The stars of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series made their way to Richmond Raceway for race two of the first round of NASCAR’s playoffs. Last week’s winner, Kevin Harvick, was scheduled to lead the field to green. Kyle Busch, scheduled to start sixth, had to start in the back due to failing pre-race inspection. Brad Keselowski found himself starting in 9th.
Shortly after 4:45 pm PST, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano led the field to green. Harvick was able to hold the lead, with Logano falling in line to second. Powering ahead, Austin Dillon got to the inside of Harvick and took over the lead. The competition caution came out on Lap 30 with Dillon leading and Joey Logano in second. All lead lap drivers came down pit road for their first pitstops of the night. Dillon, Logano, and Harvick exited the pits 1-2-3.
Dillon and Logano led the field back to green on Lap 38. Dillon held the lead for the first lap, but Denny Hamlin got to Dillon’s inside and took the lead with Logano following in second. Running the rest of the stage green, Denny Hamlin took the first stage with Austin Dillon in second. All lead lap cars came down to the pits for service, with Hamlin maintaining the lead with Logano in second.
Lap 90 brought the beginning of Stage Two, with Logano leading the field to green. After hounding Logano for multiple laps, Brad Keselowski made a maneuver to the inside and overtook the lead. With 60 laps completed in the stage, Kevin Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto came to the pits for service, playing pit strategy. Within the following 20 laps, the remaining cars who had not stopped earlier made their pitstops, including Logano and Keselowski. After everyone made their first stops of this stage, Harvick cycled through as the leader.
Austin Dillon was able to utilize fresher tires and got by Kevin Harvick on Lap 182, retaking the lead. Once passed, Harvick came down to the pits for service, suffering a pit entry penalty in the process. With 18 laps left in Stage Two, Brad Keselowski made his way around Austin Dillon and assumed the lead. Keselowski was able to hold off a hard-charging Austin Dillon and took the Stage Two green-and-white checkered flag. All lead lap cars came down pit road for service with Keselowski holding onto the lead.
When the green flag dropped for the final stage of the race, Brad Keselowski surged ahead with the lead. Denny Hamlin began the latest round of green flag pitstops on Lap 293. The remaining lead lap cars followed closely behind, making green flag pitstops. Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth played pit strategy and stayed out while everyone else got tires and fuel. Busch and Kenseth came down to the pits with 100 laps left in the race, giving the lead back to Logano.
Brad Keselowski powered ahead and took the lead away from Logano with 83 laps left. With 65 laps left, Austin Dillon attempted to enter the pits but missed the entrance. After Dillon made his stop during the following lap, the leaders returned to the pits for another round of green flag pitstops. Keselowski emerged with the lead and held it to the end, taking the checkered flag.
Taking out the competition caution and stage breaks, the drivers drove a clean race. With a race short on cautions, we were able to see which drivers really want the NASCAR championship versus which drivers are pretenders. What were your thoughts on tonight’s race?
Nex Saturday night, the first round of NASCAR’s playoffs come to a close at Bristol Motor Speedway.