|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUAL. PASSES||# of FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||DRIVER RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||17.6||243||252||152||2,358||88.8|
|Martin Truex Jr.||23.7||221||63||29||2,089||81.9|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||23.4||212||20||0||1,386||74.8|
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Jeff Gordon – The Hendrick Motorsports legend is second only to Mark Martin among active drivers with 23 Top 10's at Richmond International Speedway, with his two career victories. Gordon's success at the Virginia short track isn't out of date either. He's riding a seven-race Top 10 streak at RIR into this event, and he's led a whopping 600-plus laps during this span. Gordon led 144 laps in May at Richmond and finished runner-up for the fifth time in his career at the Virginia short track.
Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been mired in a really bad slump in the handful of races leading up to the Chase. However, the driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota is a very talented and dangerous short track driver. Hamlin has good stats on the short tracks at RIR is no exception. He's led a whopping 899 laps in just nine career starts at the small oval and he's brought home five Top-10 finishes in those events. Hamlin collected his first career Richmond win in this race one year ago, when he dominated the Chevy Rock & Roll 400.
Jimmie Johnson – Strangely enough, Richmond is one of Johnson's worst tracks on the circuit from an average finish standpoint (17.8 average finish). However, he has rallied later in his career to post great numbers at the three-quarter-mile oval. He changed that stigma with three victories between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Johnson has returned to his mediocre form the last two years at Richmond, but we believe the Chase will force him to be on top of his game this weekend. The No. 48 team will kick it into high gear with the Chase approaching, so another win is easily possible despite this team's recent struggles.
Kyle Busch – Richmond International Raceway is statistically Busch's best oval on the circuit. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has won the last two spring races at the Virginia short track, and he comes there this weekend hoping to win his first fall race at the facility. Busch clearly knows how to run up front at Richmond, and the numbers bear this out. He boasts an amazing nine Top 5's in 11 career starts at RIR. Considering that Busch is not far removed from his dominant short track win at Bristol a couple weeks ago, we expect the No. 18 Toyota to be lightning fast this weekend.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are a near lock for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning
Tony Stewart – Three-time Richmond winner Stewart is looking to establish his level of competitiveness heading into this season's Chase for the Cup. Stewart's win at Atlanta last weekend will go a long way towards staking that claim on this season's championship. He enters this event with a 65 percent Top 10 rate at the facility and that ranks him among the best in the Sprint Cup Series. While a long shot for victory lane at Richmond, we believe the urgency to secure a good spot in the Chase for the Cup will lead Stewart to yet another Top 10 at the three-quarter-mile oval.
Kevin Harvick – Harvick has just one more race to get through in order to assume the point position for this season's Chase for the Cup. The Richard Childress Racing veteran is having a fantastic season, and is just too good at Richmond International Raceway to ignore. He owns an incredible 10 Top-10 finishes in his last 11 starts at RIR, and that includes one victory (2006). With the kind of season the No. 29 team is having, we wouldn't rule out a surprise run for the checkers this Saturday night.
Jeff Burton – Burton is on target for his typical 18-20 Top-10 finishes in a season. The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet has had some modest success at the short oval in Richmond. Burton owns a career Top 10 rate near 47 percent and he has three Top 10's in his last four trips to the central Virginia track. In this spring's Crown Royal 400, the Richard Childress Racing veteran looked particularly strong leading 20 laps and finishing fourth.
Ryan Newman – The Stewart-Haas veteran is a one-time winner at Richmond International Raceway, and he has a portfolio full of Top-10 finishes at the small oval. Short tracks have been good to the No. 39 team all season long, as evidenced by Newman's recent Top 10 at Bristol. Newman is riding a three-race Top 10 streak at RIR into this event, and that includes his solid eighth-place finish here in May of this year.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Richmond who can provide a solid finish
Martin Truex Jr. – The No. 56 Toyota team returns to the scene of their solid seventh-place finish at RIR in the spring. Truex doesn't sport even slightly impressive career numbers at the three-quarter-mile oval but he does bring the experience of crew chief Pat Tryson to Richmond. The veteran chief not only guided Truex to his Top 10 at the small oval in the spring, but he also led his former driver Kurt Busch to a lot of success at the facility. We expect the MWR star to rack up another great finish in the Air Guard 400.
