Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Kyle Larson Wins & William Byron Spins in Richmond

Who … should you be talking about after the race?

The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway marked the second race for the NASCAR Cup Series with its new short-track package, and for the second time in those two races, Kyle Larson had it figured out. Larson led four times for 93 laps, second only to teammate William Byron on the day.

And while Byron was perhaps a smidgen better than Larson, Larson had track position when he needed it. When Byron tangled with Christopher Bell on a restart with 25 to go, Larson seized the opportunity to win the day, beating teammate Josh Berry on the final restart and winning by 1.5 seconds, his first victory of 2023.

And don’t forget BerryIn his fourth start filling in for the injured Chase Elliott, Berry has done an admirable job of keeping the seat warm with a pair of top 10s. He led 10 laps on Sunday and finished second after a pit gamble paid off in a big way.

Berry showed his short-track talent on Sunday, and while he ultimately fell short of the win, he has shown in his short stint that he could be competitive in the Cup Series with a top-notch ride of his own. The only problem is, there aren’t a lot of those in the pipeline right now. 

What … is the big question leaving this weekend in the rearview?

Some solid racing at Richmond might not have come at a better time for NASCAR. Talk for the last couple of weeks has swirled about penalties and appeals more than about the racing, and that continued this week even as the racing improves.

Based on four major points penalties being overturned on appeal last week and at least one this week more likely to have a similar outcome, does the sanctioning body need to change its penalty structure?

See also
The Curious Case of HMS Louvers

While the appeals panel did not state why they made their decision, it seems likely that the outcome for Kaulig Racing, which received the same penalty for the same infraction, will be similar. Could the reason be that points penalties that take points that were not earned with an illegal car are a step to far? The five cars in question were caught before even hitting the track and raced with legal cars that weekend.

NASCAR is overdue for making a change to points deductions — only points earned with an infraction should be deducted for a penalty. It seems likely that the penalties would have stood if the cars had raced with the illegal hood louvers. Should NASCAR have let them and then nailed them to the wall? That certainly brings up some ethical questions.

Another question that has come up is whether NASCAR should grant playoff waivers for drivers missing a race to suspension. Currently, they do, and that needs to stop. Otherwise, the penalty is virtually meaningless in the scheme of the year.

Perhaps a couple of rules changes are needed going forward, because the main topic of discussion during a race weekend should be racing, and having the rules in the forefront instead of the competition isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Where … did the other key players wind up? 

With qualifying rained out, active Richmond wins leader Kyle Busch started on the pole based on NASCAR’s qualifying metric, which combines season points as well as the driver’s fastest lap and finishing position in the last race. Since his win at Auto Club Speedway, Busch has struggled to find the speed he showed in that win. Busch started up front but didn’t make much noise on Sunday, running mid-pack all day long after leading just one lap and finishing 14th.

Last week’s winner Tyler Reddick probably doesn’t list Richmond as his favorite track in a Cup car. Reddick ran well enough in the Xfinity Series, with an average finish of 9.8 and three top 10s in five starts, but he has yet to score a top 10 in seven Cup races there. Sunday, a late spin relegated Reddick to 16th place as he searched for the right setup for much of the day.

Points leader Alex Bowman couldn’t have had a better time to get that lead back following a penalty appeal than this week, because the cancellation of qualifying meant a front-row start. Bowman, a former Richmond winner, didn’t quite have the speed he needed to contend for the win, but he did score his sixth top 10 in the first seven races with his eighth-place finish. Bowman has been the picture of consistency so far this year with a series-high 7.1 average finish.

Defending race winner Denny Hamlin had a fast car. Only problem was, it was also fast on pit road. Hamlin overcame a speeding penalty in stage one, winning the second segment, but he couldn’t overcome the second one with just 26 laps to go. He finished 20th, his worst finish at his home track since 2015.

When … was the moment of truth?

Hamlin was one of a handful of veteran drivers to speak out after last weekend’s wild race at Circuit of the Americas about a lack of respect among drivers in the current Cup field.

But a note to Hamlin after Sunday’s event: preaching respect and then running over another driver who had done nothing wrong is actually the opposite of respect.

Hamlin was racing deep in the pack due to his first speeding penalty when JJ Yeley took him three-wide from the inside. Hamlin responded by punting Yeley on lap 45 in what certainly looked like an intentional move as Hamlin had to cross an entire lane to hook Yeley’s left rear bumper.

