Ahhhâ€¦the cool spring night air, the smell of burning rubber, and the glow illuminating from 43 brightly colored vehicles racing under the lights at Richmond International Raceway. It doesn't get much better than that for NASCAR fans, as the .75-mile bullring serves as a short track lover’s dream; but for a fantasy player, it’s one that quickly turns into a nightmare if you’re not careful. At any track on the circuit, you have to worry about getting caught up in someone else's wreck, but on the short tracks, that is magnified, along with the opportunity for the dreaded “payback.” Add to that the fact that it's a full moon this Saturday, and who knows what will happen when the engines fire and the lights shine down on NASCAR’s finest wheelmen.
But fear not, fantasy fans; we dusted off our crystal balls and looked into the future to see who will be the best picks for your fantasy team this week and who you should avoid. So, which drivers will leave you basking in the glow of victory, and which ones will leave you howling at the moon? Let's find out in this week's edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:
Cami's Race Rewind:
On a night where Kevin Harvick dominated, it was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. celebrating in Victory Lane when the smoke cleared in last May’s race at Richmond. Earnhardt, Jr. snapped a 27-race winless drought to earn both his first victory of 2006 and the 17th of his career, a momentum boost that would inevitably have him pointed towards making the Chase. Harvick, who led 272 of 400 laps, saw his chance at winning disappear when the team opted not to pit on lap 281 when Martin Truex, Jr.'s motor blew. With worn tires, Harvick couldn't hold off the pack, and Kyle Busch blew by him to take the lead, a top spot he held until Junior passed by 50 laps from the finish. Rookie Denny Hamlin wound up following Junior through, scoring a runner-up finish in front of his home state fans, while Harvick, polesitter Greg Biffle, and Busch rounded out the Top 5.
Mike's Keys to the Race:
No doubt about it : Richmond is the best race track on the circuit. Listed at three quarters of a mile, it is technically considered a short track, but the speed you carry into the corners is more comparable to a mile and a half track, giving race fans the best of both worlds : speed and action. Side-by-side racing is a common occurrence here, as the second groove usually becomes a viable option by the second half of the race at the latest. Since this is another Car of Tomorrow event, look for the teams that have been running well in the previous CoT races to do well again. Hendrick, Gibbs and RCR should all be near the front this week, with Hendrick the clear frontrunner; they’ve won all three CoT races to date. Of course, CoT or no, the people who generally run well at short tracks will most likely come to the front as well.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the first car across the finish line at this race last year. He has collected three victories at Richmond and always seems to run near the front on short tracks. The No. 8 team also has looked strong in most of the CoT races, with two Top 10s and only a bit of bad luck at Phoenix costing them a third. With past history taken into consideration, you have to think that the top D.E.I. team will be near the front again this week.
Denny Hamlin was in contention to win this race last year, but couldn't quite get past Junior to seal the deal at the end. He has run well in the first three CoT races and seems to be very well adapted to Richmond's high speed oval, his hometown track. Hamlin is the hot pick by most of my fellow media pundits this week, so it is a safe bet he'll have a solid run at Richmond.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
Jimmie Johnson has just not run well at Richmond during his career. In ten races at the track, he’s collected only one Top 10 and four Top 15 finishes to go along with one DNF. In fact, the No. 48 team has only been a threat to win at the track once, posting a second place finish and leading 91 laps in the Spring of 2004. Although the team is still high in points and having a good season, this is one of the few weeks where sitting the No. 48 would be a wise move.
Elliott Sadler is a Virginia native; if you didn't know that already, you'll hear it 100 times this weekend. As much as the network would love to have the feel good story of “local boy wins local race,” though, don't expect Sadler to be up front this weekend. On top of the fact that Evernham Motorsports hasn't done very much this year, Sadler has only one Top 10 and three Top 15 finishes at Richmond in 16 career starts. This is clearly not the week to expect the No. 19 to pull a rabbit out of its hat.
Roll the Dice:
Jeff Green seems to have the Car of Tomorrow figured out. Sixth place finishes at Bristol and Phoenix are by far the best finishes of the year for the No. 66 team. While Green only has one finish higher than 13th in his career at Richmond, the CoT adds a whole new variable that will give him a real shot to do well this weekend. If you're looking for a bargain this week, Green is clearly your man.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
The Car of Tomorrow plus Richmond should prove to be an excellent combination for Kyle Busch this weekend. In the three previous CoT races, Busch has one win and three Top 10s; but those numbers actually pale in comparison to his career results at Richmond. In four races run there, he has finished in the Top 5 each time, making Busch a no-brainer for someone who will run well this weekend.
