The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took to the .75-mile Richmond (VA) Raceway on Friday for two practice sessions. These were the only two times other than qualifying later on in the day that the teams had on track time before Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
While there’s two practices of data available, this week is a tough one to sort out who will be strong or not. See, the two practice sessions were run in the day on Friday. The race this weekend will be held under the lights on Saturday night.
It’s a similar situation to what we saw last weekend in Las Vegas. Practice and qualifying took place in day time situations as the race actually ended after night fall. Plus, with this being an impound race, which direction do you go?
Do you elect for track position and qualifying speed or qualify with more downforce knowing that you’ll have better race pace?
Good luck deciphering the favorites.
But, I did my best to do so.
In the first session, Chris Buescher topped the speed charts in his No. 37 Chevrolet. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver turned in a lap of 121.147 mph which was good enough for P1. He was only 20th quickest in final practice though.
Joey Logano was second best with a lap of 120.962 mph in his No. 22 Ford. The defending series champion was just 15th quickest in final practice himself.
William Byron (120.827 mph) was third in session No. 1 in his No. 24 Chevrolet but 27th in final practice.
See where I’m going?
Kyle Busch was fourth overall in session No. 1 in his No. 18 Toyota with a speed of 120.687 mph. Busch, the ninth in final practice too. That’s a viable option for Saturday night.
Kyle Larson rounded out the top five in the first session with a lap of 120.487 mph in his No. 42 Chevrolet. Like most in front of him, he was just 19th in final practice.
So who was quick in final practice?
Last weeks winner and the victor in the spring race at Richmond in Martin Truex Jr. was. He turned in a speed of 121.885 mph in his No. 19 Toyota, good enough for P1. Chase Elliott (119.861 mph) finished fourth last week and was second in final practice in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
Rookie Daniel Hemric (119.268 mph) was third while Denny Hamlin (119.211 mph) and Austin Dillon (118.995 mph) rounded out the top five.
My favorites right now?
Busch has to be one of them. He’s one of just five drivers who was found in the top 10 in both practice sessions. Hamlin (sixth, fourth), Ryan Blaney (eighth in both) and Ryan Newman (10th in both) were the others.
Blaney, was also fifth and second respectively on the 10 lap averages as well. But, the Team Penske driver has never finished better than 18th in seven career Richmond starts in NASCAR’s premiere series including a 25th place run back in April.
Newman, does have seven top 10 finishes in his last 12 Richmond starts including a ninth place finish in the spring race. He’s a good sleeper option.
Hamlin, has to be the top favorite as he was third and first respectively on the 10 lap averages and has seven top six finishes in his last eight Richmond starts. Also, this is the fifth track that the series has visited a second time this season. In the previous four, Hamlin finished either first or second in three of them.
Truex Jr. also should be taken seriously. Quickest on single lap and sixth on 10 lap averages in final practice to go along with a win last week, a win on this track the last time out and five times in his last six Richmond starts overall he’s led 100 or more laps.
Brad Keselowski could be a diamond in the rough. He was seventh on single lap speed in final practice and fourth on 10 lap averages. The Penske driver has five top 10 finishes in his last six Richmond starts to go along with three top five finishes in his last four starts on the season as well.
I also like Kevin Harvick. He was sixth in final practice on single lap speed but sixth and fifth respectively on Friday on the 10 lap averages. He’s hot on the season too and has six top five finishes in his last seven Richmond starts.
Logano, may have lacked short run speed in final practice but he was eighth on the 10 lap. He has four top four finishes in his last five Richmond starts.
Another sleeper option would be Elliott. He was ninth and second respectively on single lap speed and has two top four finishes in his last three Richmond starts. Also, since his win last month at Watkins Glen, he’s only finished outside of the top 10 just once.