The NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond featured three cautions but none of them were for natural causes.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 was stopped for a competition caution on Lap 30, the first stage break on Lap 80 and for the second stage break on Lap 235.
The race was not stopped for any spins, incidents or mechanical failures. That meant no restarts or opportunities for chaos, even if it allowed for various pit strategies to unfold, with Brad Keselowski leading the final 48 laps unchallenged.
Clint Bowyer blamed the tires.
“I think something is not meshing with the track,” Bowyer said of the Goodyear tire compound. “You look out there on the racetrack and all night long it’s had a lot of racing on it this weekend and it looks like a highway out there.
“It wasn’t putting any rubber down on the track and they’ve got to do a better job of that. That’s unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. I’m a fan of this sport and we’re going to ask fans to come back one of these days and we’ve got to put a better show on than that.
“We can’t have it run lap after lap after lap with no cautions. Something’s got to change there and the first thing I’d change if I owned it would be the tire.”
There were 20 lead changes amongst nine drivers as the lack of cautions produced various pit strategies and passing throughout the field.
Goodyear brough left sides D-4964 and right sides D-4966, the same combination used at Phoenix and New Hampshire, and will be used again in the Championship Race at Phoenix in November. The tire provided fall-off so it’s not entirely clear what more the tire supplier could offer.
Whatever the reason, there has been a significant decrease in cautions at Richmond over the past decade. There were 14 races with 10 or more cautions at Richmond from 2001-2010. In the years since, there have been just three.
There have been six or fewer cautions in each of the past five races at Richmond.
This same tire compound produced compelling races at Phoenix and New Hampshire. Phoenix in March produced 12 cautions, 10 of them for reasons other than stage breaks. New Hampshire featured 11 cautions and three of them were for stage breaks and a competition caution.
To that point, Denny Hamlin says this probably isn’t the best compound for Richmond.
“Well, the surface is so different,” Hamlin said. “We run the same tire (as Phoenix), but there really should be two different tires. This track’s surface is a lot different than Phoenix’s surface, so I think they were just trying to get a little more common for every racetrack.
“I wouldn’t put a huge merit into this one. The surface at (New Hampshire) more represents what we will have in Phoenix.”
William Byron felt drivers needed a little more grip to have the confidence needed to race side-by-side. Without the confidence to race side-by-side, drivers were less prone to crash into each other.
“We are sliding around a lot, but because we’re sliding around so much, it’s kind of expected every lap that you’re going to slide around,” Byron said. “Everyone in the field did a good enough job to manage that and you’re not going to see a lot of cautions when everyone kind of knows that grip is low and you’re just out there racing your car.
“You can’t really battle anybody for position that hard because you’re that low on grip.”
At the same time, last year’s races at Richmond featured the high downforce package, meaning aerodynamic buffering and increased grip kept cars largely single file, especially for a pair of night races.
Thus, NASCAR and Goodyear are working to find a sweet spot solution for Richmond — a circuit historically called the Action Track — especially with a tapered spacer that currently decreases a 900 hp engine to 750 for short track races.
Ultimately, there was tire falloff on Saturday night, but drivers were looking for just a little more grip, which could have potentially led to more contact.
“It didn’t lay really any rubber down on the racetrack like we’ve seen here in the past, and I think that changed things up quite a bit, especially for us, obviously,” Martin Truex said after finishing second.
“I was surprised with how bad my car felt that I was still able to run second. I don’t know, I liked the old (tire) better, but I guess it depends on who you ask.”
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