While Hamlin was obviously frustrated about his penalty and Yeley may have merely been someone take it out on, if Hamlin wants to be taken seriously by NASCAR or the other drivers when he asks for respect, he probably should avoid drop-kicking other drivers. Especially when he’s awaiting a penalty appeal for intentional wrecking.

Why … should you be paying attention this week?

Next Sunday, the Cup Series has its lone dirt race of the year at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s the third installation of the dirt surface at Bristol and it could be important for the future of that race.

The novelty of the race is losing its luster, so it will have to shine on its own, and that means drawing people to the track and to the television screen. 

Has the race run its course? Maybe. The Cup Series should absolutely test drivers on different tracks and dirt racing is certainly a skill. But it’s time for NASCAR to move the race to a dedicated dirt track. Bristol does an outstanding job with the temporary surface, but it’s impossible to condition it like a true dirt facility. Bristol should keep its two dates, but both on the concrete surface, while the series moves on to a permanent dirt track in place of a mile-and-a-half oval.

See also
Gibbs vs. Hendrick Duel Culminates With Bell & Byron Contact

How … is the playoff picture looking as the regular season passes the quarter pole?

It’s hard to believe, but with seven races in the books, the regular season is more than a quarter over already. It’s easy, on the other hand, to point at Hendrick Motorsports as the early title favorite.

Byron leads the charge with two wins, making him a playoff lock even if 16 others find victory lane before the playoffs. Larson had looked especially strong on the flat ovals this year and his Richmond win cements his strength.

Meanwhile, Bowman has been Mr. Consistency and while he doesn’t have a win yet, he certainly makes a case for himself as a strong contender. 

Other than Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the playoff picture so far is a fairly predictable one. Ross Chastain picked up 2023 as strong as he ended 2022. Busch is racking up top 10s even when he isn’t fast enough to win and defending champ Joey Logano has also shown that when his Fords aren’t strong enough to win, he’s still going to make himself difficult to pass for a good finish.

Others making a case for themselves early include Bell, Reddick and Brad Keselowski. Reddick and Keselowski still need to find a bit more consistency but have shown that they have good speed so far.

It’s a long time until the field for the title hunt is set, but so far, it doesn’t look like the wildly chaotic, unpredictable season that 2022 was. That could change, though, with a surprise win or two.

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

6 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
dawg

You made a point I was wanting to make. We were treated to a good look at the two faces of the King. No not King Richard, but the King of pit road speeding.
What he did was blatant, & unwarranted. Had it been a big name driver in a top car it probably wouldn’t have happened, but with the 15 car, & JJ, who cares, right?
Wrong, I care, & I expect I’m not the only one, I’ve been following the 15 car closely, & have been impressed with what they’ve been able to do with it so far this season.
The cost for his lack of the respect he’s been blathering about, will be many thousands of $$s, in loss of position, & repair costs. That might not be much for his well funded operation, or his Gibbs ride but for Rick Ware, that’s another story.
I’m sure he won’t face any penalty, for this.
But his appeal of his last little tantrum is a joke, being as he was so proud of himself that he bragged about it, kind of negates that. I just hope he has to reach into his own pocket for the 50K, & the points reduction stands. He didn’t show much respect for his owner & sponsors either.

Bill B

Yeah, no one is better at telling others how they should behave and then doing the opposite himself. I love watching him take himself out of races. What a douche.

JD in NC

Yeah, so much verbal diarrhea from Hamlin over the last few week about a lack of respect for the veterans of the sport, and then he goes out an completely dumps J.J. Yeley, a veteran of the sport. Hamlin is such a massive hypocrite. I was hoping Yeley would at least make it hard for Denny to pass him for the rest of the race, you know, like Denny did to Ross at Gateway. But it appears Yeley has way more class than Hamlin.

Bobby DK

3 weeks ago D-bag admits to wrecking a driver and gets penalized. Now he wrecks another car and all the announcers can talk about is how the race car crumples so nice now to prevent concussions. Not a lot of brains in the 11’s helmet. The least Nascar could have done would of been to hold him 4 laps, the most would have been to park him. That would of taught him a little respect.

janice

what i’ll be watching this week is to see if na$car gives kaulig racing their 100 points back, like they did hendrick this past week, during their appeal this week.

wildcats2016

Hamlin has always been a spoiled brat.

Share via