Wade Payne/Associated Press
Kyle Busch carries the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series into Saturday night, where he’ll look to make it three wins in a row at the Toyota Owners 400.
Richmond Raceway is the site of what could be another three consecutive wins for a racer already. Kevin Harvick did it earlier in the season in a dominant sweep of events and now Busch will look to do the same well before the summer, altering the playoff spots available later in the season.
It’s a different vibe than last season, to say the least. No longer does parity necessarily reign supreme as drivers try to figure out the new format and rules. Instead, fans continue to see the sport’s biggest names put on shows and hit Victory Lane, with one notable omission.
Here’s a look at everything to know surrounding Saturday’s event and Busch’s chance at a third in a row.
Where: Richmond Raceway
When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports GO
Toyota Owners 400
1. Martin Truex Jr. (78)
2. Chase Elliott (9)
3. Joey Logano (22)
4. Denny Hamlin (11)
5. Kyle Larson (42)
6. Kurt Busch (41)
7. Erik Jones (20)
8. Jamie McMurray (1)
9. William Byron (24)
10. Kevin Harvick (4)
Full starting lineup can be viewed on NASCAR’s official website.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Kevin Harvick||290|
|2. Kyle Busch||365|
|3. Clint Bowyer||286|
|4. Martin Truex Jr.||257|
|5. Austin Dillon||183|
|6. Joey Logano||306|
|7. Brad Keselowski||271|
|8. Ryan Blaney||267|
|9. Denny Hamlin||252|
|10. Kyle Larson||249|
|11. Kurt Busch||241|
|12. Aric Almirola||211|
|13. Erik Jones||209|
|14. Alex Bowman||190|
|15. Ryan Newman||181|
|16. Paul Menard||170|
Drivers to Watch
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Entering the weekend, Joey Logano seems like somebody who is due for a win.
Logano has finished in the top 10 of every event this year except one, though he hasn’t led more than 25 laps in a feature race more than once, too. Still, he’s starting well and remaining consistent throughout most events, including a ninth-place finish in Bristol last time out despite starting 10th.
Funnily enough, consistency is the name of the game. He recently stressed how adding cars to Penske Racing has impacted his season as a whole:
Consistency is the story of @Team_Penske’s season so far.
@joeylogano explains. https://t.co/eUs72rip1I
If Logano is to secure a win after building all this momentum, now would seem like a good time to do it. He won this event a year ago, leading 25 laps before taking his first checkered flag of the season. It ended up being his only win of the season, though he had another near miss at Richmond later in the season, finishing second.
One of the better drivers at Richmond, this seems like a good time to circle the No. 22 Ford in red ink and watch him go to work, as the combination of factors at play have him looking like a favorite.
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Jimmie Johnson is the omission hinted above.
Johnson doesn’t even show up on the leaderboard because he’s had such an odd season, though this isn’t like week’s past—this time we’re actually talking about him coming off a strong performance and perhaps his being able to ride the momentum into a win.
Last week was a third-place finish in Bristol, Johnson’s first top-five of the year and only his second top-10 finish. It seemed to almost come out of nowhere too considering he started 17th before going the full 500.
As Team Lowe’s Racing captured, Johnson wants to build upward going into the weekend:
Team Lowe’s Racing @LowesRacing
“I’m already ready to get back in the Lowe’s For Pros Chevy and looking forward to Richmond, we have put together some solid runs there lately, and with the momentum from Bristol I’m ready to get there.” – @JimmieJohnson. 💪 https://t.co/8h2T7r9DwB
It sounds like normal athlete talk before an event, which is fair—Johnson has one win and three top-five performances over his last 36 races.
But this is still Jimmie Johnson, a past champion and star who has earned some leeway. If he thinks he’s on the cusp of something, fans might want to pay attention.
Steve Helber/Associated Press
For Johnson to finally climb back to the top of the podium, he’s going to need Busch to cool off a bit.
Busch now has seven top-10 finishes, six of those in the top five and a pair of wins. He took the event in Texas easily enough, leading 116 laps out of the eighth spot before winning in Bristol out of the pole position, leading another 117 laps.
Not that Busch winning at Bristol was something of a surprise, as Fox pointed out:
FOX: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
He is a seven-time Bristol winner! Retweet to congratulate Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team on their back-to-back trips to Victory Lane. https://t.co/aExDLIwAys
Similar story at Richmond. According to USA Today‘s Mike Hembree, Busch has a series-best average finish of 7.4 at Richmond Raceway, not that he’d talk it up.
“We’ve kind of lost a little bit of what our handle was there a few years ago when we were really good,” Busch said, according to Hembree. “More rule changes to create parity takes away advantages, and that kind of knocked us back a little bit. We haven’t quite figured out what it takes to get some of that back.”
This stretch of races wasn’t kind to Busch a year ago though and he’s already rattled off consecutive wins. His making it a third in a row wouldn’t exactly come as a surprise and it has him looking like the top favorite Saturday.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.