Over the last couple of years, NASCAR Cup Series events at Richmond Raceway have undergone a significant transformation, changing into what has oftentimes become a race heavily dominated by green-flag runs and tire strategy.
Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at the three-quarter-mile facility in Richmond, Virginia turned out exactly that way – at least for the most part – with long-run speed and which driver had the freshest tires being the race’s hot-button topics.
Though, the one topic that was majorly overlooked was the surfacing of RFK Racing at the front of the pack in Sunday’s event, with team co-owner Brad Keselowski taking over the lead of the race for the first time just before halfway.
With teammate and eventual winner Chris Buescher just behind, Keselowski was the dominant force in the race’s third quarter, before a wacky pit box entry cost his No. 6 Ford Mustang team some major time, handing control of the race to Buescher.
The Prosper, Texas native inherited the lead of the race for the first time with 96 laps remaining, and from there set a punishing pace, which saw his lead extended over seven seconds at a time during the final 100 laps of the event.
But, just when it looked like a sure thing for the RFK Racing driver, a caution – the only one for something other than a stage break – was displayed for a spin by Daniel Suarez at the exit of turn four, leading to a three-lap dash to the finish.
“I don’t get too stirred up most of the time,” Buescher said in victory lane. “I was sitting there and we had a nice easy lead going there. I was taking care of it and then shifting and about the time Scott came on the radio and said, ‘Let’s work it just like that. Keep it smooth.’ I don’t think he even got off the button and caution.”
Picking the inside lane on the final restart, Buescher was able to defend against Denny Hamlin, who locked his right-front tire with two laps remaining, to score his third victory in the NASCAR Cup Series, and the second for RFK Racing since the team’s re-brand.
“I knew it was gonna take some work to get back going, but our Fastenal Mustang was so good firing off today, so good in practice,” Buescher continued. “I didn’t get the job done in qualifying. I had to pass a bunch of cars today and have some great strategy and some great pit stops. Everybody at RFK Racing has worked so hard to get us to this point. This is awesome. I knew that last restart was gonna be tough, but I knew we had the speed in this thing.”
Despite a slight mistake on the final restart of the race, Denny Hamlin was able to come home in the runner-up position at his home race in Virginia, while Kyle Busch made a late-race rebound to finish third.
Joey Logano worked his way through the pack on the final restart to finish in fourth place, while Ryan Preece scored a fifth-place result, his best finish of the season – by far – with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Brad Keselowski would finish in sixth place, after a mistake on pit road cost him a shot at the victory, while Martin Truex, Jr., Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, and Kevin Harvick completed the top-10.
With Chase Briscoe scoring an 11th-place run, Stewart-Haas Racing placed all four of its NASCAR Cup Series entries inside the top-15 for the first time since April 2021 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Tyler Reddick, who started Sunday’s race from the pole and led the opening 78 laps of the event, finished 16th after being slammed with a commitment line violation during the race’s final stage, leaving him a lap behind the leader.
Exiting Richmond, Martin Truex, Jr. holds a 39-point advantage over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in NASCAR Cup Series regular-season point standings. William Byron sits third, with Christopher Bell, and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-five.
The series will head to Michigan International Speedway for its annual trip to the two-mile oval. Coverage for that event, the 23rd of the NASCAR Cup Series season, will take place on August 6th.