The MENCS heads back to Richmond Raceway this week for the Federated Auto Parts 400. This is the second race of the playoffs and hopefully more calm than the first. The race can be seen Saturday night at 6:30pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
NASCAR had two practices Friday and qualifying will take place Friday evening. This will be an impound race so the teams will not be able to adjust their cars after qualifying. All teams must pass post-qualifying inspection. I will monitor the inspection and let you on my twitter (@MrFantasyNASCAR) if any drivers fail inspection and start in the back of the field.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Richmond…
The MENCS received 3 sets of tires for the three practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 9 sets for the race. This will be the 6th consecutive race at Richmond using this tire compound. The tires should wear out during the race and the drivers who ran well in the past should be fast Saturday night.
12 MENCS teams participated in a tire test at Richmond on August 24th and 25th. The teams include: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace, David Ragan and AJ Allmendinger. I expect all of these teams to unload with a lot of speed this week.
The teams in the playoff have an * next to their names.
* Chase Elliott: Elliott has been running really well since the beginning of July. He has finished 6 of the last 8 races in the top 10. He also qualified 2nd and finished 2nd at Richmond in April. Elliott is currently 14th in the MENCS Playoff Standings so he needs a good race Saturday night to avoid a “must win” situation at the Roval. Elliott made a long run and said, “It is manageable. I would prefer to be loosened up a tick but I do not want to jeopardize the balance in the center.” After his last run he said, “Comfort wise it is a 10, speed wise it is a 0.
* Jimmie Johnson: Johnson tested at Richmond last month and the team said they found some speed. They will need it because Johnson currently sits 13th in the MENCS Point Standings and this team is showing no signs of life. Johnson was not happy with his car. He said, “It is plowing through the center.” They fixed the car and sent Johnson back out. He said, “It is better …probably top10 now.”
* Alex Bowman: Bowman had a decent race at Las Vegas (finished 19th) and now he is just inside the MENCS Playoff cut-line (Currently 12th place). He is one of the best drivers at Phoenix but that has not translated into speed at Richmond. He qualified 11th and finished 18th in the spring race at the track.
William Byron: Byron has really raced well on the short, flat tracks this season. He finished 12th at Phoenix, 12th at Richmond and 14th at New Hampshire. His average finishing position in the last 5 races this season is 30th. He needs to stay out of trouble Saturday night. After a long run Byron said, “It is OK. I need the front tires to get into the track more on entry.” Byron made one last run and said, “That was solid.”
* Kyle Larson: Larson was one of the drivers who was really happy with his car at the test session. He said they “hit on something.” You can read his comments here: Larson happy with his car at Richmond. Larson did not show up at the top of the speed chart in practice but that had a lot to do with the fact he was running the middle and top of the track. He was trying to get some rubber up the track so he can run his preferred line. Larson should be good Saturday night.
Jamie McMurray: Never underestimate a driver who has nothing to lose. McMurray has run a lot better since it was announced he was not returning to the No. 1 car. He finished 9th at Darlington, 7th at Indianapolis and was running 6th at Las Vegas when he got a flat tire. McMurray has nothing to lose so he will be “driving it like he stole it” this week. After a long run in the morning practice McMurray said, “We are junk!” He was 28th on the speed chart. They changed everything in the car and he moved up to 24th.
* Kevin Harvick: Harvick has finished 5th, 5th, 5th 5th and 15th in his last 5 races at Richmond. He has been the best driver on the short, flat tracks this season. He won at Phoenix and New Hampshire and finished 5th at Richmond. The No. 4 team tested at this track last week so they will know how the tires wear during the race. The No. 4 team made an 8 lap run with one setup, another 8 lap run with another setup and finally an 8 lap run with a 3rd setup. They used the best setup for final practice.
* Clint Bowyer: Bowyer ran well at Richmond in April. He qualified 16th, led 45 laps and finished 9th. He currently sits 12th in the MENCS Playoff Standings so he needs a good race Saturday night. Bowyer made some long runs and asked, “How am I looking… She feels fast.” The team responded, “P6 and you are not falling off as much as others.”
