2021 Fall Richmond Race Report

The 2021 Fall Richmond Race Report highlights the role of penalties. Appropriate, given that this race had the highest number of penalties this season at 20.

Caution/Lead-O-Gram

We start with the caution/lead-o-gram for this race.

Races at Richmond have gone way down in numbers of cautions. Two accidents, plus the three planned cautions are all we had here. I’ll have more to say about that later.

The lead-o-gram shows that we had good green-flag passing this race. Remember that hatched bars indicate the lead was inherited rather than earned by passing during a green flag, on a restart, or on pit road. More about that here.

Although there were eight distinct leaders, we had only five quality leaders. Kurt Busch, C Bell and Ross Chastain led briefly during pit-stop cycles.

Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott dominated the first two stages of the race before being replaced by Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch. Busch’s speeding on pit road penalty set the stage for MTJ to take over and win.

Penalties

Penalties highlight the 2021 Fall Richmond race report. With 20 penalties, this race had the most penalties we’ve seen this year.

A stacked vertical bar chart showing the number and types of penalties for all races in 2021 through Fall Richmond

The twenty penalties this weekend edged out Talladega, which had 18. Both featured 9 pit-road speeding penalties, but there were an unusually large number of equipment and tire violations at Richmond. Not to mention the passing-before-the-start-finish-line penalty Truex, Jr. incurred, giving every who had him on their fantasy teams palpitations.

The 20 penalties for 2021 Fall Richmond broken down by type and flag in a vertical bar chart

Pit road is tough at small tracks like Richmond. The commitment line sneaks up on you, plus there were a lot of green-flag pit stops. That led to a lot of green-flag pit-road speeding penalties.

When a driver has three pit-road speeding penalties, that normally indicates that something is wrong with the tach settings. McDowell, already in danger of being cut next week at Bristol, didn’t need the extra challenge.

And while the list of penalized drivers is usually dominated by non-playoff drivers, Kyle Busch incurred two penalties this weekend.

Cautions

As I mentioned, the number of cautions of Richmond has gone way down in recent years. I tallied cautions from 1990 on.

SE = Stage End, C = Competition Caution, A = Accident, SP = Spin, D = Debris,L = Liquid on Track, W = Weather, ST = Stalled, E = Engine, OT = Other, including the idiot who climbed up on the fence one year.

Remember that Richmond, until 2018, had been the last race in which drivers could qualify for the playoffs. 2016 was the *&#@show that culminated in Clint Bowyer intentionally spinning in an attempt to manipulate the results and keep his teammate in the playoffs.

Accidents have been going down consistently at almost all tracks over the years, in part because the cars are built to withstand bumps better. That will only continue with the composite bodies on the NextGen car. Fewer cautions mean more green-flag pit stops, which favors drivers with clever crew chiefs and those willing to take a chance on a high-risk/high-reward pit strategy.

Lead Lap Finishes

You can see the effect even better by looking at the lead-lap finishes, which I’ve plotted here from 1990-on.

The number of DNFs (in black) have gone way down over the years, in part due to the aforementioned better durability of the cars, but also improvements in engines, transmissions, etc. that have reduced retirements due to cars failing on their own.

The number of drivers on the lead lap has been going down steadily since its recent peak in 2012. Nine cars on the lead lap isn’t that much different than last fall’s 11 cars.

Those are the things that jumped out at me for the 2021 Fall Richmond Race Report. The next post will be getting ready for the first elimination in the playoff race: It’s Bristol, baby!

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