The story of the pre-race weekend has been the prevalance of a number of drivers who seem poised to beat the odds. Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, and Cole Custer each separated themselves from the competition in various sessions. There is a substantial risk in trying to rationalize making each of them a dark horse – especially when one of them will probably sneak into the top 10 at the end of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
They won't all land there, however; and knowing the difference is going to be the key to success this week.
Almirola made a lot of noise early. He posted the second fastest and quickest 10-lap averages in the first practice session. He has been difficult to handicap throughout the season, however, and that was apparent in final practice when he fell back into the middle of the pack. Granted, the track conditions changed and fantasy players are left to extrapolate what might transfer to the nighttime conditions faced, but Almirola is less than a certainty for a top-10. He should be on fantnasy owners' radar screens, however, and used by players who need to make a big move.
The Dillon brothers landed third and fourth on the final practice speed chart. Austin Dillon posted a lap of 119.458 mph with Ty Dillon at 119.390 mph. Austin's speed is notable because it of his position in the playoff standings. He benefitted somewhat from the Las Vegas carnage, but not enough to make him a good bet to advance to Riound 2 of the playoffs. He needs a solid run at Richmond and the good news is that might be a top-10 instead of a victory. If he does not drive over his head, he could finish on the cusp of 10th.
Ty is unlikely to challenge for a top-10, but something in the teens might be acheivable. If that happens, he is likely to be one of the better values in salary cap games where he is not prohibitively expensive.
Kyle Busch topped the morning practice charts both in regard to fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average. Joe Gibbs Racing has one of the best records on this track and Busch's win this spring in the Toyota Owners 400 makes him one of the favorites to win.
In Happy Hour, Brad Keselowski posted the fastest single lap. Suarez had the quickest average.
Kevin Harvick won the pole for tonight's race. He narrowly edged Denny Hamlin for the top spot and those two have strong enough records to recommend starting both of them. Harvick rarely has two bad races in a row and he is coming off last week's crash at Vegas. Hamlin enters the weekend with six straight results of sixth or better at Richmond – and that is more important to his handicap than the uneven record he has experienced so far in 2018.
Qualification was not without it's surprises, however. Saurez topped the speed chart in the first two rounds. He was not able to back that up with a pole, but he landed fifth on the grid. That is going to give him a good starting position, but more important, it means he is going to have a good pit stall. Gibbs' Richmond performance makes it easy to take a risk on Suarez especially in the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game that requires players to have two non-playoff drivers on their roster.
Cole Custer was another drfiver who stood out in practice. Driving for Rick Ware – undoubtedly with support from Stewart-Haas Racing – he advanced to the final round of qualification. He qualified 11th – one position ahead of Kyle Busch. Custer will fall back in the race and cost place-differrential points, but he could still be a good value in cap games where he is listed with a bargain basement price.