The Frontstretch: NASCAR Fantasy Insider: Struggling Stars Look To Get Back On Track At Richmond by Jeff Wolfe -- Thursday April 25, 2013

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If you look just strictly at the numbers and past history of how some of NASCAR’s top drivers have performed at Richmond, you would have a hard time knowing who to pick at Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at the one-mile oval because so many of them have done so well there in the past.

However, if you look at the current points standings and the recent struggles of some of those same drivers, you may well be left scratching your head again when trying to decide who or who not to pick. Some of the familiar names such as Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have had their share of success at Richmond. That group has combined for 11 wins there. But when looking at the points standings, the picture is not so optimistic.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still fifth in the points, but has struggled in each of the last three races. Can he be trusted at Richmond? Then you go down the line and see Harvick 12th in points with one top 10 finish this season, Gordon 15th in points, Newman 17th and Stewart 21st.

So all of those factors come into play in these weeks picks.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

We’ll start this category with a look at one of the biggest disappointments for 2013, both for your fantasy roster and the Sprint Cup grid as a whole. But if there’s any place that Tony Stewart can break out of his slump (he has just one top-10 finish this season) Richmond would have to be it. He’s led the third-most laps there at 950, has three wins in 28 races and an average finish of 10.36. But with the way he’s been running this season, I’m in the see it to believe it category with Smoke.

Another driver to look at in the top category is Clint Bowyer. He has two wins in 14 races at Richmond and has an average finish of 9.57. He’s hardly been dominant though, leading just 163 career laps there.

Clint missed out on a win for the hometown fans last week at Kansas, but Richmond may be more his speed this Saturday night.

A driver who could win again at any time is Kasey Kahne. He’s sitting second to you-know-who in the points standings and has shown consistency with four other top 10 finishes to go with his win.

Of course, we can’t go through this without mentioning you-know-who. I understand that Jimmie Johnson has been called a lot worse names, but we keep it clean here. Richmond is not a track I would typically pick Johnson for if you’re on race limits. But he does have three victories there in 22 races, so like or not, he can’t be ignored either.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

The middle pack guys in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues on Yahoo! includes Kyle Busch. Though he had an ill-handling car last week at Kansas, his record at Richmond makes him the favorite this week and my pick to win. Busch has four wins in 16 races there, including eight other top five finishes. And he’s been good this season, too, so Richmond is a place I would use one of my picks on for him.

After such a promising start to the season, it looked like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was a title contender. And he still may be, but he has not shown that in these last three races with finishes of 16th, 29th and 24th. The good news for him is that Richmond has been a good place for him. Along with the three wins, he also has six other top five finishes and an average finish of 13.23 in 27 races there.

A season that had started off so strong has derailed in recent weeks. Might success be on the horizon once again at Richmond, though for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? History would seem to tell us “yes.”

An underrated performer at Richmond has been the Sprint Cup’s senior citizen in Mark Martin. He will be driving the No. 55 this week in what ironically will be his 55th race there. Martin has just one win there, but he does have 29 other top 10 finishes and an average finish of 11.94, so he’s someone to think about.
Another driver to consider at Richmond, even though he doesn’t have a win there yet, is Carl Edwards. He’s has bounced back nicely from last year’s disaster of a season and is sixth in the points standings. Edwards has an average finish of 14.94 in 17 races at Richmond, including eight top 10s.

Now that Denny Hamlin has been officially sent to the sidelines, for at least another week that means Brian Vickers will be slotting in the No. 11. Just because of the team’s success at the track, Vickers would have to be a consideration if Hamlin sits one more week.

DARK HORSES

As usual, this can be a tricky pick. If you were like me and took a flyer on Sam Hornish last week, it looked good for a while, but an accident knocked him out and relegated him to a 37th place finish. That was some hard luck and bad news right there. Hornish isn’t racing this week, along with fellow part-timers Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne which cuts down your chances for a longshot breakthrough.

We also know that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Danica Patrick are each possible picks in this slot each week. But if you’re on race limits and don’t want to use them up early, it’s OK to look at the entry list and see who else you can find.

And the find this week comes in the No. 51 car as A.J. Allmendinger will be in the seat. The vehicle sits 16th in owners points, so it’s always worth a look to see who is driving it. Allmendinger does have two top 10 finishes in 11 races at Richmond, so there is some hope.

Stenhouse, Jr. is also worth considering. He led 26 laps last week and once a young driver gets a taste of a little success, he or she wants more of it. The last rookie to win a Sprint Cup race was Joey Logano in 2009 at New Hampshire. Stenhouse could join the list of rookie winners sometime this season.

THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR

After eight weeks the overall points leader in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues on Yahoo! is the cdakost team with 2,143 points. Next is RWO Motoring with 2,115 and Silo Sounds Racing at 2,103.

The top scoring team from last week at Kansas was the Grid Dolls team. It had the combination of race winner Matt Kenseth, eighth place Aric Almirola, 11th place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and 17th place Carl Edwards. The Grid Dolls edged cdakost, Rowdy Friends and Underbird, which each had 351 points.

Until next time, good pickins’!

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