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NASCAR at Richmond: Four races in three days; three winners

NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway
• Keselowski predicts he will win; goes on to dominate the race

Richmond, Va, Sept 12/20 (GRW): Before this race, Brad Keselowski had been confidently saying that he was going to win here this weekend. He had won three times earlier this year – at Charlotte, Bristol and Loudon – but it seemed that his confidence was based on his Bristol win, a track which has some characteristics similar to the 3/4-mile Richmond track. Predictions like this have a way of going wrong but, here at Richmond, he dominated the race, leading nearly half of the laps, including the final 48 on the way to the checker. This win guarantees that he will move on to the second round of playoff races, so he will not need to sweat it when he goes to Bristol next week.

Kevin Harvick started from the pole and led the first 20 laps of the 400-lap race until Austin Dillon took over for the next 13 laps. Dillon had given Harvick a good run for his money the week before at Darlington, chasing him down in the closing laps and almost catching him on the final lap. This time he went on to lead 55 laps in this race – finishing in fourth place behind Keselowski, Martin Truex and Joey Logano – and turning heads as his reputation as a driver who can be a contender continues to grow.

By contrast, Ryan Blaney, the third Penske driver, saw his troubles continue. Having finished in 24th place the week before at Darlington, he was assigned the 15th starting position for this race. This poor start, combined with a botched pit stop, left him flailing around in mid field and he finished this race in 19th place, two laps down. Unless he manages to win the Bristol race next week, he will likely be eliminated from the playoffs. After the race, Keselowski threw off the comment that all Blaney needed to do was win next week at Bristol; easier said than done.

Keselowski’s other teammate, Joey Logano, ran well and he led for 45 laps during the race. Coming back to green after the end-of-the second-Stage pit stop cycle, he raced up into second place behind Keselowski until the mid-Stage cycle of green-flag pit stops. Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth were on a one-stop strategy for this final 165-lap Stage and they had taken over the lead when the others pitted the first time. But Logano, Keselowski and Martin Truex lined up behind then for this second restart and, on fresher tires, and it only took them about ten laps to take command at the front of the field.

Keselowski caught and passed Logano for the lead on lap 317. The second round of pit stops during this final Stage began when Dillon pitted a bit early on lap 336 – but then the others followed his lead to protect from being caught out if another caution came in the middle of this final cycle of pit stops. When these pit stops were completed, Keselowski was back in front ahead of Dillon, Truex and Logano with 48 laps to go. Dillon fell back and now Truex was in second place behind Keselowski with Logano in third place – setting up the race’s finishing order.

“It was a great race for us and the 2-team,” the 2012 series champion Keselowski said, noting he drove the same car Saturday as he used to win at New Hampshire earlier this summer. “I wanted to do a really cool burnout with it, but I want this car for (the championship race at) Phoenix.

“I’m really pumped. I don’t want to look too far ahead. The next round is going to be really difficult, but still, I’m really pumped about this performance and the way we’ve run on short tracks.

“If we can get to Phoenix, we’re going to be really good,” he said, still bragging about his chances to win the championship again this year. Phoenix does have some similarities to Richmond, so perhaps his optimism is somewhat justified.
(With files from NASCAR Wire Service)

• Click HERE for the results of this NASCAR Cup race at Richmond.

• The next NASCAR Cup race will be held next Saturday, September 19, at Bristol.

PHOTO NXS RR AllgaierBriscoe 091120Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe race during the Go Bowling 250 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Go Bowling 250 (Race #1) at Richmond Raceway
• Allgaier takes charge at Richmond

Richmond, VA, Sept 11/20 (GRW): Justin Allgaier took charge of this race just before the end of the second Stage and, despite a challenge from Justin Halley in the final Stage, he regained the lead and led the final 29 laps of the 250-lap race to take a solid win in the first of a pair of Xfinity races here at Richmond.

Ross Chastain had been awarded the pole under NASCAR’s current set of pandemic rules with Brandon Jones alongside for the start. Chastain went on to lead the first 38 laps of the race until Halley passed him just before the competition caution which came on lap 40.

After that, the lead was shared by Chastain, Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe, and Austin Cindric until Allgaier, who had started the race in 16th place, came to the front and took the lead on lap 125 – half-distance.

