NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Richmond

April 24, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Richmond
Look for Kyle Busch to rebound, Bowyer to continue short-track streak

No matter what form of racing is preferred, Richmond International Raceway fits the need. With long, sweeping corners and a continuously curving frontstretch, this short track behaves like a speedway. A driver who gets the entrance to Turn 3 correct will keep his momentum all the way to Turn 2. Richmond is the original home of side-by-side racing on a short track.

The skills needed to go fast on this track are also the same as on both unrestricted, intermediate speedways and short tracks, so successful drivers at Richmond will have the complete package needed to succeed in NASCAR. Drivers who pop to mind immediately on short tracks such as Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer scored top-fives last year along with speedway aces like Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth.

This is also a track on which past performance predicts future success. Last year, 44 percent of the field finished the fall Federated Auto Parts 400 within six positions of how they ran in the Capital City 400, including a sweep of the top five for Tony Stewart, and top-10 streaks for Brad Keselowski, Mark Martin, and Bowyer.

Fantasy Power Rankings

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Jimmie Johnson

7.76

2.

Jeff Gordon

8.47

3.

Kyle Busch

8.65

4.

Clint Bowyer

10.89

5.

Matt Kenseth

11.88

6.

Kevin Harvick

11.90

7.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

13.74

8.

Brad Keselowski

14.06

9.

Ryan Newman

14.12

10.

Carl Edwards

14.34

11.

Kasey Kahne

14.89

12.

Juan Pablo Montoya

15.63

13.

Martin Truex Jr.

16.45

14.

Jamie McMurray

16.52

15.

Mark Martin

16.83

16.

AJ Allmendinger

16.88

17.

Greg Biffle

17.44

18.

Jeff Burton

17.89

19.

Joey Logano

18.26

20.

Tony Stewart

18.50

21.

Brian Vickers

18.51

22.

Kurt Busch

18.88

23.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

21.76

24.

Marcos Ambrose

22.25

25.

Aric Almirola

22.27

26.

Paul Menard

23.00

27.

David Reutimann

25.17

28.

David Ragan

26.33

29.

Casey Mears

28.99

30.

Bobby Labonte

29.52

31.

Danica Patrick

30.80

32.

Timmy Hill

31.50

33.

David Gilliland

32.76

34.

Travis Kvapil

33.45

35.

Dave Blaney

33.83

36.

Landon Cassill

34.56

37.

David Stremme

37.14

38.

Michael McDowell

37.60

39.

Mike Bliss

37.96

40.

JJ Yeley

38.89

41.

Josh Wise

39.34

42.

Joe Nemechek

39.75

43.

Brian Keselowski

46.67

The Favorites

Only four drivers scored back-to-back top-10s last year on this track, but that number is misleading. Last year’s Federated Auto Parts 400 was a streak-killer. Plagued by rain, the teams struggled to figure out their fuel strategy and the final pit stops of the evening were played out over an 80-lap, green-flag stretch. Kyle Busch was notably harmed by the strategy and finished 16th, which not only snapped a seven-race top-10 streak, but it also dropped him out of the Chase. Carl Edwards saw a five-race streak end last fall and Denny Hamlin snapped a four-race streak.

Busch is not only coming off a bad race at Richmond, but he also had a miserable showing at Kansas last week that eventually ended on the back of a wrecker. It's a fair bet that he will return to the top-five after his brief hiatus, because he is the defending winner of the past four spring races on this track. He has not been all that bad in the fall, either, with a perfect record of results sixth or better in that event entering last season.

Bowyer was perfect on short tracks last year and early indications in 2013 are that he will continue to dominate. In 2012, he swept the top 10 in six races at Richmond, Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. This year, he finished fifth at Bristol and was second at Martinsville. His victory in the fall Federated Auto Parts 400 was partly aided by fuel mileage, but it was his eighth career top-10 at Richmond. When he misses that mark it's not by much, and he has finished in the top 15 in 86 percent of the races he has started.

Richmond is about compromise. With characteristics of a speedway and a short track, it's also considered one of the short, flat tracks with similar demands as Phoenix International Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Martinsville. Brad Keselowski was perfect on that track type last year with a sweep of the top-10 in eight races. Like Bowyer, he has kept his streak alive in 2013 with a fourth at Phoenix and a sixth at Martinsville. The team’s appeal for penalties handed out after Texas will be heard on May 1 so Keselowski still has his full-time crew for one more week. Fantasy owners want to take advantage of that.

Dark Horses

So much has gone wrong at Stewart-Haas Racing that it is impossible to make Tony Stewart a favorite, but this could be the week he gets back into the groove. He traditionally heats up during the summer, but he has a history of running strong in the spring Richmond race and enters the weekend with the longest active streak of top-10s in the field with four. Last year, he swept the top five, and from 2007 through 2009 he finished second three times in a span of four Richmond races.

Mark Martin is quietly amassing an impressive season. His name does not get spoken often as the race progresses, but he is generally in the rundown of the leaders once the checkered flag waves. He enters the weekend with three consecutive top-15s -- one of which was in a substitute role for Hamlin at Martinsville. Likewise at Richmond, he has reliably finished with the leaders and amassed four consecutive top-15s. Better still, each result in that span has been better than the one that preceded it and last fall’s third-place finish could predict a victory.

Underdogs

With back-to-back top-fives at Texas and Kansas, Martin Truex Jr. is one of the hottest drivers in the field, but only his diehard fans will keep him active this week. He has earned only two top-10s at Richmond and the latest of these came in spring 2010. In the five races since then, he has failed to crack the top 20. His teammates Bowyer and Martin swept the top 10 last year and they could help him find a better setup than he has had in the past, but his recent record makes him a huge risk.

Greg Biffle is another high-profile driver who should be avoided this week. He finished ninth in the Federated Auto Parts 400 last fall, but that was his first strong run in more than five years. The 11 races that preceded that moderate result boasted a best finish of 13th and an average of nearly 20th. Like Truex, there is some reason for optimism; from 2004 through 2006 he was able to string five consecutive top-10s together on this track.

Penalties and their impact on fantasy games

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced Matt Kenseth was found to have an illegal part in his STP 400 winning engine. As a result, he was docked 50 championship points, will not receive the three bonus points for that victory at the start of the Chase, and the victory will not be credited toward eligibility for the Wild Card position should he need it.

The No. 20 car will also see its crew chief Jason Ratcliff suspended for six weeks, unless it successfully appeals the penalties. Car owner Joe Gibbs has had the owner’s license for the No. 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car suspended until the completion of the next six championship points’ events, therefore becoming ineligible to receive championship car owner points during that period of time.

The impact to fantasy players is far less dramatic. Any penalties assessed by NASCAR that aren't reflected in race results or are made after 5 p.m. ET on the Tuesday following the race will not be assessed against a game participant for purposes of the game, so owners with Kenseth on their team at Kansas will see no change to the points whatsoever.

Regarding points earned during the game in future weeks, NASCAR Fantasy Live awards points to drivers consistent with their finishing position and four other categories, regardless of whether the driver has declared he will earn points in the Cup series. Even though Joe Gibbs Racing will not earn any champion’s points for the No. 20 team, Kenseth’s scoring in the game will remain unaffected.