Mother Nature has been delaying and postponing races all year for the Cup Series, and she didn't even wait for race day to start causing problems this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Rain showers washed out Friday's qualifying session, and as a result, the starting lineup was determined by speeds from the afternoon's first practice. With the threat of rain, several drivers did get a mock qualifying run in during the first session. However, a few big names were burned by the rain and will start deep in the field, including drivers who ran well in race trim, like Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
With rain throwing a wrench in things to a degree, fantasy owners are left with some difficult choices. Do you trust the traditional Richmond studs if they are starting near the back, or do you gamble on some sleeper picks that grabbed great starting spots in part because qualifying got rained out? My preferred strategy is somewhere in between. I'm not going to write off a driver that ran well in race trim and has a history of success at RIR just because they are starting toward the rear. On the flip side, I will definitely try to take advantage of a sleeper pick or two if they are starting closer to the front than they normally would under typical circumstances. With that in mind, let's jump into the final rankings for Saturday's Toyota Owners 400.
The top 3
1) Kevin Harvick
He is the defending race winner, and Harvick looks more than ready to contend for a fourth win at Richmond. He was in or near the top five on short runs and long runs in both practices Friday, and he will start fifth based on his practice times. Harvick topped the rankings to open the week, and he still looks like the No. 1 fantasy option heading into Saturday's race.
2) Kyle Busch
Qualifying getting rained out will force Busch to start 19th Saturday, but after logging the second-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour, the four-time Richmond winner should have little trouble adding to his impressive resume at the track. He enters Saturday's race with a series-leading 7.2 average finish at the track. In 18 starts, he has 12 top-five finishes, including eight top-two finishes.
3) Clint Bowyer
Bowyer jumps into the No. 3 spot in the final rankings after a strong showing throughout Friday's practices. Not only will he start third after turning the third-fastest lap in the opening practice session, but he cracked the top-10 in terms of 10-lap average speeds in both practices. Bowyer has also been rock solid at Richmond throughout his career, logging 13 top-12 finishes in 16 starts, winning in the fall of 2012 and finishing second last spring.
12) Kyle Larson
He will be making his first start at Richmond in the Cup Series this weekend, but a lack of experience hasn't slowed down Larson at all this season and it hasn't been holding him back this weekend. The rookie will start on the pole after topping the charts in the opening practice, and he also cracked the top 10 in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Larson has four top-10s in the last five races, and he appears to be on track for another great run Saturday.
13) Ryan Newman
Newman will start 18th based on his speed from Friday's first practice, but after he paced the field in Happy Hour, it is clear that his car has some muscle. He has also been reliable at Richmond, notching nine top-15s in the last 10 races at the track, including five straight. Newman should have no trouble challenging for a top-10 this weekend.
17) Brian Vickers
He has actually missed three of the last seven races at Richmond as he has bounced between several rides, but he has looked pretty good on the stopwatch so far this weekend. Vickers cracked the top 15 in both practices Friday, and he will start sixth based on his speed from first practice. He also logged the 12th-best average speed in Happy Hour. Vickers could easily deliver a top-15 for fantasy owners this weekend.
23) Marcos Ambrose
His record at Richmond hasn't been great in recent years, but Ambrose has been enjoying a very solid 2014 season so far. More importantly, he has been excellent at the short tracks, notching top-five finishes at Bristol and Martinsville. Ambrose will roll off 11th Saturday based on his speed from Friday's first practice, and while a top-five may be asking a bit much, he could be a sneaky top-15 pick.
Big names outside the top 10
14) Kurt Busch
Busch has been up and down all season, and although he had a great year at Richmond in 2013, he struggled during both of Friday's practices. In fact, he ranked outside the top 20 in both sessions. Busch was a little better on longer runs, but a top-15 finish appears to be his ceiling this weekend.
20) Greg Biffle
With only one top-10 in his last 14 starts at Richmond, Biffle wasn't a premier fantasy option this weekend anyway. However, he was off the pace, even by his standards. Biffle ranked 24th and 26th in the two practices Friday, and as a result, he will have a terrible starting spot on top of a mediocre car. Fantasy owners should probably avoid Biffle if possible.