Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick certainly earned one of the most dramatic victories of the season last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion’s win, his first in the last 65 races, catapulted him from 17th place in the standings into playoff contention with only three races remaining to set the 16-driver field.
The clutch performance certainly increases the drama expected for the rest of the month. The schedule features races at the Richmond (Va.) Raceway short track, the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course and the regular-season finale at the always unpredictable Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway has typically lived up to its “Action Track” nickname, and with the current playoff intensity, the moniker is certainly well-deserved.
Seven of the nine the active Richmond winners have already secured playoff positions with a win this season. Those drivers are Kyle Busch, who has a series-best six victories, Denny Hamlin (4), Harvick (3), Martin Truex Jr. (3), Brad Keselowski (2), Joey Logano (2), Kurt Busch (2), Alex Bowman (1) and reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson (1).
Truex and Keselowski are the two still searching for their first victory of 2022.
Interestingly, nine of the 15 drivers still hoping to earn a playoff position have wins at one of the three remaining tracks. Seven of the drivers currently ranked outside the top-10 in the series driver standings have hoisted a trophy at Daytona International Speedway, site of the regular season finale on Aug. 27.
FEDERATED AUTO PARTS 400
Richmond Raceway, Sunday, Aug. 14
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,144,995
Distance: 300 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 230), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)
TV: USA, 2 p.m. ET; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Martin Truex Jr. (+600 at BetMGM)
He is the defending winner of this summer/fall event – a good sign after he dropped to 17th place in the standings with Harvick’s win last week. Truex is also the sportsbook’s clear No. 1 liability this week, having drawn 11.0 percent of the total bets and a whopping 24.4 percent of the handle as of Thursday.
Truex trails Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney by 19 points for that 16th and last automatic playoff transfer position.
Truex is one of seven multiple winners at Richmond, sweeping the 2019 season races and last hoisting a trophy in this race last year. He has had top-10 finishes in three of the last four races leading into Richmond, tying a season-best fourth-place finish after leading 172 laps at New Hampshire four weeks ago.
The three top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes through the first 23 races is well off the Truex pace the sport has come to expect, however. He has had at least 20 top-10 marks in each of the five previous seasons.
Ryan Blaney (+1200)
He has nearly as many top-five finishes (eight) this year as he did all of last year (10), but third place is his best result – earning it at Nashville earlier this summer. He has led at least 100 laps in a race twice (Phoenix and Richmond), so maybe this return trip to Richmond will result in his first win at the track.
Blaney’s only two top-10 finishes in 12 starts there came in the last two races and his 128 laps led this spring are the only laps he has ever led there.
Even if Truex doesn’t win the race, a good finish could possibly move him ahead of Blaney’s tenuous 19-point advantage only intensifying the dramatic run to Playoff eligibility.
That has led to DraftKings offering a prop bet of +500 that Blaney and Truex will finish in the top five this weekend.
Denny Hamlin (+700)
Hamlin is a two-race winner already in 2022, including the spring Richmond race. He opened at +600 but has seen his odds lengthen slightly despite being third at BetMGM with 7.7 percent of the total bets backing him to win.
Chase Elliott (+900)
The points leader stands to officially clinch the Cup Series regular season championship if he earns 58 points at Richmond. The 2020 series champion would become the fifth different driver to win the award since it was created in 2017.
Kyle Busch is the only driver to have earned it twice (2018 and 2019). Larson (2021), Busch (2019) and Truex (2017) are the only drivers to win both the regular season championship and go on to claim the season title in the same year.
Joey Logano (+1600)
He is the second biggest liability for BetMGM this week, having been backed by 8.1 percent of the bets and 12.5 percent of the handle – both second only to Truex’s action.
Erik Jones (+6600)
Bettors have been attracted to Jones’ longshot odds. He is the third biggest liability at BetMGM, where he has been backed by 2.9 and 3.5 percent of the action, respectively.
–Field Level Media (NASCAR NewsWire contributed to this story)