Toyota Owners 400 Preview: Racing Perfection

Toyota Owners 400 Preview: Racing Perfection

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The Monster Energy Cup Series will continue short track racing this weekend as we head to Richmond.  The small Virginia oval plays host Sunday night to the Toyota Owners 400.  Richmond Raceway is a three-quarter mile oval with median banking of 14 degrees in all the turns.  The racing result is the contact and fender-beating of Bristol, with the feel of Charlotte due to the higher speeds.  Drivers run average laps of close to 130 mph which is much faster than the half-mile short tracks, but with the same close quarters racing that produce excitement in abundance.  Much like the other short tracks on the circuit, drivers must conserve their brakes.  The continual braking in the corners can be tough on those brake pads and rotors.  Over the years many fast cars at RIR have retired to the garage early due to overdriving in the corners and lack of brake preservation.  

Also, watch the fuel gage closely.  Unlike most short tracks, the long green flag runs can turn any Richmond race into a pit strategy and fuel conservation affair.  All-in-all Richmond may be one of the best spectator tracks in the series.  It's the fun competition, momentum swings and varied strategies that make this one of the best venues on the Monster Energy Cup Series tour.  It will be hard to top that just-completed Bristol race, but when you take into account the parity we've seen in the Monster Energy Cup Series thus far this season, we could be in

The Monster Energy Cup Series will continue short track racing this weekend as we head to Richmond.  The small Virginia oval plays host Sunday night to the Toyota Owners 400.  Richmond Raceway is a three-quarter mile oval with median banking of 14 degrees in all the turns.  The racing result is the contact and fender-beating of Bristol, with the feel of Charlotte due to the higher speeds.  Drivers run average laps of close to 130 mph which is much faster than the half-mile short tracks, but with the same close quarters racing that produce excitement in abundance.  Much like the other short tracks on the circuit, drivers must conserve their brakes.  The continual braking in the corners can be tough on those brake pads and rotors.  Over the years many fast cars at RIR have retired to the garage early due to overdriving in the corners and lack of brake preservation.  

Also, watch the fuel gage closely.  Unlike most short tracks, the long green flag runs can turn any Richmond race into a pit strategy and fuel conservation affair.  All-in-all Richmond may be one of the best spectator tracks in the series.  It's the fun competition, momentum swings and varied strategies that make this one of the best venues on the Monster Energy Cup Series tour.  It will be hard to top that just-completed Bristol race, but when you take into account the parity we've seen in the Monster Energy Cup Series thus far this season, we could be in for one of the most entertaining races to this point in 2019.

As we take a brief look back on the recent short track events at Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix for some finishing data to consider this weekend, we'll need to also take into account the recent trends at the Richmond short track as well.  This ¾-mile oval is a unique facility and has enough similarities to the larger ovals to put a bit of a wrinkle in our usual short track lineup of drivers.  So this weekend, the loop data from RIR will have a greater emphasis than some of the other short tracks we've examined this season.  The loop stats in the table below cover the last 14 years or 28 races at Richmond Raceway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Busch      6.9          811            727   1,181         9,602       110.2
Kevin Harvick      8.1          893            748   1,062        10,414       110.0
Denny Hamlin      9.6          670            792   1,659         8,445       107.9
Brad Keselowski      13.5          573            475     840         5,719        97.8
Kurt Busch      13.9          734            515     787         7,434        95.3
Clint Bowyer      13.0          662            271     393         7,341        93.1
Kyle Larson      9.7          316             66      73         3,138        92.6
Joey Logano      11.6          471            163     282         4,648        90.2
Jimmie Johnson      14.4          677            361     337         6,912        89.6
Ryan Newman      12.8          872            161     129         8,078        88.4
Martin Truex Jr.      19.2          604            424     723         6,410        87.8
Chase Elliott      12.4          201             37      34         1,711        85.6
Aric Almirola      15.5          251             84       1         2,207        77.6
William Byron      16.0           46             13       0           366        77.0
Daniel Suarez      11.5           94             25       0           571        70.5
Austin Dillon      19.6          192             18       0         1,490        69.9
Erik Jones      17.0           86             17       0           734        69.4
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.      19.8          208             96       2         1,259        69.2
David Ragan      23.3          208             63       0         1,241        60.7
Paul Menard      24.5          125             74       4           953        59.8

