March 28, 2012
After the 500 laps–well, if the rain stays away–of the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 are completed this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, the Sprint Cup Series will have its first weekend off of the season before heading to Texas Motor Speedway for the first Saturday night race of the year. As usual, I expect the normal faces up front that we see mostly every time we come to “The Paperclip,” so my Preview this week will, chances are, look very similar to everyone else’s. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have been light years better than the other organizations over the past two seasons at this track, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon.
During The Last Race At Martinsville…Tony Stewart grabbed his third win in the Chase back in October at The Paperclip despite leading just 14 laps. The Hendrick duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished 2nd and 3rd, leading 61 and 113 laps, respectively. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 5. Kyle Busch led a race-high 126 laps but hit the wall late and finished a disappointing 27th.
Practice Schedule…Everyone who plays Yahoo! Auto Racing should like the practice schedule this weekend because we get to see the cars on track before locking down our drivers. On Friday, there will be two practice sessions (at 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm) followed by qualifying on Saturday morning at 11:30 am. Once the starting lineup is set, the cars won’t hit the track again until Sunday’s 500-lap event. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
1. Kyle Busch – Rowdy has never won at Martinsville in fourteen career starts, but that’s bound to change soon, and right now I think it’s going to be this Sunday. The #18 was the best car in Fontana a week ago and Dave Rogers and crew should prepare another hot rod for Kyle again this weekend. Busch has had a top 5 car in each of the last three races at The Paperclip (average driver rating of 110.6) and would have three straight top 5 finishes if it weren’t for getting put into the wall by Matt Kenseth (video here). He was in the top 5 for much of that day (Yahoo! Race Chart here). Rowdy’s six top 5s is tied for third-best in the series among drivers with twenty or fewer starts here.
2. Jimmie Johnson – No surprise here. This is Five Time’s third-best track on the circuit and he owns the best average finish here of anyone in the series with 5.5. In twenty career starts, Johnson has amassed six wins and has just one finish outside of the top 20, which was a 35th-place effort in his very first start here (caused by a vibration). Jimmie’s 11th-place effort in this race last season broke a streak of seventeen-straight single-digit finishes at Martinsville, but he started a new one in the fall with a runner-up, as I said before. He’s had triple-digit driver ratings in every single race here since 2006. Not much more of a safer pick than the #48 Chevrolet this weekend.
3. Denny Hamlin – As long as there isn’t any rain so Darian Grubb can make another idiotic pit road call, I’ll consider Hamlin a lock for a top 5 this weekend. His resume at Martinsville is quite impressive: thirteen starts, four wins, nine top 5s, and an average finish of 6.5. Denny has just one finish worse than 12th here, and that was a 37th back in 2006 when he started 41st and got caught up in an accident. His minimum driver rating in the last six events at The Paperclip has been 118.7 and he averaged a rating of 127.6 during those three years. Also in that span, Hamlin has led 861 laps. This is best track on the circuit statistically and it’s coming at a good time: the #11 crew will be able to wipe their memory or Fontana clean with a solid run (and maybe even a win) this weekend in Martinsville.
4. Jeff Gordon – And the bad luck bug strikes Jeff Gordon again… I wasn’t going to rank him this high when I was originally putting this post together (I had him around 8th or 9th), but when you look at his record at Martinsville, it’s hard to justify not having Gordon in the top 5; he’s just that good at this half-mile race track. Jeff has made thirty-eight starts at this venue and 81.5% of the time he has ended up in the top 10. In the last fourteen races, Gordon has ended up in the top 5 in thirteen of them. It’s his best track on the circuit and even with his bad luck to start the 2012 season, I wouldn’t be afraid to take the four-time champion this weekend.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – If Junebug is going to win a race soon, this will probably be the best chance he has in the next month or so. Statistically, he’s the fourth-best driver at Martinsville (with an average finish of 13.1) although he has yet to visit victory lane at this half-mile track. In twenty-four career starts, however, Junior has amassed thirteen top 10s (nine being top 5s) and he finished 2nd in this event last season. He’s on a streak of three straight top 10s here and also has had a driver rating of at least 100.1 in all three. Earnhardt hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 all season thus far and I wouldn’t bank on that changing this week.
