Varying strategies produced many comers-and-goers in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, Brad Keselowski was a constant to the very end, leading 192 of 400 laps en route to his fourth win of 2020.
Keselowski started ninth but moved up to fourth by the end of stage one, before he won stage two. After taking the lead on lap 121, Keselowski had the field mostly covered in terms of his speed, winning him a race he felt confident about going into it.
“I knew I had put a lot of work into what I needed to do as a driver to be really good here and to find a really strong rhythm,” Keselowski stated, “and if I could pair those things with an execution race, a race with great execution, I felt like we could win it; and we put all those three together, and here we are.”
It was not an easy win for Keselowski, as varying strategies put different drivers in contention for the win at various points of the race.
In the second stage, Kevin Harvick went with a two-stop strategy that differed from the one-stop strategy that other frontrunners, like Keselowski, had done. Harvick’s strategy almost came to fruition, but a commitment cone violation led to a drive-through penalty.
Despite the penalty, Harvick finished 10th in the stage with his strategy, changing the complexion of the race as most drivers went with the two-stop strategy in the final stage.
In the final stage, most drivers did the two-stop strategy, with the notable exception of Kurt Busch who led 15 laps between the two green flag pit stop cycles.
Although most drivers were on the same strategy, the pitting lap differed for each driver.
Joey Logano pitted earlier than Brad Keselowski and was able to hold him off for nine laps before Keselowski re-took the lead.
Meanwhile, Austin Dillon pitted a few laps earlier than other frontrunners in a strategy that mirrored what his team had done in stage two.
In stage two, Dillon pitted ten laps earlier than Keselowski and the other leaders. Dillon had run up front early on, leading 17 laps and finishing second in stage two, but had fallen to the rear after a speeding penalty during the first stage caution. Dillon drove through the field, getting to just outside the top 10 when he pitted.
After pit stops cycled out, Dillon took the lead and held it for 36 laps, as Keselowski sat in second. Keselowski eventually took the lead and won stage two, but Dillon once again finished second in the stage, netting him another nine stage points, bringing his total to 18 for the night.
The strategy appeared as though it was going to work in the final stage, but Dillon failed to slow for pit road on his lap to pit and had to do an extra lap before making his final stop. Dillon came out ahead of Keselowski, but only led one lap. Keselowski re-took the lead for the final time with 48 laps to go while Dillon dropped back to finish fourth.
Despite not winning, Dillon led a career-high 55 laps led at a track he once regarded as one of his worst.
“I literally hated this place and now it is my favorite, I circle it.” Dillon said, with a chuckle, “We had a test here and I think I found something in the setup and me that I’ve run ever since and been consistent.”
Dillon’s fourth-place finish was his third top 10 in his last four Cup races at Richmond. Heading into Bristol, he is 36 points to the good to advance into the Round of 12, ahead of 13th-place William Byron.
The top 10 finishers were all playoff drivers and are as follows: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer.
Playoff drivers Denny Hamlin (12th), Kurt Busch (13th), Cole Custer (14th), Matt DiBenedetto (17th), Ryan Blaney (19th) and William Byron (21st) all finished outside the top 10.
Tyler Reddick, in 11th, was the highest finishing non-playoff driver.
The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series is the Bass Pro Shops Bristol Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET; TV: NBCSN, Radio: PRN), which will be a cutoff race for the playoffs.
Currently, Clint Bowyer holds the 12th and final spot by three points over William Byron.