NASCAR travels to Richmond International Raceway this weekend for the XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400. But did you know the first Cup race at the track was held on April 19, 1953, and was won by Hall of Famer Lee Petty driving his No. 42 Dodge? Petty won five races in 1953 and finished second in the points standings. He won the championship the following year, the first of three during his career.
Richmond started out as a half-mile dirt track but was changed from dirt to asphalt during the 1968 season. In 1970 it was re-measured to .542-miles and in 1988 was enlarged to the three-quarters-mile D-shaped oval that the Cup Series competes on today. The first race under permanent lights was Sept. 7, 1991, and was won by Harry Gant. But did you know that Gant is the oldest winner at Richmond, scoring the victory at the age of 51 years, 7 months and 28 days?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his impending retirement Tuesday so it seems only fitting that we take a few moments to reflect on his history at Richmond. While Earnhardt’s statistics at Richmond are noteworthy, his impact on NASCAR has been immeasurable. His humble and genuine demeanor has endeared him to a nation of fans who have watched him emerge from his father’s shadow to become an icon in his own right.
Earnhardt has seven victories at the track, three Cup wins (2000, 2004, 2006) and four in the XFINITY Series (including last year’s spring race). He has 10 top fives, 14 top 10s and one pole to go along with his three Cup triumphs with the 10th-best driver rating of 87.4. But did you know that Earnhardt won at Richmond in only his second start there, the fewest among active drivers?
Next, let’s take a look at Kyle Busch who is still searching for his first win this season. He enters the weekend competition with the series-best driver rating of 110.8 and the best average finish (6.957). He has 15 top fives, 17 top 10s and one pole at Richmond. While Richard Petty holds the record for the most wins with 13, did you know that Busch leads all active drivers with four checkered flags? This could be the weekend we see Busch in victory lane again.
Kevin Harvick should also be a contender at Richmond with the series third-best driver rating (109.9) as well as three wins, 11 top fives, 20 top 10s and one pole. Even more impressive, he has the series-most quality passes (781) and the second-best average finish (8.292). But did you know that this is the first time since 2013 that Harvick hasn’t captured a win by the fourth race of the season? In 2013 he didn’t win until the ninth race of the year, which, by the way, was at Richmond.
Qualifying well will be especially important this weekend. Of the 121 Cup races at Richmond, 24 drivers have won from the pole making it the most proficient starting position (19.8 percent). But it isn’t easy to do. Only five active drivers have done so, Kasey Kahne (2005), Jimmie Johnson (2007), Kyle Busch (2010), Brad Keselowski (2014) and Denny Hamlin (2016).
The Toyota Owners 400 will be televised on FOX, Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. ET. In the meantime, check out this slideshow for a look back at all of Earnhardt’s NASCAR Cup Series victories, as we wish him continued success in his final Cup Series season.
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