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Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

Another year, another #24-car becoming the first car with multiple victories on the season.

William Byron earned his second victory of the season Sunday, ending the streak of new winners to start the season at five. Byron won Sunday’s race at COTA after kicking off the season by winning the Daytona 500.

This is the third consecutive season the Byron has been the first driver to win multiple races, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Jeff Gordon did so from 1997 through 1999.

Byron got the victory at COTA by being one of the fastest cars all weekend. Tyler Reddick couldn’t stick with him on the long run, none of the road course ringers made an impact, and Christopher Bell used a unique strategy to come close to the win, but ultimately came up seven tenths of a second short.

There isn’t a ton to talk about from COTA. The race was 100% free of natural cautions, with the only pace laps coming during the two stage breaks. It was the first naturally caution free race since Road America in 2022.

Sensing a trend? To me it screams that road course racing is boring and lacks action, but maybe that’s just me. I never was a fan of road course racing, so when NASCAR decided to make it an even larger part of the schedule it was mildly disappointing to me.

Luckily, we’re headed back to short track racing this weekend as the Cup Series heads to Richmond Raceway. Richmond is relatively similar to Phoenix with its low-banked corners and D-shaped oval. NASCAR will be bringing the same tires to Richmond as they used at Phoenix earlier this year.

Richmond is usually a tire conservation type race, but I’m a little concerned with the late start time this Sunday. This will be a Sunday night race on Easter. Night racing brings cooler temperatures, which in turn limits tire wear. So it will be interesting to see what kind of tire wear we actually end up getting.

No matter what the tire wear, I believe we’re going to see Joe Gibbs Racing put an absolute whipping on the field, and the sportsbooks agree. Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Gibbs are the four lowest odds drivers to win Sunday night’s race. All four of them are under +1000 to win. I may just bet those four guys and lay off the long shots this week, because I’m expecting them to really dominate. Bell was the best car all weekend long at Phoenix and the Toyotas dominated Bristol and looked strong again at COTA.

Last year, Hamlin was in prime position to win the spring Richmond race, but a slow pit stop on the last green-flag stop of the day caused him to fall back in the field. Teammate Truex Jr. also had a chance to win, but a late-race caution opened the door for Kyle Larson to sneak out a victory after he fell off a bit mid-race.

I’m likely not placing any bets before practice this week, but if I do, make sure to follow me on Twitter @WKFCody for my most up-to-date bets. I’ll tweet out my full card Sunday morning before green flag.

One more quick plug, make sure to sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first handful of races, it won’t be impossible to catch up!

Let’s dive into the upcoming weekend.


Track Facts

The Toyota Owners 400 is a 400-lap (300-mile) race around the 0.750-mile D-shaped oval at Richmond Raceway in Henrico County, Virginia. Richmond has been on the NASCAR schedule for quite some time, having joined the circuit in 1953. Lee Petty was the inaugural winner, but Davey Allison won the first modern-day race at the track in the fall of 1988, the first race in Richmond history that was a scheduled 300 miles. Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in wins at Richmond with six, though he hasn’t won a race at the track since he swept both races in 2018. Recent winners here include Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman. Last year, William Byron dominated early, the Gibbs Toyotas dominated the middle part of the race, but it was Larson that came home with the win following a pair of late-race cautions. NASCAR is bringing the same tire to the track that was used a few races ago at Phoenix. On a track that is very similar in banking and size, I would expect Richmond to put on a fairly similar show to Phoenix, though tires may wear out a touch faster on the older pavement. Look for cars that were strong at Phoenix to also be strong this weekend.


Who’s Hot?

William Byron has become the first driver to win multiple races in the 2024 season. A feat he has not accomplished in each of the last three seasons. In picking up the win at COTA, Byron improved his playoff stock and now leads the series with 10 playoff points. Not only did Byron get the job done in the race, he also had a fast car in qualifying, as he sat on the pole for Sunday’s race. Prior to COTA, Byron was 0-for-12 when it came to winning races where he started on the pole. Jumping ahead to Richmond and we head to a track where Byron had some success last season. Byron was in position to win last year’s race, but he was spun by Christopher Bell in the late going after leading 117 laps. In the fall Byron wasn’t quite as good. He failed to lead a lap and finished in 21st. Byron is on a heater right now, and I would expect it to carry over this week. Make sure you keep an eye on him when books come out with odds, because he is much better than last year’s finishes of 24th and 21st may indicate.

Martin Truex Jr. took the jump from co-points leader to outright points leader following a strong 10th-place run at COTA this week. Truex has been quietly good this season. He hasn’t won a race yet, but he has been in contention quite a bit. Richmond has been an incredibly strong track for Truex over the course of his career. He won back-to-bac races there in 2019 and added a third career victory at the track in 2021. He led laps in both races last season, combining to lead 74 laps over the two races. Truex is going to be strong this week, as Toyota has looked like the cars to beat in the last two short track races. I’m fairly certain Truex ends up on my betting card in some capacity this weekend.

