The NASCAR Playoffs got underway last week with a familiar face in victory lane.
Kevin Harvick won again Sunday at Darlington Raceway (+335 payout at Circa Sports) to grab his season-leading eighth victory of the season while also winning the first race of the Playoffs. It gives him an automatic berth into the next round that begins with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway three weeks from now.
Two more races to go for 15 other championship-eligible drivers looking to advance and their next quest is Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway in what will be the first race of 2020 at the ¾-mile layout that annually happens in April or early May. The April 19 date originally scheduled for this season was canceled for obvious reasons.
So this is it. The only race at Richmond. It’s the first time there haven’t been two annual dates there since 1958. I miss it. But I feel like I’ve already seen a preview of the races because of events at the Phoenix race on March 8 and New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Aug 2. They are both flat 1-mile tracks that run similar to Richmond. Traditionally, if a driver does well on one, they’ll do well on the other two. Joey Logano won at Phoenix and Brad Keselowski won at New Hampshire, two Penske Fords, which is something to briefly think about before betting.
This week’s race package is the one with 750 horsepower that has been in eight races this season, including the non-points All-Star Race at Bristol. Keselowski and Chase Elliott have each won twice with it and it wasn’t until the Dover doubleheader that the season’s dominators Harvick and Denny Hamlin won with it, the two drivers that have combined to win 14 of the 27 races overall in 2020.
I do a back route handicapping effect when I think of why I should not go with what’s been happening at the track recently before betting. The case starts with analyzing whether Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing can dominate again as they’ve won six of the last eight at Richmond with Martin Truex Jr. winning both races last season — Kyle Busch swept 2018, Hamlin and Carl Edwards in 2016, and Matt Kenseth in the fall of 2015.
The first myth of distrust, to begin with, is that Truex and new crew chief James Small have finally found their groove in 2020 after a very slow start. Before the Darlington race where he led 196 laps before a poor 22nd finish, he was fourth or better in eight straight races. My diagnosis here is that they have Gibbs’ equipment, momentum and a major desire to win again after only winning once at Martinsville in June. No wins in the last two months, but they’ve been dominating.
The driver we were hoping get at 12-1 again this week is Kyle Busch, but the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opened him 4-1.
Ed Salmons at the SuperBook won’t get fooled. But Busch has been up to 15-1 in certain instances because he has yet to record a 2020 Cup Series win. But this is his spot to win as he’s done six times over his Cup career. He has 29 starts and 18 top-fives, obviously the most among active drivers. He has led 1,484 laps at Richmond, second-most among actives. His best races this season have been with the 750 hp package with a third at Phoenix, fourth at Bristol, second in the All-Star Race, and third at Dover Race 1.
The bottom line is that Busch should be a major part of your betting strategy this week.
Harvick is at his best on these types of the track as his track-best 9 Phoenix win suggests. In 2006 he won at all three tracks: Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire. He has three Richmond wins and 15 top-fives in 38 starts where he’s led 1,139 laps. His first win with the 750 hp package was the last race at Dover on Aug. 23.
Denny Hamlin’s win with this week’s race package was at Dover on Aug. 22, which was also his first win using the package. He was also runner-up at New Hampshire and the Daytona road course with it. The Virginian is at his home track with home cooking 30-minutes from where he grew up. His 1,659 laps led is the most among all active drivers. Of drivers starting Saturday night, Hamlin’s 9.1 average finish is second-best only behind Kyle Busch’s 6.7 average finish.
I think Joey Logano is a driver we should pay attention to this week not just because he has two Richmond Cup wins, or that he’s got a 2018 Cup Championship making him cocky. It’s just about his consistency and what he did with the 2020 race package at Phoenix (win) and New Hampshire (fourth). And it’s also about Team Penske simply having this package figured out better than the other teams.