Toyota Owners 400
April 10, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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NASCAR has been racing at Richmond Raceway since 1953 and after several configuration and surface changes, the current flat 3/4-mile-layout has provided some of the best racing on the schedule and the Cup Series has been doing it twice a season there since 1959. Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 will just be another exciting chapter to its legacy.
“Richmond is such an important part of our sport,” said two-time Richmond winner Clint Bowyer. “It’s a new modern facility but it's still good old Saturday night short track racing at Richmond. You feel like those guys in the 50s, 60s, and 70s did when you race here. She’s been good to me over the years and I hope she'll be good to me again this weekend.”
Bowyer will be one of several quality candidates to win attempting to halt Kyle Busch from winning his fourth race of the season. Only eight races have been run so far and Busch has top-10 finishes in all of them. The No. 18 team has obviously found an edge with the new race packages, but whatever package NASCAR has been using through the years at Richmond, Busch has dominated.
“I love Richmond," said Kyle Busch. "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 both races last year, so that was cool. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens there.”
He's the active leader with six wins and a 6.9 average finish in 27 starts at Richmond. His 17 top-five finishes are also most among active drivers. He's also got six wins in the Xfinity Series there. It's a stacked resume which is part of the reason the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opened him as a massive 2/1 betting favorite to win Saturday.
The other part has to do with Busch's excellence in the package NASCAR is using this week, the one featuring engines with 750 horsepower, no aero-ducts, and the tall spoiler. All Busch has done with this package is win at Phoenix, finish third at Martinsville, and win last week at Bristol. Of those three, the balance and set-up for the car that holds the most weight at Richmond is Phoenix.
For all my years of creating NASCAR odds and betting into other people's odds, my first strategy for Richmond has always been to reference what happened in the preceding race at Phoenix. And I'll do the same thing when the series goes to New Hampshire's flat 1-mile layout. No matter what package or era, those three tracks always seem to correlate with each other because of similar distances and banking.
So let's take a look at Phoenix where Busch won and led a race-high 177 of 312 laps. There were a few other standouts in that race that you should bookmark in a search for the best odds beginning with Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Why wouldn't they all be good? They sponge off what that No. 18 team is doing within their stables.
Martin Truex Jr. finished second at Phoenix and was very good on the long runs and on the last run he was reeling in Busch but ran out of time and lost by a margin of 1.2 seconds. Truex has never won at Richmond, but he's probably had the best car in three of four of the past five races there. Last season he won the first two stages and led 163 laps before finishing third. He led 121 laps from the pole in the spring. In the fall of 2017, he led 198 laps and in the spring of 2016, he led 193 laps and finished third.
Truex wasn't able to duplicate his Phoenix success at Martinsville or Bristol using the same package, but teammate Denny Hamlin was able to run almost exactly the same with fifth-place on all three tracks using the 750 horsepower engine. He'll be getting some home-cooking this week with Richmond being 24 minutes from his hometown of Chesterfield, VA.
“It’s always a thrill getting to race in front of my hometown fans," Denny Hamlin said. "I’ve been fortunate to have had success at Richmond, and I know my team and I are excited for the challenge ahead this weekend.”
Hamlin has three Richmond wins, 11 top-fives and leads active drivers with 1,659 laps led, but beyond being home and having success on the track, his real story is of consistency all season which is being overshadowed by Busch's dominance. He's got two wins and each came with a different package -- restrictor-plates at Daytona and then a 550 horsepower engine with aero-ducts at Texas. His average start has been 5.1 and his average finish has been 5.6. He's having the best start of his career and is a serious contender to win his first Cup Series Championship. But the 25/ odds before the season to win it all are long gone. The SuperBook currently has him at 14/1 odds.
As for Hamlin's odds to win Saturday, the SupeBbook has him 10/1 to win which should be considered very attractive despite Busch being on the same track. Those two drivers have combined to win five races for Joe Gibbs Racing while Team Penske has combined to win the other three between Brad Keselowski's two wins and Joey Logano's Las Vegas win.
Surprisingly, neither Keselowski or Logano was much of a threat to win at Phoenix. However, the third Penske Mustang driven by Ryan Blaney couldn't hang on leading late at Phoenix. He led 94 laps there and finished third. With the same package, he finished fourth at both Martinsville and Bristol (led most laps, 158, last week). Blaney joins Busch and Hamlin as the only drivers with top-five finishes on all three tracks.
It's important to note that Keselowski dominated at Martinsville with this package leading 446 of the 500 laps for his second win of the season and Logano had the best car last week at Bristol, leading 146 laps, before finishing third. Those two, along with Truex and Kevin Harvick, are the SuperBook's co-second favorites to win at 7/1 odds.
Harvick still has yet to win this season and didn't look so hot in any of the three races with this package. The big puzzler was Harvick not being a factor at Phoenix where he has a track record nine wins. He's a three-time winner with 14 top-five finishes in 36 starts.
Chevrolet has yet to win this season, but Chase Elliott could change that this week. He's showed signs with this package of being very good, which includes runner-up at Martinsville. Last season he was runner-up in this race and fourth in the fall. The SuperBook has him 12/1 odds to win Saturday.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (2/1)
3) #9 Chase Elliott (12/1)
4) #12 Ryan Blaney (12/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)