Allgaier held onto the lead though the end-of-second-Stage round of pit stops. On the restart, he led for the next 20 or so laps until Halley ran him down and took over. Halley led the next 48 laps and was looking like he was set to win the race but Allgaier had closed in on him after this final restart and – after running about 50 laps in Halley’s wake – he regained the lead on lap 222. And then he led the final 29 laps to the checker, with Haley in second place half a second behind.

This was Allgaier’s second Xfinity win this year; he had won earlier at Dover in August.

Cup driver Kyle Busch entered this race and, given that he is only able to run a limited number or Xfinity races, he started in 29th place. When the race started, he was able to drive past many of the cars at the back of the field. By lap 40, when the competition caution came out, he was up to tenth place and promising to be a contender. For the rest of the race, he ran just behind the front few cars but he was never able to take the race lead. He solidified his third-place position in the final Stage but he was never able to seriously challenge the front two, so he had to settle for a third. No doubt, Busch was able to achieve his more important goal in entering this race – it gave him a 250-lap practice session in advance of the Cup race scheduled here for the next day – an advantage over all the other Cup drivers there who would be starting the Cup race without turning a single lap here on the track beforehand.

Austin Cindric did lead for 19 laps and win the first Stage but he did not seem to have enough pace to be truly competitive with the other front runners. In the end he was scored in fourth place. Chastain had to settle for fifth and Brett Moffitt was sixth.

“I feel like we’ve had so many [wins] get away here, just haven’t been able to seal the deal and it’s been so frustrating,” said Allgaier, who has 13 career Xfinity Series wins. “But I’m proud of these guys and proud of the effort. The pit stops were amazing. Everybody at JR Motorsports, they built a fantastic Camaro. I’ve got to thank the man upstairs, tonight was definitely a push to the end but we just had the luck we needed. I say luck, but luck is opportunities meeting preparation. We were prepared and the opportunities came tonight.”

“Allgaier was just a little bit better,” Haley said. “I’m about tired of everyone on social media saying I can’t show up anywhere but superspeedways. So I finally showed up somewhere where talent matters.”
(With files from NASCAR Wire Service)

• Click HERE for the results of the first race of the Xfinity double header at Richmond – the  Go Bowling 250.

• The race was the first of two races here at Richmond. The second Richmond race was scheduled to be run the next day, Saturday, September 12.

PHOTO NXS 2 RR AllgaierLead 091220Justin Allgaier leads the field during the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 250 (Sean Gardner/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Xfinity Series Virginia is for Racing Lovers 250 at Richmond Raceway
• Allgaier wins again, same car, different colour

Richmond, VA, September 12/20 (GRW): Overnight Allgaier’s blue No. 7 car changed to red but it produced the same results – Allgaier swept both the Xfinity races here this weekend. He won by a two-second margin over Jeb Burton (Ward’s son) who is running a partial schedule in this series. Ross Chastain was third, Harrison Burton (Jeff’s son) was fourth and Noah Gragson finished in fifth place.

On Friday, Allgaier only came to the front in the second half of the race but on Saturday, he overcame his 14th place starting position quickly and he first took the race lead coming off the lap-40 competition caution. After that, he went on to lead 135 of the race’s 250 laps, winning the first Stage and taking the race win, his second in as many days.

Brandon Jones had taken the lead from the front row at the start and he led the first 16 laps. Then it was Chase Briscoe’s turn to lead the next 13 laps before Noah Gragson passed him and led for 16 laps until the competition caution. Their early prowess was short-lived; none of these three were to lead again during this race and, of the three, Gragson was the highest-placed finisher with his fifth.

After this Allgaier led the rest of the laps to the completion of the first Stage at lap 75. Chastain got ahead of him on the restart and he led the next 45 laps until Allgaier, who had been close behind, got back past into the lead on lap128. A few laps later, the race’s first real caution flew on lap 141. Given that this was close to the end of the second Stage (which was set at lap 150) crew chiefs had to make a choice between pitting now and trying to skip the cycle of pit stops at the end of the Stage – and then try to run the entire 100-lap final Stage without another pit stop – or to wait until the Stage end to make the final pit stop for tires. The latter choice would probably put them on better tires for that final Stage.

