While Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway had a number of cars in contention for the victory in the closing laps, the MPI Cup Series event really only had one.
Zach Wilson, the driver of the No. 51 Toyota Camry, dominated the incident-filled event, leading 324 of 400 laps, in an event that saw nearly every entry involved in an accident at some point during the race.
For Wilson, the victory hasn’t come without some hardships. Despite the driver showing raw speed, not qualifying lower than seventh at any point throughout the season, the No. 51 has failed to finish a race since the season-opener at Daytona, relegating him outside the top-20 in points.
Starting from the pole, Wilson faced early-race challenges from perennial front runners Austin Reedy and Mario Merenda, who were both able to capitalize on a strategy call from the eventual winner to finish 1-2 in the first stage.
The race’s second stage was where things began to heat up, with both Merenda and Reedy advancing through the field and into second and third by Lap 100, but were unable to use a tire advantage to catch Wilson’s No. 51.
On Lap 142, immediately following the start of green-flag stops, the caution flew for a spin by Chris Progar, after receiving contact from Austin Shoemaker. While most cars elected to stay out, Reedy was able to use the restart to get back into second, before another caution flew.
The conclusion of stage two, however, saw a rash of caution flags, including multiple accidents that included many competitors. By the end of the stage Warren Kieth had used strategy to put himself on new tires, yet Wilson was still able to hold on to win stage two.
Wilson’s dominance could be party attributed to the raw speed in the No. 51 car, but also had something to do with the downfall of multiple competitors. Kieth, who had arguably the second-fastest car, got stuck in the pack after pitting late in the race, in order to gain a tire advantage.
Austin Reedy, the points leader entering Richmond, was also involved in a multi-car wreck while running inside of the top-10, which would set him back multiple laps. Furthermore, Merenda and outside polesitter Ross Harlow would crash with under 30 to go, while battling for third, knocking both drivers out of contention.
Par for the course in the 400-lap event, one final caution flag would throw the race into NASCAR Overtime. However, with very few competitive and undamaged cars, Wilson was able to get a solid restart and pull away from the pack, capturing his first victory of the season.
Daniel Michel finished in the runner-up position, with Steven Stempien, Mario Merenda, and Wyatt Brackett rounding out the top-five finishers.
The MPI Cup Series will take an off-week, before heading to the purpose-built dirt track at Bristol Motor Speedway. All coverage for that event can be seen on PitStopTV.