Federated Auto Parts 400
September 5, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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It's not likely we'll see as much drama Saturday night to make the playoffs as we've seen in years past at Richmond International Raceway in the 26th and final race of the regular season.
The field is basically set unless we see any other driver outside the top-16 win. Drivers like Clint Bowyer in 17th, Erik Jones in 18th, Joey Logano in 19th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 22nd all need to win and are too far out to point themselves in.
Meanwhile the other drivers that are already qualified will be racing care-free with no worries and simply trying to gain more bonus points for the playoffs. They can go all out with no fear of anything. So what we've basically got this week is the entire field doing some daring stuff with nothing to lose and I enjoy that type of racing. It's kind of like the non-points All-Star Race on a short track without the $1 million check.
In the first race at Richmond this season in April, Logano came away with the win followed by his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. It was Logano's second career win there and it should have been enough for him to qualify for the playoffs, but he had the points taken away after failing a post-race inspection, or in other words -- cheating. I like to call it creative engineering, but anyway, Logano has to win to make the playoffs.
Bowyer is also a two-time winner at Richmond and has always fared well on short flat tracks. Earnhardt Jr. is a three-time winner there and he'll have the loudest support from the Richmond crazies who know what's at stake in his final season as a full-time driver. Perhaps the best equipped to win right now among those needing to win is Jones just because he's had the same goods as teammate Martin Truex Jr.
Jimmie Johnson won his then-series leading third win at Dover on June 4, but he has seen a win since. he's got three Richmond wins, the last coming in 2008. However, it's important to note that over his last six starts there he's averaged a seventh-place finish.
The drivers that have showed the most consistent speed all season -- Truex and Kyle Larson -- had their best career Richmond results in this race last season. Larson finished second and Truex third, behind Denny Hamlin.
As far as what I think will happen, I don't see any reason to stray from a Joe Gibbs Racing driver. They've won four of the past seven races after going winless to start the season. Hamlin won last week at Darlington and finished third at Richmond in April. He's also a native Virginian with three wins there and a 9.7 average finish. The only driver in the series with a better average is teammate Kyle Busch at 7.3. Busch has four Richmond wins. Matt Kenseth has two wins and led the most laps there in April.
Busch has a reason why the JGR cars have been so good at Richmond.
“I think a lot of it comes from Denny (Hamlin), being that it’s his home track," Busch said. "I’ve been good there in Hendrick and JGR cars. But Denny and I really feed off each other an awful lot at Richmond. We use each other a ton there, just to be sure we can beat the rest of the competition, of course. We do like similar setups there, unlike some other places we run. Richmond is one of those places where we both know what it takes to get around and we’re both similar to one another in that we both run well. Matt (Kenseth) has only added to our information there as well.”
So basically we have the two best active drivers at Richmond who are the hottest drivers in the series of late. Sounds good to me.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (12/1)
4) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)