Friday, September 5, 2014

Richmond Practice Notes: Harvick super-impressive in both sessions

Harvick's impressive Phoenix run makes him a strong candidate to win 
You would think Kevin Harvick might have seen enough of Richmond International Raceway during a three-hour first practice session on Friday morning that saw him post the fastest lap (129.112 mph), but he wasn’t even close to being finished. During the final 70-minute practice session, Harvick simulated race conditions for most of his 77 laps run and put together the fastest 10-consecutive lap average among the 18 drivers that ran as many straight.

Because of getting his car perfectly dialed in during happy hour, coupled with three career wins at Richmond and dominating at a similar flat layout at Phoenix in March, Harvick stands alone as our driver to beat Saturday night in the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Of course there are many variables for the race that can’t be accounted for. There is supposed to be a cold front headed Richmond’s way which will make the track temperature much cooler Saturday night than what they ran under on Friday where both sessions were early in the day. A lot can change where on those final 100 laps, someone unexpected that didn’t impress during practice all of sudden gets better and becomes a candidate to win.

Harvick’s got all the components outside of the unknown which ties in his current form, past history and current season at similar tracks such as Phoenix and New Hampshire. The most glaring footnote is that Harvick led 224 laps at Phoenix in March. He’s just flat out fast everywhere and because of that he immediately has to be considered the driver to beat. Sure, he hasn’t won since Darlington in April, but he’s finished second in six races since, including the All-Star race. This week he’s using his runner-up chassis from the second Pocono race.

Brad Keselowski posted the second fastest lap in each of the two Friday practices, but wasn’t spectacular with the average speeds, which is where Harvick has a major edge. The best thing about Keselowski Saturday is that he’s finished fourth or better between Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire (won). He’s never won at Richmond, but would love to gain one last batch of bonus points for the Chase that starts next week. He’s also got some good luck riding with him as the chassis he’s using won at Kentucky and he starts it on the pole.

Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at Richmond since 2000, but in the year of his re-birth as NASCAR’s best driver, he’s doing a lot of things well that eluded him over the past 13 seasons since last winning a Cup title in 2001. During the first practice, he had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average which shows he’s going to be a major player Saturday night. In the April 26 race, he led a race-high 173 laps before settling for second-place. This week, he’s using that same chassis.

This race is extremely top heavy with the big names, but one that stood out during practices (third fastest in second session) was Clint Bowyer, a two-time winner at Richmond. He has yet to win this season and is outside looking in for the Chase which puts him a in a desperate position to go all out for the win. The good news is that he loves this type of track. The bad news is that his team hasn’t given him a car capable of winning on this type.

Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson also practiced well and fall into the desperation category as they‘ll all be gunning for Greg Biffle who currently has a 23-point lead over Bowyer for the 16th and final Chase slot. Biffle was 10th fastest in the early practice session and 11th fastest during happy hour. While desperation will play a major role with a few, lets also remember that the drivers currently locked in to the Chase don't have anything to lose and will be going all out with the same type of reckless abandon as the desperate few. All together, it spells out in interesting backdrop in this Saturday night special.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Federated Auto Parts 400
Richmond International Raceway
Saturday, September 6, 2014 -  4:46 pm (PT)

RATING    DRIVER   ODDS            PRAC 1   PRAC 2     QUALIFIED   APRIL 26* 
 1. Kevin Harvick 6/1                 1st         14th          4th          11th 
Three-time winner; dominated in March on similar Phoenix layout; using runner-up Pocono chassis. 
 2. Jeff Gordon 6/1                   21st         6th           2nd         2nd 
Two-time winner; best 10-consecutive lap average during 3-hour practice 1; using April 26 chassis. 
 3. Brad Keselowski 6/1            2nd         2nd           1st          4th 
Only driver to finish fourth or better in 2014 at flat Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire (won) layouts. 
 4. Joey Logano 8/1                  3rd         16th           5th         1st  
Led 46 laps during spring race win; fourth-place at similar Phoenix; using ninth-place Kentucky chassis. 
 5. Kyle Busch 8/1                    18th        20th          20th       3rd  
Active track leader with four wins and seventh-place average; very impressive third-place run in April.
 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12/1       12th        13th         24th        7th 
Three-time winner; second-best 10-consecutive lap average in practice 1; using New Hampshire chassis. 
 7. Jimmie Johnson 8/1            13th         5th           3rd       32nd 
Three-time winner, the last in 2008; only one top-5 in last 11 Richmond starts; Using brand new chassis.
 8. Carl Edwards 20/1                5th         1st           10th        9th 
Won this race last spring; always threat on these flat tracks; using 13th-place New Hampshire chassis.
 9. Denny Hamlin 12/1              15th        19th         11th       22nd 
Native Virginian is two-time  winner when getting home cooking; not stellar in practice but on upswing.  
 10. Clint Bowyer 20/1               14th         3rd           6th       43rd   
Two-time winner, but all were with Richard Childress car; Chase desperation makes him candidate to win.

* Results from the April 26, 2014 race at Richmond. The March 2 race at Phoenix and July 26 race at New Hampshire also serve as relevant data because of being similar in distances and flat like Richmond. If a team does well on one of the three tracks, they should do well on the other two.  
Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

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