Betting news, trends, odds and predictions for Thursday, April 19, 2018 from various handicappers and websites
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More shorts tracks, please. Let's keep doing this every week, forever!
The ninth race of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule brings us to Richmond Raceway's flat, 3/4-mile D-shaped oval for some Saturday night racing under the lights. This track provides the best of all worlds in racing with a little bumping and banging between drivers mixed in with speeds fast enough to satisfy every fans' need for speed.
This will be the third short track race of the season, the first two coming at Martinsville last month and Bristol last week. But they're really nothing alike. It's like apples and oranges.
“There’s really no comparison between racetracks, honestly, because Charlotte, Texas, Atlanta – they all look the same from overhead, but they all drive not even close to the same," Kyle Busch said. "Richmond and Bristol are more than oil and water, more than day and night. Bristol is an attack-type racetrack yet, when you attack, you can get yourself in trouble. Richmond is a very methodical racetrack and you have to be very – you’re very on edge there all the time, especially corner entry, getting into the corners."
I like to put Richmond into another category with the 1-mile flat tracks of Phoenix and New Hampshire. I noticed a long time ago that crew chiefs were using the same chassis on all three tracks during the season if having success and when I asked a few of them about it, they said the set-ups for Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire were similar. That's certainly good enough for me and it's helped me cash tickets more on these tracks than any other type over the past 25 years.
If looking at the results of the two races a season on all three tracks, you'll notice a lot of the same names in the top-five in all of them with drivers winning multiple times on them during a season. Whether it's Davey Allison, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick, we've seen history repeat itself several times on these tracks during a season. If a driver does well on one of the tracks, he's likely to be good on all three of them.
The first piece of handicapping strategy I begin with takes me to the March 11 results at Phoenix where Martin Truex Jr. won the pole (136.945 mph), Kyle Busch led a race-high 128 of the 312 laps and Kevin Harvick ended up winning for a track record ninth time.
Yes, nine times, and that's why he's the huge favorite to win this week. Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond and in 2006 he won four of the six races between Richmond, Phoenix and New Hampshire. In 2016, he won once on each of those tracks. He's been at his best on these types and it wouldn't be surprising if he's using the same chassis he won with at Phoenix. That will be known on Thursday.
Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with four wins at Richmond, the last coming 2012. He won at least once at Richmond for four straight seasons. He leads all drivers with a 7.4 average finish in 25 starts, which includes 15 top-five finishes.
“I love Richmond, Busch said. "It’s one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five or more. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens there.”
Busch is on an epic run right now winning the last two races and finishing third or better in his last six races. He gobbles up wins in bunches and will go toe-to-toe with Harvick. He finished second to Harvick at Phoenix and that Harvick-Busch quinella has happened three times already this season.
Denny Hamlin grew up 20 miles from Richmond Raceway in Chesterfield, VA, and the home cooking has treated him well with a series-leading three poles to go along with three wins, the last of which came from the pole in the fall of 2016. He leads all active drivers with 1,653 laps led.
“Obviously after some unfortunate circumstances in Bristol, I’m looking forward to returning to Richmond where I know we can be competitive," Hamlin said. "This #11 FedEx team is more motivated than ever to get a win, and competing in from my hometown crowd always adds some an extra incentive.”
Last season Hamlin was amazing on these types of tracks, as all the Joe Gibbs racing cars were. He had top-five finishes in both Richmond races, won at New Hampshire and led the most laps in the fall Phoenix race before Chase Elliott ended his day. The best reason to support Hamlin this week besides being home is that he finished fourth at Phoenix six weeks ago.
I'm not ready to bet on Jimmie Johnson yet, but I must say I sure was happy to see him run competitive last week at Bristol where his third-place finish was his best finish since winning at Dover almost a full year ago. He's won the season championship seven times, but he was as excited as ever about that third-place.
“The finish in Bristol is exactly what this team needed," said Johnson, who is listed at 20-to-1 odds to win this week. "I’ve known that every week we have been getting better, but it's nice to finally have a finish to back that up. Now if we could just fix these bouts of bad luck we have been having. I’m already ready to get back in the Lowe’s for Pros Chevy and looking forward to Richmond. We have put together some solid runs there lately and with the momentum from Bristol, I’m ready to roll.”
Johnson is a three-time winner at Richmond, the last coming in 2008.
Kyle Larson was strong last week at Bristol and he won at Richmond the last time the series raced there in September. He also won the spring Xfinity Series race. Joey Logano won the spring Cup race last season but got busted for cheating and forfeited the automatic playoff berth that came with it as a penalty. He was runner-up in the fall race when having to win to make playoffs. Logano also won at Richmond in 2014. Brad Keselowski also has a 2014 win at Richmond, as well as four other Xfinity Series, wins. By the way, his father, Bob Keselowski, won a Truck Series race at Richmond in 1997 when Brad was 13 years old.
Clint Bowyer was sixth at Phoenix and these type of tracks have proven to be his favorite over his career. Of his nine career wins, two came at Richmond and two came at New Hampshire.
“It’s just a perfect racetrack,” Bowyer said of Richmond. “It’s always been that way. Ever since I started in the Xfinity Series with Richard (Childress), it’s always fit my driving style. It’s that short track and I’ve always said that I wish we had four or five of these all across the country. They certainly hit the mark when they were making Richmond."
