The short track action continues for the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend with a trip to Richmond Raceway. Nicknamed "The Action Track," Richmond will host Sunday's Toyota Owners 400, the ninth race of the 2021 season and the third straight race at a short track.
The low-banked, 0.75-mile oval has the most similarities to New Hampshire and Phoenix. Still, more than anything, drivers that excel at flat tracks seem to have the most success at Richmond. Not surprisingly, there will be a lot of crossover between my fantasy lineups and my lineups from last weekend's race at Martinsville. Especially when it comes to which big names I will use to anchor my rosters.
While I will have my share of high-end options, short tracks can also allow me to utilize some mid-tier and sleeper plays. We are still early in the season, but it is never too soon to take advantage of opportunities to save starts in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
By utilizing a combination of short track studs and sleepers, you should be able to post a strong score on Sunday while also improving your long-term outlook.
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has finished third, first, first, and second in the last four Richmond races, and his dominance at the track extends back even further. He has led more than 100 laps in six of the last eight races here, leading 160+ laps four times in that span. Truex is my top fantasy option in just about every format imaginable.
- Brad Keselowski: He led 192 laps and earned 17 stage points in a win at Richmond last year. Keselowski has provided an ideal blend of reliability and upside at the short track. He has 10 straight finishes of 11th or better here while posting a 6.5 average finish, and he has led 30+ laps in his last four Richmond starts.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won Stage 1 at Richmond last year, but a penalty eventually saddled him with a 12th-place finish. Despite last year's mistake, he is still tied for the series lead with six top-5s over the last 10 Richmond races, and Hamlin has finished sixth or better eight times in that span. Look for the Virginia native to make some noise at his home-state track.
- Joey Logano: He led 45 laps in a third-place effort at Richmond last year, and Logano has finished fourth or better in five of his last seven starts at the track. Over the last 10 races here, he is tied for the series lead in top 5s, and his 5.8 average finish and eight top-10s in that span rank second. Logano's high floor makes him a great addition to Fantasy Live lineups.
- Kyle Busch: Busch swept both Richmond races in 2018, and he has followed up the wins with three straight top-10s, including a runner-up effort in the fall of 2019 and a sixth-place run last year. He leads all drivers with a 5.6 average finish in the last 10 Richmond races, and his nine top-10s in that span are also the most in the series. This is a great spot to use him in both the Driver Group Game and Fantasy Live.
- Chase Elliott: It has been a mixed bag of results at Richmond for Elliott. After cracking the top 5 in both races here in 2018, he finished outside the top 10 in both 2019 events. He was back in the top 5 last year, and as strong as Hendrick Motorsports has been in 2021, I expect to see the No. 9 up front Sunday.
- Kyle Larson: Larson didn't race at Richmond last year while on suspension, but he has four finishes of seventh or better in his last five starts here, winning in 2017 and finishing sixth in his most recent outing. He has shown nothing but speed in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, and I expect Larson to be a top-5 threat yet again this weekend.
- Alex Bowman: Richmond hasn't been his strongest track overall, but Bowman did deliver a career-best ninth-place finish here last year. He has also been a force so far in 2021, showing consistent top-10 speed with top-5 upside. I think he can at least repeat last year's performance.
- Ryan Blaney: Blaney has had serious issues at Richmond. He has a 24.8 average finish in nine career Cup starts here, and he is still looking for a top-15 finish. On the flip side, he has been one of the best drivers in the series all season long. I probably won't risk wasting a start from him in either the DGG or Fantasy Live, but don't be surprised if he has a strong showing at Richmond despite his poor history.
- Christopher Bell: He has been enjoying life with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. Bell had a solid Richmond debut last year, gaining 11 spots and finishing 15th. He was excellent at this track at the XFINITY level, winning three of his five starts, and I think he has the equipment to make some serious noise Sunday. I love him as a Group B option in the Driver Group Game and as a sleeper in Fantasy Live.
- William Byron: Byron is another driver who I expect to exceed his previous numbers at Richmond. Like his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, he has been fast out of the gate in 2021, and Byron has had plenty of success at other flat tracks. I'll probably save him for another week in the DGG, but I think he will challenge for a top-10.
- Kevin Harvick: He finished seventh at Richmond last season. Over the last 10 races here, Harvick owns a 6.9 average finish and has eight top-10s. Unfortunately, the No. 4 team has struggled to find its typical speed so far in 2021, even at some tracks where he has dominated in the past. At this point, I am waiting for Harvick to show me something before I use him in fantasy contests.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon has been legitimately fast at Richmond the last couple of seasons, notching four top-15s in his last five starts and three finishes of sixth or better in his last four. Last year, he led 55 laps and earned a race-high 18 stage points on his way to a fourth-place finish. Dillon is worth a look as a sleeper in all fantasy formats.
