Toyota Owners 400
April 18, 2018
By Micah Roberts
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More shorts tracks, please. Let's keep doing this every week, forever!
The ninth race of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule brings us to Richmond Raceway's flat, 3/4-mile D-shaped oval for some Saturday night racing under the lights. This track provides the best of all worlds in racing with a little bumping and banging between drivers mixed in with speeds fast enough to satisfy every fans' need for speed.
This will be the third short track race of the season, the first two coming at Martinsville last month and Bristol last week. But they're really nothing alike. It's like apples and oranges.
“There’s really no comparison between racetracks, honestly, because Charlotte, Texas, Atlanta – they all look the same from overhead, but they all drive not even close to the same," Kyle Busch said. "Richmond and Bristol are more than oil and water, more than day and night. Bristol is an attack-type racetrack yet, when you attack, you can get yourself in trouble. Richmond is a very methodical racetrack and you have to be very – you’re very on edge there all the time, especially corner entry, getting into the corners."
I like to put Richmond into another category with the 1-mile flat tracks of Phoenix and New Hampshire. I noticed a long time ago that crew chiefs were using the same chassis on all three tracks during the season if having success and when I asked a few of them about it, they said the set-ups for Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire were similar. That's certainly good enough for me and it's helped me cash tickets more on these tracks than any other type over the past 25 years.
If looking at the results of the two races a season on all three tracks, you'll notice a lot of the same names in the top-five in all of them with drivers winning multiple times on them during a season. Whether it's Davey Allison, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick, we've seen history repeat itself several times on these tracks during a season. If a driver does well on one of the tracks, he's likely to be good on all three of them.
The first piece of handicapping strategy I begin with takes me to the March 11 results at Phoenix where Martin Truex Jr. won the pole (136.945 mph), Kyle Busch led a race-high 128 of the 312 laps and Kevin Harvick ended up winning for a track record ninth time.
Yes, nine times, and that's why he's the huge favorite to win this week. Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond and in 2006 he won four of the six races between Richmond, Phoenix and New Hampshire. In 2016, he won once on each of those tracks. He's been at his best on these types and it wouldn't be surprising if he's using the same chassis he won with at Phoenix. That will be known on Thursday.
Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with four wins at Richmond, the last coming 2012. He won at least once at Richmond for four straight seasons. He leads all drivers with a 7.4 average finish in 25 starts, which includes 15 top-five finishes.
“I love Richmond, Busch said. "It’s one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five or more. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens there.”
Busch is on an epic run right now winning the last two races and finishing third or better in his last six races. He gobbles up wins in bunches and will go toe-to-toe with Harvick. He finished second to Harvick at Phoenix and that Harvick-Busch quinella has happened three times already this season.
Denny Hamlin grew up 20 miles from Richmond Raceway in Chesterfield, VA, and the home cooking has treated him well with a series-leading three poles to go along with three wins, the last of which came from the pole in the fall of 2016. He leads all active drivers with 1,653 laps led.
“Obviously after some unfortunate circumstances in Bristol, I’m looking forward to returning to Richmond where I know we can be competitive," Hamlin said. "This #11 FedEx team is more motivated than ever to get a win, and competing in from my hometown crowd always adds some an extra incentive.”
Last season Hamlin was amazing on these types of tracks, as all the Joe Gibbs racing cars were. He had top-five finishes in both Richmond races, won at New Hampshire and led the most laps in the fall Phoenix race before Chase Elliott ended his day. The best reason to support Hamlin this week besides being home is that he finished fourth at Phoenix six weeks ago.
I'm not ready to bet on Jimmie Johnson yet, but I must say I sure was happy to see him run competitive last week at Bristol where his third-place finish was his best finish since winning at Dover almost a full year ago. He's won the season championship seven times, but he was as excited as ever about that third-place.
“The finish in Bristol is exactly what this team needed," said Johnson, who is listed at 20-to-1 odds to win this week. "I’ve known that every week we have been getting better, but it's nice to finally have a finish to back that up. Now if we could just fix these bouts of bad luck we have been having. I’m already ready to get back in the Lowe’s for Pros Chevy and looking forward to Richmond. We have put together some solid runs there lately and with the momentum from Bristol, I’m ready to roll.”
Johnson is a three-time winner at Richmond, the last coming in 2008.
Kyle Larson was strong last week at Bristol and he won at Richmond the last time the series raced there in September. He also won the spring Xfinity Series race. Joey Logano won the spring Cup race last season but got busted for cheating and forfeited the automatic playoff berth that came with it as a penalty. He was runner-up in the fall race when having to win to make playoffs. Logano also won at Richmond in 2014. Brad Keselowski also has a 2014 win at Richmond, as well as four other Xfinity Series, wins. By the way, his father, Bob Keselowski, won a Truck Series race at Richmond in 1997 when Brad was 13 years old.
Clint Bowyer was sixth at Phoenix and these type of tracks have proven to be his favorite over his career. Of his nine career wins, two came at Richmond and two came at New Hampshire.
“It’s just a perfect racetrack,” Bowyer said of Richmond. “It’s always been that way. Ever since I started in the Xfinity Series with Richard (Childress), it’s always fit my driving style. It’s that short track and I’ve always said that I wish we had four or five of these all across the country. They certainly hit the mark when they were making Richmond."
Yes, more short tracks, please! Bowyer has lots of value this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (4/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (9/2)
3) #14 Clint Bowyer (20/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
5) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)