Toyota Owners 400 Preview: Racing Perfection

Toyota Owners 400 Preview: Racing Perfection

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The NASCAR Cup Series will leave the road circuit and go short-track racing this weekend as we head to Richmond. The small Virginia oval plays host to the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday afternoon. Richmond Raceway is a three-quarter mile oval with median banking of 14 degrees in all the turns. The racing result is the contact and fender-beating of Bristol, with the feel of Charlotte due to the higher speeds. Drivers run average laps of close to 130 mph, which is much faster than the half-mile short tracks, but with the same close quarters racing that produce excitement in abundance. 

Much like the other short tracks on the circuit, drivers must conserve their brakes. The continual braking in the corners can be tough on those brake pads and rotors. Over the years many fast cars at RIR have retired to the garage early due to overdriving in the corners and lack of brake preservation. Also, watch the fuel gage closely. Unlike most short tracks, the long green flag runs can turn any Richmond race into a pit strategy and fuel conservation affair. All-in-all Richmond may be one of the best spectator tracks in the series. It's the fun competition, momentum swings and varied strategies that make this one of the best venues on the NASCAR Cup Series tour. It will be hard to top that just-completed Circuit of the Americas race, but when you take into account the parity we've seen in the NASCAR Cup Series thus far this

The NASCAR Cup Series will leave the road circuit and go short-track racing this weekend as we head to Richmond. The small Virginia oval plays host to the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday afternoon. Richmond Raceway is a three-quarter mile oval with median banking of 14 degrees in all the turns. The racing result is the contact and fender-beating of Bristol, with the feel of Charlotte due to the higher speeds. Drivers run average laps of close to 130 mph, which is much faster than the half-mile short tracks, but with the same close quarters racing that produce excitement in abundance. 

Much like the other short tracks on the circuit, drivers must conserve their brakes. The continual braking in the corners can be tough on those brake pads and rotors. Over the years many fast cars at RIR have retired to the garage early due to overdriving in the corners and lack of brake preservation. Also, watch the fuel gage closely. Unlike most short tracks, the long green flag runs can turn any Richmond race into a pit strategy and fuel conservation affair. All-in-all Richmond may be one of the best spectator tracks in the series. It's the fun competition, momentum swings and varied strategies that make this one of the best venues on the NASCAR Cup Series tour. It will be hard to top that just-completed Circuit of the Americas race, but when you take into account the parity we've seen in the NASCAR Cup Series thus far this season, we could be in for one of the most entertaining races to this point in 2022. 

As we take a brief look back on the only "short track" event thus far this season, Phoenix, for some finishing data to consider this weekend, we'll need to also take into account the recent trends at the Richmond short track as well. This ¾-mile oval is a unique facility and has enough similarities to the larger ovals to put a bit of a wrinkle in our usual short-track lineup of drivers. So this weekend, the loop data from RIR will have a greater emphasis than some of the other tracks we've examined this season. The loop stats in the table below cover the last 16 years or 33 races at Richmond Raceway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Busch6.99908951,52811,442109.9
Kevin Harvick8.41,0528741,13312,325109.3
Denny Hamlin8.88041,0032,10810,218108.9
Brad Keselowski12.37445871,1777,68799.9
Christopher Bell7.3146941096497.0
Martin Truex Jr.16.47656301,2058,35294.4
Joey Logano10.36052754286,36694.2
Kurt Busch14.68495558068,74992.2
Chase Elliott11.436984943,29588.6
Kyle Larson11.8399116814,01288.5
Aric Almirola15.04059713,47778.6
Greg Biffle17.3439180634,44378.1
Austin Dillon16.7357110563,01276.5
William Byron16.71743201,41976.3
Tyler Reddick15.39210064975.5
Erik Jones16.41503901,38271.0
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.230817221,74670.2
Daniel Suarez15.11776001,33568.7
Alex Bowman20.719967111,79767.0
Ryan Blaney22.32104101,66365.5

This event one year ago we witnessed Alex Bowman rise late and literally steal the victory away from Denny Hamlin. The Toyota Owners 400 would see Hamlin dominate the event and lead 207 laps of the 400 raced. However, Bowman would run him down in the closing laps thanks to a late caution and restart. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet would muscle his way past Hamlin and lead the final 10 laps to the checkered flag. It was Bowman's first-career Richmond victory and first win of four on the 2021 season for the Hendrick Motorsports veteran. 

