Can Kenseth Make It Back-to-Back Wins?
The Cup series is at Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400 this weekend–the first of two stops at this track in 2013. The weekend schedule was really condensed, as we had two practice sessions on Friday afternoon followed by qualifying later on. What I don’t like this week is that the practices were held in the heat of the afternoon and we’re dealing with a Saturday night race. Therefore, I won’t be relying on practice speeds quite as much as normal. In fact, I fully expect the normal faces up front once the checkered flag waves on Saturday night. Richmond is one of those tracks that there’s really no point to deviate away from the studs. It’s also worth noting that the “new” Phoenix is somewhat comparable to Richmond, so in case you forgot how that race ended earlier this year, click here for those results. As always, ifantasyrace has you covered in terms of practice coverage. For full results/speeds, click here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour, and for in-depth notes, those can be found here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour. Matt Kenseth won the pole for this year’s Toyota Owners 400 and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here.
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Final Top 15 Ranking For The Toyota Owners 400:
11. Mark Martin – Starts 10th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Rodney Childers and company chose chassis #714 for the race at Richmond this weekend, which is the exact one they Martin used to Phoenix earlier this year to grab the pole. He led 75 laps that day in the desert but finished a disappointing 21st–although that’s not exactly surprising considering the fact that it is Mark Martin. That being said, I have a little bit more faith in the old #55 this weekend than normal, simply because Mark enjoys this track so much. It’s also a physically strenuous track and Martin is one of the most “in shape” drivers in the garage. Currently, he’s on a three-race streak of top 10s at Richmond and should have a shot at extending that to four on Saturday night. Martin actually finished 3rd here in the fall and has finished inside the top 5 in half of his last ten starts at this track. As usual, keep in mind that Martin is in no way reliable in terms of fantasy racing, and you shouldn’t over-react to how he has looked on the speed charts. In first practice on Friday, the #55 Toyota was on top of the charts, but Martin laid down that lap in qualifying trim while the rest of the field worked on race runs. He was middle-of-the-field in ten-lap average during that session (16th) and then posted the 4th-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour. It should be noted that most teams worked on qualifying setups in Happy Hour, though.
12. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 9th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
When it comes to Martin Truex, Jr., Richmond International Raceway is one of those race tracks where he has had some good runs, but he just needs a couple good finishes to finally break through. Martin finished 5th here back in 2008 and came home with a 7th-place finish in 2010 in his first start here with MWR, but other than that his record leaves a lot more to be desired. In fourteen career starts at Richmond, Truex owns an average finish of 24.1 and has finished on the lead lap in only five of those races. This is exactly why he is a high risk pick this week. Still, the MWR Toyotas all have speed this weekend, and it’s hard to look past how strong this #56 team has been over the past couple of weeks. Also, Truex put up another top 10 qualifying effort here on Friday and will start 9th. He started 8th and 9th in the two races here last season and ended up 25th and 21st, respectively. I do expect him to finish better than that on Saturday night, though. In terms of ten-lap average, Truex was 2nd behind Kenseth in first practice on Friday and ended up 8th on that chart in Happy Hour. Don’t expect the world out of him, but a top 15 isn’t out of the question for Martin if he can keep it on the lead lap.
13. Kevin Harvick – Starts 17th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Kevin Harvick said it best when he was interviewed during qualifying: they’re simply not making the right calls at the end of races to get good finishes. The #29 Chevrolet is decently fast pretty much every week, but there’s a trend going on with him at the end of races, and I personally think it started last season. That being said, Richmond is a very good track for “Happy,” and if he’s going to break out of this little “slump” (or whatever you want to call it), this will be the place. In twenty-four career starts here, Harvick has averaged a finish of 11.7 while collecting two wins and fifteen top 10 finishes. His most recent win came back in 2011 during a race in which he led over half of the laps ran and beat out Carl Edwards. At Phoenix back in March, Harvick came away with a 13th-place finish, and aside from his 9th-place effort at Las Vegas, he’s finished between 12th and 14th in every race since. Talk about consistency. He didn’t show a ridiculous amount of speed on Friday, but the #29 had the 12th-best ten-lap average and on Saturday Harvick should be good for at least a top 15 finish.
