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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Richmond

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: September 19, 2019, 2:54 pm ET

Last week four Playoff Contenders finished outside the top 15; three of them were 25th or worse. But that only barely changed the predictions about who will advance through the Rounds.

Erik Jones’ broken transmission and 36th-place finish has put him in a very precarious position that will be difficult to overcome. Clint Bowyer’s mediocre performance (25th) also makes it unlikely that he will advance, but the Busch brothers both have enough of a cushion that they do not need to worry immediately.

Kurt Busch (39th) has used his mulligan and cannot afford another bad finish, but he has shown speed throughout the season and could easily recover. Kyle Busch (19th) had a big enough cushion in terms of bonus points that he is not in great jeopardy.

Playoff contenders swept the top 10 last week, which was not particularly surprising considering they made up 41 percent of the grid and were the best performers for the first 26 races. The same will likely be true this week in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway and then things will get shaken up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. So long as they continue to finish on top of one another, however, the points battle will remain intense.


Projected to make the Championship

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 10 stage wins / 2,063 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 4

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 7.33
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 32.00
Dover: 12.00

Busch seems to be comfortable with who he is. His fiery personality is what drives him to achieve the best possible results until he steps over the line. Last week he jumped that line not once, but twice and paid the price. That poor showing will not stick with him and his performance at Richmond will be no different than before he set the media’s tongues to wagging. He won both Richmond races last year, but did not like the aero package there this spring and was only eighth.

Joey Logano (2 wins / 9 stage wins / 2,075 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 3

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 5.50
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 10.00
Dover: 11.50

Every driver in the field would like to win once in each stage to guarantee their advancement. Winning won’t become truly critical for the top four until Round 3, when the likelihood of three contenders advancing on that criterion becomes high. Still, each win carries five bonus points and that helps all along the way. Logano finished second at Richmond this spring and has wins there in 2017 and 2014. Four of his last five Richmond starts ended in the top five. Notably, he was only 14th in last year’s edition of the Federated 400.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 5 stage wins / 2,079 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 2

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 6.00
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 9.00
Dover: 12.33

Harvick should have an easy path to Round 2 at the very least and that allows him to concentrate on Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway. He should be able to earn a top-five at Richmond without any effort whatsoever because he has been nearly perfect there in the recent past with eight top-fives in his last 10 races. He has not won there since 2013, however.

Denny Hamlin (4 wins / 3 stage wins / 2,056 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 7

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 5.50
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 12.00
Dover: 13.67

The Federated Auto Parts 400 is going to be critical for Hamlin. He has lost a lot of his luster in recent weeks and needs to have a performance this week in which it’s never questioned if he can land in the top five. Along with Logano, he has the best average finish there during the past three years, but more importantly he is widely regarded as a flat track master and absolutely needs to add to that reputation. If he does not score a top-five this week, he might get downgraded and projected to advance no further than Round 3.

Projected to Advance to Round 3

Martin Truex Jr. (5 wins / 4 stage wins / 2,082 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 1

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 8.50
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 14.00
Dover: 4.67

Truex looked like his old self last week at Vegas on long runs, but that is not quite enough. He’s won isolated events throughout the season – and in fact now has the most wins of the year with five. But he’s also struggled immediately after a win. Three of his victories this year were followed with results of 19th or worse. He won the spring Richmond race and then finished 20th the next week at Talladega Superspeedway.  

Brad Keselowski (3 wins / 4 stage wins / 2,058 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 5

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 6.83
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 31.00
Dover: 14.00

Unless a driver wins, it is not enough to simply finish well; it matters how he got there. Keselowski’s third-place finish in the South Point 400 is promising and with a 31-point cushion to the cutline, advancing out of Round 1 should not be a problem. There are five drivers ahead of him in terms of playoff bonus points, however, and Keselowski does not seem to be able to dominate races well enough to add to his win total.

Chase Elliott (2 wins / 4 stage wins / 2,057 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 6

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 12.33
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 6.00
Dover: 4.67

Elliott’s fourth-place finish last week at Vegas came after he raced with the leaders most of the evening. It was his third top-five and fifth top-10 in the last six races, so it seems as though he has regained the momentum lost during the summer months. Richmond and Dover have both been kind to him in the past, so he should continue to advance. Surviving Round 3 has been a challenge, however. 

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 4 stage wins / 2,044 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 8

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 11.33
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 25.00
Dover: 9.50

Larson will continue to advance based on consistency. Since the June race at Sonoma Raceway, he has scored nine top-10s in 12 races including runner-up finishes at Chicagoland Speedway and Darlington Raceway. He has not yet won this year, however, and that is what it will take to advance to the Final Round for all but one driver. Larson does not have enough points to be that one driver.

