Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway
It took eight races, but we finally got our first repeat winner of the 2021 season when Martin Truex Jr. visited victory lane Sunday at Martinsville after previously winning at Phoenix earlier this season. The win was Truex’s 29th of his career. It is also his fifth consecutive win at a short track, and as a matter of fact since his first short track victory at Richmond Raceway in September of 2019, Truex has only won exclusively at short tracks.
One more note on Truex and his win; In every season since the current playoff structure has been in place, the first repeat winner of the season has made the Final Four every. single. time. Looking at future tickets on Truex, you can get him to finish top-three in the championship at +175 right now, or you can get him to win the championship straight-up at +650. Let me know if you invest and I’ll give you a shout out to all three readers of this weekly article if Truex wins the title for you.
Now back to Richmond, that’s where we’ll be this week as the Cup Series wraps up its short track stretch by visiting its third short track in a row. Richmond is typically run twice per season but was only run once in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
This weekend’s race – The Toyota Owners 400 – is a 400-lap race around the 0.75-mile Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. Over the past three seasons, five races have been run at the track with winners including Martin Truex Jr. (twice), Kyle Busch (twice) and Brad Keselowski. Keselowski is the most recent winner at the track, as he looks to defend his victory this weekend and pick up his first win of the 2021 season.
The leading factor in this race is going to be tire wear. At Bristol, there was no strategy with tire wear, as cautions were thrown every 50 laps and non-competitive pit stops did not allow teams to gain much of an advantage by taking zero or two tires. At Martinsville tires wore down, but not drastically enough to have to pit before fuel was needed. At Richmond, teams will not be running out of fuel, as tires will wear out far before the tank is empty, especially under the hot afternoon sun. In the past we’ve seen teams split stages into three segments, stopping for four tires each time because of their importance to fast lap times. A particular driver that comes to mind that has played this strategy a bit is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Remember that while setting a DraftKings' lineup, as stopping more frequently results in fast laps being run, which can add up quickly in DK scoring.
I’d be surprised to see anyone besides Martin Truex Jr. listed as the favorite to win this particular race (Update: Truex opened as the favorite at 4-1.) After winning last week at Martinsville, Truex will start from the pole position this week and be a threat early on to dominate the entire race. Passing is difficult at Richmond and track position is key to winning. Truex – who has won two of the last three races at Richmond – will have that from the start.
I’d be surprised to see anyone outside the Toyota camp win this week, apart from maybe Brad Keselowski, and even that is a long shot as Brad has struggled a bit this season. Toyotas have won four of the last five races at Richmond, and since their first victory by Kyle Busch back in 2009, Toyotas have won 14-of-23 races at Richmond Raceway (60.8%.)
Drivers I Like
Kyle Busch ($10,000)
All but one driver in the $10K-plus range this week starts in the top-10, the exception being Brad Keselowski who starts 20th and costs the most of all drivers at $12K. I’m not looking at Brad this week even though he should rack up a good place differential. I’m looking at Kyle Busch. Busch starts 10th which still leaves room for improvement. As stated above, Busch has won two of the past five races at Richmond and hasn’t finished lower than eighth in any of those races. In fact, Busch has only finished outside the top-10 in one of the last 10 races at Richmond. Busch has led the second-most laps at the track over the past five races (431), trailing just Martin Truex Jr. (579.) He sports the best average finish over the last five races at 3.60 and his average starting position of 11.4 at the track proves he has taken advantage of less-than-ideal starting positions to win races. Truex isn’t a bad pick this week either as he starts on the pole and should lead laps early, but don’t be surprised to see Busch running fast laps and contending for a win.
Chase Elliott ($9,700)
The 9K-range is slim, but I’m going with Chase here. I really wanted to pick Harvick, but Stewart-Haas has struggled mightily as a whole this season and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Chase starts third, so he’s going to have to get up there and lead a few laps to make this pick worth it. He’s only led 36 laps in the last five Richmond races, but he also started outside the top-10 in three of those five races. Chase has finished top-five in three of the last five races and presents an outside chance to win, but it might be smart to completely fade this range if you’re playing DraftKings. I think Chase may have a hard time passing the Toyota duo of Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin early in the race, but if you have to play someone in this range, I think he’s your best bet.
