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FANTASY: Prepping for a Wild Night

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Hamlin has found victory lane at his home track before. Photo: Getty Images

Federated Auto Parts 400 Fantasy Preview

If Carl Edwards wins this weekend, Jeff Gordon finishes in 12th (without leading a lap) and Kyle Busch finishes 23rd (without leading a lap), Edwards makes the Chase (if my math is correct).  That's a lot of "if's," so let's keep it simple.

Edwards has not won a race in a year and half, and Kyle Busch has 13 top-10s in 15 Richmond starts.  The odds of those "if's" coming to fruition are similar odds to, let's say, Aric Almirola (zero top-fives this season) winning this weekend's race.  It's not impossible, but it's certainly improbable.

For all practical purposes, let's assume there are five drivers fighting for one Wild Card spot.  Busch, Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano can all qualify for the Chase simply by winning this weekend.

That's the simplicity of this Wild Card scenario.  While only one of those five will actually take the spot, each arrives at the track knowing that if he ends Saturday night in victory lane, the team will be headed home to get the car ready for a Chase run.

For some drivers, there's more leeway than others.  Busch is driving this party bus, as he's tops among the drivers in the standings.  So long as he doesn't let anyone of them finish in front of him, he's chasing the Cup.  In fact, he's 12 points in front of Gordon, so as long as the No. 24 doesn't see the checkered flag, Busch has a cushion of about 12 spots (give or take bonus points for laps led).

For a driver like Gordon, leading a lap is a priority.  The one point he gains could easily be the difference in making the Chase should Busch slip up.

For the rest, it's really a win-or-go-home scenario.  Ambrose is 40 points back of Busch (the other two are farther), so there's no realistic way that he would finish in front of Busch or even Gordon, unless the two take each other out on the first lap and beat the start-and-parkers on to the haulers.  The odds of that?  About the same as Joe Nemechek winning this weekend.

From a fantasy NASCAR standpoint, most drivers are either in or out, so I wouldn't expect too many guys to drive anymore recklessly than they do on an average weekend, but I would be careful of the bubble.  Busch and Gordon should both be safe bets, as they both know that strong finishes (without winning) could give them a shot at the Chase.

The other three aren't so safe.  They need to win, plain and simple, and keep in mind that a lack of consistency this season is what has put them in this predicament to begin with.  They carry a lot of risk with not a whole lot of reward.

Strategy: Richmond is a short track.  As such, it mimics many other short tracks where you're either really good or really not good.  I recommend taking the stats at face value and going with the driver that has the best history at this track.  It's unlikely to waver too much from race-to-race.

A-List

Start

#11 Denny Hamlin - Richmond is the Virginia native's home track and his familiarity with it shows.  He has a career average finish of 7.3 at the track.  When you account how well he's been driving with wins in the last two Cup races, he's a pretty easy choice.

#18 Kyle Busch - In need of a win, Busch has come to the right place!  He has a disgusting 4.7 average finish on this short track, so it shouldn't even be a surprise that his history includes four wins and 12 top-fives in 15 starts.

#24 Jeff Gordon - His 14.7 average finish at Richmond is nothing special.  However, he's Jeff Gordon. He finished third two races ago, second last week and I expect to see him running up near the front in this race.

Park

#48 Jimmie Johnson - While he has three wins here, he has just a total of eight top-10s in 21 Richmond starts.  He's poised to clean up on a lot of the Chase tracks, so save him for those weeks.

B-List

Start

#15 Clint Bowyer - If it weren't for Busch and Hamlin's great finishing averages, Bowyer's 10.2 career average at Richmond would look pretty darn good!  As it stands, it's still third among active drivers.

#39 Ryan Newman - If one of the "win at all cost" drivers is going to pull off the improbable, it's the Rocketman.  His 11.8 average is second to just Bowyer on the B-List and he's notoriously strong on short tracks.

#55 Mark Martin - It's another solid week to go back to the well for good ol' Mark Martin!  He has 29 top-10s in 53 Richmond starts, and I always consider a top-10 rate of better than 50% to be a strong number.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - I'm reluctant to put Dale in here, but there aren't a whole lot of other clear choices.  Personally, I might save him for a better track, since his allocations are probably in short supply.  However, his 13.9 average finish is fourth on the B-List to the three drivers listed above, so if I'm going to list the four best options, it makes sense he'd be fourth.

Park

#16 Greg Biffle - The Biff has never won at Richmond and has just two top-fives and five top-10s in 20 starts at the track.  Keeping him off the roster should be a no-brainer.

#56 Martin Truex Jr. - I tried to find every reason I could to talk myself into Truex, as I personally still have five starts left for him.  I just couldn't get over the 24.4 average finish and a measly two top-10s in 13 starts at this track.  He's raced far better than his history all season, but those numbers are pretty tough to swallow.

C-List

Start

#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - His two top-10s in six Richmond races are about the best you'll find on the C-List.

#34 David Ragan - The Front Row Motorsports driver isn't in nearly the same machine that saw him finish fourth twice at Richmond in 2011.  But, the C-List is shallow this week and it is a track more about driver than machine, so his three top-fives (in 11 starts) warrant attention.

Park

#32 Ken Schrader - He was an All-Star back in his day, but that was a long time ago.  With all due respect to him, he's not much more than a seat-filler these days and really shouldn't be of much consideration.

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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.