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FANTASY: Racing Through Richmond

Thursday, April 26, 2012
Denny Hamlin tends to do very well at his home track. Photo: Getty Images

Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers Fantasy Preview

Did you know that we don't plow the snow off our track at NHMS?  We just let it snow and hope it melts in time for  the track's opening day in April.

Did you also know that the don't plow the snow in Richmond either?  No, I'm not talking about the track, I'm just talking about the roads in general.  They just let it snow and immobilize the whole state until the non-existant plows can clear the snow that's frozen to itself.  It's a pretty inefficient process.

In our defense, we don't want to tear up the track.  In Virginia's defense, well...there is none; they just don't know what they're doing.

Before diving into the Fantasy Preview, I generally tell a short story to help set the scene, so here's the story of the time it took my buddy and me 19 hours to drive from Washington D.C. to Tampa Bay through a few 100 miles of unplowed roads.

We know we'd be set back a little when we woke up in Arlington, Va., and snow had begun to fall.  We hadn't anticipated that it would cost us about five hours of time.  As the snow began to pile up on our drive toward Virginia's capital, we saw countless cars off the road (after about 35, we lost count), but one thing we didn't see was a snow plow.

Shortly into the drive, we were going a slow 45 mph in less than an inch of snow and passed a cop.  He threatened to pull us northerners over if we didn't "slow down immediately."  I guess he didn't like being outdriven by some guys in a Volkswagen stationwagon that had more confidence than he did!

At one point, we pulled off the road for fuel and a bathroom break.  At that point, we were looking at a good 3-4 inches of snow and still not seeing anyplows.  We couldn't even get out of the parking lot due to a lack of traction, so I had to get out and push, then run after the open passenger door to jump in with our momentum still going.  Luckily, an emergency crew in what looked like an ambulance, came along to give us a hand.  It was then that we realized we couldn't get off I-95 for any reason until we got south and there was less snow, which would prove to be about four hours later in North Carolina.

My story is a little harsh, as we did finally run into a line of plows right as we hit Richmond.  The trip is normally a nice 100-mile jaunt down the interstate from D.C., but it must have taken us about five hours in this storm.  Of course, once we were through Richmond and past the plows, we were back to blazing our own trail.

We finally made it to the North Carolina border, a 200-mile trip from D.C., as the light was beginning to fade around 4:30.  (We'd left the nation's capital at 10 a.m.)  Once in N.C., there was at least some road plowing.  Given it was a construction grader, but something was better than the nothing Virginia had offered for snow clean-up.

We had a lot of night driving in front of us, but once out of the snow, it was like a qualifying run of an endurance race: just us and the road.  Two hundred miles in South Carolina, 100 in Georgia, and about 250 miles across Florida, but we arrived in time to see the first light of the next day!

Needless to say, it'd be best to hope that there's no freak snowstorm heading through Virginia this weekend, or there will be a lot of immobile NASCAR fans, which doesn't jive well with a sport built around getting somewhere the fastest!

Here's a look at the drivers we can expect to see making haste through Richmond this weekend.

Strategy: At just 0.75-miles, the tri-oval of Richmond International Raceway qualifies as a short track.  These are different beasts than the cookie cutter, mile-and-a-halfs we've seen the last few weeks.  Short tracks reward driver ability, which means that the drivers that figure it out tend to consistently put up strong finishes.

A-List

Start

#11 Denny Hamlin - Like Martinsville a few weeks ago, Richmond is one of the two tracks that splits the title of "home track" for Hamlin.  He tends to do very well at both.  His 117.6 driver rating is the best in the field at this track and his 7.6 average finish is second.  Not to mention, he has the momentum from last weekend's win at Kansas.
#18 Kyle Busch - If the younger Busch is going to turn his season around, the time is now!  He has a gaudy 5.0 average finish at Richmond with three wins and 11 top-fives in 14 starts.

#29 Kevin Harvick - The Closer's 112.6 driver rating at Richmond is third best to Hamlin and Busch and far ahead of the fourth-best 98.5 of Jeff Gordon.  He might not have the finishing numbers of the No. 11 or No. 18, but he's stronger than his already respectable 11.5 average suggests.

Park

#17 Matt Kenseth - The 17.3 career average finish and just one top-10 in his last 10 Richmond starts suggest that this isn't a good track for the car sitting third-place in the Cup standings.

B-List

Start

#15 Clint Bowyer - As someone that started him last week, it was disappointing to see the engine problems.  However, he's been good much of the season and wasn't alone in his struggles at Kansas.  His 96.3 driver rating is the B-List's best at Richmond, so he's rightfully getting the nod from a lot of Yahoo users this week.

#39 Ryan Newman - Newman tends to do well on most of the short tracks.  I said the same thing last time NASCAR was at a short track (Martinsville) and rode his race win to my only weekly win of the year in our NHMS Employees group.  His 93.0 driver rating at Richmond is second to just Bowyer on the B-List.

#55 Mark Martin - Martin had another solid race going last week, but of course I finally got him onto my roster the week his engine failed during the final pit stop!  A little bad luck shouldn't dampen the appeal of starting a part time driver that is consistently finishing around the top-10.

#56 Martin Truex Jr. - He has just two top-10s in 12 Richmond starts, but he's defied the stats all year and is second in the Cup standings.  It's worth noting that three of those 12 races ended with DNFs, so it might have been more bad luck than poor driving.

Park

#16 Greg Biffle - Even with my conservative approach, I've been zapping starts on this guy at a near weekly clip and need to be careful when I use him.  He has just five top-10s in 19 Richmond starts and an average finish of 16.6.  With the way he's raced this year, there will definitely be nine better opportunities to start him than this week.

#31 Jeff Burton - I usually like drivers at their home tracks, as they tend to have some magic on them.  However, Burton hasn't finished above 22nd in the last four races this season (in fact, he's finished exactly 22nd in three of them).  If you're looking for the local charm, Hamlin is a far better option, as Burton's momentum currently mimics a sailboat on a day with no wind.

C-List

Start

#43 Aric Almirola - There have been several opportunities to pick up cheap starts from part time drivers, but there aren't any of note in this week's field.  This is a time you'll have to burn one of the nine allocations you have on the driver that currently tops the C-List by an average of 7.5 points per race.

#47 Bobby Labonte - In the interest of a second option, I'd go with Labonte.  Since this track focuses a lot on driver ability, a former Cup champion is the best option you'll find on a depleted C-List.

Park

#34 David Ragan - I feel like a professional wrestler whose skit involves beating someone over the head with a folding chair.  In this case, it's not Ragan, it's the 37% of fans that start him every week.  I continue to point out that he's no better than any of the other Davids on the list, and the crew chief of teammate David Gilliland even alluded to Front Row Motorsports' main goal being to leave the track with the cars intact.  I pointed out last week that Ragan was averaging a 29th-place finish in 2012, and he then finished 30th at Kansas.  Eight races and no top-tens; give it up already people!

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The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.

You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com.  If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.