Kurt Busch ($8,300)
Busch looks like a nice play in the 8K range. He starts 17th but has finished no worse than 18th over the past five races at the track. In the past five races, Busch is one of six drivers to lead over 100 laps at Richmond, having led 113. Busch hasn’t finished in the top-10 in the last five races but has finished 11th twice in that span. Busch has two career wins at Richmond, winning the fall race in 2005 and the spring race in 2015. In 39 career Richmond races, Busch has 15 top-10 finishes and has led 919 laps. I would imagine he can climb up the ladder from his 17th-place starting position this weekend after spinning out at Martinsville last weekend. I also like Austin Cindric in this range, solely because he will be starting dead-last. However, he has never won an Xfinity race at Richmond and it is a track he has struggled on. He should still salvage a top-25 finish which would give him at least 13 points for place differential in DraftKings' scoring.
Austin Dillon ($7,500)
Austin Dillon could be a sneaky value pick this week. Dillon starts 11th, but if you remember back to last season, Dillon led 55 laps and looked like the car to beat for much of the race. Dillon rebounded from a pit-road penalty and climbed all the way back to finish fourth in the race. His performance propelled him to advance into the Round of 12 in the playoffs. Looking back even further, you’ll see that Dillon has finished top-six in three of the last four Richmond races. It seems to me that Dillon has learned his way around Richmond and may actually be a threat to win this weekend. Dillon will be in my DK lineup and at 40-1 to win, you know I’m putting a little down on him to win the race.
Daniel Suarez ($6,600)
Suarez, Pitbull, Justin Marks, and Trackhouse Racing have emerged as surprise contenders early this season and I am here for it. Suarez has racked up four top-20 finishes in the last seven races including an impressive fourth-place finish on the Bristol dirt. Richmond profiles as a nice track for Suarez as well. Racing for back-marker team Gaunt Brothers Racing last season, Suarez came away with a 29th-place finish. Prior to that, Suarez had never finished worse than 18th at the track in six races. Don’t forget that Trackhouse Racing is aligned with Richard Childress Racing, who put together cars for Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick. Read the Dillon blurb above about how good his cars have been here recently, and it only makes sense that Suarez will come away with at least a top-20 finish this weekend. He starts 27th this week following his car bursting into flames on the front stretch at Martinsville last week, so there is definite room for improvement. Suarez has a best finish of seventh at Richmond and I wouldn’t be shocked if he can come away with a top-10 again, though it will certainly be a challenge. Also, shout out to Corey Lajoie. He starts 36th this week and will almost certainly improve on that by at least 6-8 spots. Don’t be surprised to see him be the last car to pit this week, giving him an opportunity to lead a handful of laps as well.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Brad Keselowski ($12,000)
I’ve got Brad picked here for a few reasons. Sure, he won this race last season, but he did so starting from the ninth position. Only once in the last 12 races at Richmond has a driver come from a starting position worse than 11th to win at Richmond (Kyle Busch stared 32nd and won in 2017), so the odds are against him there. Brad has also struggled recently. He hasn’t picked up a top-10 finish in the last three weeks and comes off a 33rd-place finish at Martinsville last week where he was involved in a late-race pile up that resulted in a red flag. Brad’s price point of $12,000 also seems steep this week. I’d rather save one or two thousand to spend somewhere else rather than a guy that starts mid-pack at a track where passing can be difficult.
Ryan Blaney ($9,100)
Stay far, far away from this guy this weekend. Blaney heads from perhaps one of his best tracks in Martinsville, to one of his worst tracks in Richmond. Blaney starts from the seventh position this weekend but has never finished higher than 17th in nine tries at the track. Only twice in those nine races has Blaney finished on the lead lap. Blaney has also never led a lap at Richmond despite once starting on the outside pole. Blaney is not going to produce anything for your team this weekend, so don’t even consider paying this much for him.
William Byron ($8,500)
Byron is starting too close to the front for me to want to invest this weekend. Despite him having a breakout season, Byron has never finished better than 12th at Richmond and has never led a single lap in five career starts. Byron has just three top-20 finishes in five starts and his 4th-place starting position gives him little room to improve. If he can fight his way to the front and lead laps early he’ll have a chance to return on investment, but I don’t see that happening with Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott being the cars in front of him.
Bubba Wallace ($7,300)
I don’t absolutely hate anyone in the 7K range, but if I have to pick one to avoid it would be Wallace. Wallace is in better equipment this week that he has been at Richmond ever before. Toyotas tend to be the best cars on the track at this place, and I’m probably going to bet them to win, but Wallace hasn’t been great here in the past. Running Chevrolets for Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace has a highest finish of 12th at Richmond; his lone top-20 in five tries. Wallace starts 15th this week and could make me look like a fool. He’s never started higher than 18th before this weekend, so maybe the extra track position and the upgrade to Toyota will be enough to put him over the top. I’m not betting on it though.
