Virginian Hamlin set to strike in Richmond

Apr 19, 2016 3:06 AM

The ninth race of the Sprint Cup season takes us to the capital of the old Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia for the third short-track race of the season.

While most consider Richmond a short track because of its 3/4-mile layout, the flat D-shaped oval runs more similar to the one-mile tracks at Phoenix and New Hampshire than the half-mile tracks at Martinsville and Bristol.

However you choose to go about weighing driver data for Sunday’s race, the first team you want to break down and analyze is Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won the past three races on the schedule. Kyle Busch won at Martinsville, and then Texas. Sunday at Bristol, Carl Edwards won from the pole and also led the most laps. He was 8-1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

It could be argued the short-track wins at Martinsville and Bristol give the five Gibbs drivers (Martin Truex Jr. included) an edge, making them the favorite to win at Richmond. But the counter argument that might weigh heavier in each drivers’ rating this week is what happened at Phoenix.

Last season three of the top-five finishers at Phoenix finished in the top-five at Richmond in April. Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix – of course – and his Stewart Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch won at Richmond. They both led the most laps in their wins. Harvick led the most laps in March during his Phoenix win as well.

I’m of the opinion the most current Phoenix events weigh more heavily at Richmond than the most recent Martinsville or Bristol results. The set-ups for the flat layouts appear more relevant. If crew chiefs use the same set-ups for each, that should be good enough for me to follow suit when adjusting pre-practice driver ratings. It’s also important to note JGR’s Matt Kenseth won at Richmond in September (led 352 laps) and also at New Hampshire two weeks later.

When we look at Phoenix results from March, there’s Harvick winning followed by Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt to complete the top-five. That’s three JGR drivers who were set up very nice for Phoenix, which should apply to Sunday as well. Note: Kenseth finished seventh and Truex Jr. was 14th.

Harvick has won three times at Richmond (2006, 2011, 2013) and has a 10.8 average finish in 30 starts. Kyle Busch has finished in the top-five there in 14 of his 21 starts, which includes four wins. Having 14 top-fives in 21 races shows incredible consistency over the long haul. His 7.1 average finish is the best among all active drivers. These two drivers deserve to be 5-1 co-favorites.

The best look with value this week might be Hamlin, who hails from Virginia. He’s a two-time winner (2009, 2010) at his home track who you should be able to fetch at 10-1 odds to win at one of your favorite sportsbooks.

His 10.7 average finish is second-best and his 1,404 laps led is tops in the series. A third-place Phoenix finish makes him someone to seriously consider.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].