Podium Preview: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

Might we see wheel-to-wheel action between Truex and Keselowski in today's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond? (Photo: Jonathan Huff)

Might we see wheel-to-wheel action between Truex and Keselowski in today’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond? (Photo: Jonathan Huff/The Podium Finish)

While Martinsville tested drivers’ patience with the rain delay, Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond might test the wits of these talented racers. Above all else, Richmond brings a bit of superspeedway action despite just being 0.75-mile in track length.

Certainly, the likes of Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr seem like logical choices given their success at Richmond. However, do not count out Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick as they have the makings as formidable Toyota Owners 400 contenders.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorStephen ConleyTaylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly think about Kyle Larson’s chances at Richmond and whether Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto can turn their seasons around.

Podium Preview: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond
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Question 1
(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Other than the races at Daytona and Bristol, Kyle Larson has been consistently contending for wins in the No. 5 car. Will Larson continue his strong start this Sunday at Richmond, a track he’s won at once (fall 2017)?

Lambeth : While I do not see Kyle Larson being a contender for the win this weekend at Richmond, I think a good points day is definitely not out of the question. Besides the Daytona Road Course and Bristol Dirt, the No. 5 Chevrolet has performed extremely well to start off the season by picking up strong results inside the top-5 and top-10. Being in top-tier equipment now, the 2021 season as a whole might be Larson’s most successful season yet as a Cup driver.

Torres : Prior to joining Hendrick, one of the greatest flaws with Larson was consistency. Thus far, it’s been what he’s flourishing the most. Richmond has been kind to him, but sometimes not to the team. They’ve typically been miring back in the top 10 instead of battling up front. That’s what concerns me about Larson this Sunday more than anything. Can Larson not fall in the same issue HMS has had performance wise in recent races? Time will tell, but he won’t be in the leading battle.

Lucas :  Momentum and good vibes are all that are encompassing Kyle Larson’s return to NASCAR. With everything pointed in a positive direction for Hendrick for the remainder of 2021, I think he will continue to score top fives and tens regularly. There’s starting to become a trend of certain drivers running in the top spots week in and week out and he is one of them. My only concern with how the team is performing is actually based on science, rather than spectator. Will the changing of the seasons as in turning from cool and dry to hot and humid play a factor in the overall performance of Larson and Hendrick? We will really start to see this play a factor in the coming weeks of the season. In short, yes, he will continue to be a front runner for the foreseeable portion of the schedule.

Sisoler : I think Larson has got to be up there given the overall performance of him and that No. 5 car so far this season. For this weekend at least, I’m still keeping expectations down though despite Kyle already being in the playoffs with a win, given he and his team have not always been the most consistent at Richmond. 

A top five or top 10 for Larson at the end of Sunday? Certainly possible. But if you’re looking for a car to bet on to take the checkered flag, there are better alternatives than Car No. 5 this weekend.

Conley : If I’m putting together my fantasy team, I’m parking Kyle Larson this week. He was sixth in the fall of 2019 and Hendrick Motorsports has had major consistency issues at Richmond over the years. In fact, if an HMS car can get to victory lane, it would be their first win at Richmond since Jimmie Johnson’s in 2008.

Larson could bring home a top 10 or get swept up in someone else’s mess. I’m not high on the 5 this weekend. 

Hobbs :  Survey says…yes! Not only is Larson the best on short tracks this year, granted it’s only been two races this season, but it’s still something to be proud of. Richmond did not host a Spring race in 2020, so Larson really did not miss out. 2019, he did not have a good race, but that is the past. Larson is with a new team and in better equipment. He has been strong this year and that will carry through this weekend.

Question 2
(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Given the tough starts for Matt DiBenedetto and Aric Almirola, when can we expect these Ford racers back to their consistent, frontrunning ways?

Shoppe :  I have a feeling Matt DiBenedetto has a chance to pull off a win to get himself into the playoffs possibly at the superspeedway. I do believe both drivers will have to take that Avenue to make the playoffs this year as their consistency isn’t where it needs to be to make up the points deceit. 

For Aric Almirola, the Stewart Haas Racing group as a whole obviously has a lot of regrouping to do in order to get the 10 in a place to contend for their fourth straight playoff run. 

Jones :  Looking at the stats for both drivers, Aric Almirola has had better runs at Richmond than Matt DiBenedetto. But, unfortunately, I think their string of bad luck continues for one more race. Richmond probably won’t be kind to the two. However, Talladega is on the horizon and I expect both drivers to make some noise at that race. Almirola has a win and nine top-10 finishes at the wild Superspeedway. And while DiBenedetto’s stats aren’t as impressive there, I have a feeling he will bring what he has learned from previous races. It might not come together and turn into that elusive first win, but he will finally notch his first top-10 of the season.

Raynor : I would love to say things are going to get better but I don’t see it. Both have the potential to get top 10 finishes but they need some luck on their side. I feel like Talladega could be the turning point for both to finish in the top 10. 

Tiongson : Matt DiBenedetto and Aric Almirola have gone through such a rough stretch, they probably feel like Mario Kart players constantly hit by the blue shell. At some point, their misfortunes will stop but drivers and teams typically make their own luck. DiBenedetto was able to make the best out of an otherwise tough weekend at Martinsville with a 12th. However, Almirola absolutely needs some good luck his way with such a terrible start in 2021. I’d say their fortunes start to turn on Sunday at Richmond. As long as they keep out of trouble at this action packed short track, both can crank out top 10 finishes today.

Kitchen : I would say in the past few weeks, we have seen Matt DiBenedetto run much better, though luck does not seem to be on his side when it comes to situations outside of his control. 

