Richmond, the second race of the opening rung of the championship ladder. Only four storylines awaited to be written.
Who would win, and would it be Brad Keselowski for a fourth straight contest?
Who could keep out of danger from falling out of the top dozen as they search for a berth in the second leg?
Who could move up from the next four, already in danger to being eliminated, to challenge for one of those top dozen spots after having some hard luck at Las Vegas?
Finally, who outside of our drivers of interest could make themselves relevant? The best of last week, Jamie McMurray, got wrecked before it was all over. Would someone outside the top sixteen manage to finish the event and make us notice they were even there?
None of the outsiders showed up by the time that opening stage completed. Often it is too early to tell much, but Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick dominated while Keselowski showed up late for third. No one else was even close. Chase Elliott was fourth, making us wonder if he was going to erase the nine point gap between himself and those above the cut off line when this one came to a conclusion. Clint Bowyer was the man in his sights, who started with an ill handling car that gave him no breaks in that opening run. As for as those who had to pass a lot of cars in that initial run, both Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin seemed prepared to put forth a good argument before it was all over.
Stage two provided more of the same. Truex ran away with it, with Harvick next up. Keselowski was fourth, so still in the hunt. To this point, the question remained if Elliott would move into the top dozen and replace Bowyer, or not. As for an also ran, Ryan Newman was in the distant conversation. He was also a hot topic before the race. Newman will be leaving Richard Childress to take the ride split between Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne this season for Jack Roush.
Just to make things interesting, the pit stops brought some interesting events. First, Truex got tagged with tire violation to set him back. Elliott went to the front, moving up three spots, thanks to his crew. That left us watching and wondering how things might shake out when they took the green.
The “Baby” Busch soon rejoined the party, and soon was in front. He had the best car in the end, and won it to get his free pass to the next round. Harvick had the most steady car in the event, and was the runner-up. Like Busch, Truex had a nice comeback, making up nearly twenty spots from is pit miscue to come home in third. All three join Keselowski, who was ninth on that night, locked into the next round of three races based on wins and points. Up next, though, is the Roval in Charlotte next weekend.
Elliott was fourth on Saturday night, and now is ten to the good. Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson are outsiders, yet the pair are within seven points of Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman. Erik Jones and Hamlin, who wound up 16th, damn near need a win to be in. As for the 24 other boys out on the track for this one, none were among our Top Ten.
The Roval. That is a track that makes Talladega look downright tame. For you and I, a very entertaining race to watch. For the crews, an absolute nightmare to navigate. Let the good times roval next Sunday in Charlotte.