Takeaways From Richmond: Kez Calls It
By Bob Pockrass
A rare Richmond race without a caution (except for the competition caution and stage breaks) allowed for a fairly tame second race of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.
Brad Keselowski won by 2.586 seconds over Martin Truex Jr. – who swept the Richmond races last year – and leads our three takeaways from the event.
Keselowski Calls It
In talking to reporters Thursday, Keselowski had a thorough analysis of where his Team Penske car stacks up.
“I think the strengths of Team Penske right now are the restrictor-plate tracks (of Daytona and Talladega) and the short tracks,” Keselowski said. “Road courses are pretty weak right now. I think we are 10th-15th as a company with what we have. I think the 1.5-mile tracks we are 5th-10th but we are in the top-5 for the others.”
He was the top-1 on Saturday night, leading 192 of the 400 laps, including the final 48 for the win. He has qualified for the second round with a win along with Kevin Harvick (winner last week at Darlington) and Denny Hamlin (clinched on points).
The good thing for Keselowski? There is a restrictor-plate race (Talladega) and a road course (Charlotte) in the second round, plus a short track (Martinsville) in the second round and then the championship race on the fairly short 1-mile track at Phoenix.
Keselowski teammate Joey Logano finished third.
"I knew we'd be good at these types of track … (and) the playoffs have a fair amount of them, and things are coming together for us,” Keselowski said.
Where Did Dillon Come From?
Austin Dillon backed up his second-place finish at Darlington with a fourth-place finish at Richmond. He led 55 laps Saturday night at a track where he has never even had a top-5 in 12 starts.
A driver many had predicted to be knocked out after the opening round is now 36 points ahead of the cutoff, needing just 23 points at Bristol (14th if no stage points) to guarantee he will advance to the next round.
Where did this come from? He said it is a little surprising.
“I don’t know — I think we’ve just steadily gotten our stuff better and we’ve got a really good group working hard,” Dillon said. “RCR has got all hands on deck. ... I have had confidence in myself my entire career.
“I’ve been through some ups and downs and kind of weathered the storm to this point and always felt like when I’m given something to work with, I can perform with it.”
Dillon is in good shape to make the second round, and with some wild cards at Talladega and the Charlotte road course in the second round, who knows? Dillon won earlier in Texas, which is in the semifinal round.
“It's got speed ... honestly it's really hard to tell why,” said 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. “You don't know what's under the car suspension‑wise and shocks and springs and all those things that matter.
“Obviously they've taken a big step forward, so that's cool to see.”
The Importance Of Playoff Points
The results after two races erased any doubts about the importance of playoff points.
Hamlin, with his six wins this year, brought 47 playoff points into the postseason and clinched a spot in the second round despite finishes of 13th in the opener last week at Darlington and then a 12th-place showing Saturday at Richmond.
“We will move on to the next round and go have some fun next week and see how we do,” Hamlin said.
The playoff points are on Keselowski’s mind as he now has 35 playoff points and looks at next week at Bristol as a place where he could earn more. Drivers feel they can’t have enough because of that second round including Talladega and the Charlotte road course.
“It's nice to have five, six extra playoff bonus points, a little buffer,” Keselowski said after earning six playoff points so far in the opening round. "Vegas (to open the second round) is a really critical race for us because between Talladega and the (Charlotte) Roval, we don't want to have to count on scoring points there."