Projected to Advance to Round 2

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 2,039 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 10

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 26.50
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 1.00
Dover: 21.17

Richmond is going to be a challenge for Blaney. It is his worst track on average during his career and the last three years have not helped matters any. We believe he will beat both averages and score a career-first top-15 there. He has some big challenges ahead of him in Round 2, however, and it’s hard to predict that he is going to finish consistently better than the drivers highlighted above.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 3 stage wins / 2,019 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 14

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 10.00
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 5.00
Dover: 15.83

Is Busch running out of steam, or just taking a breather? It seems that every time we begin to underestimate him, he finds a second wind and finishes well once more. But Richmond has not been overly kind in recent seasons with three consecutive results outside the top 10. He should challenge a single digit result and land somewhere on the cusp of 10th. That is not going to be enough to restore his momentum, but it should give him the impetus to get out of Round 1.  

William Byron (0 wins / 1 stage win / 2,040 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 9

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 15.00
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 34.00
Dover: 13.67

After a catastrophic outing last week for Jones—a driver we originally projected to clear Round 1—the most likely candidate to replace him at this level is Byron. He has been running consistently well, and while first-year playoff drivers are prone to making mistakes, his performance at Vegas showed a calm demeanor that should help him earn a lot of points this week at Richmond.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 1 stage win / 2,033 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 12

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 14.67
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 19.00
Dover: 16.20

Almirola is not going to set the track on fire this week, but based on his average finish at Richmond compared to those ranked below him, it is expected he will eke out enough points to be in a good position on the Charlotte Roval. That race is unpredictable and every point is going to matter.

Projected to Fail to Advance to Round 2

Alex Bowman (1 win / 0 stage wins / 2,037 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 11

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 15.67
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 4.00
Dover: 17.67

Bowman’s sixth-place finish last week is encouraging, but not quite enough to change our prediction that he will not advance from Round 1. Bowman has not scored back-to-back top-10s since the May running of the Coke 600 and that is going to have to happen for him to advance. The battle from 11th to 15th is intense. Bowman cannot afford to finish in the teens.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 2,012 points)
Power Ranking: 14
Points’ Standings: 15

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 13.83
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 3.00
Dover: 17.83

Just when it seemed Bowyer had some momentum on his side with three consecutive top-10s, he finished 25th at Vegas. Now those strong runs from Bristol Motor Speedway through Indianapolis Motor Speedway seem hollow and worthless in his bid to continue in the playoffs. The good news is that Bowyer has a current three-race streak going at Richmond, so he could position himself in a way that the Roval gives him a shot at advancing.

Erik Jones (1 win / 0 stage wins / 2,007 points)
Power Ranking: 15
Points’ Standings: 16

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.40
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 30.00
Dover: 11.00

If the Joe Gibbs Racing team was experimenting last week with Jones’ transmission, they could not have picked a worse time. For the second consecutive year, the driver of the No. 20 is in a virtual must-win situation heading to a track that has not been overly kind in the past. Jones has only one top-10 finish in five Richmond starts and no top-fives.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 2,027 points)
Power Ranking: 18
Points’ Standings: 13

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.50
Charlotte Roval (1 race): 11.00
Dover: 17.00

While it is true that Newman cannot be underestimated, handicapping by the numbers gives him only a slight chance to advance. His fans can cling to this hope, however: the last two times that Newman finished in the top 10 in a spring Richmond race, he followed that up with another in the fall. Equally important, Newman is coming off back-to-back top-10s at Indy and Vegas.

 

Power
Rankings

Points
Standings

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Richmond

Charlotte Roval

Dover

Projected to Make the Finals

1

4

Kyle Busch

4

10

6.88

|

7.33

32.00

12.00

2

3

Joey Logano

2

9

7.12

|

5.50

10.00

11.50

3

2

Kevin Harvick

3

5

7.21

|

6.00

9.00

12.33

4

7

Denny Hamlin

4

3

8.68

|

5.50

12.00

13.67

Projected to Advance to Round 3

5

1

Martin Truex Jr.

5

4

8.94

|

8.50

14.00

4.67

6

5

Brad Keselowski

3

4

9.40

|

6.83

31.00

14.00

7

6

Chase Elliott

2

4

9.50

|

12.33

6.00

4.67

10

8

Kyle Larson

0

4

11.20

|

11.33

25.00

9.50

Projected to Advance to Round 2

8

10

Ryan Blaney

0

2

9.61

|

26.50

1.00

21.17

9

14

Kurt Busch

1

3

10.05

|

10.00

5.00

15.83

11

9

William Byron

0

1

11.25

|

15.00

34.00

13.67

12

12

Aric Almirola

0

1

11.39

|

14.67

19.00

16.20

Projected to Fail to Advance to Round 2

13

11

Alex Bowman

1

0

11.83

|

15.67

4.00

17.67

14

15

Clint Bowyer

0

0

12.20

|

13.83

3.00

17.83

15

16

Erik Jones

1

0

12.99

|

16.40

30.00

11.00

18

13

Ryan Newman

0

0

15.64

|

16.50

11.00

17.00

 

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 race total occasionally varies. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season (all 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 15 years with a little help from his >600,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.