The Sprint Cup Series moves to Richmond International Raceway for the second time this season, and it is the final race before the Chase. That means there are three spots up for grabs and the racing will be fierce down the stretch. It should be an exciting race under the lights in Virginia’s capital city for the penultimate short track race of the season.
Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated in recent seasons, and it appears that will once again be the case Saturday. Denny Hamlin ($9,500) posted a best speed of 122.344 mph in qualifying and will be on the pole at his home track. The Chesterfield, Va. native has two wins, seven Top 5s and 11 Top 10s in 20 career starts at the track with a 10.6 Average-Finish Position (AFP) while leading 1,405 laps, which is the best among all drivers in average laps led per start (70.25). He hasn’t been great in the past five races at the track, falling outside the Top 10 in Driver Rating, according to NASCAR’s Loop Data, but he is always dangerous at RIR.
Speaking of dangerous, Kyle Busch ($10,600) showed why he is the King of Richmond, winning the Xfinity Series race Friday night. In 22 Sprint Cup Series starts at the track he has four wins, 15 Top 5s, 16 Top 10s and he has finished outside of the Top 20 on just one occasion. He has an AFP of 6.9, leading 1,018 laps and his worst career finish is 24th. For whatever reason Richmond just agrees with Rowdy and he always turns in good efforts. Bet on the No. 18 to do big things Saturday despite a big price tag. He starts from the ninth spot and he should rack up plenty of Place Differential points.
Teammate Carl Edwards ($10,000) won the spring race for his second trip to Victory Lane at the track. He has two wins, five Top 5s and 12 Top 10s in 24 career starts wit ha solid 13.5 AFP. The defending champ will start from the 13th position. JGR’s Matt Kenseth ($9,900) won last season’s fall race at RIR, and he has a 105.4 Driver Rating with 389 laps led, second-most on the circuit over the past five races. You’re seeing a trend here, and that is that the Toyota JGR cars have a very good program at Richmond. Kenseth goes off third in Saturday’s race.
Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson ($9,000) has never finished worse than 16th in five tries at Richmond, and he obviously feels very comfortable at the track. He looked great in qualifying and will start on the outside of Row 1 next to the No. 11. Larson has looked championship-caliber over the past two races with a win at Michigan and a third-place showing at Darlington, leading a total of 86 laps in the past two weeks. He also has at least 27 fastest laps in each of the past three outings, making him a viable No. 2 or 3 DFS driver.
Ganassi teammate Jamie McMurray ($7,500) provides some salary relief, but he also could provide a win. A third of Jamie Mac’s starts have resulted in Top 10 finishes this season, and he will start from the advantageous position of third in Saturday’s night race. He ranks 10th in Driver Rating at 93.4 over the past five Richmond starts, and he has six Top 10s and 16 Top 20s in 27 career tries with a decent 20.1 AFP.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick ($10,700) carries the highest DFS price tag, and for good reason. He has a 112.7 Driver Rating over the past five starts at RIR, leading 105 laps and running an insane 99.7 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He has been out front for 1,050 laps in 31 career starts at Richmond, winning three times with 10 Top 5s, 19 Top 10s and just three finishes outside of the Top 20. Teammate Tony Stewart ($8,200) has three wins with 11 Top 5s in 34 career starts with a 12.9 AFP, and he is a solid mid-tier play in his final run at the short track. Harvick is a great DFS option since he starts in 19th place and will rack up plenty of Place Differential points. Stewart appropriately starts out of the No. 14 position.
Chevrolet has won just three times in the past 15 races dating back to the fall 2008 race. However, do not shut them out completely on your DFS squad. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson ($9,200) is always a threat, posting a 101.4 Driver Rating over his past five Richmond runs with 88.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He has won three times with 12 Top 10s and a 16.2 AFP in 29 career starts at the track. Johnson starts from the 10th position.
Jeff Gordon ($8,800) is back in the No. 88 car for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will miss the remainder of the season due to concussion issues. Over the past five races at RIR, only Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski ($10,300) has a better Driver Rating than Gordon. The veteran Gordon has a 113.8 Driver Rating with 173 laps led and 93.4 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15 in the past four starts. He did not race in the spring outing at RIR, as he was retired, but he is back and a viable DFS option at a mid-tier price. Gordon starts 11th in his quest for his third trip to Victory Lane at Richmond.
Keselowski leads all drivers with a 116.8 Driver Rating and 512 laps led over the past five starts, posting an AFP of 8.2 with 96.1 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15. He won the Federated Auto Parts 400 in September 2014. In 14 tries at Richmond he has 11 Top 20 finishes and 654 laps led. He has always qualified well at the track, but this year was an exception. He will start 17th. That should mean plenty of Place Differential points if he simply lives up to his career averages.
Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano ($9,700) won the April 2014 race, and he has an impressive 110.3 Driver Rating over the past five stops at RIR. His 4.6 AFP over the past five races is best among any driver on the circuit, and he has turned 85.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. Logano’s No. 22 will line up in the 12th spot to start Saturday night.
ON THE DOWN LOW
BK Racing’s Dylan Lupton ($5,000) will make his second start of the season, going off from the 39th position. His only other start was at Sonoma, and he turned in a 35th-place finish, so there isn’t a ton to get excited about with Lupton. However, if you’re in a salary pinch he will help you load up with a ton of studs up top. The same is true for GO FAS Racing’s Jeffrey Earnhardt ($4,500), who starts in the 40th position. If he could repeat his 28th at Pocono, or 29th at Bristol, he’d more than pay for himself.
BK Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto ($5,400) had a solid qualifying session and will go off from the 25th spot. He has actually notched two Top 10 finishes in 26 starts this season, so occasionally he can shine through and post big DFS results. Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne ($6,900) will cost you a few more dollars, but he could be a great value this weekend. He was ninth at Watkins Glen, and 12th at Bristol, paying big dividends in those races. He starts out of the 18th in his Advocare Ford Fusion looking to improve his 21.3 AFP in three career starts at Richmond.
Lastly, HScott Motorsports driver Clint Bowyer ($7,100) is almost out of his one-year lame duck season before moving to SHR next season. He has started to show better results lately, including a 22nd at Darlington last time out with 18 fastest laps. In 21 career starts at Richmond he has two wins, four Top 5s and 12 Top 10s with a 12.3 AFP. If his machine is up to par, and it certainly looked like it last week, he could be a steal at this price level. He’ll start from the 33rd position.