Federated Auto Parts 400 Preview: Playoff Hunt Intensifies

Federated Auto Parts 400 Preview: Playoff Hunt Intensifies

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We head to Richmond Raceway in Virginia this weekend for the 24th race of the season as we approach a climax in the run up to the Chase for the Cup playoffs. During the earlier years of the Chase era, this had been the track where NASCAR ended its regular season and determined the field for the Chase. However, the schedule got a shakeup a few seasons ago, and NASCAR decided to move this event into the 10 races of the Chase playoff. This has changed again in 2022, as the sanctioning body has decided to return Richmond back into the races that lead up to the cutoff to make the playoffs. The urgency and the heated competition will be different this weekend. Instead of trying to advance in the Chase, drivers will instead be trying to make it into the playoff field as the clock is rapidly winding down on this regular season. This Richmond race will have a different feel but all the same importance as the past. Drivers will be going all out to grab that valuable win that transfers them into the Chase playoffs. As we saw at Michigan this past weekend, drivers are taking chances at this point in the season that they have not up until this point. That will make for higher stakes, more contact and harder racing, and when we put that all on the small oval at Richmond Raceway, we're sure to be thrilled by what takes place. 

Since Richmond's oval is

We head to Richmond Raceway in Virginia this weekend for the 24th race of the season as we approach a climax in the run up to the Chase for the Cup playoffs. During the earlier years of the Chase era, this had been the track where NASCAR ended its regular season and determined the field for the Chase. However, the schedule got a shakeup a few seasons ago, and NASCAR decided to move this event into the 10 races of the Chase playoff. This has changed again in 2022, as the sanctioning body has decided to return Richmond back into the races that lead up to the cutoff to make the playoffs. The urgency and the heated competition will be different this weekend. Instead of trying to advance in the Chase, drivers will instead be trying to make it into the playoff field as the clock is rapidly winding down on this regular season. This Richmond race will have a different feel but all the same importance as the past. Drivers will be going all out to grab that valuable win that transfers them into the Chase playoffs. As we saw at Michigan this past weekend, drivers are taking chances at this point in the season that they have not up until this point. That will make for higher stakes, more contact and harder racing, and when we put that all on the small oval at Richmond Raceway, we're sure to be thrilled by what takes place. 

Since Richmond's oval is a short track with its own group of dominant drivers, let's take a quick look at the recent history of this facility and see who will be running up front this weekend. The short tracks usually produce familiar names when it comes to driver efficiency, so some of these top drivers should look familiar from our visit to New Hampshire a few weeks ago. The urgency to make the Chase for the Cup playoff field will have an impact on performances, but we still expect the short track aces to have the best outings at Richmond. Here are the loop stats for the last 34 races at Richmond Raceway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Busch6.91,0489191,52911,834109.9
Kevin Harvick8.21,1368851,13312,707109.3
Denny Hamlin8.58771,0182,11310,595108.8
Christopher Bell7.0190113731,351100.6
Brad Keselowski12.48175971,1777,97199.5
Martin Truex Jr.16.08076641,2858,74495.3
Joey Logano10.56932814296,72093.8
Kurt Busch15.28495588068,74990.4
Chase Elliott11.643192943,60589.0
Kyle Larson11.3464125814,35088.5
William Byron15.0218631221,78981.1
Aric Almirola15.343310913,57878.0
Tyler Reddick14.514221087777.2
Austin Dillon16.3394115563,18676.3
Erik Jones17.11754801,54870.7
Ryan Blaney21.0259641282,06169.8
Harrison Burton18.032509569.4
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.731017821,74668.8
Daniel Suarez15.22156101,46668.2
Alex Bowman19.725184112,02168.2

This is the second visit of the 2022 season to Richmond International Raceway. If we look back to the race earlier this year, we get very good vibes for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team and Denny Hamlin. The star driver tracked down William Byron in the closing laps and took the lead to win the Toyota Owners 400. It was Hamlin's fourth career victory at Richmond Raceway and his first since 2016. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has had some troubles in recent weeks, but he's been pretty sharp on short tracks this season, so there's reasonable hope Hamlin will be in top form this weekend. 

In addition to Hamlin, there were several suitors who challenged for that Richmond win earlier this season. Chief among them were William Byron and Ryan Blaney. Both are trying to step up their performance for the quickly approaching playoffs, so the return to Richmond will be welcome. We'll highlight them along with other short track specialists to give you the drivers you need to dominate your fantasy league this weekend at Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Chase Elliott – Elliott does not have the kind of Richmond stats that inspire much confidence, but he's been one of the top short-track performers of 2022 in the new Next-Gen car. He's also raced better in Richmond recently, grabbing a pair of top-five finishes in his last four starts at the oval, one of which came in this event one year ago. Elliott has led a combined 308 laps this season on ovals one mile in size or smaller, excellence which led to a victory at Dover. The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has been one of the top performers in the series in recent weeks, and he'll be one of the top contenders to win Sunday's Federated Auto Parts 400.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin needs to reboot his 2022 season, and it could start this weekend at Richmond Raceway. He won earlier this season at the Richmond short track, his fourth career victory there. Hamlin would track down William Byron in the closing laps and then hold off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to secure that big win. The No. 11 Toyota team has looked like anything but a race-winning outfit in recent weeks, but the short-track reset is in effect Sunday. In addition to Hamlin's four Richmond wins, he boasts 16 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 31 starts. This is by far one of the veteran JGR driver's favorite short tracks on the circuit.   

