Federated Auto Parts 400
September 19, 2018
By Micah Roberts
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Hot damn, we've got a Saturday night special in the capital of the old Confederacy. It's racing under the lights on Richmond Raceway's flat 3/4-mile layout, the second race of NASCAR's Playoffs and the second race this season there.
It's time to get this party started!
“It’s just a perfect racetrack," Clint Bowyer said. "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. I have a lot of fun there – prerace and everything else. The fan base there has always been good. It’s a good vibe and a good feel for a racetrack being that it kind of reminds you of pulling into the old fairgrounds at a dirt track. There are houses across the street and this is what short-track racing is all about.”
Bowyer is a two-time winner at Richmond and has always been one of the best on flat tracks.
However, Chase Elliott has a different opinion on how to categorize Richmond.
“I don’t really think of Richmond as a short track," Elliott said. "I think Bristol and Martinsville are kind of the only two short tracks on the schedule. Richmond is just a different place and I think that is what makes it so tough. It seems everyone knows how to drive the racetrack and it’s hard to be different. That may be what makes the racing pretty good there because it’s hard for people to be different and everyone is kind of choked into doing the same thing and you really have to be superior to show your strength.”
I like to group Richmond with the 1-mile flat layouts of Phoenix and New Hampshire. It's been solid gold for me over the years setting proper odds and betting the races. Once I saw the same group of drivers dominating a particular season and then seeing the crew chiefs were bringing the same set-up and sometimes the same car to each of the three tracks, I was sold. If a crew chief and car chief have a car perfectly set-up for one of the tracks and they do well, it's almost a guarantee they'll be good on the other two.
For example, Kevin Harvick won this season at Phoenix and New Hampshire and was fifth at Richmond. Kyle Busch won at Richmond and was runner-up at Phoneix (led the most laps) and runner-up at New Hampshire. Chase Elliott was third, second and fifth between the three and those races were all prior to his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy finding speed on big tracks. Martin Truex Jr. was fifth at Phoenix, led the most laps at Richmond finishing 14th and was fourth at New Hampshire. And then Denny Hamlin was fourth at Phoenix and third at Richmond.
For Truex, who is 5/1 to win this week, a Richmond win is eventually coming. He's led 512 laps in three of the past four Richmond races.
“We could have four wins in the last five or six Richmond races and we have zero,” Truex noted. “We led a ton of laps in the spring race this year and were in position to win and finished 14th. Last fall, led the most laps and again in position to win. But a questionable caution with three to go ruined what was turning out to be a great race for us.”
Truex led a race-high 121 laps in the spring before finishing 14th.
Kyle Busch won the April Richmond race giving him five career wins there which makes him the active leader. He's also the active leader with 16 top-fives and a 7.1 average finish. How is he so good there?
“I think a lot of it comes from Denny (Hamlin), being that it’s his home track," said Busch who is the 2/1 betting favorite this week. "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.”
Hamlin is going to need some home cooking this week after finishing 32nd at Las Vegas last week. He's 16th in the standings among 16 playoff drivers. He's got to win, but there's probably not a better track on the circuit for him. He has three Richmond wins and leads all active drivers with 1,659 laps led in 24 starts. His 9.2 average finish is only bettered by Busch.
The new players this time around are the Penske Fords who obviously found something that makes them all faster everywhere within the last month. Brad Keselowski won at Richmond in 2014 and Joey Logano won there in 2014 and 2017.
Keselowski has won the past three races, but I think the run ends here. When looking at the results from Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire, Logano was the only Penske driver to finish in the top-five of any of them. He was fourth at Richmond, Keselowski was eighth. Obviously, they're faster now, but Busch, Hamlin, Harvick, Elliott, and Truex have the winning set-up.
Also, look for Harvick's teammates Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola to be strong Saturday night and offered at great prices. Almirola has had the best car on at least two occasions this season and also finished third at New Hampshire, leading 42 laps. Kurt Busch has won twice at Richmond and finished eighth at New Hampshire leading a race-high 94 laps.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
3) #9 Chase Elliott (15/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (4/1)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (5/1)