Three big stories: Richmond

And just like that, NASCAR reaches the quarter-mark of the season.

Sunday was the first of multiple weekends featuring the NASCAR Cup Series, the NTT IndyCar Series and Formula 1. All three gave us stories to discuss. With his victory at Richmond Raceway, will Alex Bowman take the next step in his development? Martin Truex Jr. channeled his inner Lewis Hamilton, as he rebounded from a speeding penalty to finish fifth. Also, FOX and NBC dropped the ball by scheduling both NASCAR and IndyCar’s races Sunday at the same time.

Follow me, as I dive further into the three big stories of Richmond.

Three big stories: Richmond

1. The next step of Alex Bowman’s development?

RICHMOND, Va. – APRIL 18: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 18, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Bowman’s journey is well documented.

A once rising prospect in the ARCA Menards Series, his career stalled out with multiple back-marker Cup Series teams. It culminated when he learned via Twitter at the gym that he lost his ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing. In the last five years, he revived his career at Hendrick Motorsports and won for the first time in the Cup Series.

But much like Ryan Blaney, Bowman still hasn’t taken the next step in his development. The one where, like Chase Elliott, he churns out multi-win seasons and elevates himself into a serious championship contender.

A win in the Toyota Owners 400, Sunday, helps, but he wasn’t the dominant driver of the race. Also, he was over 12 seconds behind Joey Logano, when Kevin Harvick’s right-rear tire blew and he spun into the Turn 1 wall. Take that out of the equation, and either Logano or Denny Hamlin drive into victory lane.

Will we look back at Sunday as the start of Bowman’s rise to championship contender? Only time will tell.

Three big stories: Richmond

2. Martin Truex Jr. pulls a Lewis Hamilton at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. – APRIL 18: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, lead the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 18, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Several hours earlier, thousands of miles away from Richmond, Virginia, Hamilton rebounded from a spin into a gravel trap and drove through the field to finish second at Imola.

While not a spin, Truex served a pass through for speeding on pit road. Luckily for him, however, with so many cars lapped, he fell back only to 13th.

Still on the lead lap.

A timely caution with 20 laps to go put him back in position to regain ground. While he didn’t finish second, like Hamilton, he rallied to a fifth-place finish.

You can’t script this.

Three big stories: Richmond

3. FOX and NBC drop the ball on scheduling

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – APRIL 18: Alex Palou celebrates his victory in the NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18, 2021, in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar Photography

Who at FOX and/or NBC though starting both the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 and the NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in the same time slot was a good idea?

We’ve clamored for years that NASCAR and IndyCar work more closely, because it’s not in either’s best interest to go head-to-head, time-wise.

Yet that’s exactly what happened, Sunday.

NBC and IndyCar had the excuse of support races running beforehand. What’s NASCAR and FOX’s excuse?

Move that start up to 1 p.m., and Sunday’s race at Richmond overlaps only a few laps at Barber Motorsports Park. A few laps is much better than the entire race.

If you committed to NASCAR, Sunday, you missed Alex Palou score his first IndyCar victory, in his first career start.

Sure, FOX has no incentive to help IndyCar, but NBC carries both IndyCar and NASCAR events.

There was NO REASON this needed to happen.

There’s a bonus story, this week! And it comes from the land of Formula 1.

Three big stories: Richmond

BONUS. Lewis Hamilton’s rally

IMOLA, ITALY – APRIL 18: Race winner Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing and second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shake hands in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 18, 2021, in Imola, Italy. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Good drivers win in great equipment. Great drivers finish great in subpar equipment. God-tier drivers turn a disastrous run into an excellent finish.

Hamilton picked option No. 3.

The seven-time Formula 1 world champion fell back to ninth, after he went off track in Turn 7 at Imola, on Lap 31 of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. A shunt by George Russell and Valtteri Bottas saved his day, as he made the repairs to his car under the ensuing red flag.

Then he picked his way through the field. Yes, he had the help of DRS, but any avid viewer of Formula 1 will tell you that only does so much. Especially at Imola, where overtaking is notoriously a premium.

This kind of drive bolsters Hamilton’s case as arguably one of the greatest drivers in the history of auto racing.

TOP IMAGE: Sean Gardner/Getty Images