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Richmond 101: Playoff pressure, odds, Goodyear tire info and more

On the heels of an electrifying Cook Out Southern 500, Richmond Raceway is set to host the second race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs on Saturday night.

The Salute to American Heroes 400 rolls off at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. With one driver already locked into the Round of 12, let’s preview the action as the playoffs shift forward.

RELATED: Richmond weekend schedule | See the paint schemes for this weekend

STARTING UP FRONT

Kyle Larson will roll from the pole under the lights Saturday alongside Darlington Raceway winner Denny Hamlin. In Row 2 sit Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, while Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano make up Row 3. For the entire starting lineup, click here.

RICHMOND RACEWAY HISTORY

— The NASCAR Cup Series (then the Grand National Series) began racing at Richmond in 1953 when Lee Petty took the checkered flag, but the track was considerably different. The now-paved .75-mile D-shaped track was then a .5-mile dirt oval and part of the “Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds,” paved in between 1968 events and reconfigured to its current form before the fall race in 1988.

— The first scheduled night race on the .75-mile track was held in September 1991, won by Harry Gant as the second win in his streak of four straight that month.

— March 10, 1964 marks the actual date of the first “night race” at Richmond when the final 100 laps were completed on a Tuesday night after rain halted the race Sunday.

— The entire backstretch grandstands were removed after the 2015 season, following the removal of the Turn 3 grandstands in 2014. The removal of the backstretch grandstands reduced seating capacity by 9,000 seats.

Source: Racing Insights

RELATED: See every second race winner at Richmond | Memorable moments at Richmond

RULES PACKAGE

The NASCAR Cup Series cars will be fitted with the 750-horsepower, reduced-downforce package Saturday night at Richmond. Spoilers on the rear of the cars and splitters at the front end will be shorter than at the larger tracks on the circuit to minimize the aerodynamic impact on the vehicles.

GOODYEAR TIRES

Teams return to Richmond with the same tire compound that has been used at Richmond since 2020. But crew chiefs will still be paying close attention to how these tires respond, because this is the same compound that will be used for Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway in November.

This compound has been used at Richmond, Phoenix, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway since the start of the 2020. Any laps on these tires will provide data teams may rely on for championship setups.

“Richmond has traditionally been known for putting on some great racing, and one of the reasons for that is that it has become what we consider a high tire-wear track,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “As tires wear at Richmond, lap times fall off. Drivers that manage their tires early in a run will have them fall off less and gain from that later in the run. Also, as the track takes rubber, drivers will be able to search around a little or move up the track, creating multiple lanes and more side-by-side racing.”

RICHMOND STORYLINES

– Alex Bowman’s Richmond win in May marked Chevrolet’s first at the “Action Track” in the last six races there and only its second in the last 11.

– Joe Gibbs Racing has won seven of the last 11 Richmond races.

– Carl Edwards’ win over Kyle Busch in April 2016 marks the only last-lap pass for the win in Richmond history.

– Martin Truex Jr. went 0-for-80 to start his career on short tracks but has now won five of the last 11.

– Denny Hamlin has won four of the last 16 playoff races, the most of any driver. Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick each have three.

– Busch has seven consecutive top 10s at Richmond, while teammate Truex has five straight. No one else has more than two.

– Five of the last seven playoff races have been won from the front row.

– Two drivers who are winless in 2021 – Tyler Reddick and Harvick – are currently above the elimination line, while two drivers with multiple wins – Busch and Bowman – are currently below it.

Source: Racing Insights

PUTTING MONEY WHERE YOUR DRIVER IS

At 4-1 odds, according to BetMGM, Martin Truex Jr. is your must-pick of the weekend at Richmond. The 2017 Cup Series champion has won two of the last four races at the “Action Track” and hasn’t finished outside the top five in five straight Richmond contests. Other favorites by the odds are Denny Hamlin (11-2), Kyle Busch (6-1) and Kyle Larson (7-1).

Busch is a strong play this weekend, as he leads all active drivers with six Richmond victories. After crashing out at Darlington, the two-time Cup champion is in need of a bounce-back performance.

A driver under the radar to consider may be Austin Dillon, who sits at 50-1 odds and starts 19th Saturday night. Dillon has top 10s in four of his last five Richmond tries and led 55 laps in 2020.

On the other hand, steer clear of Ryan Blaney this weekend. His 25-1 odds might seem enticing, but Richmond is Blaney’s worst track statistically. He has yet to score a top-10 finish in 10 starts and holds an average finish of 23.4, second worst of all playoff drivers. That said, Blaney did earn a career-best 11th-place finish at Richmond in the spring.

RELATED: Odds for Saturday night’s race at Richmond

FANTASY LIVE

Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out the playoff version of NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now and offers a fresh start for those of you who played the regular-season contest. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts, and there is a $10,000 prize for the winner.

The 2021 Fantasy Live points leaders are Kyle Larson (1,067), Denny Hamlin (1,062) and Chase Elliott (890).

This year, NASCAR.com also has the Playoffs Grid Challenge game, presented by Ruoff Mortgage, where you can pick the winners for each round of the playoffs right up through the Championship 4. First prize is $10,000.

How to play: Playoffs Grid Challenge | Playoff Fantasy Live

ALSO ON NASCAR.COM

Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.

New for this season, NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.

And finally, head over to the NASCAR Mobile App for AR Racing presented by Mobil 1, where you can design your own car and race the playoff drivers at the playoff tracks in augmented reality.