by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.May 1, 2009 4:31 pm UTC 7 Comments
Richmond is a track at which the Toyota nameplate has never won. Of the 20-odd tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule every year, Toyota has already knocked off all but 12 (by my count) in two years and change. Not bad, but when the list of tracks includes Lowe’s (not counting A.J. Allmendinger’s win in the All-Star Open last year), Michigan, Indianapolis, and this one, the manufacturer still has some work to do.
That being said, this week’s list of picks is dominated by Camry drivers. Two of them really should have won Richmond races at this point, and it’s about time that one of them (here’s a hint: they’re teammates, one of them is universally hated by NASCAR fans, and the other drives for a shipping company that is not UPS) wins at the track. This could be the week.
Michael Waltrip: Just kidding. 43 starts and only 2 top-10s? You’d have to be out of your mind.
Marcos Ambrose: He’s been mentioned as a dark horse in a couple different places, including NASCAR.com, which said the track fits his driving style. But it’s not his 19.8 average finish here in Nationwide that I’m excited about. The past five race weekends have been fantastic for the Aussie star: four finishes of 14th or better, 83% quality passes in the one DNF (41st at Texas due to engine failure), and the first car to the line at Talladega that wasn’t in the tri-oval during Carl Edwards’ wreck.
David Reutimann: Okay, so I’ve got this weird hunch that Reuttie is also going to perform well this weekend. Despite being 11th in points this year, he’s sort of flown under the radar, with only two top-10s. He only has one in four starts at Richmond, but it was the last time the teams raced here, and in that event he led 104 laps. He hasn’t been bad here, and it’s time that he break out. (I also wanted to complete the MWR sweep.)
Kyle Busch: 8 starts, 6 top 5s, no finishes worse than 20th, 100% of laps completed, 345 laps led, and one ultimate goal – to seal the deal. Besides Denny Hamlin, Busch is the only other driver with an average finish at Richmond that is better than 15.0 never to win a Cup race at the track. (Busch’s is an astonishing 6.8.)
Denny Hamlin: Denny’s overdue for a win anywhere, and Richmond would be the perfect place for him to break back into Victory Lane. I mean, he led 381 of the first 382 laps at a Richmond race last year. He has an average finish of 8.8, second best among active drivers. It’s also his hometown track. After the scariness that was last week’s event, wouldn’t the hometown hero finally winning a race at the track whose races he grew up attending be a great way to shift the p.r.?
Tony Stewart: Well, he doesn’t mesh with the theme, but he was a Camry driver last year, right? Stewart has been good at Richmond in the past, to the tune of three wins and 14 top-10s in 20 starts. His worst finishes at the track in the Chase era are 19th (fall 2004) and 18th (fall 2006). Every other finish in the past five years has been in the single digits. It’d also make for a great first win for Stewart-Haas Racing, seeing as Ryan Newman had some bad luck at the end of the Talladega race.
I’m picking Stewart, personally. I need to get back in the game!