Richmond Raceway is part of NASCAR roots, but it's time to drop a race (2024)

RICHMOND, Va. — A frequent debate within NASCAR over the past few years is whether Richmond Raceway is a track worthy of hosting two Cup Series dates. The Virginia short track has struggled with attendance, and its races too often lack competitiveness due to strategy and track position being the primary factor in the results.


That was the case again Sunday night. Outside of the opening 30 laps, when damp track conditions forced teams to start the race on treaded tires and produced compelling action, and an overtime finish that saw Denny Hamlin outduel Martin Truex Jr. for the victory, everything else was typical of Richmond races: little edge-of-your-seat drama, with two drivers (Truex and Kyle Larson) combining to lead 372 of a possible 407 laps.

This is insufficient, and it’s why NASCAR should not continue to make two stops at Richmond each year. Whenever the 2025 Cup Series schedule is unveiled, anything beyond a lone visit and NASCAR would be doing a disservice to itself, its television partner, drivers, teams and fans.

“I don’t know what else you do,” said Hamlin, a native of nearby Chesterfield, Va. “Certainly it’s not fair because I’m biased and have grown up loving this racetrack, so I’m always going to vote for it to have two races, for sure.

“I thought today nobody really ran out too far. I think we’ve seen some Richmond races where some guys get way out there at times when they kind of hit it. We were all just in a wad there for 150 laps or so, a couple car lengths here and there.”

In recent years, NASCAR has done a good job recrafting a monotonous schedule that didn’t showcase the sport in the best light possible. Among the changes was removing second dates at Dover, Fontana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pocono and Texas, all tracks that featured lackluster action. In nearly every instance, the decision was justifiable and largely welcomed.

The time is here for Richmond to join this list.

It wasn’t always like this. Richmond’s two races were once labeled as “can’t miss.” The three-quarter mile oval was regarded as one of NASCAR’s best tracks, where the racing was sensational and the grandstands were packed. Richmond went 25 consecutive races with six cautions or more (with 14 of those in double digits) from 1998 to 2010. But after Sunday, there have been six cautions or more there just once in the past 11 races.


Now, the norm is like Sunday night’s race, featuring cars strung out single file, with drivers struggling to pass. The difference came down to which crew chief best mastered pit strategy and which drivers and pit crews made the fewest mistakes on pit road and with track position. Thankfully, a caution with two laps remaining provided a needed jolt and at least a decent finish.

Still, it certainly didn’t live up to its nickname, the “Action Track.”

Not that any of this was a surprise. NASCAR’s short-track package remains a work in progress, and these races have become the antithesis of what they’re supposed to be — full-contact, close-quarters affairs that harken back to NASCAR’s rough-and-tumble roots, where things like aerodynamics and track position were largely inconsequential. At Richmond, quality racing has become a rarity, not the standard.

“From where I was at, it was really hard to pass,” Chase Elliott said. “But it always is, and it just seems like it’s getting harder as time goes on. I mean, (Chris Buescher), (Brad Keselowski), myself, (Noah Gragson), (Josh Berry), we were all just around the same pace. It’s like whoever beat whoever off pit road, it was going to be really hard to pass that person. But the good guys seemed to be able to do it. There’s always a couple that can, and they tend to rise to the top.”

Richmond Raceway is part of NASCAR roots, but it's time to drop a race (3)

Richmond used to pack the stands and bring plenty of action, like in the caution-filled May 2009 race eventually won by Kyle Busch. (Drew Hallowell / Getty Images)

NASCAR has been racing at Richmond since 1953, an important connection that needs to be maintained. Richmond is a legacy track deserving of respect. But for reasons no one fully understands, the racing here has regressed to an often single-file procession where most of the passing occurs as a byproduct of tire strategy. It can’t be blamed on the Next Gen car — the problem was there with the previous car too — nor is there any apparent fix on the horizon.


“Tires go off and then it gets really, really hard to pass, and you get in traffic, and it really hurts your tires a lot,” Truex said. “But it’s just kind of what we fought here in the past. Pretty typical Richmond.”

Short-track racing is popular among fans and drivers. NASCAR should be adding short tracks to the schedule — as it has with North Wilkesboro, Iowa and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — not removing them. But while NASCAR may currently have overarching issues in figuring out the right rules package for these tracks, Richmond’s woes go beyond this. This is a Richmond-specific problem that can’t broadly apply to other short tracks.

“I think, where else (are) you going to go, right?” Hamlin said. “NASCAR owns it, so they’re going to want to go to another NASCAR track. If they have another NASCAR track, that’s already got a date as well.”

Hamlin is correct. NASCAR’s options are limited. But the sanctioning body is exploring adding an international race to the 2025 schedule, with Mexico as the leading candidate. Any new circuit added to the schedule would necessitate a current race being jettisoned.

How would NASCAR create space for a new race? The leading candidate to be dropped is the spring Richmond race, according to industry sources.

Nothing is official with the 2025 schedule. A lot can and will likely change in the coming weeks and months. But regardless of what the final version looks like, NASCAR should cut down to a single visit to Richmond. Racing here once a year is fine. Anything more than that is too much.

(Top photo of Denny Hamlin taking the checkered flag Sunday at Richmond Raceway: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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Jordan Bianchi is a motorsports reporter for The Athletic. He is a veteran sports reporter, having covered the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, college basketball, college football, NASCAR, IndyCar and sports business for several outlets. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jordan_bianchi

Richmond Raceway is part of NASCAR roots, but it's time to drop a race (2024)
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