NASCAR Barometer: Bowman Steals Richmond Victory

NASCAR Barometer: Bowman Steals Richmond Victory

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano were the early contenders Sunday at Richmond Raceway, but it was Alex Bowman who stole the show on the final restart of the Toyota Owners 400 and scored his first victory of the 2021 season. Hamlin, Truex and Logano finished first, second and third in the first two stages and looked destined to battle it out for the win. Ultimately, a costly error on pit road for Truex and a monster restart from Bowman led to the No. 48 machine sweeping past Hamlin and Logano to steal a win from under their noses. The win was the third of the season for a Hendrick Motorsports driver and signals the end to a slow start to the season for Bowman and the No. 48 team. 

There have now been eight different winners from the first nine races, and playoff spots are rapidly filling. That trend of unique victors could easily continue this week at Talladega Superspeedway, too. The massive 2.66-mile track has a habit of producing unpredictable races, and just surviving to race at the finish is half of the battle for teams. Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin won at the track last season, and Hamlin will be desperate to do so again this week after going winless despite scoring eight top-fives in the first nine races of the season.

UPGRADE

Alex Bowman – Bowman stole Sunday's race at Richmond Raceway on the final restart. The Hendrick Motorsports driver used a blistering

Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano were the early contenders Sunday at Richmond Raceway, but it was Alex Bowman who stole the show on the final restart of the Toyota Owners 400 and scored his first victory of the 2021 season. Hamlin, Truex and Logano finished first, second and third in the first two stages and looked destined to battle it out for the win. Ultimately, a costly error on pit road for Truex and a monster restart from Bowman led to the No. 48 machine sweeping past Hamlin and Logano to steal a win from under their noses. The win was the third of the season for a Hendrick Motorsports driver and signals the end to a slow start to the season for Bowman and the No. 48 team. 

There have now been eight different winners from the first nine races, and playoff spots are rapidly filling. That trend of unique victors could easily continue this week at Talladega Superspeedway, too. The massive 2.66-mile track has a habit of producing unpredictable races, and just surviving to race at the finish is half of the battle for teams. Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin won at the track last season, and Hamlin will be desperate to do so again this week after going winless despite scoring eight top-fives in the first nine races of the season.

UPGRADE

Alex Bowman – Bowman stole Sunday's race at Richmond Raceway on the final restart. The Hendrick Motorsports driver used a blistering move to the front to pass Joey Logano and get alongside Denny Hamlin in the final laps. He used that speed to clear Hamlin and then sail away to more than a half-second lead. The final 10 laps were all that he led of the 400 total laps run, but those were the ones that counted the most. His win was the first of the season for the No. 48 team and puts a rough start to the season in the rearview mirror. He joins teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron with victories, and now turns his focus to preparing for the playoffs. Bowman has two top-10 finishes in the last five Talladega races, one of which was a runner-up finish in the spring of 2019. 

Joey Logano – For much of Sunday's race it seemed as though the only driver capable of challenging Hamlin for the win would be Logano. He finished third in each of the opening stages and led a total of 49 laps. The Penske Racing driver drove a practically flawless race until losing the race off of pit road to Hamlin during the final caution. The resulting restart was an opportunity to race for the win, but Bowman surprised both Hamlin and him, and drove away into the lead. Sunday's third-place finish was Logan's third top-five and fourth top-10 in the last five races, however. Up next is Talladega, where Logano has three victories from 24 career starts. Logano finished 17th and 26th in the two visits there last season but led 78 laps.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin started on the front row and then went on to take the lead and drive away to the opening stage victory Sunday at Richmond. That speed carried him right into the second stage, which he won, bringing his stage win total to three of the previous four stages at the circuit. He looked poised to finally get a 2021 victory after beating Logano off of pit road on the final stop, but he couldn't hold off a charging Bowman on the final restart. Hamlin walks away with another top-five finish in an impressive start to the season but compounds the awkward situation with no wins. His frustration following the near victory was visible. Hamlin won at Talladega in 2014 and last fall when he led 26 laps and won from pole.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was another early contender Sunday in Richmond. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started the day like the short-track master fantasy players have come to expect. He finished second in both opening stages behind teammate Hamlin, but a pit infraction in the final stage earned him a drive-through penalty that lost him track position and put him at the tail end of the lead lap. He fought back to finish fifth, but having more laps to race for the win may have produced an even better result. Truex showed Sunday that he remains one of the best on the short tracks,  but this week's race is an entirely different challenge. Truex has never won at Talladega and only has two top-five finishes from 32 starts there.

