Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: Richmond in May just as important as Richmond in September

The Sprint Cup drivers head into Richmond the first of two Saturday night showdowns at Richmond International Raceway. It’s the first visit to Richmond this year and as most of you know the second visit will likely have the feel of much more significance. The September race at Richmond International Raceway is the final regular-season event before the Chase for the Championship and in all probability there will be two or three drivers looking to crack the top 10 to make the Chase and probably two or three in the top 20 in points looking for a win to earn one of the two wild-card spots to make the Chase.

But here’s the thing: the points gained or lost and the win Saturday night will count exactly the same as the race in September. Of course, you say, any third-grade math student (or maybe even first or second grade math student) can figure that out. But the good teams will put just as much importance on this race as the fall race. Yes, the situation and potential finality of it all will add more pressure in the fall, but when the season’s over and it’s time to sit back and simply look at the facts, yes, both Richmond races count the same. So, that’s the theme you will see in this week’s picks.

Top 5 Picks

Denny Hamlin: He won last week at Kansas and he’s got two wins at this track. This also is his home track and teams seem to step up a little more in those situations.
Kyle Busch: He’s had a disappointing start by his standards, being 13th in the points after eight races and not a serious contender to win most of the time. If things are going to change for him, then it could be at Richmond where he’s got three wins and an average running position of 7.6.

Jeff Gordon: OK, yes he’s in the way-back machine (at least for him) in the points standings at 18th, but that’s really not a reflection of the kind of cars he’s had at the track. He’s been fast in most of the races this year, but has had a string of bad luck in the pits and on the track. He’s got two wins and 15 tops 5 in his career at Richmond, so why not race win number three?

Kevin Harvick: Happy has been consistent this season, but he’s looking for a win now. He’s got two of them at Richmond and an average finish of 7.4, so he could be a lot happier after Saturday night.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: OK, I’ll admit it, I didn’t really want to pick him here. But he says he’s the best driver at Hendrick, so it’s time to back it up. Often times if an athlete in any sport says that, it means he or she is feeling confident. He does have three wins at Richmond, so hey, it’s as good a time as any for him to break that 137-race winless streak.

Should, woulda coulda: I did want to pick Tony Stewart here. He does have three wins at Richmond and it’s a special place to him because it’s also the site of his first win. But he’s looked a little unimpressive the last two weeks, so not pulling the trigger this time.

Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared at Kansas.

Greg Biffle – 5th. The points leader admitted that it wasn’t his best day, but the rally for a fifth-place finish on a day like that is the kind of thing championship contenders do.

Jeff Gordon – 21st. A disappointing day as he finished three laps off the lead.

Jimmie Johnson – 3rd. The No. 48 had another nice run, but wasn’t in serious contention for the win at the end.

Tony Stewart – 13th. He was not in contention to lead all day, but to hang around and get a 13th is certainly not a disaster.

Mark Martin – 33rd. His day was derailed by engine failure after 255 laps.

Here’s a look at my results after eight races and 40 picks
2 wins
10 top fives
7 top 10s

Grade for the week: C. Biffle and Johnson were solid, but the showings of Stewart and particularly Gordon hurt.

One Last Thing: Speaking of Gordon, here’s one stat that tells you about the bad luck he’s been having. Even though he sits 18th in the points standings, he leads the Sprint Cup Series with 73.8 percent of his passes coming while running in the top 15. If his car stays fast, eventually the luck will have to change.
Until next time

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