Friday, April 24, 2015

Final Richmond Practice Notes & Top Rated Drivers

Denny Hamlin could be a factor following win XFinity Series win
There’s that No. 4 car again at the the top of our list as the driver to beat during Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. His edge isn’t as pronounced as its been in weeks past, but after showing fast laps on both the long and short runs during the two practice sessions, coupled with his dominance at the similar flat Phoenix track, no one is rated higher.

Harvick had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average during the final practice session while also laying down the third-fastest lap in the early session. He was already rated as the driver to beat prior to practices, and then upgraded even more when the team revealed he was going to be using the same chassis that led 224 of the 312 laps at Phoenix.

There were only two practices because they have to cram all the events into one day at Richmond prior to Saturday’s race. Neither one of the sessions will be comparable to the conditions the drivers will see at night, so it is quite possible that someone who didn’t fare well Friday could have the conditions come to them, or vice-versa where a driver was set-up perfectly Friday but the conditions move away from them.

This race might not even get in Saturday night because rain is expected to fall right about the time the race is supposed to start. Hopefully NASCAR doesn’t try to force a race start again like last week at Bristol when the drops were falling and Brad Kesleowski slipped and took out teammate Joey Logano to ruin both their days.

Just as expected, both Penske drivers figure to chasing Harvick for the win, and in Logano’s case, it will be Harvick that is chasing him early as Logano starts from the pole. Logano won this race last season and Keselowski completed the Penske sweep in the fall.

The next tier of contending drivers all come from the Hendrick and Gibbs garages. Both Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne qualified poorly and will start from the rear, but each will be just fine during the race with a chance to mix it up with the leaders.

Carl Edwards continues his weekly upswing and had the third fastest lap during final practice. He won at Richmond in the fall of 2013 and could be looking at his first top-five finish of the season. Denny Hamlin has two wins at Richmond, but none since 2010. The home cooking did the native Virginian good at Martinsville in March and it might do the same Saturday. He had the fifth fastest lap during final practice.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Toyota Owners 400 
Richmond International Raceway
Saturday, April 25, 2015 -  4:14 pm (PT)

 1. Kevin Harvick 4/1                3rd        20th         5th          1st 
Three-time winner; fastest 10-consecutive lap average in practice 2; using winning Phoenix chassis.
 2. Brad Keselowski 6/1           1st        15th          7th          6th 
Won last fall, fourth in the spring; these type of flat tracks are quickly becoming his best.   
 3. Jimmie Johnson 12/1           4th        10th        36th        11th 
Three-time winner, the last in 2009; good average speeds in practice; using 2014 Richmond chassis.
 4. Kasey Kahne 30/1             27th         1st         40th         4th 
Captured first career win off pole there in 2005; best of the Hendrick cars at Phoenix in March.
 5. Joey Logano 6/1                  9th        13th         1st          8th 
Won this race last year, sixth in the fall; 19.6 percent of Richmond races won from the pole.
 6. Jamie McMurray 30/1       23rd         4th          9th         2nd 
Consistent numbers on these tracks say you can trust him; fourth in 2 of past 3 Richmond starts. 
 7. Carl Edwards 18/1             12th        12th        18th       13th  
2013 winner with 13.9 average finish; this No. 19 Gibbs team looks to have turned the corner.
 8. Denny Hamlin 7/1             10th        10th         2nd        23rd   
Two-time winner with 10.9 average finish; track is 30 minutes from where he grew up in Chesterfield, VA. 
 9. Kurt Busch 7/1                  15th         11th         3rd         5th  
2005 winner, runner-up in 2013, 17.1 average finish; he’ll be almost as good as teammate Harvick. 
 10. Martin Truex Jr. 25/1        6th          6th          6th         7th 
Career-best fifth-place in 2008, but he might be able to better it Saturday; he’s scary consistent.

* Results from the March 15 race at Phoenix International Raceway. Because of similar set-up requirements for Phoenix and Richmond, drivers that do well on one usually fare the same on the other -- New Hampshire falls into that group as well.  

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

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