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For just the third time in the 2020 season, the Cup Series will pay visit to a short track. Richmond Raceway, a low-banked, three-quarter-mile oval, will host Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400, the second race of the opening round of the playoffs.
From a Fantasy NASCAR standpoint, a short track event can create some opportunities. Certain midrange drivers enjoy an uptick in performance at short tracks, and with attrition typically a little higher, this is also the type of race where we could see some unexpected names up inside the Top 20 and Top 15. In the Driver Group Game, it is a chance to utilize some alternative options without sacrificing as much in the way of upside.
While you don’t necessarily have to worry about allocations as much in Fantasy Live since all driver starts were reset to five for the start of the playoffs, you could still use Richmond to go with some contrarian picks to try to gain ground in your league. If any of the popular plays wreck, you could make up a chunk of points in a hurry if you are willing to fade the chalk.
I went back and forth with my Slingshot lineup this weekend. I toyed with the idea of going with one high-priced play and an overall balanced lineup, but since I couldn’t build a lineup with as much overall place differential upside as I would like, I opted to go with a couple of higher-priced studs and a cheaper play to round out my roster.
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While Harvick hasn’t dominated Richmond like he has a lot of other tracks, but he does lead all drivers in points scored over the last 10 races here. He has compiled a series-best seven Top 5s in that span to go along with a 6.4 average finish. Starting from the pole, Harvick is one of the safest bets for 40-plus points this weekend.
A flat track ace, Hamlin has finished sixth or better in eight of his last nine starts at Richmond, cracking the Top 5 in both races here a year ago. He has also been one of the top drivers in the series all season, and I don’t see that changing at one of his best tracks. Hamlin should be one of the main contenders for the win Saturday night while easily delivering double-digit stage points.
Martin Truex Jr.
He swept both races at Richmond last year, and Truex has been flexing his muscle at the short track for a while. He has led more than 100 laps in six of the last seven races here, leading more than 160 laps four times in that span. Starting 14th may cost him a few points in the opening stage, but Truex should still contend for the win and post one of the top scores.
Logano is the perfect option in this format, combining a high floor with Top 5 upside. He has a 6.0 average finish in the last 10 Richmond races, cracking the Top 15 in every start in that span and notching six Top 5s. Logano is set to start from the front row Saturday night, and I expect him to run near the front all race, potentially winning Stage 1.
Keselowski has been the model of consistency at Richmond, reeling off nine straight finishes of 11th or better. He has shown even more upside recently, leading at least 30 laps in three straight starts. Last fall, Keselowski led 89 laps on his way to a fourth-place finish. He starts ninth Saturday, and I think his floor is a Top 10 with points in both stages.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch
While this has been an atypical year for Busch, his record at Richmond speaks for itself. He is a six-time winner here, which includes a sweep of both races in 2018, and he led more than 100 laps in both races last year. Rolling off sixth, Busch could run in the Top 5 all night. If you are looking to fade any of the big names, Clint Bowyer and William Byron are two drivers to keep in mind as alternatives.
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Denny Hamlin (A)
Hamlin has been one of the dominant drivers all season long, and Richmond has always been one of his best tracks. He finished in the Top 5 in both races here a year ago, and he has finished sixth or better in eight of his last nine Richmond starts. At worst, I expect a Top 5 and double-digit stage points. I also like Joey Logano from the front row if you want to go against the grain a bit.
William Byron (B)
I’m a believer in momentum, and Byron followed up his win at Daytona with a strong showing at Darlington. He will start inside the Top 5 Saturday night, and he has already shown some muscle at shorter, flatter tracks in 2020, finishing 11th or better at Phoenix, Martinsville and New Hampshire. I am hoping that playing the hot hand pays off to the tune of a Top 10 and around 10 stage points.
Clint Bowyer (B)
Short tracks have always been his bread and butter, and he has reeled off four straight Top 10s at Richmond, finishing third and eighth in the two races last year. Bowyer will roll off 11th this weekend, putting him on great position for stage points. This is a track where he has legitimate Top 5 upside, and I plan to take advantage.
Cole Custer (C)
Tyler Reddick is my top option in this tier, but I only have a few starts remaining with him, and I want to save them for the 1.5-mile ovals. Instead, I am going to go with Custer. He finished first and third in the two XFINITY races at Richmond last year, and he has logged Top 10s at both Phoenix and New Hampshire this season. Starting 13th, I think the rookie is a sleeper Top 10 threat, and Custer should at least land in the Top 20.
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Martin Truex Jr. ($12,800)
The biggest no-brainer play for me in this format is Truex. He swept both races at Richmond last year, leaving no doubt that he can contend for the win and pile up stage points. He also rolls off 14th, so 20-plus place differential points are also on the table. Truex is my pick to be the top scorer.
Chase Elliott ($12,200)
Elliott has been solid, albeit not spectacular, at Richmond throughout his career, but he has been fast at the shorter, flatter tracks in 2020, cracking the Top 5 at Phoenix and New Hampshire. He also starts 12th, giving him a decent amount of differential upside to go with his Top 5 potential. Elliott should be an all-around force in this format.
Clint Bowyer ($9,600)
He tends to be at his best at short tracks, and Bowyer has four straight Top 10s at Richmond, including finishes of third and eighth last year. He offers Top 5 upside this weekend, and starting 11th, he has in a great spot to grab some stage points and even a few differential points. I also like Jimmie Johnson from the 18th spot in this price range.
Tyler Reddick ($8,800)
The rookie has been tearing up some cars recently, but while he may be more of a high-risk, high-reward play, I love Reddick’s upside. Not only does he have plenty of differential points to gain from the 22nd starting spot, but he has had plenty of speed at shorter, low-banked tracks. Reddick had a Top 5 run going at Phoenix when he cut a tire, and he notched a Top 10 at New Hampshire.
John Hunter Nemechek ($6,600)
I needed a cheaper play to be able to afford both Truex and Elliott, and I decided to roll the dice on Nemechek. For one, he will start 31st, so even if his recent rash of crashes continues, he can’t hurt me too bad overall. He is also one of the only drivers in this price range that has shown the ability to run in the Top 20 on raw speed.