What to Watch For: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway

What to Watch For: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway

RICHMOND, Va. – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Richmond International Raceway on Sunday for the Toyota Owners 400. The stop on the schedule marks the third short-track event in the last four races and should prove to be exciting as weather conditions will make for a hot, slick race track.

It’s gonna be a hot one!

It’s no secret or surprise that the temperature rises for drivers and teams as the series approaches the summer months. Drivers went from racing in cooler conditions at Bristol last weekend to temperatures that will reach into the 90’s at Richmond.

Warm races present drivers and teams with a myriad of challenges, the first being driver comfort. Keeping your driver as cool as possible and hydrated throughout the 400 lap event will be key for a potential victory. Tempers, as well as temperatures, are expected to rise throughout the day, a commonality with short-track racing.

Keeping up with adjustments on a hot and slick track will also determine who will be standing in victory lane at the conclusion of Sunday’s event. Luckily, track conditions have been rather consistent all weekend, so teams should have an idea on how to set up their car for success. In a pace car ride with

In a pace car ride with Erik Jones, he indicated that tire fall off would be tremendous and that RIR is demanding track, both physically and mentally.

Short tracks bring short tempers

For the third time in the month of April, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete on a short-track, this time the 3/4 mile speedway in the capital of the Commonwealth. As we have seen in the previous events at Martinsville and Bristol, tempers often flare and sometimes it’s hard to get away from the driver that may have “rubbed you” the wrong way.

Sunday’s race could have this on full display, given the close-quarter action and aforementioned track conditions. Last year’s spring race at Richmond presented one of the more exciting finishes of the season when Carl Edwards nudged then-teammate Kyle Busch out of the way on the final lap to claim the victory.

Busch was understandable upset for a variety of reasons following the race, but teammate or not, that is a great example of the product of short-track racing.

Will Sunday’s race present a first-time winner?

As seen in recent races, there is a crop of young drivers in the MENCS this season that all possess the potential to have long and illustrious careers in the premier division of NASCAR. Of these drivers, there are typically three names that are consistently brought up when the discussion of first-time winners is brought up; Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, and Ryan Blaney.

Of those three, Jones displayed the quicker car on Saturday placing fourth in final practice, while Elliott was just behind him, finishing with the fifth best time. Either one of these drivers could find victory on Sunday, given their recent strong runs.

The dark-horse of the current winless drivers could be Daniel Suárez. The rookie driver is piloting the car that won last year’s Toyota Owners 400. While he is still adjusting to his jump into the Cup Series, Suárez is in a position with the Joe Gibbs Racing stable that knows success at Richmond.

Will Jimmie Johnson make it three-in-a-row?

The last two Cup Series have been a two entirely different tracks in Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, but both have had the same victor, Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is undoubtedly riding a wave of momentum as the top drivers in NASCAR embark on Richmond on Sunday. The seven-time NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion has captured three victories at RIR, most recently in September of 2008.

While there has been a gap between his last victory at Richmond and now, Johnson proved on Saturday that he has the speed to compete for a victory, finishing third in final practice. There tend to be periods of long green-flag runs at Richmond that could play into Johnson’s favor, but the stage breaks will give Crew Chief Chad Knaus ample opportunities to tune on the Lowe’s Chevrolet.

Staff Picks:

Greg Atkins – Denny Hamlin – Although JGR has yet to completely solve their current issues, Richmond is a track which can mask certain performance deficiencies and put the race in the driver’s hands. Hamlin and JGR as a whole could certainly use a repeat performance this weekend. He’s been quick all weekend and will look for his fourth career victory at his home track this weekend.

Tyler Painter – Kyle Larson – After an exciting run in last weekend’s Food City 500 that came up short, Kyle Larson looks to continue his early season success on Sunday at Richmond. Larson has been impressive early in the weekend, leading final practice and winning the XFINITY Series race on Saturday.  Larson looks to better his 15th place finish in last year’s spring race and I expect him to do just that, given how he and his team have performed in 2017.

Photo Credit: Greg Atkins