6. Kevin Harvick – “Happy” is really getting the hang of The Paperclip here lately. Going into the 2010 season, he had never posted a top 5 finish in seventeen starts at the track, but in the spring race he went and put his #29 Chevy on the pole and led 57 laps. He had a brake problem that day and finished 35th. In the fall race that year, though, Harvick posted his first top 5 at Martinsville (a 3rd-place effort) after leading 97 laps, and came back in 2011 and grabbed his first career win here in the spring and ended up in 4th in the fall. History isn’t on his side here, but Kevin should have one of the best cars this weekend in Martinsville, and should improve on his career average finish of 15.9.
7. Ryan Newman – I’m going to watch this team closely in practice on Friday because they just don’t seem on top of their game as of late to me. Be sure to check out my final Predictions for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at www.ifantasyrace.com to see whether or not “The Rocketman” is worthy of this spot after practice and qualifying. With that being said, Newman is generally a pretty solid pick on the short tracks. In the last six Martinsville races, he has come away with four top 10s and led a total of 99 laps (over half of his total 182 in twenty career starts here). He has three top 5 starts here in the six races since joining Stewart-Haas Racing so you may be able to snag some qualifying bonus points from him this weekend. His career average start here is 8.9 compared to his career average finish of 14.4.
8. Clint Bowyer – I kind of jumped the guns on him last weekend in Fontana, but the strong run by this team in Bristol a couple weeks ago along with Bowyer’s history at Martinsville makes me think we’re going to see another good run out of this #15 Toyota on Sunday. In twelve starts here, Clint has averaged a finish of right around 15th and recorded seven finishes of 11th or better. If you like patterns, in the last five spring races here, Bowyer has finished 11th, 10th, 5th, 7th, and 9th, compared to his fall finishes of 9th, 9th, 19th 38th, and 19th. His average driver rating of 90.0 over the past two years here is ninth-best in the series.
9. Carl Edwards – The #99 Ford was finally starting to come back to form last weekend when the rain started. Will that continue this weekend? We’ll find out. If you’re going to pick a Roush Ford this weekend, I’d go with Cousin Carl (although I wouldn’t recommend any of them because there are many better picks out there). Edwards has made fifteen starts at The Paperclip and has just one top 5 finish to his name (a 3rd in 2008). He does, however, have five top 10s and just four finishes outside of the top 20. In the last four events here, Carl has one pole and three finishes of 8th or 9th.
10. Tony Stewart – Yeah, Smoke won again last weekend (since when does this happen so early in the season?) and is the most recent winner at this track, so this ranking is probably pretty low in many people’s minds. However, his runs in this race last season as well as both events in 2010 are really sticking out at me. He finished 34th here last year after starting 28th and finished 26th and 24th in 2010 despite starting 5th and 6th, respectively. His driver ratings in those races aren’t much to ride home about, either (best of 88.3). He could sneak up on me and grab a top 5 but I think a top 10 or top 15 is much more likely for Smoke this weekend.
11. Martin Truex, Jr. – Say hello to my dark horse pick of the week. With his (albeit lucky) 8th-place finish last weekend in Fontana, Truex now has an average finish of 9.6 in the last ten (ten!) Sprint Cup races. I think this is the most consistent stretch of finishes during his career in NASCAR’s top series, but don’t quote me on that because I haven’t went back and checked it. Still, this guy has momentum and confidence, and so does this entire Michael Waltrip Racing stable. Will we see a top 5 sweep again like a couple weeks ago in Bristol? Martin’s best finish at Martinsville came in this event in 2010, where he finished 5th, which was his first start here for MWR. He stumbled in the next two events at this track, but last fall, Truex placed the #56 Toyota in 8th-place, and his Yahoo! chart shows that it wasn’t exactly luck.
12. Brad Keselowski – BK is one-for-one on the short tracks in the 2012 season, but I don’t see him getting his first career victory at Martinsville this weekend. Still, I’m expecting another solid run out of the Blue Deuce on Sunday. I’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks: Keselowski knows how to get to the front, he just sometimes has difficulty finishing. In four starts at The Paperclip, BK has averaged a finish right around 14th, and has finished on the lead lap in three of those races. Last fall, Brad had a top 10 car for most of the race but fell back late and finished 17th (Yahoo! race chart here).
