Brett Poirier · Thursday September 8, 2011
There is only one race left until the Chase for the Cup begins. The pressure will be on drivers such as A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard to go for the win on Saturday at Richmond. For fantasy owners in Chase-style leagues, it could mean the same thing.
Owners who have felt comfortable with their position in the Chase have been able to lay back and take risks on drivers they might not normally pick, while they save valuable picks with top drivers at each level for the 10-race playoff. For those of you on the edge or the even the outside looking in, Richmond is time to go for broke just like it is for those aforementioned drivers. It’s time to score maximum points to make the Chase cutoff, and here are the drivers who can help you get there.
With four wins already this season, Kyle Busch will be a top seed in the Chase for the Cup no matter what happens on Saturday. A victory would be valuable in padding his lead though, and he enters the weekend as the favorite. Busch led 235 of the 400 laps in a dominant victory in the spring and placed second and first in the two races before that at Richmond. If you look at Busch’s record at the track through an even larger scope, it is even more impressive. Busch has 11 top-five finishes in 13 starts at Richmond. Can you think of a driver who has been more dominant at a track than Busch has been at Richmond? I certainly can’t. Busch should be every fantasy owner’s top driver on Saturday.
If for some reason Busch isn’t available in your league – probably because you already used him everywhere else – then Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin would be a wise second choice. Hamlin was second to Busch in the spring and beat him last fall. While the No. 11 team hasn’t exactly been clicking on all cylinders lately, Hamlin has always found a way to bring out some of his best performances in his home state in the last race before the Chase. In his last four September Richmond races, Hamlin has been first, first, third and sixth.
Bowyer’s aspirations to make NASCAR’s playoffs hit a wall Tuesday at Atlanta. It means Bowyer is going to have to win and hope something happens to Denny Hamlin to earn a spot in the Chase. It isn’t out of the question. Richmond has been one of the Kansas-native’s best tracks. He won there in 2008 and has a pair of sixth-place finishes in his last two starts at the 0.75-mile track.
Allmendinger is in the same position as Bowyer heading into Saturday’s race. He has to score a victory to have any shot at the playoffs, and just like Bowyer, Allmendinger has run very well at Richmond. Allmendinger ran seventh in the spring and was eighth last fall. Don’t count Bowyer or Allmendinger out on Saturday.
Brad Keselowski has proven over the last six races that he can perform on any style of track. Just take a look at the three tracks he has scored victories at this season. Pocono is a flat 2-mile triangle, Kansas is a 1.5-mile oval and Bristol is a 0.5-mile bullring. His second-place effort at Watkins Glen impressed me the most. Keselowski doesn’t have a great track record at Richmond, or much of one at all, but he didn’t at any of these other tracks either. He has six consecutive top-10 finishes and is one of the hottest drivers in the series. Keep rolling with him at Richmond.
David Ragan had a great run cut short at Atlanta by engine problems. He’ll have a solid chance to rebound this weekend at Richmond. Ragan had one of his best runs of the season in the spring and finish fourth. It might be a bit much to expect a top-five finish on Saturday out of Ragan, but most fantasy owners would be pleased with a top-15 and he is certainly capable of that.
Matt Kenseth was solid one week ago at Atlanta. The 1.5-mile tracks have suited Kenseth’s driving style well over the course of his career. The short, flat tracks have not and the proof is in the numbers. The Roush Fenway driver has finished outside the top-10 in eight consecutive starts at Richmond. Kenseth will be a valuable resource in the Chase at tracks such as Charlotte and Texas, but keep him out of the lineup this week.
While the much of the focus has been on Tony Stewart and his fight to get in the Chase, no one is limping into the 10-race playoff more than Dale Earnhardt Jr. After 14 races, he was third in the standings and only 10 points out of the lead. In the last 11 races, he has been that much worse. Earnhardt Jr. has recorded one top-10 finish in that time and is now 120 points out of the lead.
To make matters worse, the No. 88 team hasn’t had any success at Richmond. Earnhardt Jr. has one top-20 finish in his last five races there. His best finish of 19th came there in the spring.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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