Toyota Owners 400 Preview & Picks


Apr 11, 2014; Darlington, SC, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch (18) during practice for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Short track action is on the menu this weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as 43 of the sport’s best tackle Richmond International Raceway Saturday night for the running of the Toyota Owners 400.  Fresh off the first bye week of the season, each driver will have an opportunity to capitalize on the point standings after some much needed rest.  Joe Gibbs Racing’s three cars should be among the odds on favorites to win Saturday night’s race.

Kyle Busch has four career wins at Richmond, all of which have come in the spring race. Busch won all four races consecutively from 2009-2012.  Anytime Busch is on track at Richmond he usually has the car to beat.  Busch isn’t the only JGR driver with a sparking resume at RIR his teammate Virginia native Denny Hamlin has enjoyed a multitude of success at his home track over the years. Looking to get back on track this season Richmond could hold the key to Hamlin’s success for the remainder of the 2014 season.  Hamlin’s tasted victory twice at RIR, but not since the fall of 2010. Let’s not forget about Matt Kenseth who continues to live up to his nickname the silent assassin. Despite not owning a victory in 2014 Kenseth sits second in the point standings one marker behind point leader Jeff Gordon heading into Saturday night’s race.   Historically Kenseth’s not known to be a short track specialist; however he owns one victory at Richmond.  Since there is a greater emphasis on claiming victories this season Kenseth may use his position in the standings as added motivation to defy what the stats say about his record on short tracks.  Joe Gibbs Racing is likely to have two of it’s three cars in the top five Saturday night.  No surprise there, I expect Kyle Busch to lead the way, he will claim the runner up spot, as Denny Hamlin snags a solid top five finish.

Rookie extraordinaire Kyle Larson will continue to impress as he scores a top five finish coming home in fourth place. Larson’s progress is to be celebrated. Finally Chip Ganassi has a driver he can trust in for the future. Don’t forget Team Target’s former driver Juan Montoya all but had this race one a year ago.  Former Richmond winners Tony Stewart & Kevin Harvick should have solid finishes for the Stewart Haas camp.  The King Richard Petty returns to the track for the first time since the passing of his beloved wife Lynda. Marcos Ambrose will give the boss something to smile about. Ambrose continues to improve his skills behind the wheel on a weekly basis. The popular driver from down under comes home in tenth place. Doing more with less is something Anthony James Allmendinger knows all too well. Lately he’s done some good things for JTG Daugherty Racing; I foresee yet another top ten finish for this group, as they continue to build upon their sporadic moral victories.

Finally leading us to the eventually winner of Saturday night’s short track showdown which will be none other than Jeff Gordon.  The current point’s leader has found the fountain of youth in 2014. A victory by Gordon would place him in the sixteen driver chase, once gain in the hunt for that elusive fifth NSCS championship.  Gordon has run upfront for most of the season and appears destined to claim a victory real soon. There’s no time like the present that’s why he should be the odds on favorite to take the checked flag at RIR.

The top 10

1. Jeff Gordon

2. Kyle Busch

3. Denny Hamlin

4. Kyle Larson

5. Kevin Harvick

6. Brian Vickers

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

8. Tony Stewart

9. AJ Allmendinger

10. Marcos Ambrose

Photo courtesy of  USA Today sports media