First Timers & Small Teams Turn Heads at Richmond Raceway

Getty Derek Kraus turned in a clean performance in his first Xfinity Series race.

Big-name organizations battled for the win during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway on April 1. Chandler Smith won while small teams and first-timers made waves with strong performances.

Two drivers making their Xfinity Series debut topped the list. Chris Hacker suited up for RSS Racing while Derek Kraus joined Kaulig Racing. Both kept their cars clean while running well inside of the top 15 throughout the day.

Hacker, in particular, had to work his way through the field after starting 27th overall. Not a simple task for someone making their first-ever race in the series, but he finished the first two stages in the 17th position. Hacker then went on to avoid multiple incidents before finishing 14th in the RSS Racing Ford.

Kraus took over a car previously controlled by Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Justin Haley, and AJ Allmendinger. The entry had visited Victory Lane and contended for wins at other tracks, but there were questions about how Kraus would perform in his first-ever Xfinity Series start. He quickly provided the answer by finishing 10th overall.

Small Teams Delivered Strong Finishes

GettyLeland Honeyman delivered a career-best finish at Richmond Raceway.

Kraus and Hacker both suited up for organizations that have reached the playoffs in previous seasons. They impressed with clean performances, and they likely created conversations about future opportunities.

Meanwhile, some smaller teams delivered similarly strong runs. DGM Racing’s Alex Labbe tops the list as he started 32nd overall in the No. 91 Chevrolet Camaro. He spent the majority of the race running inside the top 15 before ultimately crossing the finish line 11th overall in what was a season-best performance for DGM Racing.

Alpha Prime Racing is another organization that has dealt with some struggles early in the season. The three-car operation only had three top-20 finishes in the first six races of the season. Stefan Parsons finished 13th at Daytona while Ryan Ellis finished 19th at Phoenix and 20th at Circuit of the Americas.

The trip to Richmond Raceway featured both Jeffrey Earnhardt and Ellis running around 15th for much of the day. Rookie Leland Honeyman was outside of the top 20 in what was only his second-ever Xfinity Series start.

All three drivers mostly kept their cars clean. Honeyman and Ellis both had slight contact in an incident that sent Brett Moffitt spinning, but they were able to finish the race in 25th and 15th, respectively. Earnhardt crossed the finish line 18th overall as all three drivers scored some points.

A Streak of Bad Luck Ended

Kaz Grala

GettyKaz Grala waves to NASCAR fans.

Multiple other teams delivered solid performances at a crucial point of the season. Both Jordan Anderson Racing drivers — Jeb Burton and Parker Retzlaff — finished 12th and 16th while scoring some much-needed points.

Another prominent example is Sam Hunt Racing. Connor Mosack finished 28th in the No. 24 Toyota GR Supra, but Kaz Grala snapped his streak of bad luck and delivered a season-best finish.

The driver of the No. 26 has shown up with fast entries at every race on the schedule. This has not been reflected on the stat sheet due to an engine issue and multiple on-track incidents. His best finish entering Richmond weekend was 13th at Auto Club Speedway.

The trip to Virginia snapped this streak of issues. Grala had speed, he avoided multiple incidents in the No. 26 Toyota, and he scored points in Stage 2. The Massachusetts native then went on to finish fourth overall while tying his career-best finish. He also finished fourth at Daytona in 2018 and fourth at Road America in 2020.

This finish also tied for the second-best in Sam Hunt Racing history. John Hunter Nemechek finished fourth at Darlington Raceway in 2022. Nemechek also posted the best finish in SHR history at Richmond Raceway in 2021 when he crossed the line third overall.

“[The fourth-place finish] means a lot,” said team owner Sam Hunt. “Especially, because it has been a tough year so far, we’ve had fast cars and things just haven’t fallen our way. We were good all day long. We were really hoping it went green because I think we had a car to beat in the long run, but for this team, this group, to run with these guys and beat the cars we beat, it is special.

“It is really cool. I’m just grateful for all of the people that have believed in us, believed in me. I feel like I really don’t deserve this stage, this situation, this finish. I have just been so lucky to have great people help me and help this program.”

Read More