With last season's twin Toyota victories, Richmond has shifted away from manufacturer parity.  All three brands had won in the prior three races at the Virginia oval before Kyle Busch broke out the broom and swept the Richmond oval in 2018.  With Busch's dominance last season, the focus now moves to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota this weekend.  This shakeup sets the stage for Busch to continue pounding on the field, coming off his big victory at Bristol this past weekend.  The six-time Richmond winner is the clear favorite heading into Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400.  Perhaps the biggest contenders to Busch's dominance at Richmond this week will come from the Ford camps.  Joey Logano was the last Richmond winner (2017) for that brand.  He and his teammates, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, present the biggest threat to Toyota dominance at Richmond Raceway.  Logano and Blaney are coming of a combined 300+ laps led at Bristol this past week, but falling short of victory lane.  The Penske Racing Fords will once again be heard from before this 400-mile race concludes.  Chevrolet is still looking to scratch the win column eight races into this season.  If they hope to win the Toyota Owners 400, those hopes will primarily rest with the trio of Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson.  All represented well at Bristol this past Sunday, but were far from major threats to win.  That Chevrolet shutout could likely continue into Richmond this weekend.  The following is our preview of the fantasy racing drivers who can lift your team to victory for this 400-lap event at the Richmond oval.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch The No. 18 Toyota team is on fire.  Busch is coming off a huge Bristol win, and he's clearly the driver to beat at the moment.  He will look to make it three Richmond wins in-a-row this week at the track that has yielded six wins to him over his Monster Energy Cup Series career.  When we last saw the Joe Gibbs Racing star in action at America's premier short track, he qualified 11th, led 92 laps and won last fall's Federated Auto Parts 400.  That was one of 17-career Top 5's (63-percent) for Busch at Richmond.  With well over 1,100-career laps led at this facility, racing up front at this oval is a familiar experience for Busch.  His current momentum makes him the top contender for the win.

Joey Logano Logano doesn't have the eye-popping Richmond stats of Kyle Busch with just two wins and eight Top-5 finishes in 20-career starts.  However, his Richmond resume has been getting stronger and stronger each season.  He's been quickly redefining his stats on these short tracks and setting new personal bests the last few seasons.  Logano won this event two years ago, and has finished inside the Top 5 in three of his last four Richmond starts.  He has become one of the top performers at this short track of the last few seasons.  It wouldn't surprise us at all to see Logano pull into victory lane at Richmond Raceway Saturday night.

Denny Hamlin Hamlin's three-career wins and 1,600+ laps led at this facility will drive some fantasy players to invest in the No. 11 Toyota team this week.  For that reason alone, you have to consider giving a start to the Joe Gibbs Racing star.  He's already in race-winning form this season with victories at Daytona and Texas.  Hamlin's 15 Top 10's at Richmond Raceway check in at a strong 60-percent rate.  In his start in this event one year ago, the veteran driver started on the second row and finished third in the Toyota Owners 400.  That was one of four Top-5 finishes in his last five Richmond starts.  That level of excellence makes Hamlin a threat to win this weekend. 

Brad Keselowski Last week at Bristol was nothing short of a disappointment for Keselowski and the No. 2 Penske Racing team.  Keselowski led 40 laps and had a Top-5 machine, but ran into problems and finished 18th.  However, there's good reason to believe that the poor finish at Bristol can be erased by a run for the checkered flag at Richmond Raceway.  In this event one year ago it was Keselowski qualified 28th and raced his way through the field to finish a strong eighth in the Toyota Owners 400.  He is a one-time winner at the Richmond short track and owns nine Top-10 finishes there.  The No. 2 Penske Racing team has been giving Keselowski good cars this season, and it's already netted him two victories, including the short track at Martinsville a few weeks ago.  We like Keselowski as a low end contender for this event.

Solid Plays – Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Kevin Harvick The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has led over a 1,100 laps for his career at Richmond Raceway.  Harvick has captured three victories at the small Virginia oval, with two of those coming since the 2011 season.  That high level of performance in recent races gives us high confidence in the No. 4 Ford team going into this weekend's Toyota Owners 400.  Considering that Harvick has grabbed five Top-5 finishes in his last six starts at Richmond, you can't rule anything out for him this Saturday night.  The veteran driver cracked the Top 10 at the small oval in Phoenix earlier this season and he's fresh off a strong Top 10 at Martinsville, so the No. 4 team's short track performance is on point right now.  He's one of the top Ford drivers at the Richmond oval for this 400-lap battle.