Clint Bowyer – This week we visit one of the tracks that Bowyer has collected a Sprint Cup Series win. Richmond has been good to the RCR racing star. Aside from the win he has four career Top 10's at the Virginia short track. The No. 33 Chevrolet team will be racing to secure their spot in the Chase, and we expect the team to give 100 percent effort with the season on the line.
Kurt Busch – The No. 2 team is running well this season and battling to secure a good spot in the Chase for the Cup. A good finish at Richmond will be instrumental in helping Busch to secure a good spot in the field. Busch loves short track racing and he's a one-time winner at RIR. While he's not performed at peak efficiency of late at Richmond, Busch should be poised for a great finish on Saturday night. He overcame lots of adversity to finish second in this event one year ago. A similar performance could be in store this weekend.
Carl Edwards – We don't typically think of Roush Fenway Racing star Edwards when it comes to short track racing, however the No. 99 team has come on strong in recent weeks. We believe this momentum will carry into the Richmond weekend. Edwards has only four career Top 10's at RIR, but one of those come in the spring race at the small oval. It was a career-best fifth-place finish for Edwards that day. We don't think he'll be that good this Saturday night, but a Top-15 finish would seem to be a lock.
Brad Keselowski – It's hard to base a fantasy racing recommendation simply on the basis of one good race, but that's what we're doing with Keselowski. We've seen a lot of progress from the Penske Racing youngster this season. He's proven to be most effective on the series' short tracks, and his three Top-15 finishes at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond this spring bear that fact out. He most recently finished 19th at Bristol, so Keselowski should be primed for a similar Top 15 effort at Richmond this weekend.
Marcos Ambrose – He's been pretty solid on short tracks during his brief Sprint Cup Series career. These were the first ovals that Ambrose began to show some real signs of talent on after switching to NASCAR. The driver of the No. 47 Toyota recorded a career-best Richmond finish in May with a solid ninth-place finish in the Crown Royal 400. That is Ambrose's best oval-track finish in the 2010 season.
Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs
Jamie McMurray – McMurray's on-and-off season has frustrated fantasy owners. He has shown signs of being super-dominant (with wins at Daytona and Indianapolis) but he can come back the following week and look less than impressive. McMurray has only three career Top 10's in 15 starts at RIR, and a lowly average finish of 25.2 at the Virginia short track. There are weeks to play the No. 1 Chevrolet team, and this is not one of them.
Mark Martin – This season can't seem to end soon enough for Martin and the No. 5 team. The veteran driver has been held out of victory lane to this point in 2010, and he looks like a sure bet to miss this season's Chase for the Cup field. Despite having good career Richmond stats, Martin looked totally clueless when the Sprint Cup Series visited here in the spring. Martin posted a decade-worst 25th-place finish at the three-quarter-mile oval, and his recent subpar outing at Bristol is a bad indicator heading into this weekend.
Matt Kenseth – Of the elite drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kenseth is the one to avoid this weekend. The Roush Fenway Racing star has one career win at RIR, but it came years earlier in his career. Kenseth has been locked out of the Top 10 in his last six trips to the Central Virginia oval, and that doesn't bode well heading into Saturday night's Air Guard 400.
Elliott Sadler – The veteran driver is looking for a new ride for the 2011 season, and this is not a good weekend to audition if you're Sadler. The Virginia native has had career-long struggles at his home state track. Sadler has one career Top-10 finish in 23 trips to Richmond International Raceway. His last four visits to the track have been particularly bad with no finishes inside the Top 25. The No. 19 team is not likely to reverse this trend in this visit to RIR.