NASCAR Barometer: Edwards Goes Back-to-Back With Richmond Win

NASCAR Barometer: Edwards Goes Back-to-Back With Richmond Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.


Carl Edwards used momentum gained from his win at Bristol Motor Speedway to claim victory again with a bump-and-run maneuver in the final turn of the final lap. While Edwards wasn't able to jump into the lead from the final restart of Sunday's Toyota Owners 400, he was able to get close enough to teammate Kyle Busch to upset the No. 18's grip with a nudge. It wasn't as if Edwards was the slower car, though. He led 151 of the 400 laps on offer and largely had the better car in the closing laps when compared to Busch.

Sunday's race was the first Richmond race in a few seasons to be scheduled in the afternoon, and the sunny conditions coupled with NASCAR's low-downforce rules package created a more competitive Richmond race than we've seen in recent seasons. Still, the Joe Gibbs Racing team continued to have an edge over the competition. These four drivers remain in contention to win nearly every week, and it seems as though the rest of the garage has work to do in order to catch them. It could happen next week. Talladega Superspeedway has a tendency to throw in some unexpected results.

UPGRADE

Carl Edwards – Edwards picked up where he left off in Bristol when he overtook Kevin Harvick for the early lead on Sunday. He was consistently able to work his way back into contention for the lead throughout Sunday afternoon, and that effort put him in second position behind teammate Busch


Carl Edwards used momentum gained from his win at Bristol Motor Speedway to claim victory again with a bump-and-run maneuver in the final turn of the final lap. While Edwards wasn't able to jump into the lead from the final restart of Sunday's Toyota Owners 400, he was able to get close enough to teammate Kyle Busch to upset the No. 18's grip with a nudge. It wasn't as if Edwards was the slower car, though. He led 151 of the 400 laps on offer and largely had the better car in the closing laps when compared to Busch.

Sunday's race was the first Richmond race in a few seasons to be scheduled in the afternoon, and the sunny conditions coupled with NASCAR's low-downforce rules package created a more competitive Richmond race than we've seen in recent seasons. Still, the Joe Gibbs Racing team continued to have an edge over the competition. These four drivers remain in contention to win nearly every week, and it seems as though the rest of the garage has work to do in order to catch them. It could happen next week. Talladega Superspeedway has a tendency to throw in some unexpected results.

UPGRADE

Carl Edwards – Edwards picked up where he left off in Bristol when he overtook Kevin Harvick for the early lead on Sunday. He was consistently able to work his way back into contention for the lead throughout Sunday afternoon, and that effort put him in second position behind teammate Busch in the closing laps. While Edwards had the faster car in the closing miles, it was difficult for the Bristol winner to close the gap until the final lap. The nudge Edwards applied to Busch's bumper proved to be the difference maker and earned him the win. Edwards now gets to enjoy the limelight of being the most recent driver to win consecutive races in the 2016 season.

Kyle Busch – Were Sunday's race one lap shorter Busch might have been the winner. Edwards had the faster car in the closing laps, and Busch did an admirable job holding him off as long as he did, but a victory wasn't to be. The benefit to fantasy owners is that Busch continues to be competitive each week, as do all of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. Busch is safely in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and will likely win again this season if his race craft continues as it has. Busch has one Talladega win that came in 2008. He also led 11 laps and finished in 11th place in his last race at the track last season.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was the only car able to challenge Edwards in the majority of Sunday's race. After losing the lead to the No. 19, Harvick fought back and retook the point after the halfway mark. By the time 400 laps were nearly complete, the No. 4 chassis had, unfortunately, lost its pace. The car just didn't have the handling Harvick needed after the final caution to push his way forward. His fifth-place finish was his third top-10 in the last five races. Harvick has one Talladega win (spring 2010) but hasn't finished outside of the top 15 in the last five races at the track. That type of consistency is worth its weight in gold for fantasy owners at such an unpredictable track.

