Through seven decades of NASCAR competition, Richmond Raceway has not only been a fan-favorite facility but resoundingly one of the competitors‘ preferred places to race and win. And the list of those that have hoisted a Richmond trophy reads like a NASCAR Hall of Fame reunion.
In Virginia‘s capital, in the heart of the traditional NASCAR landscape, Richmond Raceway has featured some of the most important events in the sport‘s history, from Lee Petty‘s 1-lap victory over the field in the inaugural NASCAR race there in 1953 to his son‘s historic 13 wins spanning three decades; to a modern-day place setting NASCAR‘s playoff lineup (2004-18), to now playing a role as a spring and summer venue helping to establish which drivers will vie for the sport‘s most cherished trophy.
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History is synonymous with the city of Richmond. And NASCAR has contributed plenty of high-speed, dramatic chapters in its milestone 75 years there.
Although its earliest roots are a half-mile dirt track named “Strawberry Hill Raceway,” the Richmond track‘s big-league NASCAR history began with Lee Petty‘s 1953 win — by a lap — over Dick Rathman in the first NASCAR Grand National Series race at the Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds, as the facility was known by then.
Petty‘s son Richard — NASCAR‘s “King” — would go on to become the winningest driver in Richmond history with 13 victories — double the tally for any other driver. Ever. And although Richard Petty holds that same top honor at many of the sport‘s venues, his work at Richmond is particularly impressive.
Between 1965-1969, Petty and fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer, the late David Pearson, won eight straight races; Petty three and Pearson five.
From 1970-73, Petty won seven consecutive Richmond races, his streak broken in 1974 with Bobby Allison‘s victory in the spring 500-lapper. Petty resumed winning the very next race and in all, between 1970-1975, won nine of 10 races, a feat unheard of in today‘s NASCAR.
Petty not only “owned” the track for much of his racing days, but in 1988 he actually got behind the wheel of a bulldozer to ceremonially move dirt when the track was transformed into the D-shaped .75-mile track that has annually hosted a pair of important NASCAR Cup Series races ever since.
The best in the sport have traditionally been best at Richmond, its short-track door-to-door competition on a racer‘s ideal smooth, wide surface has provided some of the most noteworthy events in NASCAR‘s history. NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart earned his first win there in 1999, and NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick — who is retiring at the end of 2023 — earned his most recent, a 60th trophy at Richmond last season.
Two-time series champion Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with six wins, and that includes a modern-day feat of four straight in the spring race between 2009-12, with his most recent coming in 2018.
This weekend‘s Toyota Owners 400 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the first in a back-to-back-to-back stretch of NASCAR‘s best in short track racing — also including the half-milers at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 9 and then Martinsville Raceway on April 16.
A large part of what makes a track like Richmond so uniquely popular is the combination of rich history and modern-day action at the track appropriately nicknamed the “Action Track.”
So many of the sport‘s indelible moments have come at Richmond. From the famous 1986 on-track duel between a pair of NASCAR Hall of Famers, Darrell Waltrip and the late Dale Earnhardt — Kyle Petty avoided the melee and won the race to become the third Petty Richmond winner — to the 1992 photo finish when Bill Elliott‘s win over Alan Kulwicki in what is still the closest finish in the track‘s history. Add to that a wide assortment of modern-day incredible door-to-door last-lap battles in pursuit of a NASCAR playoff position.
Six of the eight former Richmond winners entered this week — Busch, Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski — have won multiple times there.
This weekend‘s race comes on the heels of a dramatic road course race that tested patience, called for talent and roughed up emotions; similar descriptions of what is always reasonable to expect at a short track such as Richmond.
And exactly why Richmond Raceway is a still-vital part of NASCAR‘s 75th anniversary season, one of the most popular spots on the NASCAR schedule — generation after generation.