It’s a Short Track Saturday Night weekend! We’re at Richmond Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400, which is personally one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. Richmond is a 0.75-mile flat track that typically sees quite a bit of passing and cars coming up through the field. We still see many of the same faces up front at a typical Richmond race, but surprises happen, too.
As far as speeds and data this weekend, NASCAR condensed schedule kind of screwed us again, as we had one single practice session on Friday (Happy Hour was cancelled due to weather) along with qualifying. This is an impound race, too, so the starting lineup from qualifying is unofficial. Inspection starts at 1:30 pm ET today, and the final starting lineup will be set dependent on that. Any driver that fails inspection will have to start from the rear and will also be scored from there, so the picks below are tentative and may change depending on that. The starting lineup for tonight’s Toyota Owners 400 can be found by clicking here and will be updated once official.
My original picks for Richmond have completely changed. I will now be going with a strictly place differential strategy.
*Please note: the picks and suggestions below are my opinions and strategy for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. These are not meant to sway your thinking in any way, but rather give you insight into the drivers I am most likely to pick on Sunday.*
Slingshot Fantasy Auto Picks for Richmond
Denny Hamlin ($12,400) – It’s Richmond and Denny Hamlin is starting
18th (depending on inspection failures) 30th. With a game like Slingshot Fantasy Auto, where place differential can get you a massive amount of fantasy points, that’s all you need to make him a “no-brainer” pick. Denny is a 3-time winner at this race track, and over the course of his 25 career starts, he’s posted 11 top 5s (44%) and 15 top 10s (60%). Need I say more? Hamlin ranked 6th in ten-lap average during Friday’s only practice session and has just one finish worse than 6th in the last seven Richmond races. Unless he shoots himself in the foot with another speeding penalty tonight, Hamlin is going to finish up front. And even if he does speed, he still might–it’s not like this #11 team isn’t used to overcoming those penalties.
Aric Almirola ($10,800) – Almirola is quickly becoming a great Fantasy NASCAR pick on the flat tracks, and with him starting in 31st thanks to the inspection failure this weekend, that makes him an awesome choice for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. After practice and qualifying here on Friday, I had Aric slated for a solid top 10 finish, and even though he has to come through the field once the green flag waves, I still see him finishing up there. Almirola ended up 17th and 5th in the two Richmond races last year but finished 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 3rd in the Stages. He also finished 4th at Phoenix earlier this year, which is noteworthy because it is very similar to Richmond. Almirola is a very good Fantasy NASCAR pick overall this weekend.
Daniel Suarez ($10,100) – If there is any track type that Daniel Suarez has excelled at in the Cup Series, it’s the flat tracks. Looking at Richmond specifically, Daniel has made four career starts here and has a best finish of 7th with a worst finish of 17th. That 17th-place result came in the fall race last season, but part of that was due to the fact that he had to start 38th. This time around, Suarez will start from 33rd, but I think he has a better car overall and can actually challenge for a top 10 finish despite the minor setback. This #41 team is finally starting to find its groove and will be looking for its fourth straight top 10 finish in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,700) – Jimmie Johnson is no stranger to coming up through the field at Richmond. Over the last four races here, Johnson hasn’t started better than 17th, yet he’s never finished worse than 11th. He loves this race track, and even with his ultimate down year last season, Jimmie ended up sweeping the top 10 at this track. The #48 Chevrolet will roll off the grid from 34th here on Saturday night and should pick up a bunch of place differential fantasy points by the time the checkered flag waves. You could also go with Chase Elliott ($11,000) in this position, as he starts 32nd. I like those extra two place differential spots with Johnson, though, as I think both the #48 and #9 cars are close on speed.
Matt Tifft ($5,300) – Chalk cheap play here. Tifft was the only decent low-priced driver to fail inspection on Saturday afternoon. He originally qualified 20th for tonight’s Toyota Owners 400–so there should be speed in the car–but now he’s start from back in 36th and will be scored from there, too. Tifft isn’t the most trustworthy driver when it comes to Fantasy NASCAR but he did finish 20th at Phoenix back in March. If he can just finish around 25th or higher here at Richmond, he’s a great play at this low price.
Original Picks Below (in addition to Denny Hamlin)
Martin Truex, Jr. ($11,900) – This #19 team has yet to really content for a win this season, but I honestly think they have a chance in tonight’s Toyota Owners 400. First, Truex’s 6th-place qualifying effort (depending on inspection failures) on Friday has been his best all season. That’s noteworthy for this team and always has been. Second, Truex has arguably been the best here at Richmond over the last three years. In the last five races specifically, he’s led a total of 675 laps, and he’s only had one race where he didn’t lead 121 or more. Finally, Truex had one of the better cars in practice on Friday, and looked really good on the long run. He starts 6th so there’s not much room for place differential, but Truex has a chance at ending up in victory lane tonight. Don’t forget that the #19 Toyota was the fastest car during the later runs at Phoenix in March, which is the track most similar to Richmond. Clint Bowyer ($10,600) – I’m not overly in love with this pick, but it is what it is. Clint Bowyer starts 21st (depending on inspection failures) for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond but should be a top 10 finisher by the end of the night. He wound up 9th and 10th in the two races here last season, and actually looked like a possible race contender in the first race, as he finished 2nd in Stage 2 and led 45 laps. Practice-wise, Bowyer was down in 23rd on the ten-lap average chart on Friday, but that’s not a major concern to me. Strategy-wise, I like going with Clint here because most people are going to automatically roster Ryan Blaney ($10,500) since he qualified way back in 29th. That’s obviously not a bad strategy to take in Slingshot Fantasy Auto, but don’t forget that Blaney has never finished better than 18th here in six career starts. That #12 Ford did look pretty good in practice on Friday, though… Ryan Newman ($8,700) – Chalk pick here. It wasn’t just Ryan Blaney that had a horrible qualifying effort on Friday, as “The Rocketman” Ryan Newman will roll off the grid from 31st (depending on inspection failures) when the Toyota Owners 400 goes green tonight. Typically, Newman is good for a top 15 finish at Richmond, so you’re probably looking at at least 20-30 fantasy points in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest on place differential alone. This #6 team is rolling into Richmond with two straight finishes of 11th or better, and they’ve ended up 12th or higher in three of the last five–including at Phoenix, which is the track most similar to Richmond. You could fade Newman if you like here but I view him as a relatively safe Fantasy NASCAR play this weekend. Ty Dillon ($6,400) – I debated for quite a while with this one. Basically it came down to what strategy I want to take here: go with Ty Dillon, who has high finish upside, or take the cheap option in Ross Chastain ($5,100) and have an extra $1,300 in cap space to work with. Chastain has a higher floor since he starts dead last (depending on inspection failures), but realistically, about the highest you can expect him to finish is 28th. Ty Dillon, on the other hand, has never finished worse than 28th at Richmond, and came home 20th in this race last season after starting 31st. Ty also has an average finish of 18.9 overall in the Cup Series this year. So, I’m going to bite the bullet and roll with Dillon here, even though he has a higher price tag. If I could have fit Kyle Busch into the lineup by going with Chastain I would have, but that’s not possible with taking off one of my “core” guys.