Who is ready for a game of Chase? The NASCAR Sprint Series travels back to Richmond, Va., this week for the final race before the Chase begins.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last visited Richmond at the end of April. The race was dominated by Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer. The two drivers combined to lead 253 of the 406 laps. Kevin Harvick only led three laps, but they were the three most important: the final laps of the race.
An interesting pick this week is Jimmie Johnson. He always dominates the races at Richmond, but he is on baby watch this week. Johnson already has his spot in the Chase wrapped up, and his wife Chandra is due with their second child any day now. Johnson may leave the track if his wife goes into labor.
The key to your fantasy lineup this week is to select drivers who will start up front. Track position will be the key to winning the race Saturday night. In Fantasy Live, watch for drivers who lead a lap score by .5 points. With 400 scheduled laps in the race, that could turn into many bonus points for your team.
Here are my top 25 and stats from the NASCAR Media Center based upon the driver’s career statistics at the Richmond.
Racing for the Win
1. Clint Bowyer already has his spot in the Chase wrapped up. He may gamble this week and try to secure some bonus points for next week. He has a series-best average finishing position of seventh and the fourth-best driver rating of 108.1 at Richmond. Bowyer will find his way to Victory Lane this week.
2. Kevin Harvick will be looking to make the Richmond sweep Saturday night. The April race winner at Richmond started No. 17 and made his way to Victory Lane. Harvick is good at Richmond and should be considered for all fantasy teams this week.
3. Matt Kenseth may be the biggest threat to Jimmie Johnson in the Chase. It would help if Kenseth had more bonus points than Johnson heading into the Chase. Kenseth will run up front Saturday night and finish in the top five.
4. Kyle Busch will have a fast car Saturday night. Will he be able to avoid trouble and win the race? He started eighth in the April race, led 40 laps before finishing a disappointing 24th. Busch is my pick to win the pole and finish in the top five.
5. Joey Logano is the hottest driver in NASCAR. He finished each of the last four races in the top 10 with an average finishing position of 3.75. Logano will continue to run up front and add another top-five finish to his 2013 resume.
6. Carl Edwards has the second-best average finishing position of eighth and the fifth-best driver rating of 106.2 at Richmond. He finished sixth here last April and will add another top-10 finish this week.
7. Jeff Gordon has never missed making the Chase. He will need a win to secure his spot this year. Never bet against Gordon. When he needs to run well, he usually does. He will finish in the top 10 Saturday night, but will it be enough to make the Chase?
8. Kurt Busch has run up front all season. He just cannot put a complete race together and find his way to Victory Lane. Busch will qualify up front and race in the top 10 Saturday night.
9. Jimmie Johnson has been much better in the fall race at Richmond than he has been in the spring race. In the last two spring races Johnson’s average finish is 26.5, but in the last two fall races his average finishing position is fourth. Johnson has not finished in the top 25 in the last four races. He needs to end his streak of bad luck before the Chase begins.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole for this race last year and finished No. 14. He has been hit or miss at Richmond in his career. As the No. 88 team prepares for the Chase, I think they will be ready for the race Saturday night. Earnhardt will add another top-10 finish to his 2013 resume.
11. Brian Vickers drove the No. 11 car for Denny Hamlin in the April race at Richmond. He qualified on the front row but finished a disappointing No. 35 after an accident. Vickers will bounce back this week and finish in the top 15.
12. Juan Pablo Montoya drives the racetrack at Richmond like at road course. He often tries to out-break the competitors in the corners. Sometimes it works. Last April Montoya started sixth and finished fourth. He should run well again Saturday night.
13. Denny Hamlin should be higher on this list, but he has figured out a way to get into trouble each week. Hamlin has a series-best 112.7 driver rating since 2011 at Richmond. He has finished eight of the last ten races at Richmond in the top 11. He will finish in the top 15 this week.
14. Ryan Newman is on the bubble of making the Chase and needs to gamble and go for the win Saturday night. He has always qualified well at Richmond and will need to start up front again this week. Newman will finish just inside the top 15 and put his Chase chances in jeopardy.
15. Mark Martin started No. 10 and was involved in an accident in the April race. He will be much better this week in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevy. Last season Martin finished both races at Richmond in the top 10. He is a good sleeper pick for all fantasy teams this week.
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran his first race in the Sprint Cup Series at Richmond in April. He started No. 12 and finished No. 16. Look for the same kind of race from Stenhouse this week.
17. Jeff Burton is a native of Virginia and always races well in his home state. He has one win, 10 top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes and one pole at Richmond. He started No. 16 and finished fifth in the April race. Burton is a good sleeper pick this week.
18. Brad Keselowski is not a fan of racing at Richmond. In his eight career starts he has never finished in the top five and has only two top-10 finishes. In April he started No. 23 and finished No. 33. There are better choices for your fantasy team this week.
19. Greg Biffle is not a fan of short-track racing. At Richmond his average starting position is No. 17, and his average finishing position is 19. Do not expect much more than a top-20 finish from Biffle this week.
20. A.J. Allmendinger ran well in the April race at Richmond. He started No. 24 and finished No. 14. He is the best choice in Group C of Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Paul Menard has been average at Richmond in his career. His average starting position is No. 26, and his average finishing position is No. 27. He will be better than that this week and finish just outside the top 20.
22. Aric Almirola started No. 34 and finished eighth in the April race at Richmond. Before that race, his best finish was No. 26. Almirola will get back to who he really is…a top-25 driver at Richmond.
23. Jamie McMurray is a free agent at the end of the season. He needs to start finishing up front if he wants to impress other owners. His run Saturday night will not help his cause. Expect a top-25 finish from McMurray this week.
24. David Ragan is a good sleeper pick this week. In the April race he started No. 20 and finished No. 20. His average starting position in his career at Richmond is No. 20, and his average finishing position is No. 23. He will finish in the top 25 this week.
25. Marcos Ambrose needs to have a good finish to prove he belongs in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He will struggle again this week and finish just inside the top 25.
Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick
Group B: Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano
Group C: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., A.J. Allmendinger
Fantasy Live Picks
Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Josh Wise
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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