To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
Next up: Federated Auto Parts 500 (Richmond International Raceway)
Race: 400 laps, 300 miles (.75-mile D-shaped oval)
Spring 2013 winner: Kevin Harvick
A-List (Pick two, start one)
Denny Hamlin's ridiculous slump continued at Atlanta, and may just feel interminable for the Virginia driver. But the seemingly endless bout of frustration for Hamlin likely has its best chance to end Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. Hamlin's home track, Richmond's recent statistics show Hamlin as the most impressive driver on-track. He leads the series with a 5.9 average running position and has completed 93.1 percent of his laps in 14 starts at RIR inside the top 15. More, Hamlin has led nearly one in every four laps at Richmond since he started racing there eight seasons ago. Hamlin, due to his back injury, was absent from Richmond in the spring.
Despite working toward the end of his final season under the Richard Childress Racing banner, Kevin Harvick's been plenty good enough to be a lock for the Chase. He also figures to be good enough to contend for a win Saturday night at Richmond. Harvick grabbed hold of April's race at Richmond late in the proceedings — he led just three laps — to score his third-career win at the short track. The win was his second in four races at Richmond and all told, Harvick is second only to Denny Hamlin in terms of average running position at the track in the last nine seasons.
Also consider: Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon
B-List (Pick four, start two)
If you like Denny Hamlin at Richmond, you darn well better like Kyle Busch. Looking for his second straight win, Busch would join Jimmie Johnson and teammate Matt Kenseth in the class of five wins during NASCAR's regular season. Things haven't gone to plan in Busch's last two RIR starts — he was 16th and 24th — but you can't expect that to last. Prior to, Busch had scored seven consecutive top-10 finishes at the track with four wins.
Ryan Newman is the kind of guy who loves to needle at folks who make decisions he's not necessarily pleased with. He's also that way on the racetrack — other drivers often grow weary of his racing style — and you can bet he's wanting to pull some of those same tricks both on the Stewart-Haas Racing team that's booting him to the curb at season's end and to those who paint him as an improbability to make the Chase. Newman has a best finish of eighth in the last eight Richmond races, but he could very well be a dark horse pick for Saturday among drivers you haven't yet fully used.
Richmond earlier this season was one of the tracks where the idea of Kurt Busch pulling together a Chase-worthy season started to take shape. On that April night, Busch led 36 laps and wound up ninth. He turned that performance, of course, in a manner that drove Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth plenty mad. Still, Busch's average running position in the last 17 races is 15.1 (ninth-best in the series) at RIR. With the Chase on the line, it's a race that could either go very well for Busch or very bad. It just depends how you want to bet. Two years ago, Busch finished fifth with Penske Racing in the Richmond fall race.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Another lame duck driver, Juan Pablo Montoya might not seem like a logical pick for
Richmond. Illogical, that is, until you stop to consider how he nearly ran away with the race win back in April. Montoya was the race leader when NASCAR tossed a debris caution with fewer than 10 laps left — effectively ruining Montoya's shot at a win after leading 67 laps because his pit crew was too slow during the final stop. At a point in the season where effective B-List starters are beginning to become scarce, consider that Montoya has shown improved results in recent races. And then consider that when Montoya did make NASCAR's Chase in 2010, he scored a pair of top-10 finishes at the track. April's fourth-place finish at RIR was his first since that season.
Also consider: Mark Martin, Jeff Burton
C-List (Pick two, start one)
The newly-crowned 2014 full-time driver of the JTG-Daugherty No. 47 entry gets another chance to dazzle at Richmond thanks to the injury suffered by former series champion Bobby Labonte on a bicycle last week. Undoubtedly, the team has to be confident from Allmendinger’s last two starts in the car that resulted in 10th- (Watkins Glen) and 14th- (Atlanta) place finishes. As for the driver himself, a short track may be a great place to shine with the underfunded bunch. With Labonte, the No. 47 has finished 20th or better in three of the last five Richmond races. Meanwhile, Allmendinger has been even better by finishing eighth, seventh, 11th, 16th and 14th in his last five RIR starts.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Raise your hand if you saw this stat coming 26 races into the 2013 season: Danica Patrick has more top-10 finishes than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Of course, that's partially unfair because Patrick's only top 10 came at Daytona in February. Still, Stenhouse doesn't yet have one. That may all start to change as the two-time defending Nationwide Series champion finally gets in to the meat of the schedule of tracks racing dates for the second time. Stenhouse was 16th his last time out at Richmond; anything better would be icing on a dessert of good C-List news.
Also consider: David Ragan, Casey Mears
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter:@GeoffreyMiller