Ryan Blaney The Penske Racing driver had a slow start to the season, but he's rallied back nicely in the last few races.  Blaney has four Top-5 finishes in the last five events, and is coming off a strong fourth-place finish at Bristol last Sunday.  Short tracks used to be this driver's weakness, but it looks like Blaney is turning the corner on those in 2019.  With great performances this season at tracks like Phoenix, Martinsville and Bristol, it appears the No. 12 Ford team is battle tested and ready for Saturday night's showdown in Virginia.  If fantasy racing players focus too intently on Blaney's Richmond resume, they may skip him over this weekend.  Don't make that mistake.  We believe the Penske Racing youngster is poised for a career-best Richmond finish in the Toyota Owners 400.      

Martin Truex Jr. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is off to an uneven start to the season.  After Top-10 finishes at Phoenix and Martinsville, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota had a letdown at Bristol last week, but he should be on the rebound trail at Richmond.  Truex has led close to 500 laps in his last three Richmond outings, but has somehow come away without the wins.  He won the pole and led 121 laps in this event one year ago.  Last September was his last action on the ¾-mile oval.  Truex led 163 laps and finished third in the Federated Auto Parts 400.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota should once again be fast on the Richmond oval, and Truex will be racing among the leaders.      

Kurt Busch The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has been a career-long Richmond performer.  In 36-career starts Busch has nabbed 15 Top-10 finishes (42-percent) and he's claimed two victories, the last coming in 2015.  The 2019 season couldn't have started any better for Busch, so the current trend line has been very good.  Busch was very fast at Bristol this past week, racing from deep in the field to finish runner-up in the Food City 500.  He now has six Top-10 finishes through the first eight events of the season and is positioned eighth in the driver point standings.  We look for Busch to slot somewhere between sixth- and 10th-place in Saturday night's 400-lap battle under the lights.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Richmond who can provide a solid finish

Clint Bowyer The two-time Richmond winner is looking to be the upset driver that no one sees coming this weekend.  Bowyer rides a three-race Top-10 streak into this event, and is racing much better than he started this season.  The veteran driver sports a 54-percent Top-10 rate at Richmond Raceway over his 13-season career.  The Stewart Haas Racing driver likes this ¾-mile oval and it shows in his spotless statistics.  Bowyer has been hitting the short tracks hard in his recent rally.  A pair of seventh-place finishes at Martinsville and Bristol show the No. 14 team is running well right now on the bull rings.  We believe the driver of the No. 14 Ford should be started in every weekly lineup league possible for the Toyota Owners 400. 

Jimmie Johnson The three-time Richmond winner has better tracks in his resume than the small Virginia oval, but he's been very good at the Richmond short track the last few years.  Johnson's last victory at RIR came in 2008, but as he showed at Bristol this past week he's on the comeback trail and getting over his slow start to the season.  The driver of the No.48 Chevrolet hasn't finished outside 11th-place in his last nine Richmond starts, and that includes seven Top-10 finishes.  The start to the season was slow, but Johnson is showing signs of heating up.  He rides a two-race Top-10 streak into Richmond this weekend.  His eighth-place earlier this season at the similar Phoenix oval is likely a good preview of what to expect Saturday night for the seven-time champion.

Aric Almirola Almirola's great start to the season ran into a bit of a snag at Bristol last Sunday.  However, that was someone else's mistake and he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, which happens at Bristol.  Almirola's fourth- and ninth-place efforts at Phoenix and Martinsville are more representative of his season thus far.  The driver of the No. 10 SHR Ford has a spotty history at Richmond Raceway, but his effort here last fall begs closer examination.  Almirola qualified sixth on the grid and raced among the Top 10 all evening to capture a brilliant fifth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400.  That effort is more representative of this team's current short track and Richmond capabilities.

Ryan Newman Newman gets a boost this Saturday night as we visit one of his favorite ovals.  Newman is a one-time Richmond winner and he has 18 Top 10's over his career at the Virginia short track.  He tends to perform better in the spring event at RIR than the fall, and those historical norms are usually a good indicator.  The Roush Fenway Racing driver rides a good level of performance at the three-quarter mile oval into this weekend's race.  His best tracks thus far in 2018 have been the circuit's short tracks, with 12th-, 23rd- and ninth-place finishes at Phoenix, Martinsville and Bristol.  Newman sports a 53-percent career Top-10 rate at this oval and strong 12.6 average finish.  That makes the RFR veteran a steady fantasy racing play in this 400-lap event.

