Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Don’t Go Against Gibbs At Richmond

Both practices were held before qualifying, but in case you want to check out average speeds, you can click here to see my practice breakdown. Juan Montoya won the pole this afternoon in cased you missed qualifying. The entire starting lineup can be found by clicking here. As you read in Ryan’s scouting report, qualifying will probably be important this weekend–89% of  the winners at Richmond have started in the top ten.

Last season at Richmond, the Gibbs teammates won both races, with Kyle Busch winning the spring race and Denny Hamlin taking the checkered flag in the fall race. Click here to see the results for those races here and here, respectively. The fall results also show how important average practice speeds were in that race. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Juan Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, and Jimmie Johnson all posted top tens in both Richmond races in 2010.

Top Fifteen For The Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400:

1. Clint Bowyer – Starts 3rd – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 12.4 (three wins)
**
Change from my preview: +1 spot. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Clint has finished 2nd in the past two Sprint Cup races and is on a four-race top ten streak. I think he easily continues the latter streak and has a chance to better the former tomorrow night. Statistically, Richmond is Bowyer’s best track with his average finish of 9.8 over his ten starts. Clint has had the fourth-best driver rating over the past two years at Richmond and won here in 2008. I like where he starts, and he has a car that placed in the top five in both practice sessions today.

2. Denny Hamlin – Starts 11th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 11.1 (one win)
**
Change from my preview: +1 spots. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
I flip-flopped Hamlin and Kyle Busch from my preview simply because the #11 starts closer to the front. You probably noticed that I have Hamlin in the “High Risk” category; it’s not a typo. Believe it or not, this team hasn’t recorded a top ten since Las Vegas, and that 7th-place finish has been their only top ten in the first eight races. Hamlin has won two of the past three races here, though, so he’s still expected to have a good race Saturday night. He looked like he was struggling in practice, but he had the 2nd-best ten-lap average in first practice, and I think that is the most we have to go off of for this race. Denny could end up in victory lane tomorrow night, or he could post a finish between 11th and 15th.

3. Kyle Busch – Starts 20th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 11.1
**
Change from my preview: -2 spots Risk Factor: Virtually No Risk**
It will take Kyle Busch running out of gas or having some kind of mechanical problems for him not to get a top ten this weekend. His average finish in 12 races at this track has been right around 5th and Kyle has finished 1st or 2nd here six times. He didn’t qualify that great, but “Rowdy” started 32nd last fall at Richmond and still ended up 2nd when the checkers flew. Look for the #18 Toyota to make its way toward the front quickly and stay there.

4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Starts 24th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.1 (one win)
**
Change from my preview: +2 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Junior really needs to work on his qualifying. Before the starting lineup was set, Dale Jr was set on my Predictions in the #1 spot as long as he qualified in the top five–which was somewhat likely considering he was the last one out. This 24th-place starting effort is his second-best on the season in non-restrictor plate races, though, and he still has a great car that could win. Junior’s paired with Steve Letarte this season–who has found a bunch of success at this track with Jeff Gordon recently–and hasn’t finished worse than 12th since the Daytona 500. I don’t expect that to change on Saturday.

5. Jeff Gordon – Starts 6th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 18.0
**Change from my preview: -1 spot. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Jeff Gordon has seven top 10s in the last eight races at Richmond and hasn’t finished worse than 12th in that span. This ranking could be a little too high, but a top five is within his reach and I like that the #24 DuPont Chevrolet starts 6th. His career average finish here is 12th and Gordon visited victory lane in 2006, so he definitely knows how to get around this track. He has posted top ten finishes every time he has started in the top ten at this track (six times).

6. Juan Montoya – Starts 1st – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 9.3
**
Change from my preview: +1 spot. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Can Montoya get his first win on an oval this week? It’s certainly possible, but a think a solid top ten is more likely. I do think the #42 Chevy will lead a handful of laps tomorrow night, though. When you look at Montoya’s record at Richmond, his average career finish of 21.4 may turn you away from him, but I still think he’s a good pick. He has three top 10s in his past four starts here, and in three of his six career Sprint Cup poles, Juan has finished in the top ten. He ran only 65 laps, and usually a low number of laps in practice means a team likes their car.

7. Kevin Harvick – Starts 12th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 16.4
**
Change from my preview: +2 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
When Harvick qualifies in the top fifteen, he generally has a very good car, and this week won’t be an exception. “Happy” has finished in the top 12 in twelve of his last thirteen starts at Richmond and has an average career finish of 12th at this track. I would say he’s pretty much a lock for a top ten with a pretty good chance at a top five. The #29 Chevrolet ended up 3rd on the average speed chart–whatever that is worth.

8. Carl Edwards – Starts 8th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 10.7
**
Change from my preview: +2 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Roush-Fenway Racing really isn’t that great at Richmond, but Edwards should be a pretty good pick this weekend. He ran only 50 laps in practice (which usually means he has a good car), which let him have the best average speed between the drivers not named Mike Skinner. Carl finished in the top ten in both Richmond races last season and has just one finish outside of the top 15 since 2007 at this track. Carl may not challenge for a win, but he should finish in the top ten on Saturday night.

