Brad Keselowski dominated the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night, leading 192 laps of the 400-lap second race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on his way to his fourth win of the season. With the win, he joins Kevin Harvick, winner the previous weekend at Darlington Raceway, as drivers already secured advancement to the second round of the playoffs by virtue of round-one race wins.
“It was a great race for us and the 2 team,” Keselowski said. ”This is, I think, my car from Loudon, and I wanted to do a really cool burnout with it, but I want this car for Phoenix. It’s two-for-two, and I’m real pumped. I don’t want to look too far ahead. We’ve got to get there. The next round is gonna be really difficult, but, still, I’m really pumped about this performance and the way we run at short tracks. I felt like coming in here with the Western Star/Alliance Ford Mustang that we would run well, but this thing was awesome.”
Martin Truex Jr. finished second, and Keselowski’s Team Penwske teammate Joey Logano was third. Austin Dillon finished fourth, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five.
“Really was pretty surprised that we ran as good as we did with the way that the car felt,” Truex said. “It really wasn’t doing anything that I wanted it to do or that we’ve done here in the past when we’ve been good. Just a battle all night; fought hard and the guys did a great job with adjustments, pit stops and all that to just execute and keep us up front. Good, solid night.”
Keselowski’s dominance of Saturday night’s race included a stage-two win at lap 235. He took his first lead by passing Logano on lap 121.
“Our Mustang was really hauling,” Keselowski said. ”It’s nice that we broke the curse of the black and yellow car. Twice in a row, it’s been in victory lane this year, and we haven’t been able to win with it the last six years, so it’s good to do that for these guys. This car was really strong, and I really got a great rhythm out on the race track. You’ve got to get a really precise rhythm for how you get around here, and I was able to find that very early on, put a lot of thought into what I was gonna do, and it paid off.”
Kevin Harvick, utilizing a two-stop strategy in the second stage, first hit pit road on lap 138. Pitting earlier than most of his competition, he had a 12-second lead on lap 163, after everyone pitted. Austin Dillon, though, after pitting 11 laps after Harvick, closed and took the lead from Harvick on lap 218.
Harvick wound up two laps down with his second stage-two stop on lap 185 and a pass-through penalty for a commitment line violation entering pit road for that stop. But by the end of the stage, he had unlapped himself twice and was back on the lead lap.
Keselowski took his stage-winning lead from Dillon on lap 218.
Denny Hamlin was the stage-one winner at lap 80. After Harvick started on the pole and led the first 20 laps before he was passed by Dillon, Hamlin took his stage-winning lead on lap 39, soon after a restart from a lap-30 competition caution.
Hamlin, though, along with Dillon, was nabbed speeding on pit road after the opening stage, turning the lead over the Logano to start the second stage.
Hamlin never quite recovered from his pit-road speeding penalty and wound up 12th at the checkered flag. Even so, he clinched advancement to the second round of the playoffs by virtue of the points standings.
“Well, we lost some track position,” Hamlin said. “It just seemed like once the track rubbered up, we just weren’t any good. We couldn’t get off the corner good, couldn’t get in the corner. Just nothing was really very good with it. I want to thank everyone from FedEx Cares for putting this car on the race track. This definitely means a lot to people I spoke to last week with the National Urban League, so thank you everyone. We will move on to the next round and go have some fun next week and see how we do.”
After running up front to start the final 165-lap run to the checkered flag, Keselowski gave up that lead to pit during the first of two final-stage green-flag pit stops just before lap 300. The Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth stayed out longer, looking to be on a single-green-flag stop strategy for the final stage.
“Our pit strategy just didn’t turn out the way that we had hoped,” Busch said. “We really had to work hard early in the race to manage the tires and an ill-handling car. The guys did a nice job working on the balance to make the Monster Energy Chevy better on the long runs. With no cautions to help us out, we just weren’t able to catch a break that we needed. Who ever thought we would have a short track with no unplanned cautions?”
Busch finished 13th.
Logano, and others, utilized their new tires to catch back up to Busch and Kenseth, and Logano and Keselowski got by them for the top-two positions in the running order on lap 308, before the Ganassi duo made their pit stops.
Keselowski took the lead from Logano on lap 317.
The final round of pit stops got underway with about 60 laps remaining. After pitting, Dillon took the lead from Busch on lap 352, and Keselowski took what would be his race-winning lead a lap later.
Kyle Busch finished sixth after starting in the back because of two failures in pre-race inspection. Harvick was seventh. Two of Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer, also finished in the top-10 in eighth and 10th.
“Man, I thought we would be a click better than that tonight,” Bowyer. “It was a battle. We made a lot of changes and kept working on it. We are three points up going to Bristol. We need to go there and perform. We can do it. That’s going to be a heck of a show Saturday night.”
Alex Bowman finished ninth.
The yellow flag waved only three times Saturday night — a competition caution and the two cautions that separated the race into its three stages. Although there wasn’t a caution for an on-track incident, there was on-track contact worth noting. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. made contact with Jimmie Johnson in the first 50 laps that turned Johnson into the wall. When Johnson was able to catch Wallace on the race track, he returned the favor.
Wallace finished 26th, three laps down. Johnson was 31st, five laps down.