Daniel Suarez Things have been improving dramatically for Suarez this season.  After a bit of a slow start, he's picked up the pace nicely in recent races.  The driver of the No. 41 SHR Ford rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Virginia this weekend.  That span includes a pair of Top 10's at the tough short tracks of Martinsville and Bristol.  Suarez is becoming the driver that he had hoped he would at Joe Gibbs Racing.  The move to Stewart Haas Racing is paying big dividends.  Richmond Raceway has been a good track for the young Mexican in his brief Cup Series career.  Suarez owns two Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes in four starts for an average finish of 11.5.  That familiarity coupled with his current streak should add up to a Top-10 finish in the Toyota Owners 400.          

Chase Elliott Elliott has been pretty decent, though not spectacular on the short tracks this season.  He had a fast car at Bristol this past week and won the pole, but would labor with power steering problems to finish 11th in the Food City 500.  Richmond Raceway has been pretty good recently to the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet.  Elliott rides a three-race Richmond Top-10 streak into Saturday night's action, and that includes second- and fourth-place finishes at the oval last season.  While we don't expect him to be that fast and good this weekend, Elliott should be good enough to battle hard and crack the Top 10 in this 400-mile Richmond race.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Kyle LarsonThe Chip Ganassi Racing driver has been trying to overcome a slow start to this season.  With only two Top 10's through the first eight events, Larson limps into Richmond a distant 14th in the driver standings.  His shocking, uncharacteristic Bristol performance last Sunday would seem to be the signal to lay off any fantasy racing expectations for the No. 42 team for the time being.  Bristol is an oval he's dominated in recent years, and he looked poor finishing 19th in the Food City 500.  Richmond is another oval he's dominated in recent seasons, but there's no reason yet to expect a rebound to form for this driver and team.  It's best to set Larson aside for now and revisit him later in the season when he hopefully heats up.

Alex Bowman Through eight races, Bowman has yet to visit the Top 10 in 2019.  Although he's been in the Top 15 four times so far, he's had his biggest struggles this season on the short tracks.  A 35th-place finish at Phoenix, was followed by a 14th-place finish at Martinsville, and a lackluster 23rd-place effort at Bristol this past week.  It would seem Richmond will be another uphill battle for the No. 88 Chevrolet team this week.  Bowman's six-race career at Richmond Raceway shows one Top-15 finish vs. three finishes outside the Top 30.  In this event one year ago the young Hendrick Motorsports driver labored to an 18th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400.  That's likely the high water mark for this Saturday night. 

Erik Jones It's difficult to pick on Jones this week, but honestly his short track exploits thus far this season have been forgettable.  Finishes of 29th-, 30th- and 24th-place at Phoenix, Martinsville and Bristol have left a lot to be desired.  Even though the Joe Gibbs Racing youngster had a strong car at Bristol this past week, he still ran into trouble and finished 24th-place.  Richmond has been a bit subpar for him through two seasons as well.  In four career starts Jones has one Top-10 finish and one finish outside the Top 30.  The average finish stands at a mediocre 17.0.  The driver of the No. 20 Toyota could jump up and surprise this weekend, but it seems far less likely than normal.  We expect Jones to finish closer to 20th than 10th, and that's well below expectations for this driver and team. 

Paul Menard Even though Menard jumped up and surprised at Bristol this past week (sixth-place) we're calling for the downturn this week at Richmond Raceway.  That surprising effort was thanks in part to some great pit strategy and not solely great driving or world-beating speed by the No. 21 Ford.  Menard's history at the Richmond short track reads like a long list of struggles.  In 24-career starts the veteran driver has only one Top-10 finish and many performances outside the Top 20.  More than we can count.  Last season the Wood Brothers Racing driver racked up 24th- and 22nd-place finishes at the Virginia short track.  Those figures are in line with his career average finish here of 24.5.  We don't expect any surprises from Menard this weekend.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
NASCAR Barometer:  Ryan Blaney Takes Third Talladega Triumph
NASCAR Barometer: Ryan Blaney Takes Third Talladega Triumph
NASCAR DFS:  YellaWood 500
NASCAR DFS: YellaWood 500
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  Love's RV Stop 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Love's RV Stop 250
YellaWood 500 Preview: The Wild Card of the Chase
YellaWood 500 Preview: The Wild Card of the Chase