Everything you need to know for Saturday’s race, the second playoff race and 28th points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.
Where: Richmond Raceway, a 0.75-mile D-shaped short track located in Richmond, Virginia
Green flag: 7:45 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Sunny, with a high near 90 degrees, according to NOAA.gov
Race Distance: 400 laps, 300 miles
Stages: 80 | 235 | 400
Pit-road speed: 40 mph
Caution car speed: 45 mph
Richmond 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup
Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit selections
Five to watch
Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Richmond Raceway.
1. Saturday night’s race takes place on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. In nationwide remembrance of the heroes and victims from that day, NASCAR and Richmond Raceway are paying tribute to these first responders and others affected — showing respect in both the Cup Series race and the Xfinity Series race earlier in the day (2:30 p.m., NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). First responders will lead the on-track parade laps before the Cup Series race, and both American flags and 9/11 Memorial Museum flags will be flown. Read more details.
2. After dominating the regular season and breaking the record for most all-time wins by a team in NASCAR history, Hendrick Motorsports had its share of woes at Darlington Raceway last week — as did many other playoff drivers. But for an organization with such a strong 2021 track record so far, the Darlington mishaps were somewhat shocking. Alex Bowman and William Byron made contact early, leaving both Chevrolet teammates with repairable but noticeable damage. Byron, however, rallied from the incident with top-10 speed before another incident in Stage 2 — sending the youngest Hendrick driver to the garage for the night with a broken valve stem. Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott hit a tire on pit road in Stage 1 and later retired from the race after making contact with Christopher Bell, causing a heavy impact with the Turn 1 wall in the Final Stage. Regular-season champion and title favorite Kyle Larson maintained his momentum and comfortable points standing with a valiant runner-up finish. But can the others bounce back from the elimination line pressure? Byron and Bowman each sit below the Round of 12 line with two short-track venues on the horizon. Elliott is just four points to the good. After such a historic season, multiple HMS drivers bowing out in the opening round of the playoffs would be shocking. Richmond will be a major turning point in their title hunt. See the full playoff standings.
3. Did you really think Denny Hamlin was going to go winless the entire season? Doubts of it happening started to become more realistic right before he silenced the naysayers and tamed “The Lady in Black” with an impressive Round of 16 victory. Hamlin’s win locks him into the Round of 12 with two favorable tracks for Joe Gibbs Racing on the horizon, giving him a chance to creep his way up the championship leaderboards. He has three wins at Richmond (2009, 2010 and 2016, all in the fall race) in his career and has nine finishes of sixth or better in the last 11 races. Hamlin’s 9.0 average finish in 29 starts only trails teammate Kyle Busch (6.81 in 31 starts) among active drivers. After the regular-season title slipped away from the No. 11 wheelman, expect him to keep his foot on the gas in search of his first career premier series championship.
4. A Busch brother. A former Cup Series champion. A multi-time winner at Richmond. We’re not talking about Kyle here — it’s Kurt Busch. Not who you originally thought, right? Normally around playoff time, the younger Busch brother Kyle is getting all of the attention. But Kurt has turned it up in the latter half of the season and is emerging as a serious title contender. Sitting fourth in the current standings and 26 points above the elimination line, Kurt is in a solid position to make a deep postseason run. Since his July 11 win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kurt has a 9.5 average finish in six races and has led laps in five of the last seven. After announcing his move to 23XI Racing to drive alongside Bubba Wallace in 2022, could he shock the world by bringing Chip Ganassi a title in his final season (for now, at least) as an owner in the Cup Series? Kurt has put himself in a pretty good position to contend, so far. Don’t be surprised if you see him running near the front again this weekend at Richmond. He starts fourth. Where does your favorite driver start?
5. A win changes everything. No matter where you are on the elimination line, if you are one of the Round of 16 playoff drivers, a trip to Victory Lane is the golden ticket to advance to the next round. Will any of the underdogs get it done? Michael McDowell is under the most pressure to make up ground early. Twenty points below the line and on a downward spiral since the early spark he got from his Daytona 500 win, a strong finish at Richmond would do wonders for the Front Row Motorsports camp. Other first-year playoff drivers, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick, managed their Darlington playoff debuts relatively smoothly compared to others but will need to keep the trend moving upward. Both currently sit in position to advance to the Round of 12 — Bell in ninth and Reddick in 12th — but don’t have much Cup Series experience at Richmond. Bell’s best finish here came in April, though, and that unsurprisingly bodes well for another JGR driver at a short track. It wouldn’t be too shocking to see him contending for the second win of his young premier series career Saturday under the lights.
Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.
