Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 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, the three other flat tracks (Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway) require many of the same skills to get around successfully. Fantasy owners can review the results from Phoenix and Martinsville, which have already held their first events this season. All four tracks host two races a piece making the group key for owners putting together a successful fantasy campaign.
Location: Henrico County, Va.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt owns an average finish of just 22.2 in six starts at Richmond. The last two years, in particular, have been forgettable with an average running position that has not surpassed 19th. However, during that first season at Hendrick, Earnhardt held average running positions of seventh and third with one top-five finish. With seven straight finishes of 12th or better this season, including two top-fives in the last three starts, expect Earnhardt to turn back the clock at a site where he owns three career victories.
With an average result of 5.2 in 12 career RIR starts, Richmond is Busch's best track in terms of average finish and top-fives with 10. Busch has been particularly strong in the spring, winning each of the last two spring races after finishing as the runner-up in the two previous events. Over his career, Busch has never recorded an average running position worse than 15th and has only finished outside of the top-five twice. On seven occasions, Busch spent the entire race running inside the top 15.
Over the last two years, Montoya has become progressively better at RIR. In 2010 he recorded one top-10 finish with average running positions of 17th and 12th. Last year, Montoya finished sixth and seventh while his average running position improved seventh in the spring to fifth in the fall. After struggling at Phoenix, JPM rebounded with a fourth-place result at Martinsville and figures to find more flat track success this weekend.
In 10 career starts at Richmond, Bowyer has a victory from the spring of 2008 and a top-10 in half of those races. During that span his average running position has never dipped below 15th and was particularly impressive last year. After setting a career high with an average running position of seventh in the spring, Bowyer bested that by running third in the fall. Of the 800 total laps, only one was spent outside the top 15.
Prior to finishing 12th in last year's fall race at Richmond, Gordon had a streak of seven top-10 finishes at the site that included four top-fives. In that span, Gordon has led more than 95 laps on five occasions. Flat tracks have been a strong suit for Gordon in 2011 thus far. After winning in Phoenix, Gordon finished fifth at Martinsville and is looking like a safe bet at RIR once again.
While his teammate, Kyle Busch, has been the king of Richmond in the spring, Hamlin has been equally impressive in the fall winning the last two September events leading more than 250 laps in each of those victories. In 10 career starts, his average running position has been eighth or better on nine occasions. While the calendar currently reads April, Hamlin needs a fall-style run in order to get his season turned around. With a career average finish of eighth at RIR, the slumping Hamlin could be something of a value in his home state.
With so many top-notch drivers to choose from, Ambrose leads the short list of sleeper options. In four career starts at Richmond, the Australian has three finishes of 11th or better, including a career-best fifth-place result last fall. Ambrose also set highs with an average running position of 11th while spending all 400 laps inside the top 15. Thanks to expert braking skills from his road racing background, Ambrose has found success on short tracks like Richmond. In fact, his average finish at RIR is his best among any oval.
In three career Cup starts at Richmond, Keselowski has yet to qualify outside of the top-10, giving him added value in formats that score starting position. Last year, he finished 14th and 15th while adding two more impressive runs in the Nationwide Series. In NASCAR's second-tier touring series, Keselowski owns four straight top-four finishes, including a win last spring and a runner-up performance in the fall. Keselowski's best finish this season was a 15th-place result at Phoenix; he could offer a surprise performance under the lights.
Temper your expectations
After offseason surgery on both of his knees, Kahne recently went under the knife once again for a torn meniscus. Perhaps some physical relief will end Kahne's streak of three straight races without a lead lap finish, but Richmond may not be the place for fantasy owners to speculate. Since winning the 2005 spring race at RIR, Kahne has an average finish of 19.4 over the last 11 starts. In addition, he failed to finish on the lead lap in three of the last four.
Over the last five starts at RIR, Burton has three finishes of sixth or better, including top-fives in the last two spring races. So far, so good. However, despite the fact his three RCR teammates are sitting 11th or better in points, Burton has yet to record a top-10 finish this season. At Phoenix and Martinsville, he finished outside the top 20 and several laps down.
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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