Loading scores...
Chasing the Cup

Chasing Richmond (Spring)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Two short track races in the span of three weeks shook up the standings, but there is more upheaval to come. This week, NASCAR visits the hybrid Richmond International Raceway, followed by the ultimate wild card at Talladega SuperSpeedway, and then back to some semblance of normalcy with the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway.

Each week that passes, however, gets drivers and teams closer to the Chase and precipitous movements up and down the order become less dramatic. That was absolutely no consolation to Matt Kenseth last week, however, when a risky camber setup sent him home 36th after he started on the outside pole at Bristol Motor Speedway. He dropped six positions in the standings from 12th to 18th and now needs to worry about getting back into the top 16.

Kyle Larson also sustained crash damage and fell four spots to 22nd. In order to become Chase eligible, he will either need to win a race or leapfrog seven drivers. Both of those are incredibly difficult feats.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 18 (Maximum points per race = 45)
Unique Winners in 2016: 6

Locked In

Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 271 points)
Power Ranking: second
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 17.33
Talladega: 14.17
Kansas: 10.33

It is notable that both of the drivers locked into the Chase with multiple wins gambled last week. Kyle Busch had a risky setup on his car and hit the wall three times. Johnson tried to ignore a vibration that eventually sent him to the pits and off the lead lap. Johnson might have recovered if the cautions had waved fortuitously, but fantasy owners need to be aware of who is where in the standings before activating a driver. 

Kyle Busch (2 wins / 262 points)
Power Ranking: third
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 12.40
Talladega: 21.00
Kansas: 19.00

Busch dropped from the points’ lead to fifth in the standings after hitting the wall three times in the Food City 500. That might not matter to him since his two victories mean that he is guaranteed a spot in the Chase unless he somehow drops outside the top 30, but it could mean the difference in winning and losing for the average fantasy owner.

Currently Eligible on Wins

Kevin Harvick (1 win / 287 points)
Power Ranking: first
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 7.33
Talladega: 15.17
Kansas: 7.50

Harvick has not looked as dominant in 2015 as he did at the start of last year, but then again no one has. The No. 4 has run well enough to secure the top position in the Fantasy Power Rankings, which tracks Harvick’s time at the front of the pack in addition to his finishing results. Sometimes it is not about being great in a race—just better than the competition.

Carl Edwards (1 win / 286 points)
Power Ranking: sixth
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 11.33
Talladega: 18.00
Kansas: 10.17

Having a victory in the bank is so incredibly important to a driver’s season. Eight races are down and there are 18 to go before the Chase begins and getting that kind of head start on the competition was important for drivers like Joey Logano and Harvick last year. Edwards’ domination at Bristol gives the team a level of confidence that will make them great values in the coming weeks.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 222 points)
Power Ranking: 10th
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 18.40
Talladega: 22.83
Kansas: 18.20

Hamlin may not think he has much to lose at the moment after winning the season-opening Daytona 500, but that is not entirely true. Momentum is on the line and since earning that victory he has failed to finish in the top 15 in more than half his starts. Two of the remaining efforts ended in third-place results, but the lack of consistency is frustrating for most fantasy owners.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 224 points)
Power Ranking: 11th
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 13.33
Talladega: 18.17
Kansas: 14.67

NASCAR is cyclical, so it is difficult to know if the current lack of consistent strength among the winning drivers is simply a coincidental string of bad luck or part of a new order. Either way, it is playing havoc with handicapping formulas because drivers with nothing to lose are gumming up the works. Keselowski’s back-to-back 18th-place results at Texas and Martinsville have not won many points for their fantasy owners.

Currently Eligible on Points

Joey Logano (0 wins / 266 points)
Power Ranking: fourth
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 6.67
Talladega: 21.33
Kansas: 9.00

Drivers without victories to their credit have to worry about different things. They need to run consistently well and limit their gambles because they do not want to run the risk of falling out of the top 16 in the standings. Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and perhaps even Dale Earnhardt Jr. don’t have to worry too much about that given their number of points, but they are going to be much more predictable in the coming weeks than the drivers listed above.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 214 points)
Power Ranking: fifth
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.83
Talladega: 11.83
Kansas: 12.00

Fantasy owners are becoming accustomed to seeing this single-car team run with the leaders. While the No. 78 lacks the power and consistency they had last year, the same is true of practically every other driver in the field and they cannot be held accountable for the trend. So long as Truex is rightly-priced, he remains a good value in most fantasy NASCAR games.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 250 points)
Power Ranking: eighth
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 10.17
Talladega: 13.17
Kansas: 15.33

Earnhardt is never going to fly under the radar, which means fantasy owners are in far greater risk of getting swept onto his bandwagon. Back-to-back second-place finishes are great and he has top-fives in more than half his 2016 starts on unrestricted speedways, but he has also missed the top 10 on a couple of occasions. Richmond should be kind enough to him and Talladega is right around the corner, so now is a good time to place-and-hold the most popular driver.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 205 points)
Power Ranking: ninth
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.00
Talladega: NA
Kansas: NA

It seems that Elliott is getting better with each passing week. His Fantasy Power Rankings is two spots higher than it was last week and he advanced two positions in the points’ standings as well. But there is a problem inherent in rookie drivers: no matter how consistently strong they appear, it takes only a bad race or two for them to start sliding down the order. Elliott should stabilize his position after the Toyota Owners 400, but he will need to survive the inevitable melee at Talladega to keep his confidence and momentum intact.