Kyle Busch – Richmond Raceway is statistically Busch's best short track on the circuit. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has six career victories and a whopping 18 top-five finishes at the Virginia short track. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota clearly knows how to run up front at Richmond. Those top-five finishes check in at a stellar 55-percent rate for the star of this Toyota racing camp. Busch swept this oval in 2018, and he rides a nine-race Richmond top-10 streak into Sunday's 400-mile battle. He may not be the top threat to win the Federated Auto Parts 400, but he'll surely be a face among the top five at the end of the afternoon.

William Byron – It's been a tough, inconsistent season for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. However, it hasn't been tough for Byron on short tracks. He's had a lot of success in the Next-Gen car on the small oval as his brush with victory at Richmond and win at Martinsville earlier this season demonstrate. Byron led a combined 334 laps in those two races alone. The Hendrick Motorsports youngster limps into Richmond this weekend hoping to lick his wounds and get his season back on track. Byron has third- and seventh-place finishes in two of his last three Richmond Raceway starts. Those are reassuring figures heading into this 400-lap battle. 

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star pulled off a great performance this past week at Michigan. Harvick took over late and led the final 38 laps to capture his first victory of the season. For a follow-up performance, he'll attempt to turn in another strong effort at the Richmond oval this week. Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond Raceway and cracks the top 10 at an amazing 67-percent rate. Even though it's been a lean season for the No. 4 SHR team, Harvick has been very consistent on the short tracks. With three top 10s in four starts this season, including a strong runner-up finish at Richmond, Harvick should be a very strong fantasy racing performer in the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Kyle Larson – Larson's seventh-place finish this past week at Michigan got the No. 5 Chevrolet team pointed back in the right direction. Now he'll get to build some momentum with a start at one of his favorite short tracks. Larson's one victory and seven top-10 finishes at Richmond have all come since the 2016 season. He boasts three top 10s in his last four starts at Richmond Raceway, including a strong fifth-place finish in the Next-Gen car earlier this season in the Toyota Owners 400. The Hendrick Motorsports star has been pretty consistent this season with two top 10s in four short track starts in 2022. He'll be a face among the top 10 Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway.    

Ryan Blaney – Blaney is another driver that fixed some recent inconsistency with a good fifth-place run at Michigan International Speedway last Sunday. The Penske Racing star has been a top short-track performer in the new generation stock car, with two top-five and three top-10 finishes in four short-track starts this season. Blaney hasn't been a career-long performer at Richmond Raceway, but he's been a good finisher at the oval the last couple seasons, posting finishes of 11th-, 10th- and seventh-place at Richmond since 2021. Blaney's effort at Richmond in April of this year netted a pole position, 128 laps led and a strong seventh-place finish. The driver of the No. 12 Ford should have no trouble building on that effort this Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex has simply been a dominant performer at Richmond Raceway in recent seasons. His three career Richmond wins have all come in the last six events at the Virginia short track. Truex's uptick in top 10s has elevated his career total to 15 in 32 starts for a respectable 47 percent rate. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota cruised to a strong sixth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway this past week, and he'll ride that momentum into Sunday's Federated Auto Parts 400. The veteran driver's best short-track performance of this season came earlier this year at Richmond. Truex started sixth on the grid, led 80 laps and finished fourth in the Toyota Owners 400, a good indicator of what this driver and team could do at Richmond Raceway.  

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Richmond & solid upside

Christopher Bell – The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has been pretty strong in recent weeks. A win at the New Hampshire short track was followed by a top-five finish at Pocono. Over the last four events, Bell has led a combined 104 laps, so we've seen a lot of the No. 20 Toyota up front lately. That's also been Bell's experience on short tracks this season. He grabbed a sixth-place finish earlier this year at Richmond and an equally impressive fourth-place finish at Dover. Bell rides a three-race top-10 streak at Richmond into this weekend's action, and we're willing to bet he'll extend that streak to four.     

Joey Logano – Logano has enjoyed some success this season on the circuit's short tracks. An eighth-place finish at Phoenix early in the year was shortly followed by a brilliant runner-up finish at Martinsville Speedway. Logano is a two-time Richmond winner and his 15 top-10 finishes at the track check in at a strong 58 percent rate. His career average finish at the Virginia short track is a tidy 10.5. Coming off strong sixth- and fourth-place finishes the last two weeks, Logano appears to be visiting Richmond Raceway at just the right time.

