crafton’s followers weighed in to agree, and they’re not wrong. Fans watching on television saw maybe half the field cross the line before the cutaway.   There’s a time and a place to show a driver’s happy significant other, and when others are still racing to the finish is not that time.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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NASCAR has ALWAYS had this thing for SAMMY BUSCH! Just like they do for the ROOMATE in distress with her health issues of MARTY. Marty was a non factor for many a year..so the roommate with issues did not get the screen time but when she did! NASCAR was a WOMANS HEALTH BS SOAP OPERA, NOT RACING! IT was the SHERRY AND MARTY SHOW!!

However before the attention hound Sherry came to be, SAMMY BUSCH always was…She just WAS. IMO!

The one who claimed she was not a pit lizard and who had NO IDEA who KYLE BUSCH was or NASCAR (IF MEMEORY SERVES) sure made sure everybody knows and knew who she was. The head to toe expensive, coordinated outfits with the ahem, makeup, smile, teeth, hair, jewelry, her “a lot of things” that make myself go “wow” and laugh. In my opinion, she is legend in her own mind, by virtue of marriage. Again my opinion. And all that crap that they have been showing for years make most sick. It is a dirty race track for GODS SAKE, not a fashion show! Glad others are voicing their opinion. When I watched with interest, her name (why, who is she, who cares) came up, and the camera was always on her, WHY? WHY? WHY? IT DID AND DOES take away from the action. I AGREE! This time was nothing new.Those of us who paid attention were always ready for the vomit bucket when PROFESSIONAL men of NASCAR calling the race and videoing it, were reduced to the pandering story of her ANGST on top of the PIT BOX with close-ups that were not a second or two but long! The comments from the booth with SAMMY “in distress” or whatever! DISGUSTING! Hmm. cannot say I saw when Logano or others got their 3 in a row, wife or other significant other had so much screen time with every nail biting turn. What BS. My opinion, but is it a fact.


Did anybody look for DELANA HARVICK at these moments this year? OF course not…lol. And hog up the camera time for all the fans of other drivers who want to see the drivers and not somebody someone is sleeping with? Crudely put, but the truth. I don’t give a good God damn! Oh we could go on about BZF’s favorites, because in many a mind the $$$$ donation by a certain car company is all that matters. SMH.

Ken S

While we are talking fashion kb – WHY O WHY do the booth commentators have to be in suits??? I think this bugs me almost as much as the Coca Cola drivers swigging their drinks during interviews! Who in the hell wears a suit to a racetrack? Nobody i know!

Bill B

I agree with you Ken but the same happens in all sports. Personally I wish they would make suits illegal to wear ever, except at weddings and funerals. Did you know that NFL players had to show up at the stadium on game days wearing a suit? WHY?


because they were showing up looking like high school students – which is also not the best way to portray the sport. Perhaps team warmups makes more sense – but these guys should look like adults, not students

And – a lot of hate on Sam / Sherry – who cares. Yes, they get the constant camera time – but it is what it is just, as it is in any other sport. Whatevs – maybe when the racing gets better, they get less screen time


Amy and kb, I guess the green-eyed monster has you. I’ve always thought the concept of women supporting women was a joke and this is why. (And I am a woman.) It doesn’t take much for the claws to come out. At least Samantha is willing to get dirty sitting on the pit box while most of the trophy wives (and they are ALL trophy wives) prefer to keep their nails, makeup, and designer clothes spotless in their million-dollar RV’s.

As for the TV coverage, I was more annoyed that the cameras switched to battles mid-pack at the end when the fight for the lead was not yet decided. I guess I am one of those few racing fans who still thinks winning is more important than finishing 6th.


My argument is more with kb than with you on this one. This is certainly not the first time TV has focused on anxious family members. But why bring it up this time?

But I still do believe that when there’s a battle for the lead in the last laps, it is more important to show that than the battle for 10th. I don’t know how many times I have wondered where my driver(s) finished, but now I use NASCAR timing and scoring, and that is often ahead of the TV broadcast. If fans have access to this site, it’s a safe assumption they also have access to timing and scoring. Then they will know where their favorite finished.


Sam has big earrings.

Wasm’t she a blonde?

Bill B

I agree. It was annoying for the network to keep showing Samanthas Busch but it’s not the first time I’ve seen them do that. I can remember them continually showing Kim Burton and Delena Harvick when they used to sit on the pit box every week. I guess it’s OK once or twice but any more than that and it’s annoying.
I also get tired of them showing Chad Knuas all the time.


Oh yeah! Kim Burton – she got more TV time for her emotional meltdowns than Jeff did for his driving. This obsession with the wives really isn’t new.


What’s the matter with showing Chad? He is just as cute as Sam B.!


Some of the shots of KBs wife seemed odd, I didn’t even really know who she was at first because the cut to shots of her right after someone showing a tight shot of another car (not the 18) on the screen. Maybe they are trying to humanize the difficult to like or relate to Kyle Busch. Whatever. Wish they would stick to broadcasting the race.


First thing I did was yell at the TV when they cut away from the finish line shot from the turn one camera as there was a gaggle of cars coming to the line for the finish. This was from give or take 6th place on back and they cut to the pit box and the wife’s reaction. I DO NOT CARE, I want to see the end of the race especially if they are coming to the line 3 and 4 wide as they did Saturday night.

Fox production crew has absolutely no clue how to cover a race. They need to stick to football and even that is lame with a couple of their on-air personalities.

Fix: finish showing the race and then as they are doing to cool down lap and such, show the reaction on delay.


KB, who in their right mind would ever look for Delana anywhere.




And Amy, if Jimmie is better than his car for finishing 6th, how about Chase finishing second in the same car? No shout-outs there. Now that Jimmie is a beloved underdog, his teammates should get the same love from you. I admire female airline pilots who land crippled planes, but I find it hard to accept female racing writers who can’t even pretend to be unbiased.


But it’s ok for male writers to be biased?


Bad luck can stop good driving and vice versa.

Carl D.

What the heck is going on in here? Comments about women’s fashion and cat fights… and wearing suits to sporting events. We didn’t have all this superficial pettiness when Junior, Smoke, and Wonder-boy raced in the cup series. I blame Kyle Busch… because that’s who I always blame for bad stuff.


Dear FOX,

I don’t give a flying flip about drivers wives….I want to see the cars on the track. Period. STOP IT, PLEASE.

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