April 30, 2010

After the bonanza that was the racing at Talladega Superspeedway last week, NASCAR returns closer to its roots Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. The .75 mile track is considered one of the best on the Sprint Cup circuit, as the 400 lap races held there lend themselves to constant two-wide racing and the occasional short track fender scrapes that fans of the sport can't help but love.

With Richmond also comes the return of some predictability to the fantasy racing world. While last Sunday's Talladega race saw 29 of the 43 drivers lead at least one lap, Saturday night's Heath Calhoun 400 will more than likely be won by one of the sport's short track aces. One talented short track driver you may want to avoid again is Jimmie Johnson, who has one top 5 and three wins in 16 starts at Richmond and has an average finish, outside of his three wins, of only 22.7. Just like the last couple of weeks, there are better A-tier drivers to pick at Richmond.

As your strategy now shifts to a more traditional method of picking drivers this week (after last week's version of NASCAR Power Ball), here are the drivers that will most likely rake you in some fantasy dough.


Denny Hamlin: Hamlin, of Chesterfield, Va., likes nothing more than winning at his home tracks. Though he has struggled to finish races well at both Martinsville and Richmond, Hamlin has emerged as the driver to beat every time the Sprint Cup Series competes at either track. Hamlin masterfully guided his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to Victory Lane, wounded ACL and all, several weeks ago at Martinsville, knocking Jimmie Johnson off of the mountain at a track where the No. 48 had dominated. And ACL surgery recovery did not stop him from muscling to victory at Texas Motor Speedway either. At Richmond, a track that Hamlin used to watch NASCAR races from the stands growing up, he finally broke through with his first Cup win there, leading 299 of the race's 400 laps. After proving that his knee can handle the rigors of running well the last two weeks, expect big things from the No. 11 camp Saturday night.

By the numbers: Hamlin has led the most laps in three of the last four Richmond races, gleaning finishes of 24th, 3rd, 14th, and 1st.

Jeff Gordon: Gordon fans are starting to feel the itch that tortured Cubs fans have been feeling for decades. The No. 24 team has done everything but win the last few weeks and the frustration is starting to wear on Gordon. After getting bumped yet again by champion teammate Johnson last week at Talladega, Gordon sounded angry and defeated on his team radio, as crew chief Steve Letarte brilliantly led the DuPont team to fix the car and land the No. 24 Chevy a good finish. Gordon has every reason to be upset, as late race luck has been on his side about as much as the Hatfield's and the McCoy's shared rides with each other to the country store. Gordon has only two wins at Richmond (he has not won there since 2000), but has top 10s in nine of the last 13 races there. Gordon is a lock for at least a top 10 finish Saturday, assuming he can navigate properly through the late race mayhem and the potential results from his simmering rivalry with Johnson.

By the numbers: Gordon has the most Richmond driver points in the last six races, scoring top 10s in each race, but no wins. He finished third last fall.

Kyle Busch: The No. 18 team seems to have found its swagger again, after yet another top 10 run at Talladega last week. Busch knows the right way to ride around in the "Richmond Rodeo," having won this race last year and scored eight top 10s in 10 career Richmond races. Busch's biggest obstacle will likely be teammate Hamlin, but Joe Gibbs Racing in-fighting should be to a much lesser degree than the squabbles at Hendrick Motorsports. If Busch can get out front early and stay there, he could wind up in Winner's Circle Saturday night.

By the numbers: Busch has the fourth most points at Richmond in the last six races. He led the most laps and finished second there to Kevin Harvick in 2006.


Tony Stewart: The No. 14 has been ice cold the past month, having not run better than 16th since a runner-up finish to Johnson at Bristol. But Richmond may be a place that Stewart can break out of a slump that has been brewing since late last season. The two-time champ has three wins at the track and five top 10s in the last six races. But victory is not a lock for Stewart this week, as he has been held from Victory Lane since 2002. Nonetheless, Richmond may be a good venue for the No. 14 to get back on track and gain some momentum for a good summer run...which is when Stewart caught fire last season.

By the numbers: Stewart has 15 top 10s in 22 career Richmond starts and has a career average finish of 10.4 there.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: As mentioned last week, analysts and fans need to stop hanging the "win" moniker over the No. 88 team. Junior is still a rung down from winning or even needing to win right now -- he needs to get better at improving positions late in races. After fading yet again in the closing laps to 13th place at Talladega last week, questions still continue about both Junior and crew chief Lance McGrew's late race performances, questions that have haunted the No. 88 team since Junior's arrival in 2008. Richmond may be a great stepping stone for Junior, where he has won three times and has 10 top 10s in 21 career starts. Junior was very close to claiming his first victory in the No. 88 at this Richmond race two years ago, before an over-zealous Kyle Busch took both drivers out, handing the victory to Clint Bowyer.

By the numbers: Junior last won at Richmond in 2006, his 2nd-most recent career victory.

Kevin Harvick: Talk about a turnaround for the No. 29 team. After dodging rumors about his future and then getting the gut-wrenching news about Shell/Pennzoil's departure after this year, Harvick executed a last-second pass on Jamie McMurray to win last week's Talladega race, snapping a 115-race winless drought for the team. The win also broke a Richard Childress Racing victory drought that stretched back to Jeff Burton's win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Oct. 2008. Harvick has a great track record at Richmond, having won there in 2006 and has scored four top 5s and 11 top 10s in 18 career starts. With momentum on his side and within 26 points of Johnson's points lead, Harvick has every reason to set the world ablaze Saturday...or at least run in the top 10.

By the numbers: Harvick has nine top 10s in the last 10 Richmond races and has led at least 50 laps in five of those races.

If Richmond races are good demonstrations of driver skill, Darlington Raceway's events are the standard. Considered by many as NASCAR's toughest track, next Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 winning driver and team will not claim the crown with only some good racing luck. Turn here next week to see which drivers will shape up best for your Darlington fantasy roster.

If you have not joined a NASCAR fantasy league or would like to add another one to your weekend wardrobe, "join one on for free on Frontstretch.com."

Looking for great companion to Saturday night's Richmond race coverage? Get on your computer and pull up the Frontstretch.com live race blog. Get expert opinions, updates, and stats from your favorite Frontstretch writers and even chime in with your own thoughts. The blog opens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday!


What is it they always say about better late than never? Here at the Frontstretch, we have the perfect fantasy league for those who forgot to set their teams in February. Whether you're looking to jump in midseason, already out of contention elsewhere, or looking to pick up another league, our Game of Tomorrow is the perfect place to have fun and compete against your friends! Registration is FREE, and the year-end champ gets a trophy AND a Frontstretch Prize Package! Who can beat that?

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND SIGN UP FOR THIS FREE LEAGUE. The first round of scoring starts at Richmond next Saturday, so sign up before it's too late!

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)