Fantasy NASCAR Picks – Richmond: Crown Royal 400
The Sprint Cup series is back in action this week at arguably the best pure driver’s track in the sport – Richmond International Raceway. The mildly-banked .75-mile oval is a test of equipment and driver skill, and as a result it heavily favors veteran drivers and big-dollar teams.
The good news for fantasy owners is that many of the “usual suspects” populate the top categories. The bad news…once you get beyond the top-tier, things thin out rather quickly, and that makes the C-list and low-budget categories particularly difficult to sort through in this Saturday night shootout. I’ll give it a try, though – here are my best-bet picks for your Fantasy NASCAR team at Richmond.
Six-year averages are listed next to each driver (12 races total), including Average Running Position (ARP), Average Finish (AVG), and Driver Rating (RAT).
1. Kyle Busch (ARP: 7.4 AVG: 5.3 RAT: 113.8) - Denny Hamlin gets all the pub at Richmond because it is his home track, but he’s not the only Gibbs driver that puts up consistently big numbers here. In fact, when it comes to getting across the finish line, Kyle Busch bests even his greatly-hyped teammate – in 12 career races at the 3/4 mile track, The Shrub has finished top-5 in all but two, and has won two of the last four. It is no surprise, then, that Kyle leads all Cup drivers here over the last six years in average finish (5.3). He’s also second in driver rating (113.8), laps run in top-15 (4253, 88.4% of the time), fastest laps run (368) and quality passes (332) as well as being fourth in laps led (624). Kyle wrecked out at Talladega, but has finished top-3 in three of the last five races heading into the weekend, and he looked strong in the Truck and Nationwide series last weekend at Nashville, which counts as a reasonable warm-up for Richmond. Busch is a serious contender.
2. Jimmie Johnson (ARP: 15.7 AVG: 16.1 RAT: 89.9) - Johnson is a bit of an all-or-nothing driver at Richmond; in the past eight races here, the No.48 car has finished top-3 four times (including three wins) while landing 30th or worse twice. As a result, his loop data stats are a bit skewed, but don’t let that scare you away from Jimmie – coming off the win at Talladega, he enters the weekend with plenty of confidence, and definitely knows how to get to victory lane in the Commonwealth. If you want consistency, check out the category below, but if you are willing to gamble a little bit on a win, Jimmie is one of your best bets.
3. Denny Hamlin (ARP: 5.4 AVG: 8.0 RAT: 119.8) - This is Denny’s home track, and he’s won two of the last three here – so why is Hamlin at the bottom of this category? For one, he’s struggling right now. Second – and more importantly – for as good as Denny is here, he never seems to do as well in the spring race, failing to reach the top-10 in the early event the past three years. That shouldn’t make you shy away, though, because Hamlin’s numbers here are nothing short of spectacular; he leads all drivers over the past six seasons in average running position (5.4), driver rating (119.8), laps led (1150), percentage of laps run in top-15 (95.1%) and fastest laps (440)…and he’s only run in 10 races during that 12-race span. His slow start merits a little bit of caution on the part of Fantasy owners, but Denny will still be a clear favorite Saturday night.
Safe Picks for a Solid Richmond Finish
1. Clint Bowyer (ARP: 10.9 AVG: 9.8 RAT: 96.6) – Believe it or not, Bowyer is an amazingly consistent driver at Richmond; in 10 career races at the Virginia short track, he has finished 12th or better nine times. Since winning here back in 2008, Bowyer has tallied top-10 finishes in three of the last six races, and has looked strong just about every time out. More importantly, Clint is on a roll right now, with four-straight top-10 finishes and back-to-back runner-up performances heading into the weekend. A hot team at a track they have always run well at – it should be a fantasy slam-dunk as far as scoring points is concerned.
2. Jeff Gordon (ARP: 13.1 AVG: 15.8 RAT: 97.8) – True, the last time Jeff won at Richmond was all the way back in 2000, but just because he hasn’t been to victory lane in a while doesn’t mean his consistency here is gone – the No.24 team has finished top-10 in seven of the last eight races at the 3/4 mile track, including a second place finish in the spring event last year. Looking at the stats, Gordon is fourth among Cup drivers in the past six years in driver rating (97.8) and third in laps led (648). Jeff comes into the weekend with top-5 finishes in two of the last three races, and while he might not be talked about as a favorite to win, Gordon should be near the pointy end of the field by the time the checkered flag falls.
3. Kevin Harvick (ARP: 7.3 AVG: 8.6 RAT: 112.1) - It is a little surprising that Harvick has only one win at Richmond, because he has been impressive here over the past six years, with 11 top-10 finishes during that 12-race span. His loop data stats in that period are also pretty stout; Harvick leads the series in laps running in the top-15 (4425) and quality passes (379) while being second in average running position (7.3) and laps led (680), third in average finish (8.6) as well as driver rating (112.1). Kevin enters the weekend with three top-5 finishes in the last four races, and should continue to rack up the fantasy points Saturday night.
One of the most difficult things to do when picking a Fantasy NASCAR team (especially this week) is filling those last few slots – either “C List” drivers in category leagues, or low-budget drivers in salary leagues. Here are a few drivers that could present a good value for your team this weekend – I’ll do my best not to drift to far into drivers that might be in higher categories in your league:
1. Marcos Ambrose (ARP: 16.1 AVG: 11.8 RAT: 81.8) – The good news is that Marcos is one of the few less-experienced Cup drivers that runs well at Richmond. The bad news is that he is no longer a C-list driver in a lot of leagues. For the salary guys, though, Ambrose presents a nice low-budget option. In four career races at the Virginia short track, Marcos has finished 11th or better in three, and he posted top-10 results in both races last season. Running Kasey Kahne’s old car, there is a solid chance he could repeat those kind of results Saturday, making the Aussie a strong low-budget pick.
2. David Ragan (ARP: 21.6 AVG: 21.9 RAT: 63.9) - Ragan finished third in his second-ever Richmond Cup race back in 2007, and since then things have…well – gone downhill a bit for the No.6 team. With four-straight finishes outside the top-20 here, there is not a ton of upside to starting Ragan, except for the fact that he is running well right now, with top-10 finishes in two of the last three races heading into the weekend. We’re playing the hot hand here as opposed to relying on stats, but hey – at least he has that third-place finish to provide a little hope.
3. Paul Menard (ARP: 28.6 AVG: 27.3 RAT: 50.6) - I’ll be honest, I am not big on going with Menard this week, especially in limited-start leagues, because this really is not a great track for the No.27 team and a fantasy start would likely be put to better use another weekend. But he is in a Childress car, has been running very well (with a 5th and a 12th in the last two races) and since Regan Smith has yet to come around, there aren’t very many other options this weekend. You could definitely do worse, and there is some upside to this pick.
Richmond is always a must-see race, and is sure to feature plenty of action and hard racing. The top picks are pretty easy to make this time around, but those low-budget categories are sure to give Fantasy owners a headache. The strategy this week is simple – after you get past the obvious choices, run with the hottest C-list drivers on the board, and hope for the best to maximize the number of points your team scores.