Last week playoff contenders swept the top 10 in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was just as predicted. The same was practically true in the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game with the top nine points earners each being one of the 16 racers vying for the championship. Richmond Raceway and the Federated Auto Parts 400 will be no different.
Last week we strongly suggested that your garage driver should come from the ranks of the playoff contenders â and if you had Kyle Busch or Erik Jones as one of your picks, you were probably grateful. The difference among the driver scoring the most points (Martin Truex Jr with 53) and a three-way tie for fourth (Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and William Byron with 39) was -14. Among the non-playoff drivers, Austin Dillon (31 points) had an advantage of eight points over fourth-place Ty Dillon.
Picking the right playoff drivers will continue to be critical. Â
One challenge this week will be the fact that six playoff contenders count Richmond as one of their three-best tracks. Led by Kyle Busch with a 7.0 in 28 starts down to Aric Almirola with a 16.0 in 15 starts, the list also includes Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Alex Bowman. The battle for a spot in the top 10 is going to be fierce and minor mistakes are going to make a huge difference.
Playoff: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin needs to rebound this week. He has not looked particularly strong in the past three races despite scoring a sixth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two weeks ago. With an average finish of 9.4 in 26 races, Richmond is his second-best track to Darlington Raceway (7.8 in 14) and Hamlin would have challenged for the win there if not for crash damage. Hamlin has finished sixth or better in seven of his last eight attempts on this short, flat track, including a win in 2016.
Playoff: Joey Logano
Logano will be on a mission of his own this week after getting pinched into the wall by Daniel Suarez at Las Vegas. He dominated the early stages of the South Point 400 and believed the team would be capable of keeping up with the adjustments needed to head into the evening. Richmond has been another solid track for him with 10 top-10s in the last 11 races there. He won in 2017 and 2014 and has seven top-fives in that span.
Non-Playoff: Jimmie Johnson
Unless it happens on a wild card track like the Charlotte Roval or Talladega Superspeedway, it will take a while before Johnson challenges for a victory â but he should be able to challenge for top-10s. That is precisely what he did last week in Vegas, and it was only in the closing laps that Newman managed to get around him for that final coveted spot among the leaders. Richmond is a driversâ track that also takes the complete package from the team. On it, Johnson has finished 12th or better in his last 10 attempts with an average of 7.9.
Non-Playoff: Austin Dillon
This might seem a little like jumping on a bandwagon since he scored the most points among non-playoff drivers last week, but Dillon also has a solid record at Richmond recently. He finished sixth in this race last year and again in the spring. If he did not have the momentum of three consecutive top-12s in the last three races, we might be inclined to pass over him for the Federated 400, but we are thinking this team still has a few more strong finishes in their future.
Playoff: Kevin Harvick
Harvick has not been perfect at Richmond, but heâs come darn close. He has three wins on this track with the most recent in 2013 â and while he has not won in 12 races since then, he has accumulated eight more top-fives and has a perfect record of top-15s. Recently he has had difficulty stringing four consecutive top-10s together and enters the week with three top-fives in the last three races. His consistency makes him an excellent garage pick so that players have a little while to see how he will dominate.
Non-Playoff: Chris Buescher
Buescher is another driver for whom consistency has been key. He finished 18th last week at Vegas, which was his 16th consecutive top-20. In that span, he has three top-10s. All of those came on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but that could be important. Richmond is a short track, but with its long, sweeping frontstretch it also rewards drivers who do well on unrestricted, intermediate speedways.
Six playoff drivers count Richmond as one of their three-best in terms of career average finishes. Blaney is not one of them. In fact, this is his worst track in that regard with a 26.7 in seven starts and a best of only 18th. Three of his attempts have been hampered by crash damage, but in the four remaining events he has managed to stay on the lead lap only twice; neither of these came in the last two races.
Stage Wins This Year
Kyle Busch (10), Joey Logano (9), Kevin Harvick (5), Chase Elliott (4), Martin Truex Jr. (4), Brad Keselowski (4), Kyle Larson (4), Denny Hamlin (3), Kurt Busch (3), Ryan Blaney (2), Austin Dillon (2), Ty Dillon (2), William Byron (1), Aric Almirola (1), and Jimmie Johnson (1).