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April 23, 2013
By Micah Roberts
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After getting a heavy dose of racing on the newer down force tracks over the past six weeks, we get to see some traditional type of NASCAR racing in the Capital of the Confederacy at Richmond International Raceway this Saturday night. Although we were all kind of getting to know who was good and who wasn't in the new Gen-6 cars on the fast tracks requiring maximum horse-power, it's back to the drawing board this week.
The most important factor to mix in with any betting equation this week is referring to the March 3 race at Phoenix. Richmond is only 3/4-mile in distance while Phoenix is 1-mile, but the banking is similar which makes the crew chiefs try to get the same type of balance on their cars at each track. If a driver did well at Phoenix, they're likely to be ahead over the rest of the field this week.
Carl Edwards led a race high 122 laps at Phoenix and captured his first Cup Series win since Las Vegas in 2011. Edwards has never won at Richmond, but did finish runner-up in the fall of 2011. Jimmie Johnson finished second at Phoenix, followed by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
For Virginia-native Denny Hamlin, who has been out for the past three races due to back injuries suffered at Fontana, he says he's "50-50" to return to the track he's won twice at before. If his X-rays show this week that he is healing properly, he could be given the green flag and return Saturday night.
If Hamlin can return this week, he'll have 18 races to try and win as many races as he can to win one of the two wild card spots in the Chase. He's currently 26th in points and would need to finish within the top-20 positions to eligible for the wild cards.
While Hamlin would be a considered a long shot to win the race because of his injuries, his skills on the track where he's averaged an 8.1 finish over his career make him a driver to take notice of. The odds on everyone will be drastically impacted if he starts in the No. 11 car Saturday.
The top driver at Richmond, and favorite this week, is Kyle Busch. He's got a track record 5.4 average finish and has won this spring race four consecutive seasons. Busch had some issues last week at Kansas where the howling winds seemed to upset his car, but he still leads the Cup series with five top-5's and is tied with Matt Kenseth and Johnson for the most wins, with two each.
Clint Bowyer has been at his best on these type of tracks. We can mesh Richmond, Phoenix and New Hampshire all together, and all three flatter tracks have proved to be Bowyer's best over his career. He has two wins at Richmond, including the fall race last season. Bowyer finished sixth at Phoenix.
Johnson is a three-time winner at Richmond, but only has one top-5 finish there in his last eight starts. He becomes a much more likelier candidate to do well because of his solid run at Phoenix in March. They may not have the down-force tracks entirely figured out yet, but the No. 48 team has been collectively good enough to pull out to a commanding 37 point lead in the points race over teammate Kasey Kahne.
Although Brad Keselowski hasn't had the look of a winner in any race this season, it comes as somewhat of a shock to see him sitting third in points with a series best seven top-10 finishes in eight races. Even Johnson only has six top-10's. He had the best Richmond run of his career last season by finishing in the top-10 of both races.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
3) #15 Clint Bowyer (12/1)
4) #99 Carl Edwards (12/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (15.1)
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