Bryan Davis Keith and Mike Neff · Thursday April 30, 2009
With Talladega in the rear-view mirror, the Sprint Cup Series turns to the cozier confines of Richmond International Raceway and good ol’ fashioned short tracking this week. But while the Series’ last downforce race at Phoenix offered a glimpse of who you’d expect to contend in Virginia’s capital, don’t discount what happened last Sunday. With more than half of the top 12 in the standings involved in wrecks, the wild-card race at Talladega certainly managed to throw a wrench into the momentum of some contenders. The “Big One” doesn’t discriminate whenever it chooses its victims … and the hangover from those nasty crashes can last a couple of weeks if teams aren’t careful.
With that in mind, who’s ready to vault towards fantasy perfection at the track many call perfect for racing? Short-tracking on a Saturday night is always cause to put a smile on race fans’ faces… and with the help of the Frontstretch Insiders, this weekend will be all the more enjoyable for you and your fantasy lineup.
By the Numbers
Best Average Finish at Richmond International Raceway (since 2005, active drivers)
Kevin Harvick, 6.0
Tony Stewart, 6.1
Kyle Busch, 6.8
Denny Hamlin, 8.8
Clint Bowyer, 9.3
2008 Crown Royal 400 Top 5 Finishers
Clint Bowyer, 13 laps led
Kyle Busch, 0 laps led
Mark Martin, 0 laps led
Tony Stewart, 0 laps led
Martin Truex, Jr., 0 laps led
OK, now that we got Talladega out of the way, it’s time to get back to the Mark Martin hot streak. Yes, he found himself in another “Big One” this past weekend, but don’t for one second think that wreck is going to slow down the surging No. 5 team. Coming off a dominating win at Phoenix, Martin returns to this flat track as a pre-race favorite after scoring top 5 finishes in both Richmond races a year ago. It’s been awhile since Martin visited Victory Lane in Virginia’s capital, but that could change on Saturday night. Bryan
Clint Bowyer is the defending champion of this race, benefiting when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch took each other out in the closing laps. But RCR’s best-performing driver this season has never been a short track slouch. Having raced at Richmond a total of six times in the Cup Series, Bowyer’s never finished lower than 12th. The Spring race in particular has treated him well, with runs of 10th, 9th, and 1st in his three May starts. Bowyer has been struggling since the series left Martinsville, but look for the short and flat track specialist to get back on track with a solid finish this weekend. Mike
Tony Stewart had a car capable of winning at Talladega, but troubles with the engine on a final restart left Stewart to watch as teammate Ryan Newman came within a hundred yards of scoring Stewart-Haas Racing’s first Cup victory. Smoke is so close, he can taste his first win as an owner — and Richmond is as good as a place as any for him to score it. Stewart hasn’t finished outside the top 10 at RIR since 2006, has led three of the last four races, and will be wheeling the same short track package that saw both he and Newman run impressively in this season’s first two short track events. Expect the No. 14 to race up front all night long on Saturday. Bryan
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was en route to breaking his lengthy winless drought last Spring before he had a little fender bender with Kyle Busch that allowed Clint Bowyer to take the checkered flag. But Earnhardt has always run well at Richmond, scoring an 11.1 average finish and over 400 laps led since 1999. He’s been to Victory Lane at RIR three times, scoring top 5 finishes in a total of eight of his nineteen career starts. Coming off a runner-up finish at ‘Dega, this weekend could very well be the time that Earnhardt breaks another winless drought. Mike
To describe Brad Keselowski in a word: momentum. Keselowski comes into the Richmond weekend with a streak of four straight top 10s in Nationwide Series competition, and is fresh off one of the biggest upsets in Sprint Cup history. Plus, just like Talladega, James Finch’s No. 09 team has proven that they can run competitively at Richmond; Mike Wallace drove the Miccosukee car to a 12th place finish at RIR in 2003 and a fourth place run in 2004. Keselowski most assuredly won’t win on Saturday and will have to time his way into the field, but it’s not a stretch at all to see this team grabbing a 15th-25th place finish and competing with the full-time teams of fantasy leagues’ lower-tier rosters. Just be sure to recheck the entry list prior to qualifying: Finch and Hendrick have yet to confirm Keselowski will be in the car at Richmond as part of his ten-race deal. Bryan
Bobby Labonte has hit a bit of a rough patch after starting the year off rather strong for his new employers. But his second best finish of the year, and his best in the last four races, is a 16th place at the half-mile oval in Martinsville. As the series heads back to a short track, look for the veteran to get his season back on track with a good run at Richmond. Labonte’s runs since 2002 have been rather strong in Virginia’s capital, with no run worse than 24th and four top 10 finishes. Labonte is a good gamble for a quality finish this weekend. Mike
Richmond has been referred to as Bristol on steroids — and we all know what ‘roid rage can do to people. Like any short track, there is a possibility of being caught up in someone else’s mess, but it will not be as big of a problem as last weekend at Talladega. Simply look for drivers who are short track specialists to fill out your roster, and chances are you should have a good weekend of point scoring for your fantasy team.
Results of our experts in the Frontstretch Games
Game of Tomorrow
Hat Dance Dynasty
In order to help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week and the total for the season.
Bryan 383 2969
Mike 345 3088
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