• Power Rankings: Does Kurt Busch have Championship 4 potential? | See the latest rankings
• Paint Scheme Preview: Shining bright under the lights | See the schemes
• Clinching scenarios: Setting the stage for the Round of 12 | All the scenarios
• Playoff analysis: Darlington sets the scene for Richmond | Find out how
• Debate: Time for Kyle Busch to panic after Darlington? | See what Kyle Petty said
• Bubble Watch: Defending champ Elliott hovering above elimination line | View the bubble breakdown
• Fantasy Fastlane: All-in on Joe Gibbs Racing at Richmond | Top plays, sleepers
Get in on the action
Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
• What are the odds?: Betting odds for Richmond | See them here
• NASCAR betting: Odds indicate JGR is the team to beat | Find out why
• Title favorites: Odds for 2021 Cup Series championship | See the odds
• Talking playoffs: How Fantasy Live game works for the postseason | Read more
• On the grid: How the Cup Series Playoffs Grid Challenge works | Read more
• No risk, big reward: Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
• Play it LIVE: Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ
Rich history at Richmond
NASCAR heads back to short-track racing this weekend at another historic track. Check out a bit of track history and the most recent result here.
• All-time wins: Richmond Raceway II | See the list
• Top 10 lap leaders at Richmond | Who has led the most?
• Harry Gant earns the ‘Mr. September’ nickname | Watch the 1991 Richmond replay
• Brad Keselowski wins the 2020 playoff race at Richmond | Full race recap
• Premier series drivers with first win at Richmond | Scroll through the gallery
• Memorable moments at Richmond Raceway | Relive the moments
Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.
• Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are each in the top five for most laps led at Richmond in the last 10 races.
• Richmond Raceway (1953) is the third oldest track on the current schedule, behind Martinsville Speedway (1949) and Darlington Raceway (1950).
• Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with 16 short-track wins. Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin are tied in second with 10 each.
• Six drivers have finished in the top 10 at two paved short-track races this season: Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch.
Catch the pack
Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Saturday’s race.
• Where have you gone?: The making of ‘Mr. September’ | Full story
• $50,000 penalty: Kyle Busch fined after Darlington incident | Read more
• Into the future: Next Gen test wraps up at Daytona International Speedway | Read more
• Save the date: Hall of Fame Class of 2021 induction set for January 21 | More details
• Giving back: The NASCAR Foundation and Kaulig Giving’s Speedy Bear Brigade | Get involved
• High praise: Corey Lajoie draws Mark Martin’s attention after performance at Darlington | Read more
• Officially official: Steve Laulettta named team president of 23XI racing | Read more
• Scanner Sounds: All the sounds from Denny Hamlin’s win at Darlington | Listen here
Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Saturday’s race.
• “I feel like you’re going to have a lot of aggression at Richmond because it’s Richmond. It’s a short track. Tempers typically flare there. Stuff happens. And that’s just a part of it. I feel like it’s still going to be exciting. It’s still going to be dramatic. We’ll wait and see. Maybe it’s a smooth and easy day and the No. 48 is out front with no issues, and we get another trophy. I’d be okay with that.” — Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
• “Richmond has definitely been a tough track for us as an organization and as a group, so we’ve been working really hard the last few months on the simulator and trying to come up with a new package there because what we’ve had hasn’t been working and so we’re just relying on our tools and relying on past experiences and trying to come up with a new package. We know it’s a big question-mark race for us, but at the same time we went into Darlington with not knowing how we would stack up speed-wise and even though the result doesn’t show it, we actually brought a really fast race car and had a lot of speed, so I feel like we have the potential to do that again at Richmond and I know for sure we can do it Bristol because Bristol has actually been a strong track for us in the past.” — Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
• “I do feel like going to Richmond this time around I have so much confidence because I didn’t feel like our cars were where they needed to be earlier this year, and yet we still went to Richmond and ran in the top 10 and finished seventh. So, to go there and run like we did in the spring, where I felt like our cars were still off, especially the 750 stuff that we’ve made significant gains on, it gives me a lot of confidence knowing that we ran well there in the spring and that we’re going back with a lot better race car and it’s a place that we just, for whatever reason, I don’t know why, but I always run good there. It doesn’t matter the team or the crew chief or whatever, I always show up to Richmond and tend to run well there — very similar to Loudon. I’m excited about it. It’s a great place for us. It’s Smithfield’s backyard, so it always feels good to go up there and run good, and then this weekend in particular we’re running a really cool, special paint scheme to honor and remember 20 years ago 9/11, so I’m pretty excited about this weekend on all fronts.” — Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
• “We have a lot of confidence going to Richmond. It’s a place we feel like we can go run up front and have a shot to win. Right now, that’s the biggest thing – trying to win races and win stages and advance yourself in the playoffs. This is a great opportunity for us at a track we have ran well at the last handful of years, so yeah, we’re going to try to go there and do all that we can to run up front and be there at the end of the night.” — Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota