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Honoring the Troops, Crowning Virginia

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Kyle Busch won Richmond in 2010 and should be a favorite to win again this year. Photo: Getty Images

According to the race's name, Crown Royal will present the "Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400" this weekend in Richmond, VA.

Now, the first question most people probably ask is: "Who the heck are Matthew and Daniel Hansen?"

The second is: "Am I not enough of a NASCAR buff to recognize those names and am I going to look like a dope if I voice my first question?"

Of course, being the marketing minded person I am, my first question was: "Is Crown Royal really so cheap it can't splurge for a title sponsorship?"  (Generally, a sponsor pays less to be a "presenting sponsor" as opposed to a "title sponsor."  You can see this in college bowl games: "Tostitos Fiesta Bowl" vs. "Rose Bowl presented by Vizio."  As I think about it, I'm pretty sure that since "Crown Royal" is listed first it is in fact a "title sponsor," but the whole "presents" thing makes them look about as cheap as that purple "go anywhere" bag they sell with their product.)

Anyway, I digress.

More importantly to you: who the heck are Matthew and Daniel Hansen!?

Each year, Crown Royal hosts a "Your Name Here" contest, where it strives to find the average, unsung American hero after whom to name the race.

Now, before you and I start throwing our names into the system and receiving a life time supply of Crown Royal spam emails, let me point out that all five finalists in this year's contest were military associated.

That's fair.  I'm not sure that driving across the country a few times and maintaining a blog make me an average American hero.  I'm pretty sure it just makes me an average American, period.

Matthew and Daniel Hansen were twin brothers and joined the Marines in 2002.  Matthew served three tours in Iraq. Daniel was selected to be a guard for George W. Bush in 2004, but was later killed in action in Afghanistan.  Upon winning the award, Matthew honored the memory of his brother by putting his name on the race.

Memorial Day is still about five weeks away, but, as you watch the race this weekend, please take a minute to honor the life of Daniel Hansen as well and thank our troops for their service.

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With the name of the Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 figured out, let's start trying to figure out who to put behind the wheel of the fantasy team this week.

*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.

A-List

Start

#11 Denny Hamlin - Growing up only about 20 miles away from Richmond, Hamlin has always raced well at his "home" track.  He has five top-fives in ten career starts and has won two of the last three at this venue, including last fall.  However, and this is a big "however," he's the worst driver in the A-List so far this year.  I'd tread carefully before you wheel him out there, but you can't completely ignore his success here.

#18 Kyle Busch - Always a crowd favorite (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, chuckle), the younger Busch has been dominant at this track recently.  The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have swept this track the last two seasons.  Busch has taken the spring races; Hamlin the fall.  It's spring time!

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Before the Toyotas bought him out, Johnson owned Richmond.  He won three of four races in 2007+08.  His 16.9 average finish here is cause for concern, but I'd have him at least on the "Bench" and ready to "Start" if he rolls off the hauler quickly.

Park

#17 Matt Kenseth - Ironic that Crown Royal shouldn't expect to present the Crown Royal car in Victory Lane, no?  Kenseth might be racing better now than he has in recent years, but he hasn't registered a top-10 in eight races at Richmond (a tenth place finish in the spring of 2007).

B-List

Start

#33 Clint Bowyer - Five top-10s in ten career starts.  Average finish of 9.8.  Only one of 10 finishes worse than 12th.  Start 'em!

#39 Ryan Newman - Similar to Bowyer, he has a solid track record here.  He has 11 top-10s in 18 starts, including five top-fives.  Two discardable finishes in the 30s over 18 races lower his average finish to 11.4, but again, those are outliers.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior is racing better right now than he has in about five years.  Not to burst anyone's bubble out there in "Junior Nation," but, from an objective point of view, when a normally middle-of-the-pack finisher goes on a run, it's best to start him on that hot streak.  That's not to say Junior isn't here to stay, but wouldn't you hate to have all his allocations saved up for a mid-summer regression?  Oh, yeah, and he also has three career wins on this track!

The Field - You have to nominate four drivers, but aside from those three, no one is jumping off the page.  Remember you get points for qualifying, so you could add the 42 (below), since he does have a pole this year.  Mark Martin might also be worth considering, as he has an average finish at Richmond that is 1.2 higher than his overall, long career.  However, you probably aren't going to want to stray from starting any of the three best options.

Park

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - In his defense, he has top-10s in his three of his last four races here.  But, that's it.  In his five other finishes, he's only finished as high as 19th and has an average finish of 21.4.  I think after a disappointing 2010 season, Montoya is back, and I also think that you'll want to save his allocations for a track at which he has more success.  Again, you could put him on the bench and hope he nabs a qualifying bonus, but I wouldn't suggest starting him.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - Ragan was swept into an early crash last week, which was exactly why I recommended you avoid using him at a superspeedway.  However, before that, he'd posted two consecutive top-10s and the Roush Fenway Racing Fords seem to be strong right now.

#27 Paul Menard - Menard's never had a top-10 here, but he's also never driven as well as he is now.  Fellow Granite Stripe blogger Travis Barrett commented two weeks ago that he's not sure Menard will keep it up all year.  While I do think he'll routinely be the best C-List option available, I'll go back to what I said about the 88 (above): if a typically middling driver is on a hot streak, it's best to use allocations before he cools off.

Park

It's worth noting that aside from four or five options, the whole C-List should be parked, since it's mainly a "start-and-park" squad.  I'll try to pick a "Park" each week that some might actually consider starting, but since the list is short, I might seem to pick on the same guys.  Remember, when it comes to the C-List: any mention is a good mention.

#21 Trevor Bayne - There's no question that this kid's got a lot of potential, and if David Ragan doesn't continue to improve, Bayne could be behind the wheel of a Roush Fenway car soon.  However, the Daytona honeymoon is over.  He's on an underfunded team and his only real value comes at the superspeedways when he can team up with someone for a good finish, while also saving precious allocations for the few top C-List drivers.  This track is 0.75-miles around; it is absolutely not a superspeedway.

My preliminary roster

A - KYLE BUSCH (7), Johnson (7)

B - BOWYER (8), EARNHARDT JR. (6), Newman (5), Montoya (7)

C - RAGAN (6), Menard (7)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

- JS