The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400 this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Cars hit the track on Friday at 11:30 a.m. for first practice, and then at 4:45 p.m. for Coors Light Pole Qualifying.
Here are nine drivers to look out for during the upcoming race weekend.
ELITE TIER: $10,000 and up
Kyle Busch ($10,600)
Richmond: 23 Starts, 4 Wins, 15 Top 5s (65.2%), 17 Top 10s (73.9%)
Average finish at Richmond: 7.0
Earlier this week at Bristol, Kyle Busch was running well enough to contend for a top-five finish until he fell victim to a blown tire, which caused the car to slam the wall, thus ending Busch’s day. In the only other short-track race this season, Kyle finished second (Martinsville).
His average finish at Richmond (7.0) is the best among all active drivers. He has three top fives in the last five races at the track. His last win here came in 2012, the last of his four total wins. Busch finished second in this race a season ago, and also led 78 laps.
Kevin Harvick ($10,400)
Richmond: 32 Starts, 3 Wins, 11 Top 5s (34.4%), 20 Top 10s (62.5%)
Average finish at Richmond: 10.5
Two straight top-five finishes puts Kevin Harvick back on the radar. Until Texas, his average finish through the first six races was 18.0. A sixth-place finish at Texas and a third-place result at Bristol on Monday raised his average finish to 14.4.
Harvick finished fifth in both races at Richmond in 2016. In the spring race he started from the pole and led 63 laps, while in the fall race, he battled his way up from 19th.
Harvick has three wins at this track, his last coming in 2013.
Kyle Larson ($10,300)
Richmond: 6 Starts, 1 Top 5 (16.7%), 5 Top 15s (83.3%)
Average finish at Richmond: 11.3
Kyle Larson was the driver to beat at Bristol. He dominated the first stage, and may very well have won the race if it weren’t for a late-race speeding penalty on pit road. That mistake caused the series points leader to start in the back of the pack on the ensuing green flag. Larson worked his way toward the front, but could not get past Harvick in time to catch eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson. Larson finished the race sixth.
Larson has only six starts at Richmond, but set his career high in the fall race last season as he finished second after starting from the outside pole. He also led 15 laps.
Larson has blossomed into a racing superstar in 2017. Through eight races, he is averaging a finish of 5.5, with one win. He is the hottest driver going, and is a serious contender to win every week.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,900
Denny Hamlin ($9,300)
Richmond: 21 Starts, 3 Wins, 8 Top 5s (38.1%), 12 Top 10s (57.1%)
Average finish at Richmond: 10.1
Denny Hamlin bounced back from a two race skid with a 10th-place finish at Bristol. He also led 10 laps. Crew Chief Mike Wheeler made great calls from the pit box, electing to stay out during a mid-race caution, a decision that moved Hamlin to the front, and brought the team on the same pit cycle as the leaders.
Hamlin is the last driver to win at Richmond. He won the fall race from the pole, and led 189 laps in the process. In the spring race last April, he finished sixth.
Hamlin’s price is high this week, but his recent success at this track makes it worth the risk. He has three straight top-six finishes, including that win. He has led laps in three straight as well. He is averaging a top-10 finish through 21 career starts at Richmond.
Matt Kenseth ($8,800)
Richmond: 34 Starts, 2 Wins, 6 Top 5s (17.6%)
Average finish at Richmond: 15.9
Matt Kenseth finally crept his way back into the top 20 in series standings after a fourth-place finish at Bristol. Kenseth quietly plugged his way through the field and was in the thick of things for the final stage. It was Kenseth’s second top-five finish of the season.
Since moving to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, Kenseth only has two finishes outside the top 10 at Richmond in eight races. He won the fall Richmond race in 2015 after starting second. He dominated that race, leading 352 of the 400 laps. Kenseth finished seventh in this race last season.
Clint Bowyer ($8,500)
Richmond: 22 Starts, 2 Wins, 4 Top 5s (18.2%), 12 Top 10s (54.5%)
Average finish at Richmond: 12.8
Clint Bowyer is averaging an 11th-place finish in 2017. He was the runner up last race at Bristol, setting a new season high, and is the top Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to this point in the season, sitting eighth in series points.
Bowyer has visited Victory Lane at Richmond twice throughout his 22 starts. Last season was an outlier, racing for the now defunct HScott Motorsports, so it’s important to look past the two races he ran with them here. Prior to his short stint with that team, Bowyer had three straight top-10 finishes, including a third place in 2014.
Bowyer has a great deal of momentum heading into the race weekend, he’s a near lock for another top-10 finish.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Kasey Kahne ($7,600)
Richmond: 26 Starts, 1 Win, 5 Top 5s (19.2%), 10 Top 10s (38.5%)
Average finish at Richmond: 16.3
Kasey Kahne ran as high as third place during Monday afternoon’s race, but fell back as the laps rolled on. Kahne has been a top-20 car all season, but has snuck in two top 10s in the eight races run so far. His salary is respectable for a driver with top 15 potential.
Kahne’s lone win at Richmond came way back in 2005 when he raced for Ray Evernham, but he has had recent success as well. In the spring race of 2016, Kahne finished fourth after starting eighth. In the fall race, he notched a sixth-place finish from the seventh-place starting spot.
Kahne knows his away around Richmond, and could be a dark horse for a top 10, but will most likely sit around the top 15.
Ryan Newman ($7,200)
Richmond: 30 Starts, 1 Win, 6 Top 5s (20%), 16 Top 10s (53.3%)
Average finish at Richmond: 12.3
Ryan Newman seemed to be back on track at Bristol, finishing 14th. The previous week at Texas was Newman’s first non-top 15 in four races. Newman’s season best finish is of course, his win at Phoenix.
Newman has three top 12s in the last six Richmond races since joining Richard Childress Racing in 2014. During that span, he has an average finish of 15.6. His 28th-place finish in the fall race last season was his worst finish at the track since 2008.
Newman’s ability to qualify well has hurt him when it comes to his value as a lineup candidate. In five of the eight races of 2017, he has finished below his starting position, thus losing position differential points. If Newman ends up with a poor qualifying bid, he will then become more desirable.
Aric Almirola ($6,200)
Richmond: 10 Starts, 3 Top 10s (30%), 7 Top 20s (70%)
Average finish at Richmond: 16.9
Aric Almirola has been a great value play at times during the season, but he has been hit-or-miss. This week has strong hit potential. In his 10 starts at Richmond, he has three top 10s, most recently in 2015 when he finished fourth. Much more realist may be his top 20 ability. He has finished inside the top 20 in seven of 10 races.
Almirola is averaging about a 17th-place finish on the season, and luckily for daily fantasy purposes, he does not qualify well. Almirola has finished at or better than his starting spot in six of the eight races run so far.
Almirola is a cheap back end of the lineup option for those looking to grid a more top heavy lineup this weekend.
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