The 2011 season has seen seven different winners in the first eight races, but now the Sprint Cup Series heads back to another short track where things have been much more predictable as of late. Three drivers have flat out been on a different level on NASCAR’s short tracks over the last three-plus years than the rest of the pack.
Subtract Kevin Harvick’s win at Martinsville and Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson have combined to win the last 15 short-track events dating back to 2008 (Richmond, Martinsville and Bristol). The trio has proven they have mastered racing in close quarters and it would truly be a surprise to not see one of their faces in victory lane on Saturday night at Richmond.
With that said, here are this week’s fantasy picks.
All of Joe Gibbs Racing’s drivers have been strong at Richmond in the past, but no one has been stronger as of late than Busch. Rowdy has an average finish of 2.25 in his last four starts at Richmond with two wins. At short tracks, Busch has an astonishing average finish of 5.6 since the start of 2009 with six wins. The next closest average is Jeff Gordon at 9.1. Busch is also coming off a win at Bristol and a third-place finish at Martinsville to start 2011.
One week ago, I labeled Hamlin as one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy NASCAR this season. After all, David Gilliland has more top 10s this season (two) than Hamlin (one). However, I believe Hamlin is too good of a driver and the No. 11 team is too good of a team for the struggles to continue much longer. If they are going to turn it around anywhere, it is Richmond. Hamlin has led 1,150 laps at the Virginia short track in his last 10 starts and has two wins in the last four events there.
Behind Busch and Hamlin, Clint Bowyer has the third highest average finish (9.8) of all active drivers at Richmond. He finished sixth last fall and has a win and five top 10s in 10 career starts at the 0.75-mile facility. Bowyer runs his best on the short, flat tracks.
Ryan Newman was eighth in the spring and 11th in the fall last year. Much like Bowyer, he excels at short, flat tracks. Newman also is one of the top short-track racers in the series. He has the fifth-highest average finish (10.4) at NASCAR’s short tracks since the start of the 2009 season.
If Marcos Ambrose is available at a decent value in your fantasy league this week, he’d definitely be a solid choice. Richmond may be his strongest oval track. He was fifth in the fall and ninth in the spring in 2010. Ambrose, in only four races, has the sixth-best average finish (11.75) of all active drivers at the track.
Points leader Carl Edwards has shown he is ready to contend for a championship this season through the first eight races, but he will face a test in race nine. His track record at Richmond isn’t great. Edwards has just one top-five finish in 13 career starts at the Virginia track. Edwards should contend for a top-10 finish, but he would be a poor fantasy choice this weekend with top-tier drivers like Busch and Hamlin available.
After contending for a spot in the Chase late last season, Jamie McMurray was expected to make a run at the top 12 this season. However, after eight races he has just one top-10 finish and is mired back in 23rd in the standings. His season probably won’t get any better this weekend. His average finish of 24.7 is good for 39th best among active drivers at the track. McMurray has just three top-10 finishes in 16 starts. Stay away from him this weekend.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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