Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

A Weekend For Sleepers?

In my opinion, it’s really hard to judge who will be fast in a night race when all of the practice was held during the day, but that’s what we have to work with this week. In case you missed the Average Practice Speeds post, you can view it by clicking here. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got the pole for the Federated Auto Parts 400 by beating out teammate Jeff Gordon, and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. The race is scheduled for Saturday night, but I saw some thing on Twitter earlier today that suggested rain could be a problem and we might race Sunday. We’ll just have to see. Either way, it should shape up to be a great race as usual at Richmond International Raceway.

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My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sam Hornish, Jr.
My Probable Yahoo! Bench: Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Aric Almirola

Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Federated Auto Parts 400:

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11. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 9th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk FactorHigh Risk**

Going into this Friday, I would have never recommended Martin Truex, Jr. as a pick for Richmond under any circumstances. Well, now that practice is over with and he qualified 9th, I’m backing off on that statement in a big way. The #56 was the fastest car in Happy Hour (in average speed) among teams that worked on race trim, and Truex ended up pretty high on the overall average speed chart. He was also 8th in first practice in terms of ten-lap average. Still, I’m putting Martin at this rank and reminding you that it is very risky to take him: Richmond is his absolute worst track on the circuit (two top 10s in thirteen starts) and don’t forget that he looked very good here in April but was off all night and finished 25th. He started inside the top 10 in that race, too. A good run wouldn’t surprise me, and neither would a bad one. Personally, I view Truex as too risky of a pick this weekend.

12. Mark Martin – Starts 6th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

For the first time this season (at least in my memory), Mark Martin didn’t run the most laps in practice. The #55 also wasn’t blazing fast, though, so that could mean that they are just a little off this weekend. Take it for what it’s worth. Mark will roll off the grid in 6th and should at least finish inside the top 15 once the 400 miles are ran on Saturday. I think this team could challenge for a top 10, but we’ll just have to see. When it came to ten-lap average, Martin was 6th in first practice and 12th in Happy Hour. In the race here back in April, Martin won the pole and finished 8th and the team brought the exact same chassis this weekend. On twitter, crew chief Rodney Childers said they have a good car for the Federated Auto Parts 400, but he says that every week so I’ve kind of stopped paying attention. I warn you this every week: as long as the engine doesn’t blow, Martin should be a good pick.  His average finish at this track is 12.1  over 53 career starts.

13. Sam Hornish, Jr. – Starts 11th – Yahoo! C Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

You know, Hornish is somewhat (in a small way) reminding me of Brian Vickers. It seems like since he’s gotten the chance to race in the Cup series this year, he’s made the most out of it every single race. Since taking over in April, Sam has finished in the top 20 in six of his nine races, and has ended up 12th or better in three of the last four. The Double Deuce was inside the top 10 in both practice sessions on Friday as well as on the ten-lap average charts. Now I’m not saying he’s going to finish top 10, but I think Hornish could get a top 15 on Saturday night. It doesn’t hurt that he qualified 11th. In the first Nationwide series at Richmond earlier this year, Hornish finished 5th, and he’s running well in the race that’s going on as I’m typing this (top 10 all night). If you have to decide between Sam and Aric Almirola, it’s almost a coin flip-worthy pick, in my opinion. Almirola had a better average speed overall on Friday but Hornish was better on ten-lap average. Almirola has Mike Forde as his crew chief—who had a bunch of success with Denny Hamlin here—but Hornish is getting track time in the Nationwide race. Back in April, Almirola finished 26th after starting 11th, and in Hornish’s last Cup start here he finished 28th. I personally like the #22 a tick better than the #43, but I wouldn’t blame you for picking Aric.

14. Matt Kenseth – Starts 17th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk FactorLow Risk**

One thing that was a bit surprising was how well the Roush cars looked in practice on Friday. This isn’t a great track for the organization, but if you remember last year, at Chase time all of the cars were fast week in and week out no matter their history at the track. Kenseth can generally be relied on for a teens finish at Richmond. In 25 career starts on this 0.75-mile race track, Matt has averaged a finish of 17th with one win (back in 2002) and sixteen top 20 finishes. He should make that seventeen after Saturday, but I wouldn’t bank on a whole lot more. The #17 hasn’t seen the top 10 at Richmond since early 2007, although Kenseth did bring his Ford home 11th here back in April. He was 4th in ten-lap average during Happy Hour and 9th on that chart in the first practice session.

15. Paul Menard – Starts 25th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Everything was looking good for Paul Menard to be an excellent sleeper pick this weekend, and then qualifying was over and he ended up mid-pack. Where you start at Richmond isn’t as important as most people think it is, but it’s still tough to pick someone who has so many cars to pass and only 0.75 miles of race track. Historically, Menard has been a terrible pick at Richmond. In eleven starts here, his average finish is 27.5 and he has just two results inside the top 20. He ran 13th here back in April, though, and the team brought the same chassis that Paul finished 14th with back at Indianapolis. You also can’t look past how great this team has been knocking off top 15 finishes as of late. Finally, Menard looked good on the average speed chart and was 6th in ten-lap average during Happy Hour. He also had the 3rd-best average speed in that session among drivers who worked on race runs.

Those To Avoid For The Federated Auto Parts 400:

Tony Stewart – To say Smoke struggled in practice this weekend would be an understatement. In Happy Hour, he said that they were on the right track and back in the game, but the #14 still ended up 41st on the speed chart. Stewart went out and put up a decent lap in qualifying (he’ll roll off the grid PLACE), and I still think he’ll challenge for a top 10 or top 15 in the race. Qualifying hasn’t been his strong suit at Richmond as of late anyway. However, when you pick a stud like Stewart, you don’t simply want a top 10 or top 15. He was 21st out of 22 teams in terms of ten-lap average in Happy Hour. There’s too may other options, in my opinion, to take the #14 this weekend, but he could be a pretty decent pick in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live, as this team has a knack  for making the car better throughout the race. It’s still hard to look past how much they struggled last weekend in Atlanta, though, and Stewart even won the pole for that race. Cars go down a lap a lot quicker at Richmond than at Atlanta, too.

Ryan Newman – The Rocketman struggled just as much as his owner in Happy Hour, and even though this is one of his better tracks, I’m not expecting much out of Newman this weekend. This team hasn’t been very good this season, to be quite honest, and although Newman could finish top 15 on Saturday, there’s no guarantee. His rank on the average speed chart doesn’t make me any more confident in picking him, either. Ryan was 15th here in the April event.