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NASCAR DFS: Toyota Owners 400 Preview

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the short track circuit this weekend. NASCAR runs through Richmond for a fairly technical short track. William Byron won last week’s race at COTA for his second win of the year. However, the first road course race was missing a lot of excitement. The field was spread out. There weren’t many cautions. Byron won with arguably the fourth-best car. His team helped him maintain track position with great strategy and pit stops. Track position will be huge this week for Richmond. We have a 0.75-mile short track with above-average tire wear. With 400 laps for this race, we’re back to targeting drivers who can run up front and take home the checkered flag. Here is this week’s Toyota Owners 400 preview for Sunday’s action from Richmond Raceway.

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Toyota Owners 400 Preview: The Top Plays

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

He won just a couple of weeks ago on a short track. So why not go back to the well? It’s the Toyota Owners 400 preview, so we have to kick it off with a Toyota. Richmond is one of Hamlin’s best tracks. In his career, Hamlin has four wins at Richmond in addition to three runner-up finishes in his last six races here. In eight races at Richmond, he’s managed to lead over 100 laps. And we know those laps led and track position will be vital this week. I’m not overthinking it. This is a big race every year for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin is originally from Virginia. And Joe Gibbs has deep ties to this part of the country. I expect the 11-car to be competitive Sunday night.

Christopher Bell (#20 Toyota)

We roll right along with another JGR driver in Christopher Bell. I was tempted to go with Martin Truex Jr., but I just feel like Bell is more consistent and has more win equity at this time. In seven career races at Richmond, Bell doesn’t have a win but he’s finished sixth or better in five of them. Moreover, he’s shown the ability to move up on this track. And that isn’t easy. Tire wear comes into play and it isn’t the easiest track to pass at. In fact, the laps tick off quickly. Drivers will get lapped. Bell has started outside the top 20 in three straight Richmond races. He’s gained at least nine spots of position differential in each of those races, including a pair of top-five finishes. That’s wildly impressive but it’s a testament to JGR’s focus for Richmond and his ability as a driver.

Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)

It always feels like a cheat code when Larson appears in the preview article. But it’s a good fit this week for the driver of the 5-car. Has he won here before? Yes, on two occasions actually. Larson can win on any kind of track. In fact, he won this very race a year ago leading 93 laps. The summer race didn’t go as well, but I’m assuming they’ll match the setup from this race last spring. Additionally, we have to be mindful of the tire wear. Richmond does have an older surface. While this is a short track, we do see tire strategy come into play. Larson is one of the best in the field at managing tires. Anytime we get a track that features tire wear, Larson will be in play.

Toyota Owners 400 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Ty Gibbs (#54 Toyota)

The day he logs his first win is the day he can move up to the top plays section. Gibbs continues to flirt with a win. He has three top-five finishes in his last four races coming into Richmond and even in that span where he finished ninth at Bristol, he did lead 137 laps. Gibbs, like Hamlin and Bell, drives for JGR. This organization typically nails the setup for short, flat tracks. Gibbs won here in the Xfinity Series back in 2022 leading 114 laps from the pole. It should come as no surprise the four favorites to win this race on DraftKings Sportsbook are all four JGR drivers. Even Gibbs, who rounds out the group, is +850 to win. There isn’t a ton of value there, but the books know a win is coming for this kid.

Kyle Busch (#8 Chevrolet)

Believe it or not, both RCR drivers made the Toyota Owners 400 preview this week. It baffles me as well. Most of Busch’s success at Richmond came during his time with Joe Gibbs Racing. He has six wins in his career at the action track, but he has several top-five finishes and plenty of top-10s. What I do like about him with RCR is that he started on the front row for both Richmond races last year in the 8-car. Even in the summer race, he did finish third. He got into a scuffle last week with former teammate, Christopher Bell. Don’t let Busch get angry with momentum at a track he’s performed well at in the past.

Joey Logano (#22 Ford)

Logano actually has a solid resume at Richmond. This isn’t a track we normally associate with Team Penske. However, Logano has finished fourth, seventh, and sixth in his last three races here. It’s more impressive when you consider he hasn’t started in the top 15 in any of those races. He does have a pair of wins here, but there’s mostly some top-five equity with this play. He had a decent run at COTA last week and he will be the first to tell you he isn’t a good road course driver. But at least he can head to a track where he’s had success. The cooler temps Sunday night may even benefit him in this race.

The Sleepers and Values

Noah Gragson (#10 Ford)

We’ll need to see how he looks in practice and qualifying, but there’s some logic here. Gragson does have a win here from the Xfinity Series back in 2021. Additionally, this is the 10-car for Stewart-Haas Racing. This used to be the ride for Aric Almirola. Almirola was one of the best drivers on shorter, flat tracks. Over his last three races in the Cup Series at Richmond, Almirola started P24 or worse in each but recorded finishes of 8th, 13th, and 8th in the NextGen era. After finishing 6th and 12th at Vegas and Phoenix, Gragson has finished outside the top 30 in back-to-back races. If the team can match the setup they once provided for Almirola, it could be a huge week for the 10-car.

John Hunter Nemechek (#42 Toyota)

Nemechek isn’t in a JGR car. He’s not even in a 23XI Racing car. But it’s still a Toyota and JHN does have a solid resume on this track. In the Truck Series, he has a win here from 2021 and a runner-up finish in 2022. In the Xfinity Series in 2021, he finished third with Sam Hunt Racing and followed that up with a pair of runner-up finishes in 2022 and 2023 with Joe Gibbs Racing. The Cup Series is a whole different monster, however. The competition is stiffer and it’s clear he isn’t in one of the more elite rides. He did finish sixth two weeks ago at Bristol. While Bristol and Richmond don’t compare, perhaps he does feel more at home on shorter tracks.

Austin Dillon (#3 Chevrolet)

This isn’t a play that I love by any means. He doesn’t have a single top-15 finish this year. On top of that, he’s hardly made any moves from his qualifying efforts. And yet, strangely enough, the Richmond results haven’t been too bad. Last summer he finished ninth and in his last 10 races at this track, he has six finishes in the top 10, with another 11th place finish back in 2021. We may change our tune on Dillon come Sunday, but he is a driver that we should keep an eye on during Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions.

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