Richmond 2 Post Practice Fantasy NASCAR Predictions – Federated Auto Parts 400
There are plenty of story lines that could develop here at Richmond International Raceway during Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400. Will a driver not locked into the Chase gamble and steal a win to get into NASCAR’s playoffs? How conservative will those currently in on points be? And what if it rains? All of these variables make for a hard time handicapping this race, and the fact that we practiced during the day on Friday for a Saturday night race makes it all that much more difficult. For practice results, go here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour and for our notes, go here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour. Joey Logano won the pole for this weekend’s race, and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here.
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Final Top 15 Ranking For The Federated Auto Parts 400:
I’m starting to trust Martin Truex, Jr. a little bit more, and after his 9th-place run at Darlington that makes it two top 10s in the last three Sprint Cup races for this #78 team. Clearly there’s still some concern there, but it’s not like this team is putting out terrible race cars every other week. In fact, the #78 Chevrolet might be one of the most consistent cars in terms of speed on a week-to-week basis, especially on the long run. With that being said, I do have my concerns this weekend. Let’s start with the positives, though. Truex was 7th-fastest on the speed chart in Practice #1 on Friday and he wound up 6th-quick on the Happy Hour chart–which is great. Now for the bad news: the #78 Chevrolet wasn’t on either of the ten-lap average charts during the two practice sessions on Friday. This is concerning because Richmond is a relatively small track, and if a team doesn’t make a run of at least 10 laps, it makes me think that they’re searching for speed–if not overall speed then long run speed. So it will be interesting to see what happens with the #78 machine on Saturday night, because, quite honestly, I’m not 100% sure what to expect. Truex has three top 10s in the last four Richmond races, though, and that includes a 10th-place effort here back in April.
Junior said it best during qualifying–this team really has to figure out this whole qualifying thing. Earlier this year I thought they were improving quite a bit but after Friday’s effort, this will be three straight races that Junior has qualified 20th or worse. Now obviously it’s not the end of the world for him–as he finished 9th at Bristol after starting 20th and 8th at Darlington after starting 26th–but it definitely has to be frustrating as a driver. As far as this weekend’s Federated Auto Parts 400, I’m expecting a solid top 12 run out of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. but then again it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the #88 Chevrolet running inside the top 10, either. Junior has ended up 11th or better in six of the last seven Sprint Cup races. In the last seven races specifically here at Richmond International Raceway, Earnhardt hasn’t ended up worse than 14th and he ran 7th here in the 2014 April race. Speed-wise, the #88 Chevrolet was 15th on the speed chart in Practice #1 on Friday and then bumped it up to 10th-best in Happy Hour. Junior’s ten-lap average was 9th-best in that first practice session.
Kasey Kahne is one of those drivers that you just don’t trust and even when you pick him you cringe at commercial breaks because you just know that a wreck could be coming at any time. When he’s under pressure, however, the confidence in picking him goes to the floor. I just really don’t think this guy knows how to handle pressure. Richmond has been a decent track for Kasey throughout his career, though, as he owns an average finish of 17.2 over 23 starts. He visited victory lane for the first and only time here way back in 2005. Kahne ran 6th in this year’s April Richmond race, but I just don’t see that happening this Saturday night. The #5 Chevrolet has top 10 potential but it’s going to take a lot to get Kahne up into the top 5–let alone in position to win. Kasey was 4th-fastest on the overall speed chart in Happy Hour but ranked just 15th in terms of ten-lap average during that final session. Momentum-wise the #5 Chevrolet has came home between 12th and 16th in each of the last three Sprint Cup races.
Jeff Gordon is pretty much locked into the Chase on points this year so it will be interesting to see how the #24 team plays this race. My bet is on them being ultra conservative, which has its positives and negatives. To be clear, I think this 14th-place ranking is about the ceiling for Gordon on Saturday night. For whatever reason the #24 team just can’t put a string of good runs together and that makes me not want to pick Jeff even if he looks good that weekend. Here at Richmond this weekend he has looked alright, but nothing special. He’ll roll off the grid mid-pack for this year’s Federated Auto Parts 400 and was 8th-fastest on the Happy Hour speed chart. The good news, however, is that Gordon ran 8th here at Richmond back in April and has ended up 11th or better in each of the last six races at this track.
Austin Dillon made my list of sleepers to watch out for in this year’s Federated Auto Parts 400 and after his 12th-place qualifying effort on Friday, I’m feeling even more confident with that sleeper designation. As I mentioned in that sleeper article, though, Austin’s history here at Richmond is concerning: in three career starts at RIR, Dillon has just one top 10 finish along with two results of 27th. So there’s definitely room for improvement. But what I really like about Austin Dillon this weekend is the fact that this #3 team has been putting out some very fast cars recently. In fact, three of the last five Sprint Cup races have ended with the #3 Chevrolet in 13th place or better. In practice on Friday, Austin was 16th-fastest in the first session and then wound up 11th on the Happy Hour speed chart with the 8th-best ten-lap average. I’m putting Dillon as high risk on Saturday night because I think this team is going to throw a hail mary to get into the Chase and we all know how much that could backfire.
The Next Ten:
16. Denny Hamlin
17. Jamie McMurray
18. Tony Stewart
19. Aric Almirola
20. David Ragan
21. A.J. Allmendinger
22. Paul Menard
23. Clint Bowyer
24. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
25. Danica Patrick