Photo courtesy of Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series continues to up the ante for drivers looking to get into the playoffs at the start of next month. With only three races left in the regular season, drivers will look to do whatever they can to win the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 driver Kyle Larson will lead the field to start the race, earning his third pole of the season and 13th of his career.
Larson also has poles at Daytona International Speedway and Sonoma Raceway in 2022. The defending champion has finished no better than 15th in those two starts.
Richmond has not been the easiest track for Larson in his career with an average career finish of 11.3. It was one of the few tracks last year where Larson did not win, but he has been improving at the short track. Larson finished sixth at Richmond last fall and finished fifth there earlier in the year.
Larson did win the fall race at Richmond in 2017 with Chip Ganassi Racing.
The playoff picture tightened up even more last week at Michigan International Speedway as Stewart Haas Racing No. 4 driver Kevin Harvick became the 15th different driver to win a race this season.
Harvick snapped a 65-race winless streak, the second-longest streak of such in his career. His win bumped the playoff cutline down another notch and forced Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 driver Martin Truex Jr. below the cutline by 19 points.
Truex Jr. has stated that he will need a win to get into the playoffs, but Richmond could be his saving grace. The 2017 Cup Series champion has won three of the last six races at the 0.75-mile track, a configuration that is by far the best for his skill set.
On top of the wins, Truex Jr. is riding a seven-race streak of top-five finishes going back to 2018 with Furniture Row Racing.
Points are still a factor in the battle for the final playoff spot. Truex Jr. has also earned stage points in every stage at Richmond since Fall 2017. He is one point behind Trackhouse Racing No. 1 driver Ross Chastain by one point for third in the regular season standings, yet he trails Team Penske No. 12 driver Ryan Blaney by 19 points for the final playoff spot.
Blaney has not had the same success Truex Jr. has at Richmond, entering Sunday with an average finish of 21st. However, he may have found his stride this season at the track when he finished seventh in the spring after starting on pole.
Truex Jr. will start sixth while Blaney will be two rows behind him in tenth after scraping the wall in the final round of qualifying.
The regular season points championship can also be decided at Richmond. Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 driver Chase Elliott leads Blaney by 119 points. If Elliott exits Richmond with a 121-point lead over second-place, he will secure the regular season title with two races left before the playoffs.
The regular season champion will earn an additional 15 playoff points when the Round of 16 begins at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4.
23XI Racing No. 45 driver Kurt Busch will miss his fourth-straight race under concussion protocol for a wreck in qualifying at Pocono Raceway. Ty Gibbs will once again fill in for the 2004 Cup Series champion and make his fourth career Cup start.
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) August 10, 2022
Gibbs has looked solid in his first three starts, finishing no worse than 17th and earning his first career top 10 last week at Michigan.
Gibbs will start 14th at Richmond, and with no Xfinity race this weekend, he will put all his attention on the No. 45 car.
Qualifying showed how temperatures affect the track and tires. As Group A’s qualifying session continued, cars found a lot more grip as the track was getting worn in. A handful of drivers made their way to the top of the leaderboard later in the day.
Larson made use of the grip in the final qualifying round where he went last to beat out Chastain and prevent Trackhouse Racing’s first pole.
Still chasing that first #BuschLightPole for @TeamTrackhouse. pic.twitter.com/9WxWG7Y88r
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 13, 2022
The Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway will be 300 miles and 400 laps with stage breaks on Laps 70 and 230. The race is set to start at 3:00 p.m. ET. The race can be watched on USA Network and the NBC Sports App. The race can also be listened to on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
To the rear:
No. 21 Harrison Burton (Replaced Master Switch),
No. 78 BJ McLeod (Unapproved Steering Adjustment)
Pit Stall Selection:
NASCAR Cup Series — Race No. 24 – 400 laps / 300 miles
Richmond Raceway (0.75-mile oval) – Richmond, Va.
Fast Facts for August 13-14, 2022
Tire: Goodyear Eagle 18-inch Speedway Radials
Cup – 1 set for practice, 1 set for qualifying and 9 sets for the race
(8 race sets plus 1 set transferred from qualifying)
Tire Codes: Left-side — D-5124; Right-side — D-5126
Tire Circumference: Left-side — 2,251 mm (88.62 in.); Right-side — 2,276 mm (89.61 in.)
Minimum Recommended Inflation:
Left Front — 12 psi; Left Rear — 12 psi;
Right Front — 30 psi; Right Rear — 26 psi
Storyline – High wear Richmond produces competitive racing: Richmond Raceway is one of NASCAR’s high tire wear race tracks. And while wear is down slightly this year with the Next Gen car, tire management and pit strategy will still come into play in this weekend’s race. Drivers who are easier on their tires early in a run can extend their tire life deeper into the run. Cup teams will have nine sets of tires for the 400-lap race, which is an average of just 44 laps (33 miles) per set if they use their full compliment. The team aspect of the sport will be critical all day – drivers getting on and off pit road and crews making four-tire stops.