* Kurt Busch: Busch has a history of running well at Richmond. He has an 8th-place average finishing position in the last 8 races at the track. In April he qualified 6th, led 98 laps and finished 11th. He should have a lot of speed Saturday night. The No. 41 team worked on their long-run speed and they seemed to really like their car. Busch said, “It cuts the center really well and the grip on exit is stable.”
* Aric Almirola: Do not look at the final results for Almirola in the last race at Richmond. He qualified 25th and quickly made his way into the top 10. He finished 3rd in Stage 1 and 2nd in Stage 2. His average running position was 8.25. His pit crew had a bad stop with 9 laps to go and forced him to finish outside the top 10. Almirola had his best race of the season at New Hampshire (another short, flat track). The No. 10 car qualified 13th and finished 3rd. This team seems to know how to run well on the short, flat tracks. Almirola made a long run to start practice and he said, “The entry is decent, the center is perfect and the exit needs to be tightened a bit.” He was 2nd-fastest at the time.
* Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has a lot of momentum heading into Richmond since he won the last 3 races. He is the only driver with nothing to race for Saturday night. The No. 2 team already secured their spot in the 2nd round of the playoffs. I expect Keselowski to gamble with pit strategy to try and win 4 in a row this week. The No. 2 car made some long runs and Keselowski said, “We have the bottom hooked up but when I went to the top it was tight.” They brought him in for some adjustments. He was 7th fastest at the time.
* Joey Logano: Logano has not finished outside the top 10 at Richmond since 2012. He finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in his last three races at the track. Logano led 92 laps in the last race at Richmond. He has a lot of momentum after finished 3 of the last 4 races in the top 4. The No. 22 car worked on their long run speed. They said they had good short run speed in the 1st race at Richmond but lost because they could not maintain their speed. They do not want that to happen Saturday night.
* Ryan Blaney: The No. 12 team “hit on something” during the tire test at Richmond and they passed the information on to their Team Penske teammates. Team Penske has won every race since the test so I believe all of their cars will be fast Saturday night. Blaney told MRN, “This is by far my worst track. The car is the best we have ever been here but that is not saying much.” He was 14th fastest in race-trim.
Paul Menard: Menard has a 27.5 average finishing position in his last 6 races at Richmond. This is his 2nd-worst track. Menard qualified 20th and finished 24th in April. He will need to rely on his alliance with Team Penske this week.
* Kyle Busch: Busch uses Richmond as his personal playground. He has won a series-high 5 races at the track, including the race in April. He has been the best driver on the short, flat tracks this season. Busch finished 2nd at Phoenix, won at Richmond and finished 2nd at New Hampshire. Busch must be excited about this race. The No. 18 car was the 1st car on track and he posted the fastest speed in the morning practice. The word in the Garage is that the No. 18 is the car to beat.
* Erik Jones: Jones has competed in three MENCS races at Richmond and he finished 38th, 6th and 13th. His average running position at the track is 14.7. Jones currently sits 15th in the point standings so he needs to make something happen Saturday night. Jones was not happy with his car after the morning practice. He said he had no grip. They used the setup from the No. 18 car in final practice and he said it was much better. He moved up to 10th on the speed chart.
* Denny Hamlin: Hamlin always runs well at his home track. He has not finished outside the top 10 at Richmond since 2015 (7 races). Hamlin qualified 4th and finished 3rd in the spring. He currently sits 16th in the MENCS Playoff Standings so he needs a top-five finish Saturday night. Hamlin only has one top-10 finish on the short tracks this season. Hamlin was fighting a loose racecar in practice. He missed half of the final practice because they were changing everything in the car to try and find some speed.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has competed in 3 MENCS races at Richmond and he has performed pretty well. He finished 10th, 7th and 12th in his 3 races. He also finished 8th at Phoenix and that is the track most similar in size and shape to Richmond. Suarez had the same setup as Denny Hamlin. The car was good on the bottom and they were working on getting it to roll better in the center.
* Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has been a beast at Richmond but he has nothing to show for it. He has led 121, 198, 0 and 193 laps in the last 4 races at the track. His average finishing position is 11.75 despite all of the laps led. Truex is looking for his 1st short track win (0-76). It is not because he lacked speed. Truex got a flat tire in the 1st practice. No damage to the car though.