Hence, only a few drivers pitted during this caution – Harrison Burton, Chastain and Riley Herbst. As things turned out, this strategy option had little effect on the final results.

Allgaier was on the front row alongside Kaz Grala for the restart after this caution, but Chastain, on his fresh tires, was much faster and it only took him a couple of laps to jump back out into the lead while Allgaier fell to eighth by the time the yellow flew to mark the end of the second Stage.

Now Allgaier lost track position when he pitted this time and he took the restart out of the top ten. But now his fresher tires gave him an initial advantage and he powered his way back towards the front, retaking the lead on lap 172. There was one more yellow, on lap 229, and he did pit along with the others to take on his final set of tires – but he won the race out of the pit lane and he continued to lead the remaining laps to the checker.

“I knew how good our car was all day,” Allgaier said. “I knew at the end there, I knew we had speed, I knew when we needed to go we could, I just didn’t know how fast. My teammate Jeb Burton did a fantastic job on that last restart, just so proud of these guys.”
(With files from NASCAR Wire Service)

Allgaier’s performance here this weekend, on a track which is somewhat similar to the Phoenix raceway which will be used for the finale of the playoffs, has to give the odds makers food for thought.

• Click HERE for the results of the second race of the Xfinity double header at Richmond – the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 250

• The next Xfinity race will be run next Friday, September 18 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

 PHOTO NGROTS RR Checkered 091020Grant Enfinger crosses the finish line to win the ToyotaCare 250 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Race ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway
• Enfinger comes back from a lap down to win

Richmond, VA, Sept 10/20 (GRW): On the restart after the second Stage, Grant Enfinger was lined up in the front row alongside his teammate Ben Rhodes. Then when the green waved, they both went for the lead. Enfinger edged forward but Rhodes made contact with his rear corner. Tire smoke started to boil off that tire and it looked like Enfinger’s hopes of a win were over.

He pitted just long enough to let his crew pull out the bent fender but they did not change any tires. However, he still went a lap down on the field with just under 100 laps left to run to the checker.

Another yellow came out on lap 175 of the 250-lap race. Most teams opted to not pit this time hoping to be able to put on their last set of tires during the next caution which they hoped would fall just after half distance in this final stage. Of the front runners, only Matt Crafton. Brett Moffitt and Tyler Ankrum put on fresh tires this time.

The caution had put Enfinger back on the lead lap but in 18th place for the restart.

Moffitt was able to make good use of his new tires and he soon was in the lead, despite having lost track position when he pitted. He led for 32 laps until Crafton, also on fresher tires, passed him for the lead and he led the next 25 laps. This final Stage was to run out without another caution so the three who had pitted during the one early caution in this final Stage looked to have gained an advantage. But when, Crafton passed Moffitt for the lead, Enfinger was right behind in third place and closing.

With 25 laps remaining, Crafton and Moffitt were fighting it out side-by-side – but then Moffitt fell back and Enfinger took up the pursuit of Crafton – at first a second behind him. But lap after lap Enfinger closed in until he was right on Crafton’s tail with eight laps to go. Another lap and he was past him and into the lead.

So, Enfinger, who ran this entire final Stage on one set of tires to Crafton’s two sets and who had gone a lap down after an encounter with his teammate, emerged as the victor – making this a dramatic win. This race win, together with wins earlier this year at Daytona and Atlanta, gave him three wins so far this season – a short-track win and two super-speedway wins.

“Can’t say enough about [crew chief] Jeff Hensley, we’ve both been beating our head against the wall lately, but we go into the playoffs with some momentum now,” said Enfinger.

Another title contender who had been still hoping to rally in this regular season finale was veteran Johnny Sauter. The 2016 series champion was ranked 15th coming into the race and only a victory would launch him into playoff contention. Unfortunately, a mechanical problem from the opening laps forced extra pit stops and put Sauter out of contention early on. He finished 27th – eight laps down. It marks the first time in Sauter’s 12-year full time Truck Series career that he will finish a season ranked worse than ninth place.
(With notes from NASCAR Wire Service)

• Click HERE for the results of this Truck Series race at Richmond

• The opening round of the seven-race NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs begins next Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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