Kasey Kahne – Early speed in practice is what fantasy owners need to look for from Kahne. When the Hendrick Motorsports driver demonstrates early pace in the weekend he usually can turn that into a strong race performance. Qualifying and practice were good to the No. 5 in Richmond, and Kahne backed up his early practice pace to score a fourth-place finish on Sunday. That finish was Kahne's highest so far this season and was his second top-10 finish in the last three races. The team has overcome their recent slump of three consecutive finishes outside of the top 20, and fantasy players should be more confident now to look his direction when the practice and qualifying times support it.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin was forced to overcome adversity when his team lost control of a tire during the first pit stop under yellow. The team dug deep and fought hard throughout the race to overcome the mistake and work their way forward again. By the time all 400 laps were complete, the No. 11 had moved his way well inside the top 10 to salvage a top result from what could have been an otherwise disappointing race. This team is showing more grit and determination than they have in past seasons. Hamlin already has a spot booked in the Chase, but the refusal to give up during adversity is what makes this a different organization from past seasons.

DOWNGRADE

Tony Stewart – Stewart's return to racing action was met with much fanfare last week at Richmond, but in reality it didn't turn out to be a raging success. Stewart has struggled the past few seasons and then missed the opening races of 2016 due to a broken bone in his back. This is his final year before retirement, and a cut tire after battling hard with Joey Logano gave him some serious adversity to overcome. He continued to battle throughout the afternoon and scored a 19th-place finish, which is still an improvement from last year. Next week could be one where Stewart can outperform, however. The unpredictable nature of racing at Talladega could give the wily veteran an advantage this week despite him not being fully up to speed with this year's machinery.

Paul Menard – Menard is a driver who historically starts each season strong only to taper off as the summer months play out. However, in 2016 the No. 27 has yet to turn any heads. He finished 22nd in Richmond on Sunday in another anonymous afternoon, but he has the potential to race solidly inside the top 15 each week. Sunday's finish was Menard's second result worse than 20th in the last three races and that kind of inconsistency doesn't help fantasy owners. There are other teams, rookies even, who are delivering more reliable results at the moment, and fantasy players would be wise to avoid this team until consistent top-15 finishes become the norm.

Kyle Larson – A cut tire was the result of Larson's hard racing with Ryan Newman. It was an issue that gave the No. 42 team a hurdle they really couldn't afford. Larson, while close enough to the top 10 throughout the weekend to have hope, had to run a flawless race to challenge for a top finishing position, and that hiccup put those hopes to bed. Larson was a top-15 car throughout the weekend but couldn't make the changes that would push him into contention. He ended the day with a 15th-place finish, but if this team was on the cusp of greater things, they probably should have found the adjustments necessary to move forward by now. Perhaps next week, though. Larson has one Talladega top-10.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer's frustration with his current situation boiled over during practice. The driver berated his team for being underprepared and unable to deliver a setup or setup changes to help him drive the car forward on the timesheets. His pace didn't crack the top-30 cars through the weekend, which is a terribly disappointing performance from a driver set to take over one of the top cars in the series next year. Instead of working collaboratively to improve, it seems as though the driver and team are at complete odds with each other. This is a toxic situation for fantasy owners to avoid until something significant changes and the team begins to finish better than the bottom quarter of competitors each week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chase Elliott – After a terrific weekend in Bristol Elliott should be able to drive out of Richmond with equal confidence. The rookie driver finished 12th after a difficult afternoon and scored his fourth top-15 finish in the last five races. He will probably be disappointed with the finish after consecutive top-fives, but to walk away from a competitive afternoon with a top-15 in the bag as a rookie driver is a significant achievement. Circumstances are beginning to show that Elliott may be the first rookie in recent history to score a win in his first year. Talladega is very much a track where that could happen. He was fast in Daytona but spun out of contention early. He is a bit wiser now and bound to learn from his mistakes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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