We’re ready for the first night race of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season as the stars of NASCAR’s premiere series will take to the Richmond (VA) Raceway for a prime time affair.
With how this season is shaping up and who typically are strong on the .75-mile short track, we could see another domination.
But, there are a few sleepers out there who could steal a win as well.
Here are the top five storylines for Saturday night’s race.
Kyle Busch leads during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 21, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia.
Joe Gibbs Racing The Favorites
It’s no secret, Joe Gibbs Racing is arguably the top team in NASCAR right now. They won the season opening Daytona 500 in a 1-2-3 finish. Overall, they’ve won five of the first eight races and looking for a sixth in Saturday night’s 400 Lap race.
With how they’ve fared recently in Richmond too, they certainly are the overall favorites.
Denny Hamlin has two wins on the season to go along with a top 11 finish in all eight races run. He’s also scored a top six finish in six of his last seven Richmond starts to go along with a win in 2016. He has three overall wins in Richmond and was third in the spring race last year.
Kyle Busch just earned his third win of this season to go along with a top 10 in all eight races. At Richmond, he’s won six times to go along with 20 top 10 finishes in 27 tries. He swept both races in his No. 18 Toyota a year ago. Also, Busch has four top two finishes in his last seven Richmond tries.
Erik Jones has even been strong. He has three top 13 finishes in four tries and is coming off of a fourth place finish two weeks ago in Texas.
Martin Truex Jr. has led a ton of laps in Richmond but just hasn’t finished the races off. He does have four top 10 finishes in his last six tries on the Virginia short track and has even led 121 or more laps in three of his last five starts, but has just two top five finishes overall there since 2008. Truex, does have five top eight finishes in his No. 19 Toyota this season though.
Joey Logano leads his teammate Brad Keselowski during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 21, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia.
Penske Could Be Strong, Minus Potentially Blaney
Two years ago, Penske finished 1-2 in the spring race. Yes, the race was run in the heat of the day and yes, it resulted in an encumbered finish, but Richmond has been kind to both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski these days.
Logano, has three top four finishes in his No. 22 Ford in his last four Richmond starts. Furthermore, he’s scored nine top 10’s in his last 10 tries.
Keselowski, hasn’t finished worse than 11th at Richmond since the spring race in 2015. Since 2014, the Michigan native has scored seven top 10 finishes in 10 starts in his No. 2 Ford.
Both Logano and Keselowski have won two times a piece in 2019 and eyeing a third win this weekend.
Between these two and the JGR duo of Hamlin and Busch, they’ve won all the races in 2019.
There’s a good chance that trend holds true through Saturday night.
If there’s any driver to not pick this weekend, it’s Ryan Blaney. For whatever reason, he just has struggled in Richmond. In six career Cup Series starts, Blaney has never finished in the top 15, let alone led a lap.
Chase Elliott during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 21, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia.
Could Hendrick Steal A Win?
If anyone other than JGR or Penske is going to win, it appears that Hendrick Motorsports may be the best bet. Chase Elliott finished second last month in Martinsville and appeared to have a car just as good, if not stronger than race winner’s Brad Keselowski. Elliott, finished second and fourth respectively at Richmond last year and has three straight top 10 finishes overall on the track in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson could even shine too. He finished sixth and eighth respectively last year in his No. 48 Chevrolet to go along with a top 11 finish in his last nine Richmond starts. He’s starting to heat up on the season and is a driver that could end his winless drought on Saturday.
Alex Bowman may be a nice pick too. He finished eighth in this race last year and 12th in the fall race in his No. 88 Chevrolet.
William Byron was 12th in the spring race and 20th in the fall, but he’s been surging in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
I like HMS to contend this weekend.
Yes, Hendrick Motorsports has been rising in the speed department the last couple of weeks and yes they statistically have been pretty good at Richmond lately, but Chip Ganassi Racing is right on par with them.
Kurt Busch enters this weekend with a top 10 finish in all but two races in 2019. Busch, also is a past winner of the spring race in Richmond as well as has five top 11 finishes in his last six tries.
His teammate Kyle Larson hasn’t won a race since the fall race at Richmond in 2017 and is looking to end that drought on the same track where he last tasted victory in a Cup car. Larson, finished seventh in his No. 42 Chevrolet in both races last year and has four top seven finishes overall in his last five Richmond starts.
These two and the four Hendrick cars are six sleepers to watch.
Daniel Suarez during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 23, 2019 in Martinsville, Virginia.
Who are some other drivers who could shine this weekend? What about Aric Almirola. He’s off to his best start of his NASCAR career to go along with finishing fifth in the fall race last year. Almirola, also has two top 10 finishes at Richmond in his days with Richard Petty Motorsports too.
Clint Bowyer scored two top 10 finishes at Richmond last year and enters on the heels of three top 10 finishes in his last three starts on the season.
Daniel Suarez also has been hot as of late in improving his finishes in each of the last four weeks. He has three top 12 finishes in four Richmond starts.
What about Ryan Newman? He’s been fast this year and has six top 11 finishes in his last 11 starts at Richmond including being seventh and third respectively in the two races in 2017.
Austin Dillon is also one to watch. He’s gaining speed in his No. 3 Chevrolet and had a top 15 finish in both races a year ago too, including a sixth place run in the fall race.
All these drivers could steal a win on Saturday night.