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Richmond Rear-View Mirror

The cream usually rises to the top during playoff time. That was certainly the case in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.

Kyle Busch continued his Richmond mastery with a sixth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the Virginia short track. It happened to be his seventh victory of the 2018 season.

Busch had to outrun Kevin Harvick, another seven-time winner, to seal the deal with the duo ahead of defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. Yep that’s right the “Big 3” finished 1-2-3 for the first time this year.

Oh and the guy who needs to be included in any “Big 4” talk Brad Keselowski was in the hunt for a fourth straight win. He led 67 laps and Busch was forced to race the Team Penske driver hard before finally getting around with just 37 laps remaining.

It’s not a surprise to see this quartet of drivers excelling at the most important time of the year. The only real question isn’t if someone can rise up and challenge these four but rather can anyone in this group separate themselves from the others.

It’s only the end of September but the participants in the Championship 4 for the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale to decide the title in November looks rock solid.

  • It was surprising Saturday night’s race wasn’t more chaotic. After the playoff opener in Las Vegas set the tone for wildness, the prevailing discussion in the week leading up to Richmond is there would be more of the same. But despite the given the playoff implications and the looking unknown of next week’s Round 1 final at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval, Saturday night’s race was rather tame.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. competing in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race drew a lot of attention as well as some criticism. Earnhardt Jr. wound up leading the most laps in the race and joked he won the first stage of his career when he was ahead at the end of the night’s second segment. A late restart eventually was his undoing giving way to eventual winner Christopher Bell. But Earnhardt Jr. still turned in an impressive fourth-place finish, not bad in a one off appearance. Not everyone was on board with the current television analyst being in the field pointing out Earnhardt Jr.’s presence took the spotlight off series regulars in their first playoff race. NASCAR does not allow current Cup Series drivers to enter any races during the playoff schedule but there is no rule stopping someone of Earnhardt Jr.’s from competing. Whatever side of the argument you land one thing is for certain, Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains maybe the most visible and influential personality in NASCAR.
  • Earnhardt Jr. had some blunt and poignant comments after the race regarding Ross Chastain and the limited opportunities for young drivers without sponsorship. Chastain finished second in his final race for Chip Ganassi Racing and will remain in the playoffs but return to his regular ride at JD Motorsports next week. “I’m scared he won’t get an opportunity in a great car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’d love to put him in a car, but I don’t have any money to do it.” Chastain’s situation is the latest example of the current business model challenges for teams to operate. The reality is no driver is immune to the whims of sponsorship being able to fund the incredible costs of fielding a team in NASCAR’s top tiers.
  • Ryan Newman confirmed the rumors over the weekend he would land in the vacant seat at Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 ride for next year. Newman leaves Richard Childress Racing after five seasons and according to team owner Jack Roush will be with RFR for “several years to come.” Trevor Bayne is now looking for a ride while Matt Kenseth is hesitant to commit to a full season. Still to come is the official work on Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn taking the No. 19 entry at Joe Gibbs Racing. Daniel Suarez is expected to migrate to Leavine Family Racing with speculation the organization may expand to two cars with Suarez and current Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric possibly in the mix depending on – you guessed it – sponsorship.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.