THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR at Richmond: Federated Auto Parts 400 preview, picks
As the regular season winds down, the NASCAR Cup Series makes its second trip to Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. The race for the final two playoff spots is getting closer and closer and with 15 different winners, it’s truly anyone's guess as to who will fill out these last two spots. This track is a wide short track with 14 degrees of banking in the corners and flat on the front stretch. Richmond is one of the more tame short tracks on the schedule; we are accustomed to seeing lots of green-flag runs. The last race here, saw most of the action come after the restarts as we watched Denny Hamlin slice through the field to score his first victory of 2022. With the stakes being much higher, we should see drivers be more aggressive. Don’t be surprised if there is a bump and run at the end of the race.
Last week at Michigan, Kevin Harvick got back into the race for the championship after scoring his first win since 2020. It had been a difficult year and a half for the 2014 champion, his average finish has been way down under 10 and while he’s had good runs, the dominance we are used to seeing from him hasn’t been there. The biggest slight on Harvick’s record was in the win column. Because of this, Harvick entered the weekend outside the playoffs. The team was also coming off a DNF at Indianapolis. The chances of contending for the championship were bleak, some were even wondering if he’d continue racing after the season. But now it seems he and his crew chief Rodney Childers are completely rejuvenated going into the playoffs. They aren’t out of the woods yet as there is still a real possibility of more than 16 winners, but with Kurt Busch running into his struggles, it’s unlikely that Harvick will be the lowest point winner.
The troubles continue for Kurt Busch as it was announced that he would be out again this week at Richmond. Busch has missed this third consecutive race in a row, leading many to believe that he might not return this season. This would be a shame considering Kurt has advanced to the playoffs with a win. Fortunately, If he has to miss a race in the opening round, he will still be granted a waiver if he’s to win one of the next two races to advance. In the meantime, Ty Gibbs will continue to fill in. He’s been doing a great job at holding down the fort these past couple of weeks, with a top ten last week at Michigan. He appears to be ready to move up to the Cup in 2023.
Because of Ty Gibbs’s improvements, the rumors and speculation continue to run rampant as to who will drive the #18 car next season for Joe Gibbs racing. It appears that Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs have reached a halt on their contract talks. According to the popular racing podcast, Door, Bumper, Clear, talks between the two-time champion and the team have completely stopped. It’s been implied by various insiders that his expected landing spot next season will be at Stewart-Haas racing.
The driver that I have winning this weekend is Busch's teammate Martin Truex Jr. I picked him to win last week at Michigan, and he definitely had a car that was capable of winning, but not quite as fast as Kevin Harvick or Bubba Wallace. Fortunately, this weekend at Richmond is probably his best racetrack. In the last four races, no one has a better finishing average than him (2.3). He’s won three of the last six races here and has led over 24 percent of the laps among all active drivers. It’s clear that he needs a clutch performance to move into the playoffs, as he’s now the first car below the cutline despite being fourth in points. This week, I think he’ll punch his ticket and contend for the title in the playoffs.