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Fantasy

Fantasy NASCAR: Kyle Busch Rarely Disappoints At Richmond


After a weekend off for the Easter holiday, it’s back to business in the Sprint Cup Series. The circuit makes a third short-track stop, this time at Richmond International Raceway.

One of the unique things about Richmond, which we don’t see at Bristol Motor Speedway or Darlington Speedway, is that technically it is a short track, but it tends to play a little bigger. In fact, some feel Richmond is more of a hybrid track, with some intermediate tendencies as well. The cars still get bottled up, though, and restarts are key after the cautions. And remember, we saw some crazy things last time the circuit stopped at Richmond last fall. Just ask Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer, or Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. Bowyer’s “itchy arm” on a restart, a feeble attempt to hold up traffic and help his teammate to an advantage, was one of the most talked about things in NASCAR in recent years.

*Leads all Active Drivers
DR = Driver Rating (past five races at Richmond)
ARP = Average Running Position (past five races at Richmond)

THE TOP 10

1. Kyle Busch: Wins are what matter most, and Kyle Busch has been one of the best in the business at Richmond International Raceway. He has four wins, best among all active drivers, in 18 career starts at the track. During that span, he has 13 Top 10s, and he has finished inside the Top 20 in all but one of those starts. In fact, his worst finish is 24th. He hasn’t been early as dominant in recent years, as NASCAR’s Loop Data shows Bowyer and Kevin Harvick to have been a little stronger over the past three seasons at RIR, but Busch is a slam dunk for Fantasy owners due to his sustained presence in the Top 10 over a length of time, not just the past handful of races like the others.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
101.1 9.6 18 4 12 13 1 7.2* 931

2. Carl Edwards: Edwards has the temperament to get it done at RIR, and lately his results have been very good at the track. In fact, over the past five races, only Kevin Harvick has posted a higher Driver Rating. Despite not having qualified well here over the years, Edwards seems to be able to negotiate his way up the leaderboard with aplomb, always seeming to be right in the mix at the end. In 19 career starts, he does have just one victory, but he was winner in the most recent stop during the fall race in 2013, and he was black-flagged for apparently jumping a late restart in spring 2012, a race he probably could have and should have won.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
108.5 9.8 19 1 4 10 1 13.7 488

3. Clint Bowyer: The No. 15 team is back to the scene of the crime, and you can bet your bottom dollar Bowyer is going to be asked about his “itchy arm” hundreds of times this week. The normally affable Bowyer might brush it off, but you know as the competitor he is, it is burning him up inside and he’ll come out with a chip on his shoulder when the green flag drops Saturday evening. That’s not good for the rest of the field, as Bowyer has torn up RIR in recent years. Only Edwards and Harvick have posted better Driver Ratings at Richmond in the past five races, and Bowyer usually qualifies well at Richmond, too. If he can get onto the pole, he might never look back. Lost in all the fuss is that he has two wins at the track, and 14 Tops 20s in 16 career starts.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
106.9 7.6* 16 2 3 9 0 10.1 348

4. Kevin Harvick: Some might argue with two wins in the bag, Harvick is going to fiddle around with setups and try and do some scouting for the Chase race at Richmond in the fall. He could use this spring race as a testing run, so to speak, fine-tuning his car, testing out different setups and adjustments, seeing what works and doesn’t. However, it’s hard to see that happening, as he already seems to know what works best. Over the past five stops at Richmond Harvick has been the best in terms of Driver Rating. Of course, he is with a new team now, so perhaps some of the above has some merit. In the past five races at RIR, Harvick has run inside the Top 15 a whopping 92.5 percent of the time. Needless to say, Fantasy owners shouldn’t stay away.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
109.4* 8.2 26 3 7 16 1 11.3 945

5. Tony Stewart: Stewart has shown vast improvement lately, as he finally appears to be over the broken leg he suffered last summer in a sprint car wreck. That’s good, too, because he has healed up just in time for a stretch of races which are in his wheelhouse. He is sixth in Driver Rating over the past five races, posting a 98.4 at Richmond. In fact, three Stewart-Haas teammates (Harvick, Stewart and Kurt Busch) are in the Top 8 in Driver Rating during the span, so it could be a big night for SHR on the short track. Stewart has been to Victory Lane three times before at Richmond, and he still feels he should have won the 2012 spring race.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
98.4 11.8 29 3 11 19 0 17.8 950

6. Denny Hamlin: The Chesterfield, Va. native cannot be ignored at what is essentially his home track, but this season he hasn’t given Fantasy owners a lot of confidence, even at places he normally has been dominant. Among active drivers, he is second in Average Finish Position only to Kyle Busch. However, a string of marginal performances this season after a dominant Speedweeks in Daytona has Fantasy owners a little nervous about his selection this weekend. Don’t fret too much, however. In 15 career starts at RIR, Hamlin has been to Victory Lane twice, and he has finished outside of the Top 20 just twice with zero DNFs. If Hamlin struggles Saturday night, it will be a major red flag going forward. However, Richmond might not be the place that finally gets the Virginia native going. Remember, Hamlin has led 1,390 laps in his 15 starts, while Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 1,464 laps lead. However, it has taken Gordon 42 career starts at RIR to accomplish that feat.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
99.3 10.5 15 2 7 9 2 8.9 1,390

7. Kurt Busch: As mentioned above, the SHR cars could have a very good night Saturday, and ‘The Outlaw’ might be right there pushing someone’s rear bumper on the final lamp if he stays out of trouble early. Busch has a respectable 94.6 Driver Rating over the past five races, and has led 109 laps during the span. Expect to see him at or near the front most of the evening, especially since he’ll have Harvick and Stewart to work with closely. The one thing that has held Busch back over the years is his struggles in qualifying at RIR. He has an Average Start of just 19.3, although he has turned that around to lead 457 laps in his career and post 16 Top 20s in 26 starts at the track.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
94.6 14.0 26 1 5 9 0 17.3 457