Christopher Bell - Bell's race to a top-five finish Sunday at Richmond is further evidence that his win earlier this season was no fluke and he could grow to be a significant factor in the playoffs. He started the afternoon in eighth position and scored stage points in both of the race's opening segments before finishing fourth ahead of teammate Truex. Heading into the coming week's race at Talladega he has three top-10 finishes in the last five races. He finished 16th in the Daytona 500 earlier this season and led 32 laps of that race. His two Talladega races last season weren't as good, but he has shown what he is capable of with his current team. Bell is shaping up to be a regular and reliable fantasy selection this season.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick raced toward the front of the field early in Sunday's visit to Richmond. It was shaping up to be a decent day for the Stewart-Haas Racing team, but a rear tire failure with less than 20 laps remaining race sent Harvick spinning hard into the outside wall. The 24th-place finish was his worst since Las Vegas. Harvick and SHR have been a bit off of the lead pace this season and have work to do to close the gap. While he can still be a reliable fantasy option, he needs to step up his pace to begin replicating the success he had last season. Harvick's only Talladega win came in 2010. He only has one top-10 finish there in the last five races, too.

Ryan Newman – An early incident with Austin Cindric sent Newman spinning, leaving him behind the competition and playing catch-up. After a few races earlier this season where Newman and Roush Fenway Racing were contenders inside the top 10, Richmond should have been a race where he and teammate Chris Buescher could have outperformed. That spin early in the run put Newman in a hole from which he was unable to recover. He finished the afternoon five laps down to the leaders and in 30th position. This coming week's Talladega visit is a new opportunity, though. Newman has never won at the circuit, but he has three top-10 finishes in the last five races there.

Brad Keselowski – Short tracks are a game of track position, and starting deep in the field held back Keselowski from matching his teammates Sunday at Richmond. The Penske Racing driver started the afternoon 20th, found his way just inside the top 10 for the first stage finish and led 25 total laps, but was never a true factor in the race. His 14th-place finish was a bit disappointing as he continues to search for his first win of the year. Talladega has been good to him throughout his career, however. With five wins on the superspeedway, Keselowski enters this week's race as the winningest active driver at the circuit. The Penske teammates are expected to be tough to beat this coming week, which could make for a quick rebound for Keselowski.

Kyle Larson – Larson's 16th-place finish on Sunday was his second finish outside of the top 15 in the last five races. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was hopeful that his recent speed and consistency would translate to a top finish on Sunday, but after getting caught a lap down at the race's first caution, he had some catching up to do. He was unable to mount that fight back and ended the afternoon two laps down to the leaders. This week may be one for fantasy players to be cautious about Larson's chances, too. In 12 series Talladega starts, he has two top-10 finishes and a best result of sixth. He also crashed out of three of the last four races at the track, and getting to the finish would be a nice afternoon for him this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt DiBenedetto – DiBenedetto's ninth-place finish Sunday at Richmond was his best finish so far this season. The result also came on the heels of four consecutive top-15 finishes, and came with stage points, too. Consistency is beginning to build after he had a tough start to the season with two finishes outside of the top 30 and just one top-20. Things appear to be coming together, which is important for DiBenedetto considering he is due to be a free agent at the end of this season. His performance this week at Talladega could go a long way to earning his next ride, too. His best Talladega finish in 12 starts is a pair of 18th-place finishes, and extending his top-15 streak would be another result in his favor to secure a drive for the 2022 season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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