Speaking of drivers who run well in the CoT races, Tony Stewart is another driver who will be a force to be reckoned with this Saturday night. Tony has had a frustrating season to say the least, and you know he's got to break through and win one of these races at some point. In three CoT races so far this year, Stewart has two Top 10 finishes, and should have scored the same or better at Bristol had it not been for a faulty fuel pump. With three career victories at Richmond and an average finish of 12.1, we should be seeing plenty of Smoke up front this Saturday night.
Sit ‘Em Down:
No, I have not lost my mind with this pick. But Jeff Gordon is someone I would tend to shy away from this weekend. Yes, he's the hottest driver on the circuit right now, but he's going to have to come back down to earth sooner or later, and I'm banking on later. Richmond could easily prove to be the brick wall Gordon slams into to slow his momentum: yes, he's been good at the CoT races, but Richmond has had his number the past two years. In the four races at the facility during that time, his best finish is merely 30th. Point leader or not, those aren't really numbers that impress.
Another driver who has been running well this year that might find a bit of trouble at Richmond is David Stremme. Stremme has been a real surprise this year, making a vast improvement over his 2006 performance. But in the three CoT races, Stremme and his team have struggled, placing 35th and 43rd in the last two CoT events. With a 33.7 career average finish at Richmond also on his resume, you can see why Stremme is someone to avoid.
Roll the Dice:
Rested, relaxed, and raring to go, Mark Martin gets back into the driver's seat this weekend at Richmond and makes my Roll the Dice pick this week. Granted, Martin had his worst finish of the year in his only CoT start; but that was 12th. If that's the worst Martin can doâ€¦ I'll take it in a heartbeat for my fantasy team. Plus, Richmond is a track that Martin historically performs well at. In his last 18 starts at RIR, he has ten Top 10s and an average finish of 10.9. Look for this Army of One to conquer this weekend.
Mike: Nice pick on Kyle Busch. Four races, four Top 5s; gotta think that is a good choice, as long as he sticks around for the whole race.
Cami: Well, it’s not Talladega, so that’s a plus on my side. But, like him or not, he’s been good at the CoT races, so I look for the No. 5 car and Busch to run well.
Mike: I think you’re right. Stewart, on the other hand, could be a gamble. He seems to be having a lot of trouble staying out of other peoples’ messes.
Cami: I’m painfully aware of that from last week, thank you very much. But I’m willing to risk it. He’s another driver who has been really strong at the CoT races, and he’s really good at Richmond.
Mike: I also don’t know about you sitting Stremme. He seems to have turned it around quite a bit this year.
Cami: His record at Richmond leaves a lot to be desired; plus, he didn’t really dazzle at Bristol, Martinsville or Phoenix. He’s a good bet for a second or third tier driver when the regular cars are out there, but not with the CoT.
Mike: I guess you’re right. He hasn’t done much at Richmond; I just think they’re running better, though, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him run well this week. So… you’re thinking Martin will be rested and ready to go at Richmond since he didn’t have the stess of Talladega this year?
Cami: Totally. He hasn’t finished lower than 12th all year. I think this part-time stuff is really agreeing with him; plus, he has an excellent average finish at Richmond. Can’t argue with that. One thing I can argue with for you, though, is Sadler; he ran decent at Talladega, so why don’t you see him getting on a roll?
Mike: There is just something about him at Richmond. They always talk him up about the whole local boy aspect, but it never seems to pan out. He’s only had one Top 10 finish there since 1998.
Cami: Speaking of homeboysâ€¦if Hamlin can keep it running all night, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win. I shouldn’t have left him out there for you, but I didn’t want to put all my eggs into one JGR basket.
Mike: I appreciate you leaving that little tidbit out there for me. He ran really well there last Spring, and he has run well at times in the CoT. I think he’ll have a real shot to win.
Cami: We really have to stop agreeing so much; it kind of makes trash talk boring. Just wait until I feel comfortable picking your favorite boy Jamie McMurray again!
Mike: Oh yeah, I thought about picking him this week just to completely freak you out… but I just couldn’t make myself type No. 26. You aren’t going to pick on my Junior pick at all?
Cami: I would have figured you were abducted by aliens if you chose McMurray. And there’s not much really to pick on in terms of Junior, except that I wish he traded places with Stewart last week. That final lap killed me! But nah, I can’t in all fairness dog you for picking Junior. That’s your boy, and he does run well at RIR.
Mike: Very true. I think he’ll have another great run, as it looks like DEI is getting the CoT dialed in. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out.
Crank â€˜Em Up- 16.0
Sit â€˜Em Down- 21.8
Roll The Dice- 19.9
Crank â€˜Em Up- 11.9
Sit â€˜Em Down- 24.5
Roll The Dice- 19.9
Have you seen the all new Frontstretch newsletter yet? If you haven’t, well, you’re missing out … today, Kim DeHaven told us what to watch for in Saturday’s race at Richmond, and Tom Bowles filled us in on the weirdness behind Kyle Petty’s replacement drivers this summer.
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