On the heels of the Bristol dirt race and last weekend’s trip to Martinsville, the Cup Series continues its stretch of short track events when it pays a visit to Richmond Raceway. The low-banked, 0.75-mile oval will host Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400. For fantasy owners, the race could be another opportunity to get a little creative with your lineups.
Leading into the race at Martinsville, I mentioned how short tracks and flat tracks can offer a chance to build fantasy lineups with both a strong core and some sleepers. The results from last weekend’s race backed that up. Heavy hitters Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, and Denny Hamlin were the first three to cross the line. Still, you also had Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick in the top 10 and Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the top 15.
You also saw the high attrition that often comes with short-track racing. With eight drivers logging DNFs, it allowed James Davison, Josh Bilicki, and Quin Houff to sneak into the top 25.
I’m expecting some similar trends this weekend at Richmond, so I will once again be using a balance of big names and sleeper picks for both Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. Having a reliable core should ensure a solid point total. Still, I also don’t want to completely ignore the opportunity to save some starts at a track where several mid-tier options have shown more upside than usual.
For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I leaned into the place differential category a bit. A few bigger names had issues at Martinsville that offer serious upside, and I decided to pair them with my pick to win and a couple of lower-priced, lower-risk options. You could certainly be more aggressive and hope for strong finishes from drivers starting closer to the front, but I prefer to have a higher floor overall.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Martin Truex Jr.
Fresh off his win at Martinsville, and I will stick with Truex this weekend at Richmond. He was the runner-up here a year ago, and he swept both races in 2019, finishing third or better in all four stages. Truex has led 100+ laps in five of the last six Richmond races and starting on the pole, he could be headed for a clean sweep Sunday.
Busch has been slumping for more than a year now, but even as he struggles to find his elite form, he has remained a strong performer at Richmond. He finished sixth in last year’s race, and he has finished eighth or better in his last six starts here. Over the last 10 Richmond races, Busch leads all drivers with nine top-10s and a 5.6 average finish.
Although he is winless in 2021, Hamlin has seven top-5s and a 4.5 average finish through the first eight races, and I expect another strong run this weekend at Richmond. Hamlin won Stage 1 and looked like a contender for the win here last year before penalty ruined his night, and he has eight finishes of sixth or better in the last 10 races at the track. He starts on the front row, and he should be at or near the front all afternoon.
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His teammate Brad Keselowski has been a little more consistent at Richmond, but while Keselowski starts in the middle of the pack, Logano rolls off in the top 5. He logged 15 stage points and finished third in last year’s race, and his 5.8 average finish in the last 10 races ranks second in the series. During that span, Logano’s six top-5s are tied for the most of any driver.
I am rolling the dice a bit with this pick, but Dillon has been legitimately solid at Richmond the last couple of years. He has finished sixth or better in three of the last four races here, and last season, he earned a race-high 18 stage points on his way to a fourth-place finish. If Dillon has anywhere the same speed Sunday, he should put together a solid point total from the 11th starting spot. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson are two safer plays if you want to stick with mainstream options.
Garage Driver – Christopher Bell
Likely due to a year of experience and an offseason move to Joe Gibbs Racing, Bell has enjoyed a noticeable boost in his performance in 2021. He is coming off a top-10 run at Martinsville, and he has a 14.4 average finish through the first eight races. Bell managed a top-15 finish in his Cup debut at Richmond last year, and he has won three of his five XFINITY starts at the track. Starting in the top 10, I think he is a sleeper candidate for double-digit stage points and a top-5 finish Sunday. I want him available in case he approaches that ceiling.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Martin Truex Jr. (A)
Truex picked up the win for me last weekend at Martinsville, and I am going back to him Sunday at Richmond. He will start from the pole, and he has finished third, first, first, and second in the last four races here, and he has led 100+ laps in five of the last six races at the track.
Kyle Busch (B)
He hasn’t had elite speed for more than a year now, but Richmond always seems to bring out the best in him. He finished sixth here last season and has finished eighth or better in his last six starts at the track. Busch owns a series-leading 5.6 average finish over the last 10 Richmond races. He is a six-time winner overall, sweeping both races in 2018. He will start inside the top 10, and I think this a good spot to maximize his value.
Austin Dillon (B)
Richmond has become arguably his best track, and Dillon has finished sixth or better in three of the last four races here. He finished fourth in last year’s race, earning a series-best 18 stage points. Set to start 11th, Dillon is well-positioned to pick up stage points again this weekend. Kyle Larson should be in for a strong run if you feel like using up a start, and I also like Christopher Bell as another alternative to the top names in the tier.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (C)
Stenhouse continues to run well this season, and he has reeled off six straight top-15s heading into Richmond. He has a 16.8 average finish in his last 10 starts here, and he has finished 18th or better in his last four starts at the track. Consistency has never been Stenhouse’s strong suit, so I will try to take advantage of this stretch as long as I can. Daniel Suarez is another Group C option to consider this weekend.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,200)
All of my top plays are starting near the front this weekend, so I will anchor my lineup with my pick to win. No, Truex doesn’t have any place differential upside, but lately, he has been excellent at short tracks, especially Richmond. He has a 1.8 average finish in the last four races here, winning both of the 2019 events. Starting on the pole, I think he has a real shot at sweeping both stages and picking up the win Sunday.
Brad Keselowski ($12,000)
I’ll pair Truex with the driver I expect to deliver the best combination of differential points and finishing position. Keselowski will start 20th after his mechanical issues at Martinsville, but he won at Richmond last year and has finished 11th or better in his last 10 starts here, posting a 6.5 average finish in that span.
Alex Bowman ($10,900)
His overall record at Richmond doesn’t jump off the page, but Bowman finished in the top 10 here last year, and like all the HMS drivers, he has shown a ton of speed this season. A loose wheel derailed a top-5 run at Martinsville and has him starting back in 24th on Sunday. Bowman is in a prime position to earn 30+ differential points and top 100 points overall.
Erik Jones ($8,600)
Jones has had some bad luck this year, but he has been a top-20 performer overall with top-10 upside. Mechanical problems last weekend have him rolling off 30th, so he should at least gain around 10 spots Sunday. Jones offers a safe floor and some room for more at a midrange price. Austin Cindric ($9,500) is another driver to consider, but you have to completely punt your final spot or adjust your top picks to make the money work.
Justin Haley ($6,200)
He doesn’t offer any upside, but Haley should be a relatively safe source of cap relief this weekend. He will start back in 34th, but he has a 28.0 average finish in his six starts this year. Haley has cracked the top 30 in five of those races, finishing 24th at Phoenix, a shorter, flat-track with some similarities to Richmond. If nothing else, I think he finishes with a positive place differential.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.
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