9. Ryan Newman – Starts 13th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 14.0 (one win)
**
Change from my preview: -4 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
“The Rocketman” is a good pick at short tracks, and he’s pretty good at this track. He’s made 18 starts at Richmond and has an average finish of 11.4 with one win. He hasn’t finished worse than 11th since joining Stewart-Haas Racing and I don’t see that changing this weekend. Newman has more success in the spring race at Richmond (although he’s good in the fall too) with an average finish of 9.4 and just one finish outside of the top ten in the early race here.

10. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 30th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.7
**
Change from my preview: -2 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Seeing the #48 low on the speed charts wasn’t entirely surprising because they didn’t do any qualifying runs at all, which explains the poor starting position. He’s not up front at Richmond all of the time, but “Five Time” has three wins to his name at this track. He’s finished 3rd, 10th, and 11th in his past three starts here, and unless he has some kind of problem during the race, Jimmie should finish better than his 17th-place average finish at this track.

11. Tony Stewart – Starts 31st – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 12.0
**
Change from my preview: no change. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Stewart’s last three finishes at this track have been 16th, 23rd, and 17th, but before that he nine top tens in eleven starts at Richmond. “Smoke” has seven top two finishes here and a career average finish of right around 11th. The poor qualifying effort was a bit of a surprise, and that’s the main reason I took Tony out of my top ten. He looked pretty good in first practice, though, posting the 3rd-best ten-lap average. I expect a good showing from the Stewart-Haas Chevrolets on Saturday night.

12. Joey Logano – Starts 9th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.4
**
Change from my preview: +3 spot. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
“Sliced Bread” has some decent finishes at Richmond (average of 13.3 in four starts), but his average driver rating (77.6) doesn’t really support them. He starts in the top ten, though, and finally got a top ten in Talladega a couple weeks ago. With the way his season is going, I have to put him as high risk, but it seems to be turning around for him recently. Proceed with caution, but remember that Gibbs has been the best team here recently.

13. Matt Kenseth – Starts 32nd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 21.9
**
Change from my preview: no change. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Kenseth has finished 13th or 14th in three of his past four starts at Richmond, so I’ll put him at 13th for tomorrow night. He starts pretty far back (nothing new with Kenseth) but was 14th in average speed during the practices today. The #17 has finished 12th or better on every track that hasn’t been Daytona or Talladega this year.

14. Jeff Burton – Starts 25th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 10.1
**
Change from my preview: no change. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Burton has three top tens in his past five starts at Richmond, but I don’t think this is the week that he gets his first top ten of the season, even though his teammates look really fast. He has two top 15s over the past three races this season, though, and I think he will get another one on Saturday night. Burton has finished outside of the top 20 at this track just once since 2004.

15. Mark Martin – Starts 5th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.4
**
Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Mark Martin has burned me too many times this season to be overly optimistic of him this week. He starts 5th, but I would be willing to bet he won’t get a top five. He could sneak out a top ten, but I think a finish around 15th is more likely for the #5 Chevrolet tomorrow night. Mark finished 25th and 20th last season at Richmond after starting 14th and 19th, respectively. He was 7th in ten-lap average in first practice, but Martin is a little too risky for me this week (based on his season performance thus far).

“Surprise” Picks For The Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400:

Bobby Labonte – I’m not sure how I overlooked Labonte in my preview, but he’s on my radar now. He was 4th in ten-lap average during first practice and starts 14th. Ambrose posted top tens in both Richmond races last year in this car, and while I don’t think Bobby will finish there, a little luck could give him a top fifteen tomorrow night.

Brad Keselowski – He finished 14th and 15th at Richmond last season and I think BK could end up right around there this weekend as well. He starts 7th and he finished 15th at Phoenix (kind of similar to this track).

Marcos Ambrose – I thought Marcos could get a top ten on Saturday earlier this week, but I don’t think he will not: he starts 35th didn’t show much in practice. I still think he could get a top twenty, though, and with a little luck a top fifteen.

Stay Away From These Drivers For The Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400:

Regan Smith – He’s been the best qualifier this season, but really has no finishes to back it up. Smith starts 2nd tomorrow night, but I expect him to fall back quickly–and stay there. In his last three starts at Richmond he has posted finishes of 25th, 30th, and 40th.

Kasey Kahne – This Toyota has looked super fast all weekend, and Kahne qualified 4th today, but I still don’t think you should pick him. He’s coming off of knee surgery and hasn’t had a top ten here since 2008. He started 10th in the fall race here last season and wound up 29th.

Jamie McMurray – His teammate starts up front, but Montoya is the only driver in the Earnhardt-Ganassi stable that has a chance at a top ten. McMurray’s average finish at Richmond is 24.7 and he has just three top tens in his 16 starts here.

My (Tentative) Fantasy NASCAR Picks:

OnPitRow.comFavoriteDale Earnhardt, Jr. DarkhorseDenny Hamlin
Yahoo!: A-List:
Jeff GordonB-List: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Clint Bowyer, C-List: Paul Menard
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live:
Clint Bowyer, Juan Montoya, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Bobby Labonte
Racing4Glory.com “The Showdown”:
Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Juan Montoya, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon

I will be taking next week off for the Darlington race, but if you would like my opinion for that race (or this race), feel free to send me a tweet.