14. Jamie McMurray – Starts 13th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I’ve been talking highly (well, higher than usual) about this team all season long, and with their 7th-place finish at Kansas last weekend, they’re finally starting to prove me right. In the six Sprint Cup races since Phoenix back in March, where McMurray finished 22nd, the #1 team has posted three top 10 finishes and a worst result of 19th. Now they’re rolling into a track that they have been decent at recently with a little bit of momentum and a race car that has some speed in it. Jamie ranked 4th in ten-lap average during the first practice session on Friday and 6th on that chart in Happy Hour. He’ll roll off the grid in 13th on Saturday night, and if this team can keep up with the track I honestly believe he could challenge for a finish around 12th or so when it’s all said and done. McMurray finished 14th in this event one year ago and 14th in the fall race during the 2011 season after starting 2nd and leading 19 laps. He could be worth a shot in some deeper leagues.
15. Juan Montoya – Starts 6th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
Another team I’ve had my eye on all season long is this #42 team. Earnhardt-Ganassi switched to Hendrick engines this year and I think that’s the reason for the boost in the #1 and #42 teams’ performance so far this year. Then again, when you are comparing it to 2012, just finishing the races could be seen as improvement. There’s a few additional things I like about Montoya this weekend, though. He qualified 6th, his best effort since winning the pole here back in 2011 (he led 25 laps but finished 29th), and he finished 12th back at Phoenix, a track that’s somewhat similar to Richmond. Furthermore, he ended up 12th in this race last year and has ended up inside the top 15 in four of his last six starts at Richmond. JPM posted the 10th-best ten-lap average during the first practice session on Friday and followed that up with the 2nd-best lap in Happy Hour (although that was in qualifying trim). There’s a huge amount of risk in taking Montoya this weekend but he could surprise some people on Saturday night. Then again, he could end up in the wall, too–as usual.
Just missing the top 15: Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Sleepers To Consider For The Toyota Owners 400:
A.J. Allmendinger – I completely wrote of The Dinger after his drug thing last season, but that all seems so distant now that he’s had a few good runs with Phoenix Racing in 2013. Whether he’s been fast or not, A.J. has been able to get the finish; in three starts this season (Phoenix, Bristol, and Fontana), Allmendinger hasn’t finished worse than 16th, and he even came home with a solid 11th-place effort at Phoenix back in March–although I think that late caution helped him out quite a bit. Still, it’s the finish that matters in most fantasy leagues. Moving on, believe it or not, A.J. hasn’t been too terrible here at Richmond over his career, especially lately. In his last five starts here (he obviously missed last fall’s event), he hasn’t finished worse than 17th and actually picked up top 10 finishes here in 2010 and 2011. In this race last season, Allmendinger started 4th and ended up a decent 16th in the #22 Penske Dodge. On Friday, the #51 Chevrolet was 8th on the ten-lap average chart in first practice and A.J. posted the 6th-fastest lap in Happy Hour. He had a bad draw in qualifying on Friday and will start the Toyota Owners 400 in 24th, but I really think he could challenge for a top 15 on Saturday night. It’s all going to come down to the team and the equipment, which aren’t exactly strong points, I admit (and that’s why there’s some risk there). Still, Allmendinger would be a nice pick this week in deeper leagues.
Marcos Ambrose – The Tasmanian has always been a decent sleeper pick when the series stops at Richmond International Raceway. In his first ever start here back in 2009, Marcos came home with a respectable finish of 11th, and then backed that up in 2010 with 9th and 5th-place efforts. Once he moved over to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011, though, the finishes went downhill. In the first three events, Ambrose finished between 21st and 23rd in each (hey, at least he’s consistent) and then finally “broke through” (for lack of a better term) with a 15th-place finish here last fall. This week, the #9 Ford doesn’t look overly impressive, but Marcos qualified 11th on Saturday and will have a little bit of track position to start off the Toyota Owners 400. He ended up 18th back at Phoenix in March and posted the 13th-best ten-lap average during the first practice session on Friday. If this teams hits on something with the setup to start the race, I think he could challenge for a top 15, but heading into the race I have him pegged for a top 20.
Driver To Avoid For The Toyota Owners 400:
Greg Biffle – The Biff already isn’t very good at this track and his 33rd-place qualifying effort just put the nail in the coffin for the #16 Ford in my eyes. He’ll probably run top 20 on Saturday night but that’s not the kind of finish you want out of a driver like Biffle in fantasy. He ended up 9th here last fall but that has been his only top 10 at this track since 2006. Greg finished 17th back at Phoenix in March and we should expect a similar result out of this #16 team here in Richmond on Saturday night.