The NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Richmond Raceway this weekend for the Toyota Owners 400. The 2022 season has been full of variety and excitement thus far with several different track types and three first-time winners. Unfortunately, Richmond isn’t known for the most exciting product, but who knows, that could change with the new car!
Pace Laps: Info to Know
Richmond Raceway is a 0.75-mile tri-oval with above average tire degradation and relatively flat banking. Comparable tracks include Phoenix, New Hampshire, and, to a much lesser extent, Martinsville, all of which are flatter tracks less than or equal to 1 mile in length.
It has been said that Richmond and Phoenix are reverse versions of each other where speed is sustained by momentum through the corners onto the straightaways. On the other hand, New Hampshire and Martinsville are more so rhythm tracks with an emphasis on precise braking. Though Richmond and Phoenix are similar, oddly enough, some drivers do better at one than the other, but with the new car, all bets are off.
Unlike races at intermediate tracks or superspeedways, nailing the right combination of dominators is essential to DFS success at short tracks due to the increased number of laps and thus, dominator points available. As seen at Phoenix earlier this season, fast cars with fast pit crews were able to stay up front. Fortunately for DFS players, due to this, Richmond is one of the more predictable tracks on the circuit.
Stage 1: Trends to Follow
- Over the past 7 Richmond races, drivers starting in the top 10 have achieved a top 10 DraftKings score nearly seven times as often as drivers starting 30th or worse. Place differential is hard to come by and short, flat tracks. There are not many grooves to make passes, and drivers in the back are likely to get lapped quickly. Since 2018, 34 drivers had a top 10 DK score from a starting position of 10th or better, while just 5 drivers starting worse than 30th have achieved the same feat. On the other hand, bottom 10 DraftKings performances occurred fives times more often from backmarker cars than those starting up front.
- Since 2018, all optimal lineups at Richmond have featured at least two drivers scoring 10 or more dominator points. In each of these 7 races, there were at least 5 drivers who met this criteria mainly through 20+ fastest laps. In all but one race, there were 4 or more drivers who led 25+ laps as well. Of those who accomplished this feat and did not land in the optimal lineup, all achieved a top 10 DraftKings score, allowing DFS players to cash despite not being optimal.
- Roster at least 3 drivers starting in the top 20 and no more than 2 drivers starting worse than 25th. Since place differential is hard to obtain at Richmond and there are few wrecks, it is better to target drivers starting mid-pack than those in the back. If each driver starting worse than 20th gains 5 positions, the driver starting 21st, for example, is going to greatly outscore a driver starting 30th. Does it seem riskier to play drivers with lower ceiling? Yes. Is it worth it to lock in their higher floor? Certainly.
Stage 2: Drivers to Watch
Martin Truex Jr. ($9,600) – Though 2022 has not gone great for Joe Gibbs Racing so far, Richmond is a place where they could rebound. MTJ has 3 wins and 6 top 5 finishes in his last 6 Richmond races. That’s right, a 100% hit rate despite varying rules packages. In practice yesterday, Truex ranked 3rd in 15 lap average speed. Many will flock to Ryan Blaney starting on the pole for $200 less, but I will take my chances with Truex. Blaney has been extremely fast in 2022 and is due for a good finish here. However, it is statistically his worst track and his pit crew continues to give up positions weekly. For what it’s worth, the polesitter has only made the optimal lineup once in the past 6 races at Richmond. Oh, and Truex is running his blue Auto-Owners paint scheme… If you know, you know.
Christopher Bell ($8,700) – If you listened to the Stacking Dennys podcast this week or even last year, you know the drill. Always consider Bell and Almirola at short, flat tracks. Christopher Bell finished 4th and 3rd at Richmond in 2021 and contended for the win at New Hampshire as well. He was an absolute beast at this track type in the Xfinity Series and that has carried over to the Cup Series. Bell ranked 2nd in 10 lap average and 3rd in 15 lap average in practice yesterday and should contend for a top 5 finish, if not a win.
Kevin Harvick ($8,000) – Sensing a trend yet? These drivers starting in the top 10 had speed in qualifying as well and cannot be faded! It has been quite a while since Harvick has been recommended as a good DraftKings play, but the data cannot be ignored. He has finished 8th or better in 7 of the last 9 Richmond races and is widely regarded as the “King of Phoenix”, a similar track to Richmond. He also looked fast in practice, ranking 3rd in 20 lap average speed and 10th in single lap speed. Recent poor results may allow him to go under-owned, but after his 6th place finish (and 4th ranked driver rating) at Phoenix earlier this season, Harvick is one of the better leverage plays on the slate.
Austin Dillon ($7,000) – No, practice speed was not that impressive. No, he hasn’t been great in 2022. No, he’ll never be as good as his teammate, Tyler Reddick. Despite all that, Austin Dillon makes for a great play in all formats this weekend. Obviously, a practice run lasting longer than nine laps would have been nice to see, but he still ranked 10th in overall average lap time. Somehow, some way, he has continued to contend for finishes around 10th to 15th weekly this season when issues don’t arise. With 3 finishes of 6th or better at Richmond and 6 top 15s in his last 7 starts, Dillon has a high chance of being optimal with a similar result.
Other drivers to consider (in order of salary, favorites in bold): Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace.
For any questions or comments, you can always find me on Twitter. Best of luck this weekend!