Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – RICHMOND, VA – For the second consecutive race and third time of the seven-race old season, Penske Racing’s Ryan Blaney will start from the Busch Light Pole – earning the top position Saturday in qualifying for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Blaney’s No. 12 Penske Racing Racing Ford Mustang turned in a lap of 119.782 mph to take the top position by only .20 over William Byron in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Blaney – who, remarkably, has only a single Top-10 finish in 11 starts at the 0.75-mile Richmond track – was fastest in his first group as well as topping the final qualifying session.
“It means a lot,” Blaney told FS1. “Honestly, I didn’t think I got a very good lap. It was kind of an ugly lap on my end. Really proud of the 12 group.
“Track position means a lot here,” he continued. “Especially how my past history is here, I need all the track position I can get. Good start to the weekend, just got to keep it up and keep tires under it, that’s the biggest thing. We’ll see what tomorrow holds. Should be fun.”
Kyle Busch will start the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota third, alongside Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe. Busch’s six wins at Richmond is most among active drivers and he is one of three former winners to advance to the Top-10 in qualifying.
The Richmond track has historically been a good venue for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, which is still looking for its first victory of the 2022 season. Five different
Gibbs drivers have accounted for eight wins in the last 12 Richmond races.
Petty GMS Racing’s Erik Jones will start fifth, alongside JGR driver Martin Truex Jr., who has won three times in the last five Richmond races. SHR’s Kevin Harvick, another three-time Richmond winner, will start sixth alongside last weekend’s COTA winner, Ross Chastain, driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. Christopher Bell (No. 20 JGR Toyota) and Aric Almirola (No. 10 SHR Ford) rounded out the Top-10 in qualifying.
Defending race winner, Alex Bowman will start the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 28th in the 37-car field.
NEW ERA, NEW STYLE?
Defending Richmond Raceway NASCAR Cup Series winner Alex Bowman addressed the media Saturday morning and acknowledged that the style of competition in all three national series has become increasingly aggressive. And he expects it to be no different in the first short track test of the Next Gen car this weekend.
Bowman, who was involved in a pair of accidents in the frantic last laps of racing in both the Camping World Truck Series and NACAR Cup Series events at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) last week, said he agreed with series veteran Denny Hamlin who questioned the level of early-season intensity on social media this week.
“I think the Playoff format has a lot to do with that, but I think we’ve seen that over the course of the years,” said Bowman, who finished runner-up at COTA in the NASCAR Cup Series race after a last lap tussle with race winner Ross Chastain.
“You’ve seen people spin people out at the end of the races and get pretty physical at the end of the races for a long time. I think there’s some new guys in the series that are extremely aggressive. Everyone knows how aggressive Ross (Chastain) is at all times. A.J. (Allmendinger) is an aggressive driver too.
“I don’t necessarily think it has changed as much as Denny (Hamlin) thinks, maybe,” he continued. “But I think there’s a reason and if you have to put your finger on it, it would be the Playoff format How much winning matters and sometimes you can overcome those guys hating you for that trophy.”
CHASTAIN’s WARM RECEPTION
As you might expect following a career first victory in NASCAR’s premier NASCAR Cup Series, Ross Chastain conceded he had a busy last week. The driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevy earned the win last week at COTA in a dramatic action-packed final lap – edging Bowman and colliding with A.J. Allmendinger on the last corner before racing off to his first trophy.
The 29-year old Floridian said he did not get much sleep in the immediate hours after his career-changing win at Austin road course. He did extra media interviews, worked with sponsors and just spent time celebrating with friends and his new team. Trackhouse Racing only expanded to two cars – and added Chastain – this season.
“The highlights have been talking to people back home,” Chastain said. “In Charlotte and Mooresville (N.C.), there are a lot of people that have helped get me here that have been a part of this journey.
“But when you look at the people back home, they weren’t paid to do it. They had no real reason other than they liked racing or they were my family. Talking to them, hearing the stories of where they were at towards the end of the race, seeing a couple of videos of them reacting to the race – that’s when it really sank in. That’s when it felt real.”