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Mash The Gas: Richmond Preview

Denny Hamlin leads a pack of cars during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. [Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images]

Denny Hamlin leads a pack of cars at Richmond International Raceway. [Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images]

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series remains on a short track this week as the Richmond International Raceway hosts the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday afternoon.

Richmond is a ¾ mile oval that tends to race similar to the larger tracks at Phoenix and New Hampshire and typically drivers that do well at those venues also have success at Richmond.

Richmond is also known for close finishes as evidenced by last year when the now retired Carl Edwards used a last lap bump and run to edge teammate Kyle Busch for the victory. With six different winners in the first eight races, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series has been competitive and lately defending and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has made a strong statement, scoring the last two victories.

The ninth event of the season is set for Sunday afternoon with the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond and here are some drivers to watch…

Kyle Busch
As has been the case in most of the races this season, Kyle Busch is once again the favorite this week as he enters Richmond with four wins and fifteen top five finishes. Busch also has the best Driver Rating here and is listed at 6-1 odds to win. He averages around a seventh place finish at Richmond and was nudged out of the way on the final lap in this race last year. He also dominated at Phoenix earlier this year and was in sight of victory when a late caution relegated him to a third place finish. Last week at Bristol he was once again the fastest driver until tire problems ended his day early. That seems to be a pattern with Kyle Busch this season, dominate early and then get snake bitten in the end. If he can overcome that pattern on Sunday, Kyle Busch is poised to finally capture his first victory of the season.

Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick is another driver who has had several strong races without a victory to show for it in 2017. Harvick also has a very good record at Richmond where he owns three victories, eleven top fives, and twenty top ten finishes. He’s listed at 7-1 odds this week and he finished fifth in both Richmond races last year. Harvick averages around a tenth place finish at Richmond and he has the third best Driver Rating. Earlier this season he also raced well at Phoenix where he ended up with a sixth place finish. Kevin Harvick is another one of those drivers who have been on the cusp of victory many times this season but so far just hasn’t been able to pull off a win. That could change Sunday afternoon at Richmond and we could see Kevin Harvick in victory lane for the first time this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Richmond will be the first race for Dale Earnhardt Jr. since he delivered his retirement bombshell on Tuesday and it marks the start of his Farewell Tour. Richmond has been one of his better tracks as he has three victories and ten top five finishes. Dale Jr. is listed as a 40-1 long shot this weekend and earlier at Phoenix he had a decent run, finishing fourteenth. Last year he finished 16th in this race and was fifth two years ago. Now that the weight of the retirement announcement is off his shoulders, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can focus on performing well in his final races and Richmond could be the place for a breakthrough win.

Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer is easily the most rejuvenated driver on the circuit this season and he’s coming off a strong second place finish a week ago at Bristol. Throwing away last year’s dismal results, Richmond has been a good circuit for Bowyer as he has two wins and eight top fives to go along with twelve top ten finishes. Prior to last year, Bowyer rattled off three straight top tens at Richmond including a strong third place run in 2015. He’s listed at 25-1 odds this weekend and Bowyer and the #14 team have consistently been getting better each week. They were second last week and the only place upward from there is a victory this weekend. Don’t count out Clint Bowyer at Richmond on Sunday.

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