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Las Vegas offered a dramatic start to this season’s playoff contenders, as Jimmie Johnson (-6), Chase Elliott (-9), Erik Jones (-19), and Denny Hamlin (-20) all quickly find themselves on the outside looking in to qualify for the next Round of 12. Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski became the third driver this season to notch the pure hat trick with 3 consecutive victories. These late restarts under the Saturday night lights at Richmond are going to be a spectacle, as nobody quite knows what to expect at Charlotte’s ROVAL.


Richmond is a 0.75 mile, D-shaped oval, loosely resembling Phoenix. With only 14 degrees of banking in the turns, Richmond is considered a flat/short track. Significant braking input, and lack of banking assist, will add a lot of heat to the tires, specifically the right front. Without an inner tire liner, it’s common to see a car independently in the wall for these reasons, let alone from direct contact with a competitor. Like the other 3 tracks in this classification (Phoenix, Martinsville, New Hampshire), it’s very difficult for [most] cars to keep pace in the outside line. Thus, cars able to hook the inside yellow line are very difficult to pass. Tempers flare, but a patient driver can wear the competition down with relentless pressure, then capitalize once the victim overdrives a corner. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and the short track ringers will figure out how to defy these norms. Pit stall selection, restarts, strategy, and clean pit stops will be critical for gaining/keeping track position, especially late in the race. It doesn’t get much better than Saturday night playoff race at a short track!


This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch have been purposely omitted because they are obvious options each week. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Denny Hamlin – One of these days, we’re going to see those beady, bloodshot eyes of Hamlin’s smiling with a Coke in victory lane, instead of lost for words after leaving the infield care center. Any competitor on a cold streak can empathize. Sometimes all you can do is laugh in amazement at how many things went wrong, then go back to grinding yourself out of it. Keselowski did it, and it’s just a matter of time before Hamlin follows suit. Hamlin owns the best average finish (3.6) over the last 5 Richmond races, and second best loop rating (109.4). Oh, and this is his hometown track, by the way.

Joey Logano – To me, one of the coolest things about last week’s race was watching Logano finally challenge his teammate for the lead instead of simply helping Brad benefit on restarts like recent weeks. Joey has a reputation for being aggressive, and that was on full display with some of those apron passes into the corners at ‘Vegas. Joey is a two-time winner at Richmond since 2014, and has an active streak of three consecutive top-fives going.

Brad Keselowski – To the “Big 3”, Brad is now like the annoying single who gets paired up with the threesome of friends at the golf course. It was supposed to just be us, and now we have to play with you, a-hole? Statistically, this is another hot and cold track for Brad. Yes, he won here back in 2014. Yes, his worst finish is only 11th over the last 6 races. None of that means as much to me as stringing together three consecutive wins. We quickly forget how hard that is to do. Did you see that pit crew last week? This team is on a mission.

Kyle Larson – Kyle really needs to start using Android Auto. Just press the little microphone icon, say “Find victory lane,” and Google will pull up the directions. Simple. Kyle started 5th and finished 7th here back in the spring, yet somehow managed to avoid any stage points in the process, to my dismay. Kyle is the defending champion of the fall race at Richmond, so we know what he’s capable of.

Chase Elliott – Chase finished 2nd in the spring race at Richmond. Prior to that, his resume at Richmond isn’t particularly compelling. However, he’s been exceptional at Phoenix lately, finishing 3rd in the spring and 2nd last year. All of this would suggest Chase has figured out how to approach these short/flat tracks, including noticeable improvements at Martinsville and New Hampshire this season.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Jimmie Johnson – By the 48’s standards, this has been an extremely disappointing season. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t win all season long? In February, I probably would’ve given you 4:1 odds against that proposition. Now? I’d probably want at least that in return. And so it goes. Apart from 2001 (where he only had 3 starts), Jimmie hasn’t won less than 2 races per season. But, the year ain’t over either, and this team can definitely compete at short tracks where aero and horsepower are less of a factor compared to driver skill. Jimmie came to life late in the spring race, finishing 6th, right around his average since 2014.

THE DRAG (use caution)

Ryan Blaney – Blaney’s only top-20 at Richmond came last fall, where he finished 18th with 0 stage points. His career average finish in 5 attempts here is 28.6. Unfortunately his numbers at Phoenix are mediocre as well, and there’s not much to support a play here other than “yeah, but, it’s Ryan Blaney!” I pass.


3.6, #11 Denny Hamlin
5.0, #22 Joey Logano
7.0, #4 Kevin Harvick
7.2, #2 Brad Keselowski
7.4, #18 Kyle Busch

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ RICHMOND (last 5 track events)

113.1, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
109.4 #11 Denny Hamlin
108.6, #18 Kyle Busch
106.6, #4 Kevin Harvick
104.8, #2 Brad Keselowski

2018 PTS MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

42.8, #2 Brad Keselowski
41.6, #41 Kurt Busch
40.0, #22 Joey Logano
37.8, #42 Kyle Larson
35.6, #4 Kevin Harvick

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