NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins at Richmond

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins at Richmond

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joe Gibbs Racing put another driver safely into the next round of playoffs as Martin Truex Jr. had too much for the rest of the field in a relatively clean Saturday-night race at Richmond. The win was his fourth of the season and ensures that he can relax this coming week at Bristol as the final 12 championship contenders will be solidified. Teammate Denny Hamlin had the helm early in the race, leading the most laps, and Christopher Bell rounded out the top three as the Toyota teammates flexed their muscle. Kyle Busch also got the result he needed after a rough Darlington race, but has yet to be assured of advancing in the championship fight. Michael McDowell, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Kurt Busch will enter the third and final race of the round of 16 below the cutline, but less than 20 points separate Chase Elliott in seventh to Kurt Busch in 13th. Bristol is set up to be a thriller of an elimination race. 

This week's visit to the high-banked bullring will be the first this season on the normal surface. Joey Logano won at the venue early in the season on the dirt. The Ford-powered machines of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick took victories at the track last season.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – A penalty at the start of the race wasn't enough to keep Truex from Victory Lane Saturday. He missed out on a chance to fight for the win two weeks

Joe Gibbs Racing put another driver safely into the next round of playoffs as Martin Truex Jr. had too much for the rest of the field in a relatively clean Saturday-night race at Richmond. The win was his fourth of the season and ensures that he can relax this coming week at Bristol as the final 12 championship contenders will be solidified. Teammate Denny Hamlin had the helm early in the race, leading the most laps, and Christopher Bell rounded out the top three as the Toyota teammates flexed their muscle. Kyle Busch also got the result he needed after a rough Darlington race, but has yet to be assured of advancing in the championship fight. Michael McDowell, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Kurt Busch will enter the third and final race of the round of 16 below the cutline, but less than 20 points separate Chase Elliott in seventh to Kurt Busch in 13th. Bristol is set up to be a thriller of an elimination race. 

This week's visit to the high-banked bullring will be the first this season on the normal surface. Joey Logano won at the venue early in the season on the dirt. The Ford-powered machines of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick took victories at the track last season.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – A penalty at the start of the race wasn't enough to keep Truex from Victory Lane Saturday. He missed out on a chance to fight for the win two weeks ago at Darlington due to a pit penalty. The penalty he incurred this week came early enough in the race to give him a chance to recover, however. By the end, Truex was the fastest car on track and eased to a comfortable victory ahead of two of his teammates. If the team can avoid the penalties they've suffered the past two weeks, they may be unbeatable as the playoffs progress. Truex has never won at Bristol and hasn't finished in the top 15 there since 2017, however. The good news for him is that he is through to the next round no matter what happens this week.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin won his first race of the season two weeks ago at Darlington, and it looked like he might get two in a row Saturday. He jetted into the lead from the start of the race and dominated the first two segments taking both stage victories. In the end, he didn't have enough to hold off his teammate, but he did walk away with a second-place finish in a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3 finish. It has been an excellent start to the playoffs for Hamlin, and this week we come to another track where he has had past success. He won this race in 2019 and has two career wins from 30 starts at Bristol. Hamlin is finding his best driving at the perfect time this season, and fantasy players should be confident choosing him again this week.

Kyle Busch – Busch just needed a nice top-10 finish this past week after not finishing two weeks ago at Darlington. The tough first race of the playoffs left him teetering on the edge of advancing to the round of 12. He gathered himself up and did what he needed to do at Richmond, however. While he didn't have the speed of his JGR teammates, he achieved what he needed in a ninth-place finish. That, plus second place in the second stage, gave him enough points to move to 10th in the standings heading to Bristol. He doesn't have much room for error again this week, but, coming to a circuit at which he has eight series wins, should give him plenty of confidence. He is one of the best to race at Bristol with six top-fives in the last seven races.

Kyle Larson – Despite not yet winning in the playoffs, Larson remains one of the top drivers to focus on in the playoffs. He relinquished his top starting spot Saturday in Richmond after failing prerace inspection multiple times. This isn't the first time it has happened to this Hendrick Motorsports team this season, either. Despite starting at the rear of the field, Larson worked his way up to fourth by the end of the first stage. From there he stayed roughly in that position until the end of the race. The car's speed simply wasn't there to challenge the JGR cars ahead. His sixth-place finish Saturday night puts him third in the standings and in a very comfortable position to transfer into the next round of playoff eliminations.

Christopher Bell – Astute fantasy players would have expected Bell to be one of the contenders at Richmond Saturday night. He already had one top-five there and was excellent in his Xfinity Series visits, too. He missed earning stage points in the opening segment but picked some up by finishing sixth in the second. He then used that spot as a springboard to jump to third at the finish, clinching the top three finishing positions for the JGR team. That finish puts him eighth in the standings heading into the final race of this round. His gap to Alex Bowman in 12th is 17 points. That isn't a lot of room to relax, but he also grabbed a top-10 at Bristol last season. Circumstances are looking favorable for Bell to navigate his way into the final 12.

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch – Busch picked up right where he left off the prior week, and for a while it looked like he would be one of the cars to beat Saturday night. A flat left-rear tire sent him spinning hard into the outside wall and out of the race early, though. The Ganassi Racing driver has had competitive pace so far in the playoffs, but Saturday's DNF dropped him quickly down the standings and tied him with Bowman on the cut line. He will have to win or race his way into the next round of elimination races this week at Bristol where he has six prior wins. The track is usually one where he finishes well, but there will be extra pressure to perform this week.

William Byron – After a tough Darlington visit, Byron found himself struggling for air Saturday at Richmond. The Hendrick driver did not have the speed to keep pace with much of the championship field and finished the race 19th in a disappointing night. After the race, he simply said the car was terrible and didn't have the pace to contend. After two weeks of disappointment he now finds himself with his back against the wall in the final race before the first four championship contenders are eliminated. He will enter Bristol 18 points below the cut line with just one prior top-10 at the circuit from six series starts. Byron has to make it happen this weekend to keep his championship hopes alive.

Tyler Reddick – Saturday night's race wasn't a disaster for Reddick, but it was not as good of a finish as he needed. The playoffs leave little room for error, and drivers have to be at their best each week or face elimination from the championship fight. Reddick had an 18th-place finish at Darlington and then finished 15th at Richmond. Those aren't the finishes that will keep someone inside the top 12 in the standings, which is where he needs to be after this week's visit to Bristol. He has just a narrow gap to overcome this week, but he'll have to do better than the last two weeks. He finished fourth at Bristol in this race last season and will need something like that again to stay alive in the championship.

Michael McDowell – It was always going to be a longshot for McDowell to extend his dream season into the second round of elimination races. That fate looks to be secured after back-to-back poor finishes in the first two races of the round of 16. After coming home 28th at Richmond Saturday night, McDowell is staring down a 38-point deficit to the safety of the top 12 championship contenders. Overcoming that gap is going to be a tall order at Bristol, considering he only has one top-10 finish at the track from his 21 career starts. That 10th-place finish came in this race last season, however. He already won the Daytona 500, but he may need another win this week to remain in the championship fight.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ross Chastain – Chastain continued turning heads Saturday at Richmond. The Ganassi Racing driver may not be a championship contender, but he has certainly shown himself capable of racing amongst those drivers the first two races of the playoffs. He backed up his third-place finish at Darlington with his eighth top-10 of the season Saturday night at Richmond. Chastain has been improving as the season progresses and continues to show that growth again this past week. He sits 19th in the standings and could find himself challenging Austin Dillon for the top spot among non-playoff drivers at the end of the year if he continues his current run of form.

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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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