FANTASY: Revitalized for Richmond
Toyota Owners 400 Fantasy Preview
Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Easter Break, NASCAR's first off-weekend of the season, is over. The break should have given the opportunity for everyone to rest after a two-month, eight-week sprint to start the season.
That beginning included races everywhere from Florida to Tennessee to Texas to California. It featured three rain delays, which resulted in two unplanned night races and a Monday event. It raced on tracks that included two half-mile ovals, two 1.5-mile cookie-cutters, and a restrictor plate track of 2.5 miles. It certainly challenged both the skills and the patience of drivers, teams and NASCAR officials alike.
There's plenty of good news and reason for optimism. The weather is warming up; the traveling circus will stay closer to Charlotte in the near the future; and, thanks to the new Chase format, a postseason berth is not too far away for most teams (except Swan Racing, which sold its teams this week).
From a fantasy NASCAR standpoint, it's time to refocus in what many fantasy experts have considered to be an unreliable and difficult year to pick drivers. It starts with getting it right coming out of the break. Here's a look at some of the best performers at Richmond:
Richmond International Raceway is a 0.75-mile oval with moderate banking (at the most). It falls somewhere between NHMS and a mini-cookie-cutter in terms of its race approach. It will require more technical ability than a cookie-cutter, but will hold more speed in the turns than NHMS, which is the most challenging in the terms of when to get on and off the gas.
Night races can throw a wrench in any race. Practices and qualifying are held during the day, so teams aim to perfect the car in conditions that are different from the actual race. Once the sun goes down and lights come on, a car might race better or worse than it had leading up to the race.
Short tracks lend themselves to driver ability. This is a track at which fantasy owners should get selective in making their picks, not every driver is a reasonable pick this weekend.
- #4 Kevin Harvick - It's hard to win two of the first eight races and still sit 22nd in points. Harvick has been very much feast or famine this year, and won the Richmond race last spring.
- #18 Kyle Busch - RIR is his baby, as he has 12 top-fives in 18 starts at the track. His 7.2 career average finish at Richmond is the best in the field.
- #24 Jeff Gordon - A 14.1 career average finish at Richmond isn't exactly setting the world on fire, but the current series points leader has 26 top-10s in 42 RIR starts.
- #48 Jimmie Johnson - His career average finish of 17.3 at Richmond ranks as the worst of any track on the schedule. Of course, he still has three wins at RIR, but surely there are a couple dozen better times to start him than this weekend.
- #11 Denny Hamlin - The Virginia native tends to perform well at his home track and has an 8.9 career average finish at Richmond.
- #14 Tony Stewart - He's been inconsistent this season, but Stewart has three wins and 19 top-10s in 29 career Richmond starts. He's a pretty good option this weekend.
- #15 Clint Bowyer - Things haven't been the same for Bowyer since the spinning incident at Richmond leading up to last year's Chase. If there's a place to turn it back around (no pun intended), it would seem like the place where it all began. Bowyer's 10.1 career average finish at Richmond is third in the field.
- #31 Ryan Nemwan - Speaking of the Bowyer spin, it was Newman who was running away with the win before the incident brought out a late caution and shuffled him back. He has 14 top-10s in 24 RIR starts.
- #2 Brad Keselowski - He's been inconsistent this year for sure. At Richmond over the years, he's been consistently poor without a top-five in nine starts, and just two top-10s.
- #16 Greg Biffle - Sitting 11th in points, a yet-to-be defined season might remain that way for The Biff at Richmond. With just six top-10s in 23 starts at RIR, it's hard to expect great.
- #3 Austin Dillon / #42 Kyle Larson - Pick a rookie; there's no one else, as usual. Larson might be the better of the two, considering his background in short tracks.
- #30 J.J. Yeley - The whole Swan Racing situation was a little confusing this week, as the team basically sold its two-car outfit to a couple other teams and Parker Kligerman ended up without a ride. Here's what's really important: the No. 30 wasn't competitive before and that's not going to change this week.
Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily rank order.
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