With NASCAR in the midst of its turn on short tracks and on the heels of Joe Gibbs Racing’s sweep of Richmond Raceway, Denny Hamlin’s win continued the Toyota stable’s trend of dominance on tracks less than a mile in length.
Saturday afternoon’s (April 3) NASCAR Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 was all JGR, with teammates Ty Gibbs and John Hunter Nemechek each leading laps in triple digits and combining to lead in all least one of the 250 circuits. Approximately 24 hours later, three of the four JGR NASCAR Cup Series drivers, with the surprising exception of Kyle Busch, combined to lead nearly 150 of the 400 laps. While only Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. finished in the top five, all four entries finished in the top 10.
While most eyes were on Ryan Blaney’s early dominance and William Byron’s apparent victory until Hamlin executed the drive of his life to chase down the No. 24 on new tires, the victory and the overall performance of the stable de Gibbs continued a long streak of excellence at Richmond, and short tracks in general, for the team.
HAMLIN AT FIRST!
WHAT A RALLY! pic.twitter.com/IYFucCT5Hi
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 3, 2022
Let’s look at some stats from Toyota’s stable on the short tracks of the East:
Richmond Race Circuit: 29 total wins – 18 Cup / 11 Xfinity
Martinsville Expressway: 14 total wins – 13 Cup / one Xfinity
Bristol Highway: 26 total wins – 13 Cup / 13 Xfinity
These three races are scheduled for back-to-back dates in April, with Richmond’s already full slate kicking off the first weekend of the month. Martinsville follows, with the Cup race tonight (April 9), and Bristol ends the tour on short track April 16-17, albeit on gravel.
NASCAR essentially makes the biggest change possible in the sport next, moving from a dirt-covered half-mile track to the behemoth 2.66-mile asphalt superspeedway of Talladega Superspeedway. But, after a slow start to the 2022 season and seemingly needing more time to acclimate to the Next Gen car than other teams, the short track stretch is the perfect time for Gibbs to readjust for the rest of the season.
That started with Richmond, where Busch has six wins, including a sweep in the 2018 season. In fact, Busch has only ever finished outside the top 20. once in his Commonwealth Cup career, with Sunday marking his ninth consecutive top-10 finish at the track. Truex also extended his run in the top 10 at Richmond to seven, including a sweep in the 2019 season and a win in the fall last year with three wins at Richmond in all.
Hamlin’s win was his fourth at the track and first since the fall of 2016, in addition to his 11th top-10 finish in his last 13 starts there, while Bell’s sixth-place finish was his worst at Richmond outside of his debut at the Cup there in 2020. run 15 (with Leavine Family Racing), fourth, third and sixth. Not bad for the newest member of the team, but not too surprising given his three wins there in the Xfinity competition.
As for Martinsville, the early 2000s JGR wins of Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte gave way to Hamlin earning five wins at “The Paperclip” between 2008 and 2015, plus two subsequent wins by Busch and Truex winning a once every year in 2019, 2020 and 2021 Truex’s career included an astonishing dominant performance in 2019, where the No. 19 led 464 of the 500 tracks.
Finally, Busch remains the king of Bristol, at least among current drivers, with eight Cup wins on the half-mile short track on the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. Along with eight Xfinity wins, that Candyman dominance also spans two race weekend sweeps, with Busch winning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity and NASCAR Cup Series events on consecutive days in 2010. and 2017.
Bristol, of course, is a completely different animal now than track trucks in tons and tons of dirt all over its surface and no JGR driver other than Hamlin finished better than 17th last year (Hamlin came home third). Bell might be the team’s best bet and appeared to be the favorite to win last year before early problems knocked the No. 20 out of the race. Truex, meanwhile, won the Truck road race that same afternoon, so the No. 19 is worth watching next weekend as well.
In all, nearly a quarter of JGR Cup wins (44 of 195) have been on short tracks, while 25 of his 188 Xfinity wins have been on courses shorter than a mile. If the team was going to find its groove with the Next Gen car, Richmond was the place to do it, and this stretch of short track is the time to hone it.
An additional note
It’s hard to believe a decade has already passed since this instantly memorable finish to the 2012 Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville.
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson battled late, but the Hendrick Motorsports duel was interrupted by a still-controversial warning for a stopped David Reutimann. On the subsequent restart, Ryan Newman hit Clint Bowyer, Bowyer diving into Turn 1, making contact with both HMS cars and sending all three into a slide. Newman went on to win the race.
It’s still wild to this day and could be the most exciting run at the Paperclip in the last decade. His only possible rival is 2014, the day of my birthday, where Kurt Busch rallied from an early deficit and was the target of Brad Keselowski’s wrath, just as Johnson dominated by leading nearly 300 laps to win.
Martinsville has the ability to put on a show full of drama and traded paint, though things tend to escalate that way more in the playoff event. But with the Next Gen making its half-mile debut on Saturday night, things could turn chaotic once again for the spring event.
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