NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series head to Richmond International Raceway in Virginia for the first of two weekends during the 2014 season, the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday, April 26 and the ToyotaCare 250 on Friday, April 25, respectively. Both series come back to the track with two double winners, with Kevin Harvick becoming the first double-winner in the Cup Series and Chase Elliott winning two-in-a-row in the Nationwide Series.
Richmond, just 0.75-miles in length, is a vintage Saturday night short track that will later in the season host what could be a very important race – the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in September. This spring, however, could be equally important for some Sprint Cup Series drivers who are seeking their first wins of the season – uncharacteristically at that.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon is currently leading Cup Series points without a win on the season. He has two wins and 26 top 20 finishes in 42 races, with his last win coming in the fall race in 2000. Gordon has been nearly flawless this season, with six top 10 finishes in eight races, and a worst finish of just 13th, leading to an average finish of 7.4 on the year – but still no win.
Jimmie Johnson – Vying for his seventh Cup Series title, Johnson sits fifth in points through the first eight races with five top 10 finishes and an average finish of 11.2, dragged down by a 24th-place finish in Fontana and a 25th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson is one of three drivers with three wins at Richmond – only Kyle Busch has more amongst active drivers with four – but his last win came in fall 2008; last fall, Johnson finished 40th in the last race before the Chase.
Clint Bowyer – Bowyer, who last won in Charlotte in October 2012, is in desperate need of a win – or at least a good finish. He has just two top 10 finishes in 2014, and sits a dismal 16th in points. Richmond is one of Bowyer’s top three tracks, with an average finish of 10.1 (only Sonoma and Chicagoland rank higher), two wins and nine top 10 finishes in 16 starts. Bowyers last win came in fall 2012, but he has been strong there the last three races, leading a combined 273 of 1,206 laps raced.
Denny Hamlin – Hamlin, currently 14th in points in spite of missing the race at Fontana due to an eye issue, does quite well at Richmond, and has hosted his Short Track Showdown charity race there in the past. One of just two current drivers with an average finish in the top 10 at 8.9 (his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch has an average finish of 7.2), Hamlin has two wins and nine top 10 finishes in 15 starts at Richmond, with his last win coming in fall of 2010.
Tony Stewart – Stewart has been getting better – or maybe luckier – each week, picking up four top 10 finishes in the last five races and moving up to a 12th-place tie in points with Brian Vickers. Richmond has been good to Stewart in the past, with three wins and 19 top 10 finishes in 29 starts, but he hasn’t had a win since spring of 2002. Stewart finished 18th last spring and missed the fall race with a broken leg.
Source: “Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Toyota Owners 400,” NASCAR Media, April 21, 2014