Takeaways from Richmond: What a tame first 350 laps

From The Marbles
Fans watch the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Saturday, April 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Fans watch the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Saturday, April 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Welcome to the 2018 season and welcome back to our post-race takeaways column. Per usual, we’ll have some random thoughts to espouse after Cup Series races and this column will be the landing spot for them.

• We can’t blame you for wondering if Saturday night’s race at Richmond was going to go caution-free sans stages.

The first 352 laps of the race didn’t have any cautions that weren’t NASCAR-mandated stage breaks. As the third and final stage meandered along with good racing for the lead it was reasonable to think the race at the 0.75-mile track was going to conclude without incident.

Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crash stopped those thoughts on lap 353. And there were three more cautions after that in the next 40-plus laps. But the first seven-eighths of Saturday night’s race felt quite tame, even if competition at the front of the pack was competitive.

[Kyle Busch wins at Richmond; full results]

Is there something to pinpoint for the tame racing? We’re not sure. Drivers could be cognizant of not wanting to damage their cars given the significance of aerodynamics even at tracks as short as Richmond. And the presence of multiple grooves could play a role too. With more places to run on the track drivers don’t have to push each other out of the way to make a pass or a quick lap time.

It’s also worth wondering just how much NASCAR’s reticence to throw debris cautions is playing into the relative temerity. The sanctioning body has cut down on debris cautions since implementing stages at the beginning of the 2017 season. Fewer debris cautions means fewer restarts and fewer chances for drivers to make aggressive moves with the field jumbled up.

Is the move to planned cautions cutting down on the bursts of aggressive racing? Maybe.

• Speaking of aggressiveness, what was the deal with teams not playing for the win with seven laps to go?

All 16 lead lap cars pitted after David Ragan hit the wall. Why? Yeah, tire wear is severe at Richmond, but wasn’t it worth it for a few cars to stay out and see what happens?

And wouldn’t it be especially worth it in a win-and-in playoff format like NASCAR has? If you’re an 11th-place car you’re not going to win the race straight-up against the rest of the field on equal tires. Why not make a track position play for some clean air and hope for a late caution and see what happens?

Sure, the worst-case scenario is you finish 16th. But the best-case scenario is a win and a playoff berth. That seems like a good risk to take.

Chase Elliott finished second Saturday night. He wasn’t a top-five car for most of the night but was great over the last 50 laps and aggressive on restarts as he worked his way to the front.

“Just we have a lot of work to do I still feel like to get to have the speed that we need and the car driving like we want it to or like I want it to at least,” Elliott said. “But our restarts fell into our hands there at the end having short runs kind of played into our favor and was able to move forward because of that.”

• There was much made about the crowd at Richmond Saturday night after the race was previously run during the day the past two seasons.

The move back to Saturday night was purportedly done for fan purposes. And while it looked like more people showed up than had shown up for races during the day on Sunday, it wasn’t a noticeable difference. The grandstands at the track were, at best, 70 percent full in our estimation.

And while that may look pretty good compared to other crowds at Cup races this year, it’s important to remember that Richmond has cut seating capacity significantly in recent years. Its capacity now of between 50,000-60,000 is about half of where it was in 2008.

A fuller small glass always looks better than an emptier bigger glass.

Kevin Harvick finished fifth and again rebounded from a pit road penalty. This one came early in the race when a crew member threw the track bar wrench over the pit wall. It’s legal for the wrench to be thrown and land in the pit box. It landed over the pit wall and hit a fellow crew member in the nether region.

(Via Fox)
(Via Fox)

Jamie McMurray appeared to take issue with teammate Kyle Larson following an incident that Larson had nothing to do with. After McMurray was bumped by Kurt Busch and a caution then flew for Ryan Newman’s smoking car, McMurray drove up alongside Larson’s car.

While it sure looked like there was a disagreement between the two Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, McMurray denied it after the race.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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