Christopher Bell had the best chance to beat Byron late in the race Sunday. His different strategy almost paid off, as he got himself withing a second of the leader when they took the checkered flag. Had the race gone another lap or two, we very well could be talking out Bell being the first driver with multiple wins this season. However, he didn’t quite get the job done, and now heads into Richmond where he is sure to have a fast car. Bell is in the Toyota crew that has had speed at short tracks, and Bell was a short track king as he made his way up through the ranks of the Truck and Xfinity Series. Bell hasn’t won in a Cup car at Richmond yet, but he does have five finishes of 6th-place or better in seven career races at the track. Lock Bell in for a top-10 this weekend.


Drivers I Like

Denny Hamlin has to be my absolute favorite this week. He was in position to win this race last year, but a bad pit stop during the final round of green-flag stops took his opportunity away. Hamlin has been great at Richmond over his career, winning four times at his home track and finishing in the top-10 in 22 of 34 career Richmond races. More recently, Hamlin has finished top-5 in five of the last six Richmond races, making him the only driver to do so. The only race he did not finish top-5 was last spring’s race when he had pit stop troubles. Hamlin has led at least five laps in seven consecutive Richmond races. He has the experience, and the Toyotas are putting on a clinic at short tracks this year. If Hamlin doesn’t open as the outright favorite this week, there is a serious problem.

I had to think whether I wanted to put Joey Logano in this section, or the ‘Keep an Eye on’ section, but I ultimately settled on him being a driver that I really like this weekend. Logano has had an impressive run at Richmond of late, having finished in the top-10 in five of the last six. Over his career Logano has thrived at Richmond, finishing top-10 in 18 of 29 races, including 16 of his last 19. Logano is a multi-time Richmond winner, having won in 2014 and 2017, and despite his struggles early on this season, I expect him to have a solid showing here. If he doesn’t, then Logano is going to be in for a long season. In his 2022 championship season, Logano led 222 laps of the fall race at Richmond before coming home with a sixth-place finish. 

Chase Elliott hasn’t won in quite some time, but maybe Sunday he can put it together at a track he has raced well at in recent history. Last spring, Elliott missed this race with his leg injury, but fill-in driver Josh Berry wheeled his No.9 NAPA Chevy to a runner-up finish to teammate Kyle Larson. In the fall, Elliott finished 13th, but his average finish of 9.6 over the last five Richmond races paints a better picture. Elliott has yet to win at Richmond, but three top-5 finishes and 61 laps led over the past six Richmond races could be an indication that he’s due.


Drivers to Avoid

Ryan Blaney leads off my list here. Blaney has struggled throughout his career at Richmond and last season was no different. Despite a championship caliber season, Blaney’s Richmond finishes were 26th in the spring and 14th in the fall. Blaney only has three top-10 finishes in 15 career Richmond races, and has never finished better than seventh. He is a strong fade candidate this week, as Richmond profiles as a track where tire wear will be important. A style of racing that does not fall into Blaney’s sweet spot.

It's hard to fade the Toyotas this week, but if I have to pick one, it’s Tyler Reddick. Reddick falls into the same category as Blaney. Tire conservation races don’t fall into his wheelhouse. Last year Reddick struggled, turning in a pair of 16th-place finishes at Richmond. Reddick only has seven career races at the D-shaped oval, but has never finished in the top-10, with his best career finish of 11th coming at his first race at the track back in the fall of 2020. I’m fading Reddick just as hard as Blaney this week.

Daniel Suarez is back on the list of drivers to fade this week, as his career Richmond stats leave a lot to be desired. Suarez’s best Richmond finish over the last six races is 16th, and he hasn’t finished in the top-10 at Richmond since driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019. This track just hasn’t been the best place for Suarez and I don’t see him turning it around this weekend.


Keep an eye on…

Josh Berry comes into this weekend as someone that I’m fining myself mildly interested in. It was clear to see that he underperformed at Phoenix, but it was a tough weekend for him from the word go. He struggled in practice, spun in qualifying, and started in the back at a track where its hard to make passes. Richmond has a ton of similarities to Phoenix with its low-banked corners. Goodyear is even bringing the same tire this weekend as they used in Phoenix. Berry’s possible outcome is all over the place, but he did finish second here last spring filling in for Chase Elliott, while Kevin Harvick finished fourth in the same race in the car that Berry will be wheeling on Sunday. I’m intrigued to see what the rookie can do.

Ryan Preece is another short track guy worth keeping an eye on in Richmond. He had a pair of strong runs here this year. He finished 18th in the spring after late-race struggles and earned his lone top-5 of the 2023 season in the fall, coming home 5th. Preece has an asphalt short track background and typically excels on tracks like Richmond. He doesn’t have a top-10 yet this season, but he could be a dark horse candidate to have a strong run.

Richmond has surprisingly been a solid track for Austin Dillon over recent years. Dillon has finished top-10 in three of the last six Richmond races, however the best of those three finishes was a ninth place finish last fall. Dillon’s Richmond success doesn’t end with the last six races. He has finished top-10 in six of the last 10 and even led 55 laps in the fall of 2020. Dillon could be a sneaky play for a top-10 finish this weekend.


Current Bets

I’ve got nothing on the book yet, but I highly believe Toyota will win this race. I’m going to be looking at betting Hamlin, Bell, Truex and Gibbs. I’m thinking one of those four guys wins this race.


Other potential plays:

Josh Berry Top-10; currently +320 at FanDuel

Kyle Busch over Chase Elliott; currently +110 at Caesars


Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.

Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

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