Fantasy NASCAR preview: Air Guard 400

by Eric McClung on September 8, 2010 @ 19:05:00 PDT


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, the three other flat tracks (Martinsville Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway) have already held their first events of the season and will be revisited soon during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A review of those results, plus the May race at Richmond, can all offer some assistance in making driver selections for this week and the near future.

Location: Henrico County, Va.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 0.75 mile
Laps: 400
Turns: 14 degrees
Frontstretch: 8 degrees
Backstretch: 2 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Richard Childress Racing driver Clint Bowyer
Bowyer a strong pick this weekend

Despite holding a career-best average running position of seventh at Richmond during the spring race in May, Bowyer only managed to finish 12th. In the final 39 laps, he would hit pit road three times to work on a big chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, Bowyer would run out of time and track position to capitalize on another otherwise strong performance. During his Richmond victory in the May of 2008, Bowyer spent 82.4 of the laps running in the top 15. This year he topped that by running 399 of 400 laps in that range. The only downside is that Bowyer doesn't need to press to hold onto the 12th and final spot in the Chase. Still, this site has been one of Bowyer's best and should allow him to cruise to another solid finish.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

The driver in the best position to burst Bowyer's Chase bubble is Newman. In addition to owning three straight top-10 finishes at Richmond, Newman has never held an average running position worse than 17th since loop data was introduced in 2005. In that span of 11 races, Newman has spent 98 percent or more of his laps in the top 15 on six occasions, including two of the last three. Fantasy owners won't mind if Newman fails to the make the Chase, so long as he fights hard and extends the streak of top-10s.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Over his last three starts at Richmond, Montoya has improved his average running position and percentage of laps running in the top 15 each time out. In May, the Columbian finished a career-high sixth with an average running position of seventh and 98.5 percent of laps in the top 15. After three DNFs due to crash in a span of four races earlier this season, which included an embarrassing episode at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Montoya and his team have picked up a road course win while adding three straight top-10s on ovals. Those willing to roll the dice on JPM have been rewarded with a great value - this week looks like a good one to keep pressing your luck.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Brakes Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Last week's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a microcosm of Truex's season. He held an average running position of sixth, fourth-best among the field, and was one of only three drivers to run all 325 laps in the top 15. However, Truex would fade in the late stages of the race and settle into a 12th-place finish. His history at Richmond is also similar. Despite qualifying fourth and second at RIR last year, Truex's best finish at the site was only 22nd. In May, Truex finally put it all together and rallied from a 26th-place starting position to finish seventh. He doesn't have far to go in order to rebound and put up another good run at Richmond. Truex offers good sleeper value.

Sam Hornish Jr. | No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

During his open wheel days, Hornish won two races at Richmond in the IndyCar Series. RIR has also been the site of his better performances in stock car racing. Last year, Hornish had two top-10 finishes (sixth and eighth) with an average running position of 13th in each start. Earlier this season, however, Hornish struggled and would ultimately finish in 36th with a DNF after being hit by David Ragan. Lower-tier drivers that are typically in his group all have their own risks, but Hornish offers the most upside.

Temper your expectations

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth
Kenseth not a good pick at RIR

Back in 2002, Kenseth won at Richmond, but his recent starts at the site have not gone very well. He held an average running position of 17th in May, after running 21st or worse in four straight starts prior. While Kenseth has certainly looked better in recent weeks, he owns just one top-five finish over his last 13 races. The recent performances at RIR make it unlikely that Kenseth will be able to add another this weekend.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

You have to go back to 2006 to find Biffle's last top-10 finish at Richmond. If that one statistic isn't scary enough, he has held an average running position of 19th or worse in four straight starts at RIR. In May, Biffle never ran higher than 17th and failed to record a single lap in the top 15 for just the second time since 2005. Thankfully, Biffle just needs to start this race to make the Chase. Otherwise, Richmond could be his undoing.

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Currently sitting 14th in points, McMurray would need disaster to strike Bowyer and Newman to have a chance at making NASCAR's postseason. Unfortunately, Richmond is a great track for those two and a poor site for him. In 15 career starts at RIR, McMurray has just three top-10s with only one since 2006. He qualified a career-best eighth in May but was unable to capitalize, finishing a lap down in 19th spot. McMurray has surprised numerous times this season but don't expect a miracle.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

Over his last four starts at Richmond, Kahne has no top-10s and has spent less than 64 percent of his laps running in the top 15 on three occasions. His best finish in that time came in last year's cutoff race when Kahne finished in 12th with an average running position of 12th and 92.3 percent of his laps in the top 15. Kahne has the ability to perform on short tracks but owners, particularly in allocation formations, will want to keep Kahne reserved for intermediate tracks where he is typically at his best.

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 43 Insignia HDTV/Best Buy Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

In May, Allmendinger finished a career-best 17th at Richmond with an average running position of 18th and while spending just 29.8 percent of laps in the top 15. Prior to last year's cutoff race at RIR, Allmendinger had never held an average running position better than 25th at the site. The improvements are nice but not enough to fully trust him as your lower-tier selection. Look elsewhere for better values.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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