Friday, April 29, 2011

Richmond Preview: Everyone Figures To Be Chasing Kyle Busch

By Micah Roberts

Richmond always provides some of the best action of the season (Getty) 
We get some good old fashioned racing this week, a Saturday Night Special, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series roars into Richmond. For some reason the freaks come out at night on the short tracks and we’re not talking about just the fans. The drivers themselves turn from mild mannered corporate spokesmen into road raging avengers trying to pay back a scrape from a few laps back.

All this plays out nicely for the rowdy fans in attendance and those at home watching on television as rivalries are created and scores are settled right in front of our eyes. Richmond never disappoints.

The driver everyone will likely be chasing this week is Kyle Busch who has won this spring race the last two seasons. In addition to being runner-up on four occasions, Busch has finished outside the top-five only twice in his 12 starts with no finish worse than 20th. Busch will be using his third-place Martinsville chassis this week, a car that led a race high 151-laps before giving way to Dale Earnhardt Jr and eventual winner Kevin Harvick.

Another edge for Busch this week besides the success of his car is the success he had at Phoenix this year, a track that requires a similar set-up to Richmond. Busch gave way to Jeff Gordon late in that race prompting Gordon to be more excited about passing a tough driver like Busch than he was about ending his lengthy winless streak.

Because of Phoenix win, Gordon should be good this week
Gordon led the most laps at Phoenix and should contend for his third Richmond win. He hasn't won there since 2000, but hasn't finished outside 12th in his last eight starts. He was runner-up to Busch in this race last season.

Busch’s teammate could definitely use some Richmond love. Denny Hamlin finished last season as the runner-up in points, but currently sits 17th in points. It’s like he’s had a hangover from blowing the championship that is still lingering which no aspirin can cure. The native Virginian should love the home cooking he’ll get this week because he’s won the last two Richmond fall races. Perhaps the week off for Easter can shake things up for him this week.

Jimmie Johnson is a three-time Richmond winner -- the last coming in 2008, but he’s also had some rough times there with six finishes of 25th or worse. After winning at Talladega, Johnson now finds himself sitting in second in points, just five behind Carl Edwards. Based on the results from the similar track of Phoenix in week 2 where Johnson finished third, we should expect something close or better than that. Incidentally, Johnson will be using that same Phoenix car this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 10th at Phoenix and it began a succession on seven straight races where he hasn’t finished worse than 12th, a streak that is still currently alive. Because of that consistency, Junior now finds himself third in points. He’s a three-time winner at Richmond who just might find a way to sneak into the winners circle and end his 101 race winless streak.

Harvick using winning Martinsville car this week (Getty)
The Childress cars should all fare well this week led by Kevin Harvick, who won at Richmond in 2006, and Clint Bowyer, who won in 2008. Bowyer has the third best average finish (9.8) on the track among active drivers just behind Busch (5.3) and Hamlin (8.0). Harvick will be driving his winning Martinsville car this week.

Jeff Burton is a native Virginian like Hamlin, but hasn’t won at Richmond since 1998. However, Burton came close the last two seasons finished third and fourth, respectively, in the last two spring races.

Carl Edwards is listed as one of the favorites by Las Vegas Hilton Super Book even though he hasn‘t won there. In 13 career starts, Edwards has only one top-five finish, a fifth-place last spring. The low odds are more about what Edwards has done at Phoenix in his last two races there. Edwards won at Phoenix last fall and then looked to have the best car this year during practice there before getting in a wreck.

There haven’t been a lot of long shots, or upset winners the last five years, but we did see a little spurt from 2003 to 2005 where three drivers won at odds of 30-to-1 or higher. Joe Nemecheck was 50-to-1 in 2003, Jeremy Mayfield was 40-to-1 in 2004 and Kasey Kahne was 35-to-1 in 2005. The best long shot candidate this week might be Burton at 30-to-1.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (20/1)

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