On the other hand, Aric Almirola has not run that well even when he is in control of the situation. 

To get into the playoffs, these drivers need a win, and knowing the history of these drivers in the cup series, a win this season might be out of reach.

Out of the two Ford drivers, DiBenedetto has a better shot at coming back to his frontrunning ways. DiBenedetto has been  in the top 10 quite a bit these past few weeks and while Almirola is capable of winning one race a season, will that be the case this year?

Perhaps a wild card track like Nashville, or a superspeedway race like Talladgea or Daytona will get them close to a win, but I am not positive that they will be given an opportunity to capture the checkered flag outside of those places.

These two need much better luck in their corner, but I do not think that Richmond is the place where it turns around.

While our panelists aren’t racing under neon loneliness at Richmond, that’s two solid laps around this track. Next, let’s review our Martinsville weekend performances with our points and race report from race eight of the year!
A trio of panelists enjoyed their time at Martinsville.

A trio of panelists enjoyed their time at Martinsville.

Meanwhile, the points race has heated up!

Meanwhile, the points race has heated up!

Now, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers with the stats worth considering for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond!
First, let's consider how your favorite teams fare in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

First, let’s consider how your favorite teams fare in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

Since 2004, the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond winner has an average starting spot of 10.3, led an average of 113.1 laps, and started within the top five and top 10 62.50% of the time.

Since 2004, the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond winner has an average starting spot of 10.3, led an average of 113.1 laps, and started within the top five and top 10 62.50% of the time.

Might this be a head-to-head battle between Logano and Kyle Busch?

Might this be a head-to-head battle between Logano and Kyle Busch?

Here, let's consider the trends in the past 10 Toyota Owners 400 races at Richmond.

Here, let’s consider the trends in the past 10 Toyota Owners 400 races at Richmond.

Now, let's consider the trends in the past five editions of the Toyota Owners 400 at RIchmond.

Now, let’s consider the trends in the past five editions of the Toyota Owners 400 at RIchmond.



Lastly, our panelists reveal the picks possibly winning Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond!
All things considered, these are formidable racers for today's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond.

All things considered, these are formidable racers for today’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond.

Lucas : The hometown hero finally gets his first win of 2021. Denny Hamlin delivers his No. 11 team to victory lane this weekend!

Hobbs : Decisions, decisions… there are so many good choices to choose from at Richmond Raceway. There is Martin Truex Jr, winner on a short track this year already and the most wins this year.

There’s Kyle Busch, who won four races back-to-back at this track.

There’s Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin who are incredibly consistent at this place. All these drivers are also running well this year, making it more difficult to choose!

My choice: Denny Hamlin. While Logano and Truex Jr. have wins, Hamin has been there, oh so close, for weeks now that I think he will finally break through.

Kitchen : Denny Hamlin has shown race winning speed every single weekend and has shown he has a race winning car. However, he has not been able to close out races.

Looking at the stats for Richmond, Denny Hamlin has the second best average finishing position at the track behind his teammate Kyle Busch. Though Kyle Busch and Ford driver Kevin Harvick has great success at this track, they have not proved that they have race winning cars.

For this reason and for the fact that Toyota has won seven out of the last 10 races here, I think Denny Hamlin (who is starting on the front row) can capture the checkered flag, given he can put a full race together.

Raynor : Denny Hamlin has come so close these last few races and is good here. I feel like he’s going to break through and win.

Conley : Brad Keselowski won here in the fall during the Playoffs leading the most laps. They need to turn around their season and rebound from last week’s disaster at Martinsville. This should be a big day for Penske Racing’s No. 2 team.

Torres : Last Sunday didn’t work out for Brad Keselowski. But, I’m still sticking with him as my pick to win at Richmond. He had a really strong car last fall. While the conditions will be different, as it’ll be daytime instead of nighttime, he’ll be tough to beat. The only Penske driver without win will breakthrough this time around.

Jones : MTJ is going to jump on a hot streak! Martin Truex Jr just reclaimed Martinsville (or, you know, “Martin’s Ville”). He’s won three of the last four Martinsville races, now he’ll do the same in Richmond.

Sisoler : I gotta like, as his previous spotter Clayton Hughes called him, “MTJ” to win at Richmond. He’s proven to be a short track ace, and since the fall 2018 race at Richmond, Martin Truex Jr. has not finished worse than third here, with his starts for Joe Gibbs ending with a season sweep in 2019 and a runner-up effort in the lone 2020 race. Car No. 19 is gonna be starting the race from the lead Sunday, and I expect, more likely than not, to end it the race there as well.

Lambeth : Last weekend, Martin Truex Jr. became the first repeat winner of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. It is hard to believe there used to be a time when everyone wondered when MTJ would win a short track race. The previous race definitely was Martin’s ville. Heading to the other short track in Virginia, Truex will go back-to-back, scoring his third victory of the season!

Shoppe : As the current short track king of NASCAR, Martin Truex Jr is a big favorite to win his second straight race!

Tiongson : Without a doubt, Joey Logano will conquer Richmond this Sunday. His 10.8 average finish in his 23 prior starts showcase how comfortable Logano is around this 0.75 mile track. Look for Logano to get his second win of 2021 in grand fashion.

TPF Stats : Richmond Raceway has been kind to Kevin Harvick. He always runs up front and is contending for the win. Sure, 2021 is not off to the best start for him. But it can turn around at any moment. And that moment very well might be today.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. If you’re eligible in your state or country, help yourself, your family, and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

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Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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