Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Crown Royal presents the Heath Calhoun 400
Among the most popular venues with both drivers and fans, Richmond International Raceway, is a short, flat track with tight quarters that can lead to aggressive driving. The track allows for side-by-side racing and numerous passing opportunities. Like most flat tracks, brakes are among the most important pieces of equipment to monitor at Richmond. Although much different in configuration, two other flat tracks, Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, have already held their first events of the season. A review of those results can also offer some assistance in making driver selections for this week.
Location: Henrico County, Va.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Over the course of his career, Busch has outstanding finishes and loop data statistics at Richmond. In 10 career starts at the site, Busch has eight top-five finishes in 10 career starts. Also impressive, Busch has never held an average running position worse than 15th in any of those starts. Last year, in particular, was impressive for Busch as he ran no lower than 14th at any point of either race. In addition to the win in the spring race, Busch finished fifth in the fall race. Only one other driver, Mark Martin, finished in the top five of both races at Richmond last year. After an uneven start to the season, Busch has four top-10s finishes over the last five races. Rowdy warrants strong consideration as the top driver option this week.
As impressive as Busch's numbers are at Richmond, Hamlin has loop data stats that put him in a class all to himself. In eight career starts, Hamlin has never held an average running position worse than eighth. Also, he has never failed to lead at least four laps. In three of the last four races at Richmond, Hamlin has led at least 145 laps. Last year, Hamlin held remarkable average running positions of fourth and first last year, going on to win the fall race. Good starting position is not an issue, either, as Hamlin won a pole in 2008 and started third in both starts last year. Like when at Martinsville, Hamlin loves racing in his home state and is a threat to take home the checkered flag every time.
His finishes may not be as strong, but like Kyle Busch, Bowyer has never held an average running position worse than 15th at Richmond. In eight career starts at the site, Bowyer has finished outside of the top 12 on only one occasion, capturing a win in the spring race of 2008. On the season, Bowyer has been a constant fixture in the top 10. Bowyer began 2010 with three straight top-10 finishes and has three more such results over the last four races. Among middle-tier drivers, Bowyer owns one of the best resumes at Richmond and looks more bankable than most anyone in that grouping.
Since 2004, Newman has six straight top-10 finishes in the spring race at Richmond. He lone win at the track came in the fall at 2003, but he was unable to manage another top-10 in the fall until last year. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Newman's average running position has never fallen outside of 17th in any race at Richmond. While he hasn't been the most consistent driver this season, Newman had put together three finishes of 11th or better until getting collected in the wreck at Talladega Superspeedway. Newman was only one of five drivers to finish in the top 10 in both races last year. Add his win at Phoenix, another flat track, and Newman could prove to be another army of one this week.
Last year, Hornish finished in the sixth and eighth positions at Richmond. Neither finish was due to luck, as Hornish held an average running position of 13th in each race. Going back to his open wheel days, Hornish won two races at Richmond in the IndyCar series. Starting "Sideways" Sam will always make a fantasy owner uneasy, but there are very few lower-tier drivers that can rival Hornish's impressive performances at Richmond.
Temper your expectations
Currently sitting third in points and the only driver with seven top-10s this season, Biffle looks like an attractive option, but only on the surface. Over the last four races at Richmond, Biffle has ho-hum finishes that range from 13th to 17th. His average running position in both races is also a bit shaky, ranging from 15th to 22nd. In each of the two races last year, Biffle failed to record a quarter of his laps in the top 15. Phoenix is where his top-10 streak ended and loop data suggests Biffle could stumble again as he returns to flat-track racing.
He does own a victory from back in 2002, but Kenseth's recent history at Richmond is not very impressive. He has held average running position of 21st or worse in four straight starts, finishing 38th and 39th in 2008. Last year, Kenseth finished in 13th and 25th, but only spent 76 of a possible 800 laps running in the top 15. Kenseth's trademark consistency has faded in recent weeks, finishing 18th or worse in three of the last four races. This is a good week trust your fantasy crown with another driver.
With three top-15 finishes in the last four starts at Richmond, Edwards is a decent but unexciting play. The last three races in particular are borderline troubling. Edward's average running position has ranged from 18th or 24th, while never spending more than 25.8 percent of his laps in the top 15. This season, Edwards has yet to lead a lap and has never looked like a threat to do so, despite some solid finishes. Last year at Richmond, the best finish by Roush driver (excluding Jamie McMurray, who is no longer with the team) in either race was 13th. With the entire team running so mediocre at Richmond lately, Edwards and his Roush teammates can all be left in the garage this week.
On the season, Truex enters with a streak of five straight finishes of 17th or better, including two top 10-finishes. In 2008 at Richmond, Truex recorded a fifth-place finish in the spring and a 16th-place result in the fall, but Truex's performance last year is a sign of concern. Despite starting inside the top five for both races, Truex finished outside the top 20 in both races, one ending in a crash against the wall that was his own doing. In leagues that reward starting position, Truex gains a lot of value. Otherwise, he's not a favorable option.
Often among the most commonly started lower-tier drivers, Allmendinger may warrant a rest this week. In six career starts at Richmond, Allmendinger has failed to finish inside the top 20. In last year's fall race, Allmendinger was a bit of an underperformer. He held an average running position of 15th but finished in 23rd. One decent run notwithstanding, Allmendinger is not a thrilling option at Richmond.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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