The Richmond International Racetrack is considered a short track but races like a mile and a half track. Only one caution was waived for an on-track incident, paving the way for long green-flag runs. This fit perfectly into the hands of the “big three” as they have consistently been the fastest cars. The three drivers led 295 of the 400-lap race. Kyle Busch won the race, and Truex won both stages.
Two of the “big three” had to overcome adversity. Busch had to start at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments after scraping the wall during qualifying. Truex sustained a penalty for an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop spoiling a great start; he led a race-high 163 laps during the first half of the race.
Harvick had a steady night of racing, running most of the race in the top three, but needed a few more laps at the end in order to run down race-leader Busch.
Brad Keselowski, winner of the three previous Cup races, had a good car on short runs. Leading the field after the last caution period, he took the lead with 67 laps to go. Busch was able to run him, but both drivers abused their tires in doing so. Keselowski faded to seventh.
The last race in the first round is Sunday. The race will be considered a road-course race, as it will utilize both the oval track and part of the infield, thus being called the Charlotte ROVAL.
The race will be a complete unknown for the drivers. There is minimal run-off areas where cars are highly likely to lose control, which could be a recipe for disaster. There is a huge possibility that half of the event this weekend could be run under yellow.
Having practiced on the ROVAL, none of them have been in a race utilizing the set-up. This is concerning to all the playoff teams, but Keselowski and Busch know they are moving on to Round two. Truex is also moving on based on his point standing. Harvick just has to take the green flag and he will move on.
“I’m terrified of next week, to tell you the truth,” Harvick said. “There’s just so many unknowns.”
Only 50 points separate the field from 5-16 in the race for the Championship, so no one can feel safe. The bottom four will be eliminated from Championship contention. Going into the Charlotte ROVAL, those four are Clint Bowyer, Jimmy Johnson, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin. Jones and Hamlin feel like they must win the race in order to move on.