Richmond International Raceway is the site of this week’s race, the Toyota Owners 400. This is an intermediate-looking venue but is actually considered a short track, coming in at 0.75 miles long. We should see plenty of good racing here on Saturday night–if that’s when we race. Yep, there’s more rain in the forecast this weekend. Rain doesn’t stop us here at ifantasyrace from pumping out great content, though. For Friday’s practice results, check here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour, and be sure to read our notes for each session: Practice #1 — Happy Hour.
Final Top 15 Ranking For The Toyota Owners 400:
Okay, so this guy is human. Gotcha. Harvick disappointed fantasy owners big time at Bristol last weekend but I’d say the chances of that happening two weekends in a row are slim to none. Look at it this way: if that wreck wouldn’t have happened, “Happy” was well on his way to yet another top 5 finish and possibly even a trip to victory lane in “Thunder Valley.” Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond International Raceway and has finished inside the top 10 in 17 of his 28 career starts. He has just three results outside of the top 20 and has averaged a finish of right around 11th since joining NASCAR’s top series–good enough for 3rd-best among active drivers (behind Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin). The #4 Chevrolet will roll off the grid in 5th on Saturday night and was 4th in ten-lap average during Practice #1 on Friday before topping that chart in Happy Hour. It’s the same old story for Kevin Harvick: if he’s not fighting for a top 5 (at least) by the end of the night, something is wrong.
Some people will look at Joey Logano’s career average finish of 15.4 here at Richmond and be hesitant in picking him, but let’s not forget that he really didn’t become the racer that he is now until a couple of years ago. Looking at the races at this track since he joined Penske Racing, Logano has three finishes of 6th or better along with one 22nd-place result. Not too shabby. Oh, and Joey is also the defending winner of this race. The #22 Ford will lead the field to the green for the third time of the season on Saturday night and that should bode well for fantasy owners because Logano has never finished worse than 6th in his young Sprint Cup career when starting on the pole. He’s went to victory lane twice when starting P1. Speed-wise the #22 Ford wasn’t great in the practice sessions on Friday but I’m not overly concerned because Joey never really shows his hand in practice. He was 13th on the Practice #1 ten-lap average chart but didn’t show up on there in Happy Hour. I’m still concerned about this #22 team and their ability to keep up with the track but all that means is I don’t see Logano winning the race–although a top 5 is definitely possible.
Keselowski has had his fair share of bad luck here at Richmond so let’s hope that that stays away this weekend. And, by the way, when I say bad luck, I’m talking about more finishes 33rd or worse than top 5s in 11 career starts. But that’s looking at it from the most negative way possible. Using a level head, you will see that BK has a career average finish of 16.9 at this track with four top 10s in the last six races. Even better? He finished top 5 in both events here last season, including a trip to victory lane in the fall. Keselowski broke his string of top 5s with his issues at Bristol last weekend but I’m expecting him to get back on the horse at Richmond on Saturday night; in Practice #1 on Friday, the Blue Deuce was 7th on the ten-lap average chart and ranked 12th on there in Happy Hour. BK will roll off the grid in 7th for this year’s Toyota Owners 400 and I’m fully expecting a top 5 finish. It’s also worth noting that Keselowski tested here a few weeks ago, which is a small advantage but still an advantage.
Matt Kenseth was the lone bright spot on my fantasy teams last weekend, and I’m thankful for that. I was seriously waiting for him to run out of fuel on the last lap at Bristol just to put the final nail in my fantasy coffin. Looking at Richmond, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see Kenseth make it two wins in a row here on Saturday night. Once again he doesn’t have the overall car to beat heading into the race but you never know what’s going to happen when it comes to short track racing. Also, strategy and luck play a lot more into your finish at a track like Richmond than they do at somewhere like Texas. The last time we were here at Richmond, Kenseth had a car that couldn’t be controlled and he hit the wall early before finishing 41st. Keep in mind, however, that in the 2014 Toyota Owners 400 in April, Matt was leading at the green-white-checkered restart but had that altercation with Brad Keselowski and ended up finishing 5th. This has still been a great track for him since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, as Kenseth has ended up 7th or better in four of the last five Richmond races. He was 11th on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #1 before bumping up to 4th in Happy Hour. When you pair his speed in practice with his 8th-place starting spot, there’s no reason to think that the driver of the #20 Toyota won’t be able to crank out another top 5 here at Richmond on Saturday night.