Yes, more short tracks, please! Bowyer has lots of value this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (4/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (9/2)
3) #14 Clint Bowyer (20/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
5) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)
By Micah Roberts
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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS is back in the Old Dominion, heading off to Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday. The race is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET.
Back in his home state, Chesterfield, Va. native Denny Hamlin (13/2) will be one to watch at RIR. According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Hamlin leads everyone in Driver Rating (112.0) across the past five races at Richmond, including a victory in the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Sept. 2016 during the span. Overall he has won three times at his home track in 23 starts, turning in 10 Top 10 finishes all but five of his outings resulting in a Top 20 showing. His worst start in the 23-race stretch is 24th, so he obviously has no DNFs. Hamlin leads all active drivers with 1,653 laps led, too. Over the past five runs he has led 263 laps, including 156 fastest laps, while turning 87.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15.
Right on his heels is Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch (7/2), who is coming off a victory at the Food City 500 in Bristol this past week. Busch has posted a 109.3 Driver Rating over the past five starts at Richmond, leading 126 laps with a circuit-best 95.6 percent of those laps run inside the Top 15. Rowdy has visited Victory Lane in four separate occasions in his 25 starts at the track, posting a ridiculous 15 Top 5 runs while just one of his starts has resulted in a finish outside of the Top 20. Like Hamlin, Busch's worst finish was 24th, and he has led 1,057 laps with a circuit-leading 7.4 Average-Finish Position (AFP). He hasn't won at the track since April 2015, but he is always right there in the mix.
He might not have the experience of his teammates, but Daniel Suarez (100/1) joins his JGR teammates as one to watch this weekend. In his MENCS debut at the short track in 2017, Suarez posted finishes of seventh and 12th. Not too shabby, although never did lead a lap. JGR alliance member Martin Truex Jr. (15/2) hasn't had as much success at RIR over the years, although he has made strides recently. Over the past five starts he has a 101.2 Driver Rating, sixth-best among all drivers, while leading 391 laps which is the most of any driver during the five-race span. However, MTJ has no victories with just two Top 5 finishes and eight Top 10 finishes in 24 career runs. His AFP is a dismal 20.04, so he has work to do before fantasy owners make him a go-to driver at RIR.
Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (13/2) has been a quick study over the years, and Richmond has been no exception. While it takes years for some to master short-track Cup racing, Larson has shown his chops early. He is seventh in Driver Rating (99.3) over the past five races at RIR, and he has one victory (last fall), two Top 5s, two Top 10s and an AFP of 10.4 in his eight career starts at the track. Larson has never finished worse than 16th in the capital city, leading 73 laps. CGR's Jamie McMurray (100/1) is a sleeper to watch. He ranks 10th in Driver Rating over the past five runs while posting three Top 5s, eight Top 10s and 19 Top 20s in 30 career starts at the track. He does lead all active drivers with four DNFs, so there is a measure of risk using Jamie Mac.
This might be the latest we've discussed Kevin Harvick (9/2) this season, but it's more due to trying to mix it up and not due to a lack of success by the No. 4 in Richmond. He has enjoyed himself over the years at the Virginia short track, posting three victories across 34 starts with a sparkling 10.4 AFP. He has managed 12 Top 5s while ending outside of the Top 20 on just three separate occasions, and he is just one of three active drivers to log 1,000 or more laps led. While his last victory at RIR came in the Toyota Owners 400 back in April 2013, Loop Data shows him fourth in Driver Rating over the past five races with a 103.9 mark.
Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski (10/1) has also enjoyed a measure of success at Richmond in recent seasons. He picked up a win in Sept. 2014 at the track, and over his past five starts he has run 93.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 with 125 laps and a 108.1 Driver Rating, good for third over the past five green flag drops at Richmond. Teammate Joey Logano (18/1) won the last time I attended a race in Richmond, taking checkers in April 2014, and he also won the spring race last season. Loop Data shows him in fifth over the past five Richmond runs, posting 50 laps lep with a 4.8 AFP and 80.7 percent of his laps run inside the Top 15.
Hendrick Motorsports has had a difficult 2018 as they rebuild with a bunch of new blood surrounding seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (20/1). The No. 48 has yet to visit Victory Lane, and honestly hasn't been terribly close. However, it will take just one strong race to give the champ momentum, and Richmond could provide that jump. He has a 92.6 Driver Rating over the past five races to rank ninth among all active drivers, posting 44 laps led with a strong 8.4 AFP. He has won three times in Richmond over 32 starts, posting 13 Top 10s and 461 laps led. However, J.J.'s last victory at RIR was back in Sept. 2008 in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400.
Don't sleep on Ryan Newman (60/1) is a value for bettors and fantasy players, especially since he is fifth among all drivers in AFP at 10.4 over his career. He has won once in 32 career Richmond starts with 18 Top 10s and 29 Top 20s while leading 483 laps. Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (20/1) might also be quite the value. He won last time the MENCS was in the state of Virginia, taking checkers at Martinsville in March. He has been to Victory Lane twice in 24 career Richmond starts, posting a strong 11.8 AFP, eight among all drivers. Aric Almirola (40/1) is also a value play. While he hasn't won at the track in 12 tries, he has finished outside of the Top 20 on just three occasions while posting a strong 16.3 AFP.
By Daniel Dobish
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