NASCAR: 2021 Federated Auto Parts 400 preview, predictions

The playoffs continue on Saturday. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Commonwealth of Virginia this week for the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. This race is number two of three in the first round of the playoffs as each of the 16 drivers look to extend their season. This track is probably the tamest of the three in this round, so it will be important to get a good finish here before one of the wildcard races at Bristol next week. Richmond is a track that usually features a lot of side-by-side racing and long green flag runs, as there were only two cautions for accidents in the spring. Look for many crew chiefs to use pit strategy to play a role in the results.

Last week, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson battled it out all the way to the final corner in one of the best finishes of the season. On the last lap of the race, Kyle Larson decided to go full-throttle all the way in turn four and ride the wall in a last-ditch effort to pass Hamlin, but to no avail as Hamlin picked up his first win of 2021.

While Larson and Hamlin came out pretty well, the same couldn't be said for most of the playoff field, ten drivers were involved in accidents including Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman. It was Kyle who got himself into trouble though. In stage one, Busch moved down on Austin Dillon and crashed in turn two. It wasn't until after he got to pit lane where the real trouble began. Entering the garage area, Busch plowed through most of the orange cones at the entrance and nearly ran over multiple crew members. Because of this, Kyle was fined $50,000. Many thought the penalty was not nearly as severe as it should have been, some even called for a suspension which would have crippled his championship chances. While I agree that the move was incredibly stupid and some sort of action was needed, I believe a suspension would have been too harsh.

On the other side of the Busch gene pool, Kyle's brother Kurt had an excellent showing after coming home sixth. This team continues to quietly impress as he scored 44 points by finishing in the top ten in both stages. He is becoming quite the dark horse to really do some damage and make it out of the first round. Kurt will be one to watch, come Saturday.

There were headlines aplenty off the track as rumors are now swirling that two new tracks will be added to the 2022 schedule, one of those tracks being World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, a short track staple among the Midwest. This was certainly a big announcement, but what really grabbed most people's attention was the possibility of a Cup Series race at the LA Coliseum! The race would take the place of the Clash at Daytona as the cars will run a short-track configuration. This will be quite the experiment as this hasn't happened since the 1950s when they raced at Solider Field. If they make this work, it will be a marvel of engineering. I look forward to hearing more about this in the coming months.

For now the focus remains at Richmond Raceway and the favorite to win this week has to be Kyle Larson. After last week's performance, he will be starting from the pole come Saturday and this is a track he's fast at as he's led 129 laps over the past three races here. Despite all the speed he's had at Richmond, he still has yet to score a victory there, but I have a feeling that could all change this week. Look for Larson to punch his ticket to the next round with a victory this weekend.

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