Despite an early qualifying draw, AJ put the #43 Valvoline Ford solidly in 15th position for the start of the race at Richmond. As the race got underway, he reported in that the car was tight through the center, with no rear grip. Despite the handling issues, he maintained right around 15th place throughout the first stretch of the race.
Leader Kyle Busch set a blistering pace, and a long stretch of green flag racing sent many cars down a lap early in the going. One particular adjustment that crew chief Mike Shiplett made during that stretch of the race left AJ struggling with a loose condition and sliding backwards. The team never gave up though, and continued to try and make the race car better.
After sliding as low as 25th place, AJ rebounded and gradually moved up through traffic again. Jeff Gordon was now dominating the field though, and AJ lost a lap again after taking the wave around on an earlier caution. Trying to use strategy to their advantage, Mike called AJ down pit road early for fresh tires once he was no longer in the lucky dog position. Then AJ drove as hard as he could to try and make up time while the leaders were on older tires.
The gamble paid off, as green flag stops cycled through and AJ found himself back on the lead lap. This time he was the one on older tires though, with the leaders having fresh rubber. Thankfully the caution came out before the disadvantage sent the #43 a lap down again, and AJ was one of just 15 or 16 cars on the lead lap.
As often happens towards the end of the race, cautions breed cautions. The Valvoline Ford was a strong contender on the long runs, but struggled on short runs. Despite getting fresh tires on two of the restarts, AJ didn’t make up any ground. On the final restart Mike Shiplett went the other direction and left AJ out to try and gain some track position that way. With fresher tires behind him though, AJ lost what little bit they gained and finished 17th, which was pretty much where they ran throughout the night.