Column: Friday Richmond Notebook

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – RICHMOND, VA –

– Chris Buescher’s strong run at Bristol was bittersweet
– Elliott Sadler enjoying lifestyle change after full-time racing
– Christopher Bell already planning strategy for Homestead
– Stewart-Haas, Clint Bowyer announce Toco partnership

THE HURT STILL LINGERS FOR CHRIS BUESCHER.

Headed for a possible top-five finish last Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Buescher had to make a late pit stop to fix a loose wheel and saw a potential breakthrough performance deteriorate into a 22nd-place finish.

“We didn’t qualify very good (25th), and that caught us a little off guard, because we usually qualify better,” Buescher said. “But as soon as the race got going, we started moving forward. We got in the top 10 pretty quickly—and right near the top five and held on. There’s no doubt in my mind that was a top-five day.

“That’s very encouraging for the team and for us. We expect it, but at the same time, when you actually get it, for us trying to fight for 15th every week… The whole race—we were there. It’s a boost. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t finish it out. It hurts. That one hurts.”

Buescher likewise showed speed in opening practice at Richmond Raceway, which has not been one of his better tracks. In race trim for the entire session, he was third on the speed chart behind Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised with how practice went,” Buescher said. “I shouldn’t say I’m shocked. We ran a lot better at Phoenix (in March) than we have in the past. This one (Richmond) has kind of compared to that race track for me throughout the years, and all of our group was really excited coming into this. They worked really hard to find something different.

“We showed up with something different, and it had good speed. We’re trying to make it hold on a little longer (throughout a tire run). That’s always something you’re looking for here at Richmond.”

Buescher’s No. 37 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet also was third fastest in 10-consecutive lap average behind Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Busch swept both Richmond races last year.

ELLIOTT SADLER ENJOYING LIFESTYLE CHANGE AFTER FULL-TIME RACING

Until he got behind the wheel of the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet on Friday morning, Elliott Sadler hadn’t sat in a race car since his exit from JR Motorsports at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.

But that doesn’t mean Sadler hasn’t been enjoying the radical change to his life retirement from full-time racing has brought. And even though he’s returning for two races this season—at his home track of Richmond and at Las Vegas—Sadler has no regrets about his decision to step away from the weekly routine.

“I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my life,” Sadler said on Friday at Richmond Raceway. “I definitely made the right decision stepping away full-time. I was worried when Daytona came. I really was. Wondering how I was going to feel – how I was going to take it. But it was right on my son’s birthday, and we had a cool birthday party.

“This cures kinda a little bit of the itch to come back here to my home track, and we’ll come back to Vegas in the fall – but I don’t regret my decision at all. I love being a fan of the sport at home. Been very happy with this decision.”

Even though he’s not running for points, Sadler nevertheless felt butterflies as Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race approached.

“I was nervous this week—I’m not going to lie,” Sadler said. “It’s got a way different feel to it, coming to run one race as compared to each and every week knowing what’s going on and everything going inside the garage. It had a pretty good feel.

“I didn’t sleep much this week wanting to come here, excited and nervous and all of that good stuff to come back to my home track. It was a little different. Different team, different car, the switches are in a different spot and gas, brake and clutch all work a little different – steering wheel a little different. It was good to be back in the office for a little while.”

CHRISTOPHER BELL ALREADY PLANNING STRATEGY FOR HOMESTEAD

Christopher Bell entered last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a clear favorite.

After all, Bell had dominated the series with seven victories before the finale. But Homestead turned out to be the most frustrating race of the year for Bell, who rolled home in 11th place and finished fourth in the final standings.

Tyler Reddick, on the other hand, found a home near the wall and parlayed his ability to run the top lane into a series title.

Bell has been thinking about the final race ever since. And based on the likely assumption he’ll be one of the four qualifiers at Homestead, Bell’s approach will change when he gets there.

“We definitely took the conservative approach of ‘Do not run the wall, do not run the wall, do not run the wall,’” Bell said Friday at Richmond Raceway. “I think Cole Custer proved the last couple years that he got his car good enough to where he didn’t have to run the wall. (Kyle) Larson, I think Larson ran the year that Cole won, and his car wasn’t very good so he couldn’t run the wall.

“And so everyone was like, ‘Oh, you can run the middle, you can run the middle, you can run the middle.’ Well, Reddick proved it again last year that the wall is the fastest place to be at Homestead. I think I’m just going to go up there and run the wall.”

STEWART-HAAS, CLINT BOWYER ANNOUNCE TOCO PARTNERSHIP

Stewart-Haas Racing has landed a new partner, Toco Warranty, for four races as primary sponsor of Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford, the organization announced in a Friday morning press conference at Richmond Raceway.

In addition, Toco, a new generation of vehicle service contracts with pay-as-you-go plans, will serve as an associate sponsor for the rest of Bowyer’s races, as well as supporting the efforts of Tony Stewart Racing and driver Donny Schatz and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart in winged sprint cars.

“We’ve always had partners that have been a part of our NASCAR program or part of our grassroots program with the World of Outlaws or our All-Star Circuit of Champions,” Stewart said. “But this is one of the first times that we’ve had a partner that spans all the way across and utilizes these two organizations to get the coverage to the right people.”

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