The NASCAR Cup Series would return to the Richmond short track in September of last year. It would be sweet revenge for Toyota as Hamlin would once again lead 197 laps and dominate, but it would be his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr. who would march into victory lane. It was part of a 1-2-3 finish for Toyota and Gibbs that Saturday evening. It was Truex's third-career Richmond win and would set him up for a deep run into last season's Chase playoffs. What will we witness this weekend at Richmond? The new Next-Gen car certainly is a big variable, but we have to like some of the veteran short-track aces to have a leg up on the younger drivers. The following drivers will give you an edge in your fantasy racing leagues, and hold the keys to success at Richmond Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400. 

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Alex Bowman – After six races in the new Next-Gen car, it's pretty clear that Bowman and the No. 48 team have their act together. He's fresh off challenging for the win and finishing runner-up at Circuit of the Americas and now he returns to the scene of his victory in this event one year ago. Bowman was an ace on short tracks last season, and this Richmond race was just one of a few that he won. He doesn't have a long Richmond Raceway resume and story of success, but he does have the Richmond win of one year ago to boost his value. Hot streaks and who's racing well in the new stock car is trumping historical performance to a good degree. That said, Bowman cannot be overlooked this weekend and will challenge for the win in the Toyota Owners 400.

Martin Truex Jr. – Of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Truex appears to be adapting the quickest to the new Next-Gen race car. With three Top 10's in the last four races, he's not back in winning form just yet, but he's improving each week with the new car. If there's an oval on the circuit that could jump start Truex's winning ways its Richmond. He's a three-time winner at this Virginia short track and all have come in the last five events at Richmond Raceway. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has led well over 1,200-career laps at this facility and knows how to get around its multi-line racing grooves very well. Truex should be able to mix it up with the leaders this Sunday and contend for the win in this 400-lap short-track battle.       

Ross Chastain – After Chastain's stunning performance and victory at COTA last Sunday, we've become big believers in Trackhouse Racing. The veteran driver has won and finished inside the Top 3 in each of the last four races heading into this weekend. Chastain has catapulted from 36th in the driver standings to fifth-place after COTA. There seems to be no stopping the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet right now. While Richmond Raceway hasn't been a great oval for Chastain, he did collect a career-best Richmond finish of seventh-place in last fall's Federated Auto Parts 400. That experience will serve him well this weekend. Chastain recently carved up the short track in Phoenix to earn a runner-up finish in the Ruoff Mortgage 500k. That could very easily be a preview of what to expect for this driver and team in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400.

Kyle Busch – The No. 18 Toyota team has yet to catch fire this season, but Busch and his new crew chief, Ben Beshore, have been fighting hard to post Top 10's most weeks. Busch is coming off a disappointing finish at COTA, and looking to rebound this week at one of his favorite short tracks. He will look to up the ante a bit this week at Richmond, where he's won six times in his NASCAR Cup Series career. When we last saw the Joe Gibbs Racing star in action at America's premier short track, he led 39 laps and finished ninth-place in last fall's Federated Auto Parts 400. That was one of 25-career Top 10's (78-percent) for Busch at Richmond. Busch rides an eight-race Richmond Top-10 streak into Sunday's Toyota Owners 400, and that is very reassuring. 

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Joey Logano – Logano doesn't have the eye-popping Richmond stats of some other NASCAR Cup Series stars with just two wins and 12 Top-5 finishes in 25-career starts. However, his Richmond resume has been getting stronger and stronger each season. He's been quickly redefining his stats on these short tracks and setting new personal bests the last few years. Logano won this event in 2017, and has finished inside the Top 3 in three of the last five Richmond races. He has become one of the top performers at this short track of the last few years. Logano was pretty strong in peddling to an eighth-place finish at Phoenix recently. We believe he'll be even better at Richmond.

Chase Elliott – Elliott has been pretty consistent to start the 2022 season. He has grabbed four Top 10's in the opening six races and rides into Richmond as the championship points leader. Richmond Raceway hasn't been a historically strong oval for the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet in his career, but his current momentum trumps any concerns in that regard. But historically speaking, Elliott has five Top 10's in 12 Richmond Raceway starts (42-percent) to this point in his Cup Series career. Most recently, he led 58 laps last September during the Chase for the Cup and peddled to a stellar fourth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400. This driver and team are off to a nice start in the new Next-Gen car, and should post another Richmond Top 10 this weekend.

