At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the green flag will drop on the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. For the second straight year, the race is a part of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup SeriesÂ playoff system. The 16 championship hopefuls include former Cup champions Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, defending Cup champ Joey Logano, and Most Popular Driver Award winner Chase Elliott. For the first time, the postseason does not feature seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson.
Another championship hopeful has his roots at Southside Speedway in Chesterfield County. Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, won the prestigious Daytona 500 in February. Now, he’s looking to add a Cup trophy to his resume.Â
“It’s definitely our best chance [yet] heading into the playoffs,” Hamlin said in a recent media day interview. “It remains to be seen if it is our best chance when we get to [season finale] Homestead or not.”
At 0.75 miles, Richmond is one of three tracks on the schedule shorter than 1 mile. The quick trip around the circuit brings cars closer together and often results in a lot of bent sheet metal. According to Brent Gambill, director of communications at Richmond Raceway, putting a short track in the playoffs was the right move for NASCAR.
“In the playoffs, drivers are trying to earn points, but if you win the race, you advance to the next round,” he explains. “If you’re a short track racer, there’s an amazing opportunity here to get a win, especially with a road course in Charlotte next week.”
The appearance in a marquee playoff slot follows a remodeling of Richmond Raceway, completed in 2018. The track now features a reduced grandstand capacity âÂ from 108,000 in 2008 to 51,000 âÂ and Chaos Corner, a party deck for fans 21 years and older.
“The playoffs bring a different intensity,” Gambill says, “And being one of the 12 tracks selected for the playoffs says a lot about the action here.
“The air is a little crisper. The lights shine a little brighter. If you look at the spring race, [Martin] Truex and [Joey] Logano were neck and neck for the finish. I fully expect to see a lot of competition on Saturday.”
The festivities kicked off on Thursday morning at Brown’s Island, where drivers in the second-tier Xfinity Series appeared for photo opportunities. This was followed by a parade of race cars through downtown Richmond.
Unusual among modern sporting events, NASCAR races often allow fans to bring food and beverages â including alcohol â through the front gates, as long as the cooler is 12-by-12-by-16 inches or smaller. Richmond Raceway is no exception.
In addition to hosting a playoff race, the IndyCar Series is returning to Richmond next summer for the first time in 11 years. That event will take place on June 27, 2020.