Chris Buescher ($6,400)
Chris Buescher has had some new-found success this season, but I wouldn’t pick him this week. Buescher starts 12th and has never finished better than 17th in nine career Richmond races. He’s never led a lap and his 17th place finish is his only career top-20 in nine tries. I think Buescher will slip backward early in this race and struggle to recover.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
Last week’s DK lineup got the job done, as I finished in the money thanks a bunch to Denny Hamlin’s race-leading 276 laps led. We could have really brought home a big chunk of money if two of our four drivers didn’t finish with just one measly point. As I stated, Hamlin led the way for us with 145.45 points. He led 276 laps, ran 81 fast laps, and finished third. Our next best driver was fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell. After stating 23rd, Bell worked his way up to a seventh-place finish. He also led nine laps and turned 14 fast laps for 61.55 points. Bubba Wallace had a nice showing as I imagined he would. Wallace used strategy to work his way to the front of the field mid-race and lead 23 laps. He ran two fast laps and finished 16th, nine spots higher than his 25th-place starting position. He scored 42.65 points. Aric Almirola scored 35.80 points coming away with a bit of a disappointing 20th place finish, though that was 11 spots higher than his 31st-place starting spot. Almirola ran four fastest laps in the race. Sadly, Alex Bowman was caught up in an accident on lap 384 which ended his day. He ran top-5 most of the race and would have been a contender for the win had he stuck around in the late going. Bowman salvaged his 34th place finish with 14 fast laps in the race. He finished with 1.10 point. Finally, our worst pick of the week was Corey Lajoie. I may finally give up on him as he was once again caught up in an unfortunate accident that ended his day. On lap 374, as he was leaving pit road, contact with Tyler Reddick busted his radiator and ended his day. He finished 37th and scored just 1.00 point.
Last week: 287.55 pts.
1. Denny Hamlin ($10,400): 145.45 pts.
2. Alex Bowman ($9,200): 1.10 pts.
3. Christopher Bell ($8,400): 61.55 pts.
4. Aric Almirola ($8,100): 35.80 pts.
5. Bubba Wallace ($7,300): 42.64 pts.
6. Corey Lajoie ($5,200): 1.00 pts.
Remaining Budget: $1,400
We finally hit on something, but still lost money at Richmond. We hit just one prop with Martin Truex Jr. finishing as the top Toyota when he won the race. Unfortunately, most of the drivers I had money on crashed again (Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch) but let’s keep on trucking into Richmond. Hitting one winner could easily get us back to plus money. We lost 5.75 units on the week and are now down 11.15 on the season.
Martin Truex Jr. Top-5 (-150, 1.5 unit)
Austin Dillon over Kurt Busch (-109, 1 unit)
William Byron over Ryan Blaney (+100, 1 unit)
Denny Hamlin to win Stage 1 (+450, 0.5 unit)
Chase Elliott top Chevrolet (+235, 1 unit)
Daniel Suarez to win Group F (+200, 1 unit)
Joe Gibbs Racing to win (+160, 1 unit)
Kyle Busch to win (+900, 1.5 unit)
Austin Dillon to win (+4000, 0.5 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
The one and done was looking good all race long. Ryan Blaney led a bunch of laps, won both stages and was about to pass Denny Hamlin for the lead with roughly 50 laps to go when a caution came out. A pit road penalty sent Blaney to the back and though he rebounded for an 11th place finish, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth that we could have easily had a top-5 or even a win had that last caution never come out.
This week: Austin Dillon
I literally had this section completed as to why I planned on picking Brad Keselowski this week, but a late change of heart has me going with Dillon. Dillon’s three top-6 finishes in the last four races have me sold that he has truly figured this track out and that he’ll be a serious threat this weekend. A decent starting position of 11th this weekend will give him the early track position he needs to at least run top-10 if not top-5 early on. As for Brad, I’ll wait and hope he heats up for the fall Richmond race.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th
Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th
Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd
Las Vegas Kevin Harvick 20th
Phoenix Kyle Busch 25th
Atlanta Kurt Busch 39th
Bristol Stewart Friesen 23rd
Martinsville Ryan Blaney 11th