Raceway debuts new fall features

Adam Cheek
Staff Writer

Richmond Raceway unveiled the finished product of its nearly year-long renovation process over the fall race weekend from Sept. 21 and 22, with features including landmarks and a brand-new fan experience within the infield and garages.

After the track broke ground on “Richmond Raceway Reimagined” immediately following the 2017 fall race festivities, the raceway planned to debut the partially-completed layout in the spring with several of the new amenities making their first appearance over the fall race weekend. Schedule changes for both series moved Richmond into the first round of the playoffs, and the track hosted its first-ever postseason races in 2018.

One of the renovations’ main focuses involved the DC Solar Fangrounds, which included a walkway that stretched the length of the garages, allowing attendees to view the teams working on the cars even closer than before. Prior to its installation, fans only saw one end of the cars from the garage walk.

Other fan amenities included pace car rides for attendees prior to Saturday’s event.

As for the weekend’s events, Toyotas from Joe Gibbs Racing completed a sweep in a mirror image of April’s races at the venue, with Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch taking home victories. The team also completed a season sweep of all four Richmond races with the two drivers — the first time the same drivers have swept both series’ races at the Virginia track in a single year.   Emporia’s Elliott Sadler made his final Richmond start and finished sixth, while Manassas’ own Mason Diaz made his Xfinity Series debut.

Bell won Friday night’s Go Bowling 250, becoming the first NASCAR Xfinity Series regular to sweep both Richmond races in a season. Bell overcame the night’s frontrunners to do so, as Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric performed well but crashed and faded, respectively.  Last week’s first-time winner Ross Chastain ended up second, running near the front for his third and final race in the No. 42 entry.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 96 laps and looked to be on his way to winning potentially the final race of his career. However, after a caution was thrown, Earnhardt fell back to second after pit stops and Bell rallied to take the lead and win. It was also an emotional moment for Bell, as Sprint car racer Greg Hodnett was killed in a crash the night before.

Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 had an air of intrigue and desperation, as Richmond hosted its first-ever Cup Series playoff race at the track. After an eventful first-round race at Las Vegas last weekend, Richmond seemed to be the only normal track remaining in the opening playoff round. With the Charlotte “roval” (racing on parts of the oval and road course) next week and rain expected in North Carolina, teams looked to Richmond to go out and win and lock themselves in to the round of 12.

Busch methodically passed his way through the field as the race progressed. Only three cautions plagued the evening, and Brad Keselowski emerged as the dominant car late in the event. Keselowski wore out his tires holding off a charging Busch, fading as the M&M’s Toyota passed him. The rest of the race was issue-free for Busch, as he cruised to his 50th career victory at one of his historically best tracks.  

Additionally, the 14-year Cup veteran finally won the fall race after coming close many times, acknowledging the fans and praising the racetrack in his post-race interview with NBC reporter Rutledge Wood. “[It’s an] awesome racetrack, I love coming here,” Busch said. “I finally won a fall race at Richmond.”

 

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