8. Jeff Gordon: Gordon, remember him? He just happens to be the points leader in the standings, although it is a nervous feeling leading the points but having a big goose egg in the wins column. Gordon could rectify that at a place he obviously has plenty of experience, and has fared pretty well over the years. Now that Mark Martin has moved on to green pastures, Gordon is the most experienced driver at Richmond, and on short tracks, that experience is invaluable. A sprint to the finish line and a win for the No. 24 is not hard to imagine.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
91.5 15.8 42* 2 16* 26* 6* 14.1 1,464*

9. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski made plenty of headlines this week, as he often does off the track, with his new, radical dream Sprint Cup Series schedule, complete with doubleheaders, a different venue for the final/championship race, and new plans for the All-Star race, too. Let’s just say he is a much better driver than schedule maker. He is still cutting his teeth at Richmond, and looking at this statistics over the years shows he still has a little work to do. But in the past five runs, his Driver Rating has been among the Top 10, and he is starting to see results. Saturday night could be a breakout performance for the Team Penske driver. A Top 5 finish would be his first in 10 career starts.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
92.2 11.6 9 0 0 2 0 20.1 142

10. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is a steady performer pretty much anywhere, but he has struggled over the years at Richmond. In 28 career starts, he has just one victory, and he has placed inside the Top 5 just four times. The key to Kenseth’s success this weekend will be in qualifying, something he hasn’t done well at the track. In fact, he has a 20.3 Average Start Position, which is the worst mark among any driver in the Top 16 spots of the standings. If you’re in a Fantasy pool which limits the amount of times you can start a driver, it might be best to save Kenseth for another time. In weekly formats, he isn’t a bad option, as he has a Driver Rating of 98.3 over the past five races, seventh among all drivers.

DR ARP Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s Poles Avg. Finish Laps Led
98.3 10.4 28 1 4 12 0 20.3 368

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The No. 88 has been running well this season, having a resurgent season in his final run with crew chief Steve Letarte. Over the years, he has had mixed results at Richmond. While he does have three career victories, he also has just nine Top 5s in 29 career starts, a DNF, and a handful of lackluster finishes at the back of the pack. In other words, it has been a mixed bag, and he hasn’t shown the kind of consistency lately to rank inside the Top 10 in Driver Rating at the Virginia run. A Top 15 showing is easily within grasp, but don’t expect a Top 5.

12. Ryan Newman: Newman heads into Richmond, quietly having a pretty good season with his new team. And while he has just one win in 24 career starts at Richmond, he could easily have more victories. He ranks sixth among active drivers with an Average Finish of 11.4, and he could be a nice Fantasy sleeper with everyone focusing on Loop Data, Driver Rating and other factors from recent runs. His overall performance at RIR for a span of 12 years is very impressive and should not be forgotten when setting lineups.

13. Jimmie Johnson: It felt weird typing this ranking, I have to admit. The truth of the matter is, Johnson hasn’t had a ton of success at Richmond, one of the few places he has not dominated. He has a rather marginal 17.3 Average Finish position, even though he has three career wins in 24 starts at the track. However, with just eight Top 10s in 24 career starts, he should be reserved in all Fantasy leagues which limit your usage to a set number of starts. This isn’t the place to use the No. 48.

14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The sophomore has plenty of experience at RIR, not so much in Sprint Cup, but in the Nationwide Series. The rising star has shown well in his only two appearances at Richmond in SCS, posting an average finish of 13.0, with finishes of 10th place (fall) and 16th place (spring). Is there even more improvement in the offing?

15. Joey Logano: Logano has qualified well at Richmond, and that hasn’t been an issue. The problems start when the green flag drops, as he has an Average Finish of just 17.8. In 10 career starts, he has finished in the Top 5 twice, and lately he has looked the part of a championship contender. So don’t forget about the No. 22.

TOP 5 SLEEPERS

1. Aric Almirola: In past years, the Richard Petty Motorsports program hasn’t exactly thrived on short tracks, but Almirola is working to change that. He has a pair of Top 10 finishes at short tracks already this season, and is a darkhorse at Richmond.

2. Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. was right there in the hunt last season before the controversial ending to the fall race. Like Bowyer, he’ll hear plenty of inquiries and references to last season, and that should stoke a fire inside at a place he hasn’t normally fared well.

3. Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose continues to look for that first Sprint Cup Series win on an oval track, and if it does happen, it is likely to occur on a short track like Richmond. Ambrose is a crafty driver who could find success on the longest short track.

4. Danica Patrick: Patrick struggled in her two starts at Richmond last season, posting a 29th- and 30th-place showing. However, with a strong Stewart-Haas Racing team by her side, and even a boyfriend (Stenhouse) who has been good here, she might be more comfortable in her second season at the place.

5. J.J. Yeley: Yeley takes the wheel of the No. 30 ride after Swan Racing was forced to reorganize this week due to funding issues. The No. 26 of Cole Whitt was sold to BK Racing, and the No. 30 moved to XxxTreme Motorsports, who will use Yeley over rookie Parker Kligerman, who is now searching for a ride.

2014 NASCAR.com Fantasy Live Lineup for (Salary Cap)

DRIVER SALARY
Kyle Busch $27.75
Kevin Harvick $26.75
Aric Almirola $21.00
Justin Allgaier $15.75
J.J. Yeley $ 7.25
TOTAL $98.50

Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks (Tiered/Grouping Format)

A-LIST Kyle Busch Jeff Gordon
B-LIST Carl Edwards Denny Hamlin Joey Logano Ryan Newman
C-LIST J.J. Yeley Justin Allgaier

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