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Driver Reports: Previewing the Richmond race

April 24, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Previewing the Richmond race
Can Bowyer recover from 2013 spin, win?; Plus other favorites

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Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 297 points.
Past five races: 7th at Darlington, 2nd at Texas, 12th at Martinsville, 13th at Auto Club, 7th at Bristol.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Gordon's average finish is 15.3 and his average running position is 13.8 over the past nine years. In 42 career starts at Richmond, he has two wins, 16 top-fives, 26 top-10s and six poles.
Quick hit: In the past three years, Gordon has started first, second and third at the 0.75-mile oval. He's logged one top-five and two top-10s in that span. Given his success this year, expect another good starting spot and finish from the No. 24 team.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 296 points.
Past five races: 4th at Darlington, 7th at Texas, 6th at Martinsville, 4th at Auto Club, 13th at Bristol.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Kenseth's average finish is 16.6 and his average running position is 16.3 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Richmond, he has one win, four top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Following a stretch of 10 consecutive races of finishing outside the top 10 at Richmond, Kenseth has three consecutive finishes of fifth, seventh and sixth. His pair of top-10s last year was the first time the veteran recorded a top-10 in both the spring and fall Richmond races since 2003. Expect another top-10 on Saturday, given Joe Gibbs Racing's strength at the track.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is third in the standings with 278 points.
Past five races: 13th at Darlington, 14th at Texas, 13th at Martinsville, 10th at Auto Club, 1st at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Edwards' average finish is 14.2 and his average running position is 14.9 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Richmond, he has one win, four top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Richmond isn't one of Edwards' best tracks, but the No. 99 team found consistency last year with a sixth-place finish in the spring and a win in the fall. Another win would not only likely guarantee Edwards a Chase spot, but would give Ford the manufacturer's first back-to-back pair of wins at the track since 1998-99.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is fourth in the standings with 271 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Darlington, 43rd at Texas, 3rd at Martinsville, 12th at Auto Club, 24th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 16.8 and his average running position is 15.2 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Richmond, he has three wins, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Through eight races, Junior has five top-threes and two finishes of 24th or worse. Which one will it be this weekend? Recent history (two top-10s in the past 10 races) suggests a down weekend, but is it really smart to bet against the No. 88 team this year?

5. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is fifth in the standings with 270 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Darlington, 25th at Texas, 2nd at Martinsville, 24th at Auto Club, 19th at Bristol.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Johnson's average finish is 16.8 and his average running position is 16.2 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Richmond, he has three wins, five top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Johnson has had enough travails at the track recently that his three wins here seem like ancient history -- and really, six years (his most recent victory here was 2008) is a long time in the NASCAR vacuum. And since 2009 Johnson has had more finishes outside the top 30 (three) than top-fives (one).

6. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is sixth in the standings with 269 points.
Past five races: 6th at Darlington, 3rd at Texas, 14th at Martinsville, 1st at Auto Club, 29th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Busch's average finish is 7.2 and his average running position is 7.8 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Richmond, he has four wins, 12 top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Busch's average finish over the past nine years is tops in the Sprint Cup Series. He's one of three drivers to have both an average finish and an average running position of less than 10.0 in the loop data era. Forget his less-than-stellar results last year (24th, 19th) -- he's among the favorites.

7. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is seventh in the standings with 246 points.
Past five races: 17th at Darlington, 15th at Texas, 38th at Martinsville, 26th at Auto Club, 14th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Keselowski's average finish is 20.1 and his average running position is 16.2 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Richmond, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: Saturday night will be a good test of just how much further along Team Penske is with the new package than everyone else. Keselowski has finished outside the top 30 in three of his nine career starts here, so it's clearly not one of his better tracks. His career-best finish is seventh in 2012.

8. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Logano is eighth in the standings with 245 points.
Past five races: 35th at Darlington, 1st at Texas, 4th at Martinsville, 39th at Auto Club, 20th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Logano's average finish is 17.8 and his average running position is 18.8 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Richmond, he has two top-fives and two top-10s.
Quick hit: When Logano qualifies well here -- say, in the top 10 -- his average finish is 14.0 in five races. When he doesn't, his average finish is 18.0. Good thing for Logano, he's made the final round of group qualifying for all seven 2014 races that use the format.

9. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is ninth in the standings with 236 points.
Past five races: 10th at Darlington, 16th at Texas, 20th at Martinsville, 20th at Auto Club, 16th at Bristol.
Season stats: 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Newman's average finish is 11.2 and his average running position is 11.7 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Richmond, he has one win, six top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Newman might be a good Fantasy Live play at Richmond … in the fall. During the past three seasons, the veteran has finished outside the top 10 (20th, 15th, 15th) in the spring races only to rally for top-10s (eighth, eighth, third) in the season's second race at the track.

10. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 10th in the standings with 235 points.
Past five races: 11th at Darlington, 21st at Texas, 15th at Martinsville, 11th at Auto Club, 11th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon has zero Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond. In five Nationwide Series starts, he had two top-10s.
Quick hit: Dillon has only one top-10 in eight starts this year, but consider he also has three finishes of exactly 11th place. He's also logged 2,700 out of a possible 2,702 laps through this year. Dillon doesn't have a career Cup start at Richmond -- that's been the case at five tracks already this season, and his average finish in those races is 14.4

11. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 11th in the standings with 227 points.
Past five races: 5th at Darlington, 6th at Texas, 18th at Martinsville, 40th at Auto Club, 12th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Biffle's average finish is 16.2 and his average running position is 17.2 over the past nine years. In 23 career starts at Richmond, he has two top-fives, six top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Roush Fenway Racing has attempted to rebuild its short-track program, and this should give an indicator of whether that movement is successful. Biffle's average finish here over the past nine years ranks 13th among the 15 drivers currently in the Chase field who have made a start at the 0.75-mile track.

12. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Stewart is 12th in the standings with 224 points.
Past five races: 9th at Darlington, 10th at Texas, 17th at Martinsville, 5th at Auto Club, 4th at Bristol.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Stewart's average finish is 8.7 and his average running position is 12.1 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Richmond, he has three wins, 11 top-fives and 19 top-10s.
Quick hit: With four top-10s in his past five races, Stewart seems due to break through and challenge for a victory. Why not at Richmond? His average finish in the loop data era is tied for second-best, and he's had two top-fives in the past three races here.

13. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is 13th in the standings with 224 points.
Past five races: 26th at Darlington, 4th at Texas, 16th at Martinsville, 7th at Auto Club, 9th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Vickers' average finish is 25.9 and his average running position is 22.6 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Richmond, he has three top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Vickers' strong start to the season took a dip with a 26th-place result at Darlington. It may get worse for the No. 55 driver this week at a track where he has finished 33rd, 35th and 24th in his past three races here.

14. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 14th in the standings with 223 points.
Past five races: 8th at Darlington, 5th at Texas, 27th at Martinsville, 2nd at Auto Club, 10th at Bristol.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: Larson has zero Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond. In two Nationwide Series starts, he had one top-10.
Quick hit: Larson continues to impress every week, with his eighth-place showing at Darlington among the most impressive yet. He has scant experience at Richmond, but he's still a good value play in Fantasy Live and a threat to record his fifth top-10 of the season.

15. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 15th in the standings with 223 points.
Past five races: 19th at Darlington, 13th at Texas, 19th at Martinsville, DNS at Auto Club, 6th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Hamlin's average finish is 8.9 and his average running position is 6.6 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Richmond, he has two wins, seven top-fives, nine top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: There's no place like home? Hamlin certainly hopes that's true. He hasn't seemed right since missing the Fontana race earlier this year. Pit-road speeding penalties on the final pit stop in consecutive races haven't helped, but maybe being at his home track will. Hamlin ranks first in the series in average running position at the track and fourth in average finish since 2005.

16. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Bowyer is 16th in the standings with 219 points.
Past five races: 12th at Darlington, 8th at Texas, 9th at Martinsville, 16th at Auto Club, 15th at Bristol.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Bowyer's average finish is 10.1 and his average running position is 9.5 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Richmond, he has two wins, three top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: It's easy to remember last year's Richmond controversy when analyzing Bowyer. But keep in mind before that spin, Bowyer had won twice at the track -- weighty numbers considering he has eight total victories in the Sprint Cup Series.

22. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 22nd in the standings with 186 points.
Past five races: 1st at Darlington, 42nd at Texas, 7th at Martinsville, 36th at Auto Club, 39th at Bristol.
Season stats: 2 wins, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Richmond, Harvick's average finish is 8.7 and his average running position is 7.9 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Richmond, he has three wins, seven top-fives, 16 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Harvick's No. 4 team is the lone group with two wins this season, and the driver won this race last year. Combine that with the knowledge that Richmond has been among the best tracks throughout his career, and you have one of the clear favorites this weekend.

26. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 26th in the standings with 164 points.
Past five races: 31st at Darlington, 39th at Texas, 1st at Martinsville, 3rd at Auto Club, 35th at Bristol.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Richmond, Busch's average finish is 15.8 and his average running position is 14.4 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Richmond, he has one win, five top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch's lone win came a long time ago (2005), but he has two recent top-fives, including a runner-up finish in last year's fall race. The No. 41 team has finished outside of the top 30 in three of the past five races, something you should not expect to happen Saturday night.