Last Friday night, the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) made its first trip of the year to Richmond Raceway, a ¾ mile short track right in the heart of Richmond, Virginia, for the running of the ToyotaCare 250 under the lights.
Being that this was the first night race of the year, held at one of the series’ best short tracks on the schedule, the teams expected nothing less than a night filled with excitement and drama. Thankfully, after battling rain all throughout the day, the race was able to get through with no delays, despite Qualifying being rained out earlier in the afternoon.
Ross Chastain and the No. 4 Flex Seal crew went into the weekend knowing that they had some ground to make up in the points standings after getting taken out with a lapped car early on last race in Bristol. Their goal was to have an incident-free night, and after struggling to find speed in practice, veteran crew chief Paul Clapprood decided to make a “Hail Mary” call and make huge changes to the racecar before Qualifying.
Since they ended up having to start the field based on Owner’s Points, Ross would start the race on these changes with no laps or prior knowledge on hand, from the 15th position. From there, he quickly jumped up to the 10th-12thposition, and knew that the changes were the right call. The 4 team stayed competitive throughout the race, and had a shot at earning his second Top 10 finish of the season, until getting knocked out of the way on the last lap. They had to settle for 11th that night, but the crew was able to accomplish what they came to do. Ross currently sits 13th in the standings, 32 points back from the Playoff cutoff line.
Stephen Leicht entered the weekend with high hopes as well, after getting some last-minute sponsorship from PG Tech secured the team with some valuable funding for the short track. A veteran of the old ASA late model series, Stephen grew up cutting his teeth on the bullrings of the Southeast, so Richmond fell perfectly within his wheelhouse. The 01 team was fast in practice, posting a lap good enough for 9th place overall. Unfortunately, they never got to show the speed in Qualifying, and were forced to start all the way back in the 31st position.
Leicht and company knew they were going to have to fight an uphill battle starting that far back, but they are never ones to back down from a challenge. As soon as the green flag dropped, they started picking up positions right away. By the end of Stage 1, they had made it into the Top 20. From there, they fought up near the Top 15 for the remainder of the race, before ultimately coming home with a 18th place finish. This is Stephen’s best finish of the season, and he hopes to keep the momentum rolling heading into Talladega. He currently sits in 27th position in points, just 1 back from the Top 25.
Garrett Smithley, driver of the No. 0 Chevrolet Camaro, came into Richmond looking to build on his short track momentum from a 22nd place finish last time out in Bristol. The #NumberNuthin crew started the night off from 20th on the grid, and raced at around the 18th-25th positions all night. Smithley was able to take advantage of the wave around at one point, helping him stay on the lead lap for the remainder of the race.
When it came down to crunch time, the No. 0 team shined late in the going with a great pitstop, getting Smithley into the Top 20 with few laps remaining. From there, he fought hard with JDM teammate Stephen Leicht for the rest of the race, where he rounded out with a 19th place finish to end the night. Garrett still sits in 18th place in points, just 1 point back of 17th heading into Talladega.
One driver who couldn’t wait to get to Richmond was Tyler Matthews, who made his NXS debut driving the No. 15 Linetec Services Camaro usually driven by BJ McLeod. Matthews, who has three previous NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts to his name, entered into Richmond as cool as could be, not nervous at all like one would expect.
Tyler used the night as a learning experience, something to put in the memory bank for the future. The #15Machine crew’s goals were to finish the race in one piece and gain as much experience as possible, and they were able to accomplish just that. The stat books will show a 24th place finish for Matthews, not a bad first start at all. The next time he will be in the 15 will be at Iowa Speedway on June 16th, with BJ returning to the seat next race at Talladega.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, April 27th for the running of the Money Lion 300. Always known as a track filled with exciting racing and dangerously close quarters, Talladega never disappoints.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!