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NASCAR Barometer: Crowning Kenseth

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2015 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The STP 400 at Kansas Speedway was a strategic race that saw teams play out a number of different tactics. Matt Kenseth qualified on pole, and led the most laps, but he wasn't necessarily the dominant car all afternoon. The differing strategies mixed the order back and forth, while cautions threw wrenches into the plans of some teams. Still, Kenseth rightly was out front as the miles ticked down, and he claimed his second consecutive victory at the track after holding off a charging Kasey Kahne.

Jimmie Johnson remains the series points leader after finishing third, and Brad Keselowski overcame adversity on and off the track to finish a hard-fought sixth, moving up to third in the standings. Some drivers on top the previous week had bad luck this time around the track. Kyle Busch ended his own day, as well as Joey Logano's, when his car went unpredictably loose.

Richmond International Raceway is on tap this week. The Richmond oval is a favorite of fans and drivers alike. It always features close racing, plenty of short tempers and a lot of excitement.


Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth put together a fantastic run to the finish Sunday, holding off the charging Kasey Kahne. Sunday's win makes it consecutive wins at Kansas Speedway and the 104th victory for Joe Gibbs Racing. Sunday's win was also Kenseth's second of the season, meaning he has only finished outside the top 10 four times this season. At Richmond International Raceway Kenseth has just one top-5 in the last five races but holds a 14.8 average finish in that time. With the Gibbs drivers dominating races at Richmond, it is time to see Kenseth better that average. He is settled into this team and appears to be one of the strongest drivers on the circuit.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer's Richmond record is a strong one through the last five races. His average finish in that time is 8.4 with a win and four top-10 finishes. Bowyer has showed pace at times this season, and this could be a week where he is able to challenge for a victory. He ran well last weekend, earning his third top-5 finish of the season and third in the last five races. Michael Waltrip Racing has carried its run of competitiveness forward from last season, and both Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are making the most of it. Bowyer has the fourth-best finishing average at Richmond in the last five races among active drivers, and that combination is enough to make him a top choice this week.

Kevin Harvick -
Sunday was a decent day for Harvick, though it didn't live up to the high expectations he probably laid out for himself. His 12th-place result was his fifth consecutive top-15 finish, which helps earn valuable points as he works to secure a spot in this season's Chase for the Championship. Harvick claims one win and three top-10s in the last five Richmond events. His average finish in that time is 10.2 and only includes one finish that was not on the lead lap. The No. 29 has steadily progressed since winning two non-points races at Daytona International Speedway to start the season. This could be the week he finally cracks the top 10 again.

Aric Almirola -
Two top-10 finishes in a row is enough to get Almirola some attention. He would have warranted some attention by his other finishes so far this season, but the last two weeks have been especially good for this driver. Back-to-back top-10 finishes is tough for any team to score, let alone this underdog, Richard Petty Motorsports. He finished eighth Sunday in Kansas and has three top-15 finishes aside from those two top-10s. He doesn't have much history at the tight Virginia oval that the series visits this week, but his two prior starts at the track in Sprint Cup give him a 26.0 average finish. For this week's race Almirola presents an attractive third- or fourth-driver selection.

Kyle Busch -
Sunday was a disappointing race for Busch. Early in the distance he faced a surprise loose condition, which made him spin and dropped him deep into traffic. The condition never went away, and some time later it bit him again, though this time it was game over. When Busch spun to the inside, Joey Logano collected him hard, ending the day for both drivers. Fantasy owners should expect Busch to get right back on the horse this week, though. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup series comes to Richmond International Raceway Busch is a driver to note. His average finish in the last five races at the bullring is 5.2, with four lead-lap finishes and two wins.


Tony Stewart -
Two top-5s and four top-10s in the last five Richmond races would normally make Stewart an optimal choice this week. His team is working hard to overcome some of the early season struggles it's endured, too. The problem is that it hasn't yet overcome those issues to live up to the potential it's shown this season. Last week's STP 400 at Kansas Speedway was yet another disappointing run for Stewart, who finished off the lead lap and was never truly a factor. This team is having a hard time finding confidence and converting promise into results, and until that corner is turned fantasy owners should tread lightly when contemplating starting the No. 14 car.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne could be a dark-horse selection for some rosters this week, but his inconsistency at Richmond International Raceway is enough to drop him into the Downgrade column. He was incredibly strong at Kansas last week but just didn't have enough grip in the closing laps to reel in and pass Kenseth. That top-5 was his fourth this season, an excellent tally. Unfortunately, this week's story may be a little different when considering Kahne's track statistics. In the last five races at the track his average finish is 17.4 despite scoring two top-5s. He failed to finish on the lead lap three of those five tries, and tallied one DNF as well.

Martin Truex Jr. -
While he may be just missing victories this season, Truex is struggling a bit. He is seeing a sports psychologist and is dealing with a lack confidence. This from a driver coming off consecutive top-5 finishes. Kansas was another strong weekend for this team, finishing fourth, its second top-5 in a row. If confidence is a problem for this driver, a trip to Richmond will do nothing to help. In his last five races at the track, his average finish is just 25.0, with no finishes on the lead lap. Truex is a rarity this week; despite being on a hot streak this might be a week where we need to lower our expectations just a bit.

Greg Biffle -
With just one top-10 finish in the last five Richmond races, Biffle presents a less than optimal choice this week. His average Richmond finish in that span of races is 17.4. He only finished on the lead lap three of those tries, which has certainly impacted that finish average. Add to those dismal statistics a disappointing run at Kansas and you have a recipe for underperformance this week. Biffle finished 19th Sunday, and just barely chalked up a lead-lap finish. The poor finish pushed him down a spot in the points to Keselowski. The odds do not look to be in Biffle's favor this week, and fantasy owners should proceed with caution.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin is a driver who no fantasy owner should overlook when the series comes to Richmond, but this season is a little different. While he could present a sleeper choice, there is no guarantee just yet that Hamlin will be in the car, let alone drive all the laps. He is still recovering from broken vertebrae suffered at Auto Club Speedway and is due for a check up this week to see if he can return to the cockpit, but that could be a gamble depending on when your league requires driver selections. While he could present a solid gamble, the risk might just be too much to take for some fantasy owners this week.