Kurt Busch (0 wins / 247 points)
Power Ranking: 12th
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 9.50
Talladega: 18.33
Kansas: 17.00

In many ways, NASCAR is a self-policing sport. When Keselowski noticed some irregularities in the No. 41’s rear housing, he made it public, which threatens to start a rivalry between two very emotional drivers. It is notable that Kez was dinged for the same infraction, so this is not a case of innocence outraged. If the vendetta boils over onto the track, however, it could make both drivers bad values while they slug it out.

Austin Dillon (0 wins / 213 points)
Power Ranking: 13th
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 25.25
Talladega: 20.60
Kansas: 22.50

Last week, Dillon had the ninth-best Fantasy Power Rankings. This week, he slips to 13th. This formula is not perfect, but it does point in a certain direction from time to time and in this case, the No. 3 needs to be watched closely for signs that he will slip even further. Simple bad luck and some mistakes have cost this driver in three of his last four attempts and fantasy players have been rewarded with only one top-15 since the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 185 points)
Power Ranking: 15th
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 15.00
Talladega: 25.17
Kansas: 10.50

Kahne is easily the weakest link at Hendrick Motorsports, but since that chain is so strong, he still has an opportunity to make the Chase. With only two top-10s and one other top-15, he has not been flashy and his average finish of slightly better than 18th is not turning a lot of heads, but other driver’s struggles have him hovering on the cusp of fantasy relevance.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 199 points)
Power Ranking: 19
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 10.67
Talladega: 23.00
Kansas: 20.00

“Managed expectations” is the key phrase when considering McMurray. His best result of the season is a 10th, but six of eight results have ended in 17th or better. When cautions wave the right way and he stays on the lead lap, he is a good value and the risk versus reward ratio is usually in his favor.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 182 points)
Power Ranking: 20th
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 11.00
Talladega: 13.83
Kansas: 14.50

When races are taken as a whole, teammate Paul Menard has been stronger than Newman on several occasions this year, but the Indiana bulldog refuses to give up. That is good enough for a few extra positions at the end of every race and has elevated the No. 31 to the 16th position in the points. Now he needs some top-10s to stay there. 

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tracks

Power
Rankings

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Richmond

Talladega

Kansas

Locked In

2.

3

Jimmie Johnson

2

7.17

 

17.33

14.17

10.33

3.

5

Kyle Busch

2

7.23

 

12.40

21.00

19.00

Eligible on Wins

1.

1

Kevin Harvick

1

4.88

 

7.33

15.17

7.50

6.

2

Carl Edwards

1

8.86

 

11.33

18.00

10.17

10.

9

Denny Hamlin

1

12.15

 

18.40

22.83

18.20

11.

8

Brad Keselowski

1

12.60

 

13.33

18.17

14.67

Eligible on Points

4.

4

Joey Logano

 

7.37

 

6.67

21.33

9.00

5.

10

Martin Truex Jr.

 

8.83

 

16.83

11.83

12.00

8.

6

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

12.10

 

10.17

13.17

15.33

9.

12

Chase Elliott

 

12.14

 

16.00

NA

NA

12.

7

Kurt Busch

 

13.86

 

9.50

18.33

17.00

13.

11

Austin Dillon

 

14.82

 

25.25

20.60

22.50

15.

15

Kasey Kahne

 

17.67

 

15.00

25.17

10.50

19.

13

Jamie McMurray

 

20.24

 

10.67

23.00

20.00

20.

16

Ryan Newman

 

20.80

 

11.00

13.83

14.50

Drivers Outside the Top-16 in Points

7.

 

Matt Kenseth

 

11.52

 

11.17

19.67

9.17

14.

 

Ryan Blaney

 

14.88

 

NA

23.00

17.00

16.

 

Brian Vickers

 

18.91

 

21.00

12.00

21.75

17.

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

19.14

 

22.33

17.50

19.83

18.

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

19.91

 

15.83

20.25

20.40

21.

 

Kyle Larson

 

21.67

 

12.75

23.00

14.50

22.

 

Ty Dillon

 

21.68

 

NA

NA

26.00

23.

 

Paul Menard

 

21.70

 

16.83

13.50

13.33

24.

 

Trevor Bayne

 

21.98

 

23.50

33.50

24.50

25.

 

Aric Almirola

 

23.43

 

13.17

19.17

15.33

26.

 

Greg Biffle

 

24.67

 

22.33

21.83

15.33

27.

 

Landon Cassill

 

25.82

 

29.17

24.50

32.83

28.

 

Danica Patrick

 

27.18

 

25.50

25.83

23.33

29.

 

Michael Waltrip

 

29.17

 

NA

NA

NA

30.

 

Casey Mears

 

29.80

 

26.17

22.33

25.17

31.

 

Michael McDowell

 

30.30

 

42.00

30.83

37.75

32.

 

Regan Smith

 

30.33

 

NA

6.00

22.00

33.

 

David Ragan

 

30.92

 

25.33

23.33

31.50

34.

 

Brian Scott

 

31.06

 

22.00

42.50

12.00

35.

 

Chris Buescher

 

31.52

 

NA

24.00

NA

36.

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

31.92

 

36.50

29.00

27.50

37.

 

Clint Bowyer

 

32.02

 

15.33

12.00

20.17

38.

 

Bobby Labonte

 

32.83

 

NA

NA

NA

39.

 

Michael Annett

 

34.35

 

36.50

31.75

26.50

40.

 

Cole Whitt

 

35.04

 

36.25

20.40

30.00

41.

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

37.34

 

40.00

NA

NA

42.

 

Joey Gase

 

37.43

 

43.00

NA

37.50

43.

 

Robert Richardson Jr.

 

38.17

 

NA

NA

NA

44.

 

Josh Wise

 

38.18

 

37.67

22.67

33.00

45.

 

Reed Sorenson

 

39.60

 

36.60

24.00

34.50


A note about the three-year stats:
The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.