NASCAR is off to Richmond International Raceway this weekend for the Russ Friedman 400 presented by Crown Royal. Richmond is a favorite racetrack for many drivers. It is a short track that often ignites tempers due to its tight confines. It is known for its side-by-side racing and plenty of passing as well. Richmond is a downforce track, so teams will play with their shock packages. Brakes are also important as passes are often a result of getting into a turn first and out-braking the other car. Turns 1 and 2 make up the tighter part of the track and are where most accidents occur. Richmond hosts the last race before the Chase for the Cup in the fall, adding to the track's reputation for holding some of NASCAR's most exciting races, and both of the visits take place under the lights.
Location: Richmond, Va.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 0.75 miles
Turns 1-2: 14 degrees
Turns 3-4: 14 degrees
Front stretch: 8 degrees
Back stretch: 2 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Harvick is coming to one of his favorite tracks for the Russ Friedman 400 at Richmond International Raceway. The return to a short track may be the tonic Harvick needs after falling to 20th in Sprint Cup points on the back of two straight finishes of 30th or worse. Harvick has not finished outside of the top 10 at Richmond in eight straight races. His average finish in the last six races there is 5.5. In total he has scored one win, four top-fives and 10 top-10s in just 16 career starts at the track. Based off his history, Harvick has a good chance at recording a strong result this weekend after two disappointing finishes.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Hamlin's stated goal was to win more in 2009; he hasn't cracked that egg, yet, but he does have two runner-up finishes to his credit. The breakthrough may come at Richmond, though. In six career starts at the track Hamlin has scored two poles, three top-fives and four top-10s. His average finish at the track is 8.8. He demonstrated his potential at the track in the 2008 edition of this race when he led 381 of 410 laps. Unfortunately, he finished 24th that day. Look for Hamlin to be in the mix throughout this race and possibly end up in Victory Lane.
Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
After starting the season with two wins in the first five races, Busch has been struggling in his last few times out. Since his last win in the Food City 500, Busch hasn't scored a top-15 finish. The encouraging news is that he is usually pretty strong on the short tracks, especially Richmond. He has only finished outside of the top-five there twice in his eight career starts at the track. His average finish in that time is 6.8. He led 58 laps in the last Richmond International Raceway visit, the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. All signs point toward a strong showing from Busch this weekend.
Clint Bowyer | No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Bowyer is another driver that has been enduring a string of unfortunate results. He was caught in an accident at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend which resulted in his third straight finish of 22nd or lower. Bowyer won last year's edition of this race, leading just 13 laps. He has demonstrated his ability to put a car in a strong position at the end of Richmond races. He has never finished lower than 12th at the Virginia track. With a career average Richmond finish of 9.3 in six tries, Bowyer is definitely one weapon to have in your fantasy arsenal.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Newman looked likely to pick up Stewart-Haas' first victory in last weekend's Aaron's 499, but the last lap proved to be very eventful. In the end he finished third, though if he could have threaded the needle of an airborne Carl Edwards, the results may have been different. Newman's average Richmond finish is 12.3 in 14 career starts, which includes a win, four top-fives and eight top-10s. Newman is finding his groove with his new team and the results look likely to come sooner than later. If he can parlay his strong Talladega performance into a similar run at Richmond he could be the one to beat.
Temper your expectations
Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
Busch's strong 2009 season continued to steamroll on at Talladega last weekend. He finished the race with another top-10 result, his sixth of the season so far. In doing so, he also took the points lead from Jeff Gordon. Busch has been good at times at Richmond International Raceway, but his record just isn't as pristine as some others. His average finish in the last five Richmond races is 9.8. However, overall, he has just a 19.1 average finish and has just five top-10s at the track. While Busch is still a solid pick, his likelihood to wind up in Victory Lane isn't as strong as some other drivers this weekend.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Gordon's Talladega outing last week was definitely one to forget. Getting caught in the middle and the ensuing wreck on lap 7 forced him to lose the points lead to Kurt Busch. That was only his second race with a finish 25th or lower with both coming in the last two races. Gordon is not one to sit at Richmond, though. His average finish in the last four races there is 6.3. Gordon is a strong driver at Richmond - he has won there twice - but his recent results at other tracks might make you a little gunshy. Hopefully, Gordon can use Richmond to spring back into the points lead. For now, it might be worth saving him for a start at one of his better tracks.
Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Johnson was on a run of five straight top-10 finishes before last weekend. He finished 30th at Talladega due to an accident. Talladega can be a lottery, but for Johnson so can Richmond. He picked up three Richmond wins in the last five races there, but also scored a 30th and a 23rd. The rest of his 14 career races at the track have been littered with finishes outside of the top 10, too. The five races leading up to his win in the 2007 Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400 witnessed an average finish from Johnson of just 27.2. Feel free to rely on Johnson, but understand the hit-or-miss nature of his record at Richmond.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
After a top-10 finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 two weeks ago, Truex appeared to return to his struggling ways at Talladega Superspeedway. The silver lining to that cloud is that he managed to lead 24 laps before an accident ruined his day. Richmond International Raceway doesn't appear as a beacon of hope for Truex, either. He scored just one top-five finish in six career starts. His career average finish at Richmond is 24.2. The Earnhardt-Ganassi combination hasn't shown that it has closed the gap to the leading teams yet. Fantasy owners will definitely want to remain wary of Truex as a result.
Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Montoya had a very strong run going in the Aaron's 499. He ran with the lead pack most of the day after starting on pole but only finished 20th. Montoya is having one of his better seasons so far, but he has never found the magic potion at Richmond. His average finish in four career starts at the track is 32.3, and he has never scored a top-10 there. That record, coupled with Earnhardt-Ganassi's relative lack of strength combine to make Montoya a driver to avoid this weekend in the Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400.