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Toyota Owners 400

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The third short track race of the Sprint Cup season takes us to Richmond International Raceway for Sunday's Toyota Owners 400.

Because the D-shaped oval is less than 1-mile in distance, we call it a short track, but for oddsmaking and handicapping purposes the best way to approach Richmond races is to look at recent results on the flat 1-mile tracks at New Hampshire and Phoenix rather than the half-mile tracks at Bristol at Martinsville.  
I'll share a part of the process I've been going through for the past 22 years every Sunday night when doing pre-practice rating adjustments for the upcoming race. This process helps me set the numbers on each driver for every race and also use the largest variances from my numbers against the sports book numbers to offer the best perceived betting value for myself. Every driver has a number with a dollar and cents value attached for each race which helps me find the best value in driver vs. driver matchup wagers.
The last major part of the equation will come Saturday following the two practice sessions, but its also a part that many sports book over-adjust with -- pricing drivers way higher in matchups than they should be. They reason the books do it that way is because they're just reading their bettors wagering patterns. The average bettor looks at practice speeds and fires away at any price with whoever looks fast. Sometimes it works out, but most times it doesn't -- see Kyle Larson's 35th-place finish last week at Bristol after being stellar in final practice.   
However you choose to go about weighing your own driver data for Sunday's race, the first team you want to break down and analyze is Joe Gibbs Racing, who have won the past three races on the schedule. Kyle Busch won at Martinsville, and then Texas. Sunday at Bristol, Carl Edwards won from the pole and also led the most laps. He had 8/1 odds at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
It could be argued that the short track wins at Martinsville and Bristol give the five Gibbs drivers (Martin Truex Jr. included) a huge edge making them the easy favorite to win at Richmond. But the counter argument that might weigh heavier in each drivers' rating this week is what happened at Phoenix in March.
Last season three of the top-five finishers at Phoenix finished in the top-five at Richmond in April. Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix -- of course -- and his Stewart Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch (finished fifth at Phoenix) won at Richmond. They both led the most laps in their wins. Harvick also led the most laps six weeks ago during his Phoenix win.
I'm of the opinion that the most current Phoenix events weigh more heavily at Richmond than the most recent Martinsville or Bristol results. The set-ups for the flat layouts appear more relevant. If crew chiefs use the same set-ups and sometimes same exact chassis for each, that should be good enough for me to follow suit when adjusting pre-practice driver ratings.
It's also important to note that JGR's Matt Kenseth won at Richmond in September (led 352 laps) and also at New Hampshire two weeks later. However, those results don't weigh as much in driver ratings just because the new low downforce package wasn't used in those races.   
When we look at this years Phoenix results, there's Harvick winning followed by Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to complete the top-five. That's three JGR drivers that were set up very nice for Phoenix which should apply to Sunday at Richmond as well. Just to note the JGR strength at Phoenix: Kenseth finished seventh and Truex Jr. was 14th.
Harvick has won three times at Richmond (2006, 2011, 2013) and has a 10.8 average finish in 30 starts. However, all those wins came while driving for Richard Childress Racing. He was runner-up in this race last season following the Phoenix win for his top finish in four races while driving for Stewart Haas Racing.
Kyle Busch has finished in the top-five there in 14 of his 21 starts, which includes four wins. This dude is absolutely awesome -- 14 top-fives in 21 races is incredible consistency over long haul. His 7.1 average finish is the best among all active drivers. Harvick and Busch deserve to be 5/1 co-favorites as both rate the highest on equal terms. 
The best look with value this week might be Hamlin, who hails from Virginia. He's a two-time winner (2009, 2010) at his home track who you should be able to fetch, hopefully, at 10/1 odds to win at one of your favorite sports books. His 10.7 average finish is second-best and his 1,404 laps led is tops in the series. His third-place Phoenix finish make him someone to seriously consider, or at least if you believe anything I've discussed here. 
So yes, JGR still has the edge here, but not as pronounced as what we saw at Bristol last week. The best long shot to consider this week is Earnhardt Jr. at 20/1 odds just because of a solid Phoenix run.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #19 Carl Edwards (8/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (8/1)

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