I can’t control what happens in the race, I can only tell you which cars are the fastest…and Kurt Busch is consistently one of the fastest race cars week in and week out right now. However, as you probably know, he’s not getting the finishes he deserves. Still, Kurt hasn’t finished worse than 15th in Sprint Cup action this season, so that has to be worth something. Once this #41 team starts getting the results they deserve, they might be able to rattle off two or three wins. Will that start this weekend? Possibly. Busch went out and qualified 4th for this year’s Toyota Owners 400, which is his best qualifying effort at this track since the September 2013 event. He started and finished 2nd in that race, by the way. This Saturday night, the #41 Chevrolet will roll off the grid in 3rd and I tentatively have Kurt ranked inside the top 5 going into the race. Busch wasn’t great on the speed chart in Practice #1 but he ended up 7th on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour and completed a pretty long run in that final session while a lot of teams focused on qualifying trim. Kurt has finished 9th or better in three of the last four Richmond races and I expect him to make that four of the last five on Saturday night.
What can I say, I’m a sucker for guys that start up front. Richmond International Raceway is Denny Hamlin’s home track and also one of his best tracks. He’s also coming off of that neck injury at Bristol and probably has a “I have to prove it” attitude coming into the Toyota Owners 400. Conspiracy theorists abroad will say that this is the perfect storm brewing for Denny Hamlin to take home the checkered flag on Saturday night. Other than all of that, the #11 Toyota has some good speed this weekend, and tracks where horsepower isn’t as important definitely play into the hands of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas (see last Sunday night). Denny posted laps inside the top 10 in both practice sessions on Friday, and although his ten-lap averages weren’t that great, I’m not overly concerned. The rest of his teammates have plenty of speed and that tells me that the #11 Toyota will be fine.
Six Time is starting to become a fantasy gold mine with his terrible qualifying performances. Seriously, hear me out on this. First, there are a lot of leagues out there that award points based on position differential from the start to the end of the race, namely FOX Fantasy Auto and NASCAR.com Fantasy Live. Jimmie Johnson made a great pick in those games last week at Bristol when he started 28th and finished 2nd. And second, the bad starting spot causes many fantasy racers to shy away from putting the #48 on their roster. Over at Fantasy Racing Online last weekend, Jimmie Johnson was on just 8% of rosters and he almost won the damn race. It’s all about where you finish when it comes to most fantasy games, not where you start. The #48 Chevrolet was second-fastest in terms of ten-lap average during Practice #1 this weekend and the team focused on qualifying trim in Happy Hour (we all see how that turned out). Johnson’s record here at Richmond isn’t stellar but he’s a three-time winner at this track and finished 8th here last September. There’s no reason to think he won’t be a solid top 10 pick again this weekend.
One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and part of that is because he is so realistic and honest when it comes the assessment of his race cars. He won’t bullshit you when it comes to what he has, and I like that out of a driver. Too many of the Sprint Cup stars say they have a winning race car even if it’ll be pure luck if they finish 10th (think Carl Edwards as an obvious example). Junior isn’t like that. This week he noted that the #88 team focused on race balance in practice, which explains the bad qualifying effort (26th). He also said they have “great speed” with the race setup and I believe him; the #88 Chevrolet was 2nd-fastest in Practice #1 and ranked 5th on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour. I wish he would start a little closer to the front but I’m still fully confident in Earnhardt to get a solid finish in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400. Junior hasn’t finished worse than 14th here at Richmond since the 2011 season and he ran 7th in this event one year ago. His bad luck at Bristol last weekend still resulted in a 16th-place finish so that says a lot about this race team. Junior has a car capable of a top 5 finish pretty much week in and week out right now and this weekend is no exception.
Remember what I said last weekend before the Bristol race? No? Let me refresh your memory: “If you’re going to jump off the Martin Truex, Jr. bandwagon this weekend at Bristol, I don’t have a lot to say that will change your mind, just be prepared to jump back on at Richmond next Saturday night.” He ended up finishing 29th at Bristol last week but I’m expecting a huge bounce back out of Martin and the #78 team this weekend. They will roll off the grid in 6th on Saturday night and I really think that the #78 Chevrolet will be a solid top 10 car all night long. Truex was 5th on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #1 on Friday before focusing on shorter runs in Happy Hour. His stats aren’t great here at Richmond, but they’re not as bad as some might think; Truex has a career average finish of 22.1 at this track but he has two top 10 finishes in the last three events, which has to say something. Martin really likes his car this weekend and I do too.
…and Disappointment Carl is back. After a solid 10th-place run at Texas, Edwards disappointed fantasy owners everywhere with his 24th-place showing at Bristol last Sunday night. However, he was in a position to win in the later stages of that race, so I can’t really say it was all bad for the #19 team. I just wish they would find some good luck on race days! Like the rest of the Gibbs crew, Carl Edwards has good speed this weekend and as long as nothing goes wrong I see him as a top 10 threat for sure. Like I said before, a track like Richmond is a great place to load up on the JGR cars in fantasy and give the “big dogs” a break. Carl wasn’t great in qualifying (he will start 18th on Saturday) but he was 8th on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #1 and ended up 2nd on there in Happy Hour. This is significant because Cousin Carl rarely shows up on these charts, so this tells me that he is quite happy with his race car. Edwards won here at Richmond in the fall of 2013 and has finished 10th or better in 8 of the last 10 races at this track–including three of the last four. It’s definitely hard to trust him right now but one of these weeks Carl Edwards and the #19 team is going to break out and go to victory lane.