Bubba Wallace – It took a pretty good portion of this season, but Wallace has finally caught fire. He's one of the hottest drivers in the series, as he enters Richmond weekend with a four-race top-10 streak following a brilliant pole and runner-up finish at Michigan last Sunday. The 23XI Racing veteran has eight career starts at Richmond Raceway, and Wallace has yet to do much significant to this point. With just one top-15 finish in those starts, he has an average finish of 25.1 at the track, but we believe this time around will be significantly different for Wallace. He started his current hot streak on the short track in New Hampshire with a brilliant third-place performance, and we believe the driver of the No. 23 Toyota has that type of potential this Sunday.  

Ross Chastain – Although he's cooled off a bit in recent races, Chastain still represents significant fantasy value at Richmond Raceway this weekend. Short tracks have held a great deal of success for the No. 1 Chevrolet team this season. Chastain has nabbed three top-five and four top-10 finishes and led 86 laps on ovals one-mile in size or smaller this year. Most recently, he earned a strong eighth-place finish at New Hampshire a few weeks ago. Chastain has one top-10 and two top-15 finishes in his last three Richmond starts, so success has been building for the veteran driver at this facility. The Trackhouse Racing veteran brings a lot of upside potential to the Federated Auto Parts 400.      

William Byron – Byron hasn't been consistent this season, but he has been strong on the small ovals. A third-place finish earlier this season at Richmond was followed by a win at Martinsville and an 11th-place finish most recently at Loudon. Byron's 11.0 average finish on ovals one-mile in size and smaller speaks volumes. Two of his last three visits to Richmond Raceway have yielded top-10 finishes for the No. 24 Chevrolet team. Byron's start here in April yielded 122 laps led and a brilliant third-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400. The cupboard has been kind of lean for this driver and team of late, but Byron should rebound nicely at Richmond Raceway.

Chase Briscoe – The driver of the No. 14 Ford kicked off the short-track season with a win at Phoenix and a top-10 performance at Martinsville. All five of Briscoe's short-track starts have netted at least top-15 finishes, with his average finish sitting at a stellar 9.8 across all five events. The Stewart Haas Racing youngster will carry that momentum into Virginia this weekend. Briscoe's has three career Cup Series starts at Richmond Raceway, and his best outing to date was his last, with the young driver earning a strong 11th-place finish in April's Toyota Owners 400. The last few weeks have been a bit of an up-and-down affair for this driver and team, but Sunday's Federated Auto Parts 400 should be a highlight.  

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kurt Busch – Busch has missed the last three events after a practice crash and a subsequent concussion at Pocono a few weeks ago. The 23XI Racing veteran's status for this weekend at Richmond is not clear at the time of this writing. Even if he does climb in the No. 45 Toyota and race, it's not clear that Busch will carry much fantasy value. Short tracks have been a mixed bag for the veteran driver in the Next Gen car this season, and Busch's outing at Richmond in April was one of his worst. His car became damaged, and he limped to a 35th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400. Despite Busch's two career wins at Richmond, he only sports a lowly 36 percent top-10 rate at the ¾-mile oval and hasn't cracked the Top 10 here since 2017.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse has just two Top-10 finishes in 18 career starts at Richmond Raceway, good for a lowly 11 percent rate. His 19.7 average finish at the Virginia short track isn't terrible, but it's not great, either. April's Toyota Owners 400 yielded just a 28th-place finish to Stenhouse and the No. 47 team. Racing this season on the circuit's short tracks in the new generation stock car has been just as lean for the veteran driver. One top 10 has been offset by four finishes outside the top 20 on the small ovals this year. Larger ovals have yielded far better results to the No. 47 team, so it's best to keep Stenhouse on the bench this Sunday.  

Michael McDowell – McDowell has gotten his best results on big ovals and road courses this season, so this should be a weekend to pass over him and the No. 34 team. In five short-track starts this season, the veteran driver has just one top-20 finish and an inflated 25.4 average finish. McDowell's earlier start at Richmond Raceway netted a disappointing 30th-place finish. In 22 career starts at the Virginia short track, McDowell has no top 10s and just three top-20 finishes, resulting in a woeful 31.6 average finish. Keep this driver and team on the fantasy bench this week and redeploy him at Daytona in a few weeks. 

Austin Cindric – The driver of the No. 2 Penske Ford has had some success this season, but he's also had some clear struggles. Short-track racing has been a part of that problem for Cindric and his team. With two top-15 finishes and three finishes outside the top 20, the young driver carries a short-track average finish of 20.8 into Richmond this weekend, a figure which includes his subpar 20th-place finish in April's Toyota Owners 400. Cindric has two career starts at Richmond Raceway, and his 28th- and 20th-place finishes to this point leave a lot to be desired. The Penske Racing youngster is a high risk driver for Sunday's Federated Auto Parts 400. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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