Short tracks have been good for Richard Petty Motorsports this year

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For the first time since the passing of his wife, Lynda, seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty has returned to the track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

And with “The King” present once again, his “knights” at Richard Petty Motorsports – Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola – will both be pushing even harder to get good results in tonight’s Toyota Owners 400.

RPM has put up a strong effort so far this season on the short tracks, so the 3/4-mile Richmond bullring could play into their favor this evening.

In the most recent short track race last month at Martinsville, Ambrose earned a fifth-place finish and Almirola claimed eighth on the half-mile paperclip.

And earlier in March at the high-banked half-mile of Bristol, Almirola was part of a 1-2-3 sweep for Ford thanks to a third-place run while Ambrose wasn’t far behind in fifth.

Tonight, Ambrose and Almirola will start 11th and 15th on the grid respectively after rain washed out yesterday’s qualifying and had NASCAR set the field on speeds from the opening practice.

Going into the weekend, Almirola put down tire management as a key to doing well tonight at RIR.

“The fun thing about Richmond is that the tires fall off really bad,” he said in a release. “You get slipping and sliding around and forward drive is really important. It’s the one race track we go to that you wish you didn’t have 900 horsepower. Halfway through a tire run, we literally can spin the tires at the flag stand. That just becomes a huge challenge.

“…We’ve really hit on our short track setups this year and shown a lot of speed. If we can keep that up this weekend, we will be able to make a run at a win.”

As for Ambrose, he’ll have even more incentive to perform well as he’ll claim a $1 million donation for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals with a win tonight.

A runner-up performance will secure a $500,000 donation to CMNH, while a third-place result will secure a $250,000 donation.

“It would be the highlight of my career to be able to win this Saturday night for these kids,” Ambrose said about the challenge.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.