Gordon should probably be ranked higher this weekend but I still don’t trust him in this new car. I’m waiting for this team to break out with a great performance in 2015, like the races we witnessed in 2014. And I’m not accepting Gordon’s 3rd-place finish at Bristol last weekend because there was quite a bit of luck involved in that, in my opinion anyway. If he’s going to turn things around anytime soon, Richmond is going to be the place it happens. Gordon has the best average finish over the last two years at this track (5.8) and he has just two finishes worse than 12th in his last 16 starts at Richmond. Not too bad. The #24 Chevrolet didn’t get bit by the bad luck bug in qualifying like the rest of the Hendrick stable and Gordon will start 11th on Saturday night. I didn’t see top 10 race speed out of the #24 Chevrolet during the practice sessions on Friday but Gordon tends to hide what he has until race day. I could go either way on this one; Jeff Gordon could easily finish top 5 on Saturday night and he could also easily finish in the teens.
The #1 team just keeping rattling off top 15 after top 15 and with a guy like Jamie McMurray getting finishes like that, it is awesome for fantasy owners, especially when he can sneak into the top 10–something that wouldn’t surprise me one bit this weekend. Jamie Mac struggled a bit in Practice #1 on Friday but this team found something by the time Happy Hour came around because the #1 Chevrolet was 6th on the ten-lap average chart and 4th-fastest in overall speed. McMurray then went out in qualifying and will start in 9th for this year’s Toyota Owners 400. Like I said, there’s speed there. Over the last couple of years, McMurray has been one of the better drivers here at Richmond International Raceway, posting 4th-place finishes in each of the last two fall events. He came home 13th in this race one year ago and I’m expecting a similar result out of Jamie on Saturday night, if not something better.
Boy, the Hendrick Motorsports teams just completely whiffed in qualifying, and Kasey Kahne was the worst of the quartet and will start almost in the back of the pack come race day. Like I said with Jimmie Johnson above, however, this provides fantasy owners with an excellent option in many leagues–FOX and NASCAR.com especially. Kahne is a decent driver here at Richmond International Raceway with a career average finish of 17.7. He did win here back in 2005 and has a couple of top 5 finishes since then (most recently 2012) but other than that Kasey has just been middle-of-the-road. With that being said, the #5 Chevrolet has had a lot more speed here as of late than we are accustomed to so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with this car in this year’s Toyota Owners 400. Kasey ended up 10th on both ten-lap average charts on Friday. I might be overly optimistic but I think Kahne could challenge for a top 10 finish this weekend. With that being said, the risk is incredibly high for a guy like Kahne in the first place, and when you throw in the fact that he starts in the back, you might want to take the route of being safe as opposed to sorry. Pick at your own risk this week.
Kyle Larson is kind of just there this season, which explains his middle-of-the-road ranking in most of my Post Practice Predictions posts. Yeah, there’s a good possibility that he could end up inside the top 10, but going into most races the #42 Chevrolet isn’t that good. Not terrible, but not great. The same story holds true this weekend. Larson has two career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond International Raceway, and those two ended with him in 16th and 11th place despite qualifying on the pole and in 8th, respectively. “The Phenom” will roll off the grid in 12th on Saturday night and I expect him to hover around there for much of the race. Larson is a solid top 15 pick heading into this weekend’s event but not much more. What this #42 team does to the race car will determine where Kyle ends up when the checkered flag waves, so take that for what it’s worth. Larson was 6th in ten-lap average during that first practice session on Saturday.
Abysmal is a pretty accurate word for Clint Bowyer and the #15 team this year. However, Richmond has always been a track that’s he’s had in his back pocket and one that–most of the time–you can get a good finish out of Clint at. In three of the last five races at Richmond, Bowyer has ended up 3rd or better, including a win in the September 2012 race. He’s also finished 12th or better in 8 of the last 11 here so if you had to pick one track that Clint is best at, this is probably it. But will Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 be the race that Bowyer finally gets his first top 10 in 2015 since the season-opening Daytona 500? I guess we’ll find out soon. Bowyer wasn’t great in qualifying but he showed speed during the practice sessions on Friday, ending up 3rd and 8th on the two ten-lap average charts. I doubt many people are going to pick the #15 Toyota this weekend so this gives you a chance to go outside of the box and get a potential huge return…just remember that there’s probably not a riskier pick in the Sprint Cup garage right now.
The Next Ten:
16. Ryan Newman
17. Tony Stewart
18. Paul Menard
19. Austin Dillon
20. A.J. Allmendinger
21. Danica Patrick
22. David Ragan
23. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
24. Aric Almirola
25. Greg Biffle