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Fantasy Update: Hendrick Motorsports shines in qualifying at Richmond

Fantasy Update: Hendrick Motorsports shines in qualifying at Richmond

Hitting the setup correctly at Richmond Raceway has been hit or miss for Hendrick Motorsports for several seasons. Kyle Larson considers it among the most challenging tracks for him to figure out, making last year‘s win that much more rewarding. Larson will lead the field to green on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Chase Elliott stated Saturday that there have been trips to Richmond where the team has been good and others where it‘s been abysmal. This time around it seems to be the former, as Hendrick swept the front row with Larson and Elliott, and Alex Bowman wasn‘t far behind in fourth.

FANTASY: Set your lineup | Richmond 36 for 36 picks

Dustin Albino‘s race-day lineup:

Starter 1: Martin Truex Jr.

Starter 2: Joey Logano

Starter 3: Denny Hamlin

Starter 4: Kyle Larson

Starter 5: Alex Bowman

Garage pick: Christopher Bell

NEXT IN LINE: Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney

MORE: Starting lineup | Weekend Schedule

RISING: It‘s worth hitting on Hendrick Motorsports even more here. This is the team‘s third pole at Richmond in five Next Gen races. Between Larson and William Byron, the team led more than half of the race last spring. Larson said following his pole win that he wasn‘t expecting to win, but his confidence level has increased. Bowman had one of his strongest days of the season as well, cracking the top five in practice and qualifying.

With the 2024 short-track rules package making its second appearance this weekend, Phoenix is a sliver of an indicator of what to expect at Richmond, multiple drivers said on Saturday. That came to fruition in qualifying when Wallace tied his best starting position of the season after ranking 22nd at Phoenix. Toyota dominated the Phoenix weekend, but Wallace was an outlier and didn‘t spend much time inside the top 10. I‘m keeping the No. 23 car out of my lineup because of Wallace‘s past struggles here.

FALLING: Even though Bell was 20th on 30-lap averages, he always seems to manage his tires and make a late-race surge at Richmond. His qualifying effort of 29th isn‘t ideal, however, and it could be a tall task to earn stage points in the opening stage. The poor qualifying effort could allow Adam Stevens to get creative on strategy, however, which nearly paid off with a victory last weekend at COTA. The belief here is the No. 20 car will be strong on Sunday, though I have him dropping to my garage spot.

Qualifying 17th may have gone as anticipated for Busch, a six-time Richmond winner. Richard Childress Racing has struggled on short tracks in the Next Gen era, particularly since the start of the 2023 season. Busch was also average on long runs in practice, so it doesn‘t give me confidence in having the No. 8 car remain in my lineup.

FEATURED MATCHUPS:

Christopher Bell vs. Kyle Busch: Because both drivers had moderate practice and qualifying efforts on Saturday, it‘s understandable if either driver slid out of your actual lineup. The consensus here is Busch has struggled on short tracks for the duration of his stint at Richard Childress Racing while he reaped the benefits of Joe Gibbs Racing‘s short-track program for years. Bell is one of the centerpieces of the JGR lineup, so he‘s the pick.

William Byron vs. Denny Hamlin: Byron was the lone Hendrick driver to miss the final round of qualifying, while Hamlin was the first driver to miss the cut overall. Both can easily crack the top 10, starting the race from 11th and 13th, respectively. Hamlin is always stellar at Richmond, so let‘s stick with the No. 11 team.

Martin Truex Jr. vs. Ty Gibbs: Experience, experience, experience. Truex has turned into one of the greats at Richmond over the last decade, leading 50-plus laps in 10 of the last 14 races. Chris Gayle mentioned at COTA that the No. 54 team lacked pace at Richmond last season, but will start Sunday‘s 400-lap race from eighth position, the same row as his veteran teammate. I‘ll stick with Truex here this weekend, believing he might be the driver to beat.

Chase Elliott vs. Alex Bowman: Bowman and Elliott seem about equal this weekend. The No. 9 team earned its best qualifying effort since the penultimate race of the 2023 season at Martinsville. It‘s also the best start of the season for Bowman in fourth. The No. 48 car trailed only Ryan Blaney in 30-lap averages, so he will get the slight nod.