Ryan Newman: Newman is another driver who has nothing to lose and everything to gain Saturday night. He announced he will not be back at RCR in 2019, so now he is out to prove he is worth a spot in another car. Newman has finished 2 of his last 3 races at the track in the top 7. Newman made some longs runs and complained about the frontend of the car not being in the track.
* Austin Dillon: Dillon has not been very good at Richmond in his career. His average starting position is 22nd and his average is 21st. Dillon currently sits 10th and point standings and he said after the race at Las Vegas, “We need to find a way to finish up front at Richmond because I have not had much success in the test sessions at the Roval.” Dillon was not very good in the morning practice. His team worked with Ty Dillon’s team between the practice sessions and the No. 3 car moved up to 5th on the speed chart.
Ty Dillon: Dillon has competed in 3 MENCS at Richmond. He finished 20th, 22nd and 26th. Dillon has not finished inside the top 20 since the July race at Daytona. This team is really lacking speed right now. The No. 13 car rolled off the truck with some speed. He made a long run in the morning and said, “It is close to what we had in the test session.” Dillon was 3rd fastest. He backed up his speed in final practice with the 4th fastest speed on the charts. He is a great cheap driver in salary cap games this week.
Regan Smith: The “Super Sub” has done well filling in for Kasey Kahne. Smith finished 20th at Indianapolis (without and practice or qualifying) and 12th at Las Vegas. He is a good sleeper pick for you team this week. After his 1st run Smith said, “Ridiculously loose. I have no side-bite what so ever.” They made major changes to the car.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger was one of the drivers who tested at Richmond last month. Hopefully they found some speed because Allmendinger has a 26.5 average finishing position in the last 6 races at Richmond. Allmendinger was really happy with his car. He said, “Wow…wow… we got something this week. Good job.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher has been a decent cheap pick in Fantasy NASCAR in since July. He has a 17.6 average finishing position over the last 6 races. Buescher made many long runs. He said, “Center in is loose, center off is tight.” He was 18th fastest at the time. They made some adjustments and Buescher said, “That helped the entry a lot.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: It is hard to trust Wallace right now. He has been one of the worst drivers in the MENCS over the last 2 months. Wallace has a 32.5 average finishing position in his last 8 races. He has crashed out of 3 of the last 4 races. Wallace made a long run and said, “It starts out tight and gets tighter and tighter after every 5 laps.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has 10 starts in the MENCS at Richmond. His average starting position is 15.8 and his average finishing position is 20.8. In April he qualified 12th and finished 23rd. Stenhouse had a really hard time getting onto pit road. Twice he missed the orange box and skidded the tires.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth was not scheduled to be back in the No. 6 car until Dover but the schedule changed once it was announced Trevor Bayne would not return to the car in 2019. Kenseth may be in this car for the remaining races of the 2018 season. Kenseth made a short run and asked his team, “Did we bring any of the notes from the test because we are way off.”
David Ragan: Ragan had a horrible race in April at Richmond. He qualified 15th and finished 33rd. His average finishing position in the last 4 races at the track is 28.25. Ragan made a short run to shake down the car. They made some adjustments and sent him out for a 10-lap run. He said, “I really like the balance. I will give you some more updates when I get into the garage.”
Michael McDowell: Richmond ranks as one of the worst tracks for McDowell. He has a 29.6 average starting position and a 29.1 average finishing position. He finished 31st at the track in April. McDowell made some long runs and said, “Free on entry, center is good, exit is free.” They brought him in to tighten him up. On his last run he said, “It is better just lacking a little rear grip.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and all of Stewart-Haas Racing (Harvick, Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Almirola).
Good Sleeper Picks: Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, A.J. Allmendinger, Chris Buescher and David Ragan
Click here for Friday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best Average Speeds (From NBCSN)
- Clint Bowyer 21.135
- Erik Jones 23.297
- Alex Bowman 23.302
- Brad Keselowski 23.307
- Kevin Harvick 23.359
- Kyle Busch 23.380
- Ryan Newman 23.393
- Martin Truex Jr. 23.395
- Chase Elliott 23.410
- Kyle Larson 23.401
Follow me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR