It might sound like a weekly broken record, but Joe Gibbs Racing has the best cars again for Saturday’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.
In Friday’s final practice in Richmond, Virginia, the five drivers associated with Gibbs posted the five-best 10-consecutive lap averages, which means they’re all going to be the fastest on long runs and most probable to win.
In the early session, Las Vegan Kyle Busch had the fastest individual lap and the best 10-consecutive lap average. Martin Truex Jr., who won last week at Darlington, was second-best and Carl Edwards third.
The Gibbs drivers have a lot of history, beginning with Busch, who has a career average finish of 6.8 in 22 starts, with four wins. He’s the driver to beat Saturday.
START POSITION IMPORTANT
The past four races at Richmond have been won from a start position of fourth or better, which kind of mirrors what has been going on there in the 120 races since 1953. The pole winner has won 37 times. Only 13 winners have started from outside the top 20.
Denny Hamlin has the best average start position in the series at 6.1, and he had gone 23 straight races starting in the top 10 but hadn’t won a pole. That is, until Friday at Richmond, where he posted the top speed at 122.334 mph. It was his third career pole at his home track.
TOYOTA RICHMOND ROLL
Nine manufacturers have won at Richmond, with Chevrolet leading the way with 37 and Ford next at 31, but Toyota has dominated since 2009 when Kyle Busch started a string of five straight wins, as he and Hamlin alternated victories. The brand has won nine of the past 15 overall, including two straight. Joe Gibbs Racing has claimed eight of those wins. Gibbs also won three straight years with a Pontiac driven by Tony Stewart (1999-2001), and their 11 total wins at the track is second to Richard Petty Racing’s 15 wins.
Jimmie Johnson was the last driver to sweep Richmond in 2007. No other active driver has done it, but because of the Gibbs’ power, Edwards is a quality candidate. In the April race, he bumped teammate Kyle Busch out of the way on the final lap for the win.
There are 13 qualified drivers eligible for the Chase with three spots remaining that will be decided at Richmond. Chris Buescher’s miracle rain dance at Pocono gave him a win to qualify, but he has to stay within the top 30 in points, and he’s only nine points ahead of 31st-place David Ragan. Four drivers are within 39 points of one another. And there are 17 other drivers that can qualify by winning the race.
The top candidate to do so is Kasey Kahne, who won at Richmond in 2005. Kahne raced into the Chase in 2014 with a win at Atlanta and might be a decent choice at 40-1 odds. He only has two top-fives on the season, but he posted the fourth-fastest lap in Friday’s early practice.
GORDON STEAL A WIN?
Chances are slim of Jeff Gordon winning, and 20-1 doesn’t sound like a price worth taking. In 46 career starts at Richmond, he’s had only two wins, the last in 2000. But he’s been runner-up eight times and has led 1,637 laps. This is a track he knows well. He’ll start 11th and had the sixth-fastest lap (120.827 mph) in the first practice. His average finish position in five races since coming out of retirement to drive Dale Earnhardt Jr’s No. 88 has been 15.8.
Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1994. Follow on Twitter @MicahRoberts7