Tyler Reddick – Speaking of strong starts to the season, we can't leave out Reddick and the No. 8 Chevrolet team in that conversation. With three Top 10's in the last four events, and coming off a strong fifth-place performance at COTA last Sunday, this young driver is squarely on our radar screen heading to Virginia. While Reddick has yet to make a major impact in his first three Cup Series starts at Richmond Raceway (two Top-15 finishes, 15.3 average finish) he is likely poised for a career-best Richmond performance in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400. Reddick recently peddled his RCR Chevrolet to an impressive third-place finish at the one-mile oval in Phoenix. That's a good short-track look heading into Richmond. We like Reddick in all fantasy racing formats this Sunday afternoon. 

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has led well over 1,100 laps for his career at Richmond Raceway. Harvick has captured three victories at the small Virginia oval, with two of those coming since the 2011 season. That high level of performance in recent races gives us high confidence in the No. 4 Ford team going into this weekend's Toyota Owners 400. Considering that Harvick has six Top 10's in his last seven Richmond starts heading into this week's action, you can't rule anything out for him this Sunday afternoon. The veteran driver hasn't quite hit his stride in 2022, but Harvick did peddle to an impressive sixth-place finish at the small Phoenix oval a few weeks ago. That's a really good look for the driver of the No. 4 Ford heading to another one of his favorite short tracks at Richmond.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Richmond & solid upside

Kyle Larson – The reigning champion is simply the fantasy racing lottery card that you may want to be holding this weekend. While Richmond hasn't been a track of vast success for Larson, he does have one victory and five Top 10's in his last seven starts (71-percent) at the Virginia short track. In his last performance at Richmond, Larson started on the pole and led 8 laps before finishing last September's Federated Auto Parts 400 in sixth-place. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet is not a major threat to win here, and that's why we've dropped him down the ladder a bit for Sunday. Still, his short-track racing skill cannot be overlooked, and Larson could easily turn in another Richmond Top 10 this weekend.

Ryan Blaney – The Penske Racing star used to absolutely hate this place, but it seems Blaney may be turning a corner at this ¾-mile oval. He grabbed 11th- and 10th-place finishes at Richmond last season. Both were career-best marks at the track for the driver of the No. 22 Ford. Blaney has started this season well and rides into Virginia second in the overall driver standings after a sixth-place finish at COTA last Sunday. He recently won the pole at the small Phoenix oval and led a dominating 143 laps in that event before finishing fourth-place in the Ruoff Mortgage 500k. That could be a preview of Blaney's potential this weekend at Richmond. He could be poised for another career-best Richmond effort in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin's start to the season has been a tough affair. With no Top 10's to this point and a 22nd-place in the driver standings, it's understandable to be skeptical of the Joe Gibbs Racing star right now. However, he's just good enough at Richmond for this to be the rallying point in his good season. Hamlin's three-career victories and 2,100+ laps led at Richmond cannot be easily discounted. After last season's pair of runner-up finishes at Richmond Raceway, he now sports a stunning 50-percent Top-5 rate at this facility. We've moved Hamlin to the sleepers list week to reflect the risk that he currently carries, but it's difficult to imagine the driver of the No. 11 Toyota having a bad race at Richmond considering he's only finished outside the Top 20 here five times in 30-career starts.

Chase Briscoe The recent Phoenix winner falls directly onto our radar screen this week at Richmond Raceway. Briscoe led 101 laps at the Arizona short track and posted a dominant victory in the Ruoff Mortgage 500k. The Stewart Haas Racing youngster will look to hit the reset button this week after a rough outing at COTA last Sunday. This will be Briscoe's third-career Cup Series start at the Virginia short track. Last time out at Richmond, he peddled to a respectable 16th-place finish last September. We believe Briscoe will be way better than that this Sunday afternoon. He was a consistent performer at this track during his Xfinity Series career, and we believe he'll be a strong finisher as a Cup Series driver here as well.

