CONCORD, N.C. – The NASCAR Cup Series will continue its dive into the first round of the 2021 playoffs this weekend when the drivers roll off the grid under the lights at Richmond Raceway.
While Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t been a dominant force at the Virginia track in recent years, the four teams now have a solid foundation heading into Saturday’s race thanks to Alex Bowman’s April win at the venue. No. 5 crew chief Cliff Daniels said he now has a different plan for the playoff race after his strategy with Kyle Larson in the spring event didn’t pan out the way he wanted it to, resulting an 18th-place finish.
“Richmond is the place that we took what was a different approach back in spring and that was no good, so we are going to go back to a more conventional approach,” Daniels said. “Thankfully, we have the notes to rely on from the No. 48 team. It’s been a long time since Hendrick Motorsports has won at Richmond. All around, they were a top-five car all day and certainly executed really well at the end of the race. For us, it’s going to be putting away what didn’t work in the spring at Richmond and putting into practice what seemed to work.”
William Byron, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, posted his best finish at Richmond in April with a seventh-place result. The top-10 finish is a boost for No. 24 crew chief Rudy Fugle, who is entering his first playoffs in his rookie season with the Cup Series. Byron was in the wrong place at the wrong time at Darlington Raceway for the first playoff race last Sunday, which resulted in the team placing 34th after Byron was unable to finish the race due to several on-track incidences.
However, Fugle is ready to rebound and is maintaining an optimistic outlook for the remaining Round of 16 events.
“If you look at the first round, it’s a bunch of 750 races, short-track races,” Fugle explained. “They’re historic-type racetracks like Darlington, Richmond, Bristol; all races that have been on the schedule for a long time and have a lot of history behind them. It takes a whole race car, race driver and race team to win those races. … All of those moments are really, really exciting and have different stresses and different challenges each week, but I am really looking forward to each and every one of them.”
Daniels agreed with Fugle and added teams have to treat each track as its own different beast instead of lumping the venues in each round together. He said battling these difficult shorter tracks will get the teams in the right mindset for the remainder of an intense 10-week playoff season.
“There’s certainly fundamentals and different aspects of the car that we learned how to apply for those races that we need to apply for Darlington, Richmond and Bristol,” Daniels said. “I think it’s a great way to start the playoffs because you have these tracks that are grueling and tough, and the drivers really have to get up on the wheel. The teams have to be sharp in how we execute so I look forward to it, I think it is going to be a lot of fun and, hopefully, our stuff is where it needs to be.”
Tune in to see the playoffs continue at Richmond Raceway this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.