For the first time in several years, Richmond actually put on quite a good race. I was engaged the entire time with the strategy and how the race unfolded. More importantly there was passing and a TON of lead changes - the most at Richmond since 2016. NASCAR certainly made a good change with the new short track rules package, delivering a significantly better race than either at Richmond last year.
Byron Still Championship Favorite
It would be easy to overreact to Kyle Larson's win today, but let's be honest - William Byron was the faster Hendrick car today as he won stage one. He's consistently been the fastest driver all season. Even though it was JGR's race to lose , Byron still put himself right in the mix until Christopher Bell took him out on the second-to-last restart. What cements Byron as the favorite still is that despite this not even being a strong track for Hendrick, they still had a 1-2 finish and may have had three cars in the top five had Byron not been wrecked. Also need to shoutout Josh Berry's run, as Berry finished 2nd in only his sixth ever NASCAR Cup Series Race
Joe Gibbs Racing Finally Shows Speed
Joe Gibbs Racing as an organization had a pretty mixed bag on Sunday. On one hand, they led more laps
at Richmond than they had in the first six races combined. On the other hand, they could have realistically won with three of their drivers. Denny Hamlin had quite an interesting day. After Denny took out JJ Yeley early, he spent some time at the front, then earned himself a couple pit road speeding penalties. Martin Truex Jr. looked like he was on his way to victory until Tyler Reddick spun late, and was forced to strap-on scuff tires for the last pit cycle. Christopher Bell won stage two and was a favorite to win today, but just didn't have the speed at the end. However Ty Gibbs managed to finish 9th - his third consecutive top-10 finish. I know Gibbs is in great equipment, but we haven't seen performance out of a rookie like this in a very long time. Hopefully he can keep it up.
Penske Was Nowhere
Joey Logano managed to finish 7th after a pretty bad day, but his teammates were absolutely dreadful. Ryan Blaney finished 26th while Austin Cindric finished 28th on a day when Ford overall was pretty good. Even Harrison Burton, who is credited with driving a "4th Penske car", finished in 19th several spots ahead of the two Penske drivers. I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but Blaney continues his disappointing start to the season as does Cindric. Cindric does have a pair of top-10s so far this season, but hasn't quite made that leap that many expected for his sophomore season.
Legacy Motor Club Is Dreadful
Erik Jones, who is a very respectable driver in the garage, managed to finish only 31st at Richmond on pure speed. His teammate, Noah Grayson, wasn't running much better whenever he brought out a late caution and eventually DNF'd. With the name change and Jimmie Johnson coming in as an owner over the off season, I think many believed Legacy MC would take a step up in performance- but this has clearly not been the case. Outside of Erik Jones' heroics on the last lap of Atlanta a couple weeks ago, his best finish of the season is only 19th. Gragson's best finish outside of Atlanta was 20th at Austin last week.
Underdogs Make Headlines
Front Row Motorsports had themselves a day with both cars in the top-15. Michael McDowell had not shown the speed he did last year so far in 2023, but managed a great 6th place result today. And can we talk about Todd Gilliland? Todd was a driver many people wrote off after his rookie year in 2022 (and even FRM did since they took away his full-time status). The last three weeks Todd has finished 15th, 10th, and 15th. This is by far the best that 22nd FRM car has ever ran, and the first time its came close to keeping up with McDowell. Zane Smith is an outstanding prospect, however, they shouldn't just write off Todd Gilliland.
Chandler Smith had a weekend to remember, scoring his first career Xfinity win at Richmond on Saturday, and then finishing top-20 in his first career Cup start. Not to mention, his Kaulig teammates were woeful in 27th and 29th place. Great job Chandler!