Christopher Bell – The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has just three Cup Series starts at Richmond, however, they've been quite something. Bell raced to fourth- and third-place finishes at Richmond Raceway last season alone. With a respectable 15th-place Richmond finish in 2020, he has a miniscule 7.3 average finish at the track across those three starts. Bell likes this place. Coming off the third-place finish at COTA this past Sunday, it looks like the No. 20 Toyota team are set up to start building some momentum after a slow start to the season. In addition, Bell absolutely slayed this track in his Xfinity Series career. He nabbed three Xfinity Series victories at Richmond and four Top 10's in just five starts (5.0 average finish). Bell is a great fantasy racing play in weekly lineup and salary cap leagues this week.

Daniel Suarez – Everything Trackhouse Racing is touching right now is turning to gold. Ross Chastain grabbed the team's first win this past week at COTA, and Suarez has been racing well to this point in 2022. The young driver has three Top 10's through six events and rides a respectable 15th in the driver standings into Richmond this week. Suarez collected a strong ninth-place finish at the Phoenix short track just a few weeks ago, and that's a good sign heading into the Toyota Owners 400. The driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet has visited this short track with four different race teams in the last four seasons. Still, Suarez has managed one Top-10 and five Top-20 finishes in those six starts for a respectable 17.7 average finish. We believe he could be looking at a career-best Richmond finish this Sunday. 

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

William Byron – Despite his recent win at Atlanta, Byron has been an inconsistent performer this season. His two great finishes this season have been somewhat offset by four lackluster outings. One of those poor performances came at the Phoenix short track. Byron peddled the No. 24 Chevrolet to a subpar 18th-place finish in the Ruoff Mortgage 500k. Ironically, that's his average finish for the season, 18.0. Byron's seven-career Cup Series starts at Richmond Raceway have only netted one Top-10 finish and a lofty 16.6 average finish. He's really struggled to figure out this oval in his first four seasons as a Cup Series driver. Byron also struggled at the Richmond short track in his Xfinity Series career, so it's no accident that success has been slow to come.             

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski's ninth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 seems like a distant memory in the five races since then. He's failed to crack the Top 10 since Daytona, and suffered the death penalty of NASCAR penalties after the Atlanta race. Keselowski has tumbled to 34th-place in the series standings and searching for answers coming to Richmond Raceway. On the bright side, the veteran driver of the No. 6 Ford has had a lot of success at Richmond. His two wins and 12 Top-10 finishes at this ¾-mile oval are beyond respectable by comparison. However, Keselowski's current struggles and recent performance at the Phoenix short track (23rd-place) have us very reserved about his chances in the Toyota Owners 400. 

Austin Cindric – As expected, Cindric rebounded to the good side of the ledger this past weekend at COTA. The talented road racing youngster carved up the Austin circuit to a strong eighth-place finish in the Texas Grand Prix. That and his Daytona 500 win to kick off his season have been Cindric's highlights thus far. We return to ovals this week, and that's been the No. 2 Ford team's weakness in 2022. Cindric has struggled to 19th-, 24th- and 32nd-place finishes on small and intermediate ovals this season. Richmond's ¾-mile size puts it squarely in the short-track category, so things could get bumpy for Cindric this Sunday. This will be just his second-career Cup start at Richmond Raceway. He finished a distant 28th-place in this event one year ago.   

AJ Allmendinger – The veteran driver flirted with victory lane last weekend at COTA, but lost the three-way battle for the win and spun out to a disappointing 33rd-place finish. Allmendinger will be back in the No. 16 Chevrolet again this week at Richmond Raceway. We don't normally think of Allmendinger when it comes to short-track racing, and it's for good reason. Short tracks are among the worst ovals on the Cup Series tour for him and his 17-percent Top-10 rate and 21.6 average finish at these facilities reflect that fact. Allmendinger has just two starts so far this season in the new Next-Gen Cup Series car, and the results haven't been great to this point. His 20th-place Phoenix finish inspires little confidence and his incident and poor finish at COTA last Sunday give us reservations about the No. 16 Kaulig Racing team and Allmendinger this week.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
NASCAR DFS: Brickyard 400 Presented by PPG
NASCAR DFS: Brickyard 400 Presented by PPG
NASCAR DFS Xfinity: Pennzoil 250
NASCAR DFS Xfinity: Pennzoil 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  TSport 200
NASCAR DFS Trucks: TSport 200
Brickyard 400 Preview: The Oval Returns
Brickyard 400 Preview: The Oval Returns