- Kurt Busch: It has been a while since Busch has looked like a contender at Richmond, but he continues to show a high floor at the track. He has an 11.6 average finish in the last 10 races here, finishing 18th or better in every start and finishing 11th or better six times. Busch finished 13th at Richmond last year, and he should land somewhere in the top 15 on Sunday.
- Tyler Reddick: The sample size is small, but Reddick more than held his own in his first Cup start at Richmond last year when he finished 11th. Considering the speed his teammate, Austin Dillon, had in the same race, I think RCR may have hit on something here. Reddick has notched back-to-back top-10s at Bristol and Martinsville heading into Sunday's race, and he could keep the short track momentum rolling. I love him as a GPP option in DFS contests.
- Matt DiBenedetto: DiBenedetto has had some solid runs at short tracks. He finished 14th at Richmond in the fall of 2019 and 17th here last year. Perhaps importantly, he has righted the ship after a rough start to the year. He has finished 16th or better in the five races heading into Richmond. Look for DiBenedetto to battle for a top-15 Sunday.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse continues to enjoy a solid start to the season. Stenhouse is riding a streak of six straight top-15s heading into Richmond. He has finished 18th or better in his last four starts here and inside the top 20 in seven of his last eight. Stenhouse should be a solid Group C option in the DGG again this weekend.
- Aric Almirola: He salvaged a top-20 with a half-destroyed car at Martinsville, and I'm not sure Almirola has had a clean race yet in 2021. His best run of the year came at Phoenix, a low-banked track like Richmond, and Almirola finished eighth here last season. Starting in the middle of the pack, he could be a useful option for DFS cash contests.
- Bubba Wallace: He hasn't had a lot of success at Richmond to date, finishing 25th or worse in four of his five starts. That being said, he is starting to find his footing with 23XI Racing, and Not to mention that having access to JGR equipment should pay dividends at Richmond. Wallace could be a top-15 sleeper Sunday.
- Ryan Newman: After notching top-10 finishes in both Richmond races in 2019, Newman finished a forgettable 23rd in last year's race. You can never rule out a workmanlike top-15 out of Newman, but with a top-20 starting spot, there is not much fantasy upside here.
- Erik Jones: Jones was a staple of the top 15 at Richmond while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, but the move to Richard Petty Motorsports has lowered his ceiling a bit. He should still be able to battle for a top-20 Sunday, and Jones has serious upside in Slingshot and DFS contests thanks to the mechanical issue he suffered at Martinsville last weekend.
- Daniel Suarez: He was a steady top-15 threat at Richmond while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas. While Trackhouse Racing isn't at that level of either of those organizations, Suarez has held his own for the first-year team. He isn't the worst Group C option in the DGG, and starting outside the top 25, he will have some DFS appeal, as well.
- Chris Buescher: Most weeks, Buescher finds a way to avoid trouble and end up in the top 20, but Richmond has been a tough spot for him. He has a 26.7 average finish in nine starts, and he has just one finish inside the top 20. This probably isn't the track to try your luck with Buescher.
- Cole Custer: While he has dealt with some bad luck, the fact remains that Custer hasn't had a top-15 since the second race of the season. He did manage a top-15 at Richmond last year, but with Stewart-Haas Racing is struggling as a whole in 2021, I see another mid-pack finish on tap for Custer on Sunday.
- Ross Chastain: He isn't making any friends on the track, but Chastain bullied his way to a 17th-place finish at Martinsville last weekend. He has now cracked the top 20 in three of the last four races and five of the eight races overall. His driving style carries some added risk, but Chastain could be a boom-or-bust option for DFS GPP contests.
- Chase Briscoe: It has been a rough initiation to the Cup Series for Briscoe, and when he has shown some speed, his luck has been terrible. The rookie owns a 22.8 average finish overall and hasn't finished better than 18th all year. Briscoe does start outside the top 25, but I still don't think he has enough upside to be more than a DFS longshot.
- Michael McDowell: A crash at Martinsville resulted in his worst finish of the year. After opening with three straight top-10s, McDowell has finished outside the top 15 in four of the last five races. From a fantasy standpoint, the bad outing at Martinsville has him starting deeper in the field at Richmond, giving him some appeal as a DFS punt play.
- Austin Cindric: Cindric will make his third Cup start this weekend, and I expect to see a run similar to what he had at Atlanta when he finished 22nd. Plus, NASCAR's qualifying format has him starting dead last, giving Cindric plenty of value in Slingshot and DFS contests because of his place differential upside.
- Ryan Preece: Since opening the year with back-to-back top-10s, Preece has managed just a single top-15 in the last six races, and he has finished 25th or worse in three of the last four races. He does have two 20th-place finishes in three Richmond starts, but Preece is no more than a shot-in-the-dark play for DFS contests.
- Justin Haley: His upside is capped by his equipment, but Haley has largely avoided trouble this year, finishing in the top 30 in five of his six starts. Starting 34th Sunday, he could be worth a flier as a DFS punt play.
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