13. Matt Kenseth – It’s no secret that the Roush-Fenway Fords aren’t very good here (6 cumulative top 10s in 16 cumulative starts here in the past two years), and I’d consider Kenseth the second-best option in that group of three. He finished 6th in this race last season but his driver rating didn’t back that up (13th-best). Still, he has three finishes of 15th or better in the last five events here and Matt has averaged a finish in the teens (16.5) over his twenty-four career starts at The Paperclip. If you take the #17 this weekend, I wouldn’t expect a top 5, but a top 10 may be possible with some strategy by Jimmy Fennig. I wouldn’t expect him and Brian Vickers to tangle again. Kenseth had a top 10 car before that happened last fall.
14. Joey Logano – In his first start at The Paperclip, Sliced Bread finished four laps off the pace in 32nd place. He learned the track quickly, though, and in the four races after, Logano never finished worse than 13th (including a runner-up finish in 2010). Joey struggled here a bit last fall (driver rating of 67.9) but managed to bring the #20 Toyota home in 18th. Gibbs is one of the two best organizations at this track and Logano has been qualifying well this season, which is a plus on these real short tracks.
15. Jeff Burton – Very rarely will you see Jeff Burton on my top 15 rankings entering a weekend, but I can’t skip over the guy that has the sixth-best average driver rating at Martinsville in the past two years. Over those four events, Burton has amassed two top 10s, but both of those came in the fall events of 2010 and 2011. He was good here back in the day while driving for Roush Racing but since joining Richard Childress Racing, the successful runs have been few and far between for Burton. I’m expecting a mid-teens finish out of the #31 on Sunday. Jeff has nine top 20s in the last ten Martinsville races.
Special Note: Brian Vickers is back behind the wheel of the #55 Toyota this weekend. I don’t see him having another run like a few weeks ago at Bristol, but then again, I didn’t expect much more than a top 20 out of The Sheriff in Thunder Valley, either. His career average finish in thirteen starts at Martinsville is 20.5.
Those To Avoid Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Kasey Kahne - He’s with Hendrick now, so his performance might be better at Martinsville than before, but I’m waiting for a real good run out of this team before considering him at a track where his average finish is 20.7. He owns just two top 10s in sixteen career starts and hasn’t finished there since 2006. Unless he looks flat out phenomenal in practice (think Denny Hamlin last weekend) I’m going to pass on KK for this race.
Juan Montoya – He ended up with a top 10 a couple of weeks ago in Bristol, but Montoya had just the sixteenth-best driver rating in that race. At Martinsville, JPM has a career average finish of 14.7, but three of the last four events have ended with him in 19th place or worse. He might be a sleeper in some people’s minds, but I’d rather take his team mate, Jamie McMurray, in that role this weekend.
Paul Menard – He finished in the teens in both Martinsville races during the 2010 season, but overall Paul’s history at this track is very shaky. In nine career starts here, he owns an average finish of 22.7 and has completed just 94.5% of the laps ran. His best driver rating has been 79.4 in all of his starts here.
March 21, 2012
This week the Auto Club 400 will be held at Auto Club Speedway in California, which will be the only event at the track, a tradition started last season after seven straight years of holding two events annually. Auto Club Speedway opened in 1997 and is a D-shaped two-mile oval, most similar to Michigan in my opinion. Expect the same familiar faces up front on Sunday, with maybe one or two surprises in the mix at one point or another. Some may think qualifying is important this week, but I don’t see it that way at all. Over the last two races in Fontana, only 25% of the top 10 starters ended the race here. On top of that, 30% of the top 10 finishers in those two races started outside of the top 20.
During The Last Race At Fontana…Kyle Busch led over 75% of the 200 laps ran in last year’s Auto Club 400, but it was “The Closer” Kevin Harvick who passed Jimmie Johnson on the last lap–in the last turn–to take the victory. Rowdy finished a distant 3rd that day, followed by Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman to round out the top 5. The victory was Harvick’s first at this track in his eighteenth start here.
Practice Schedule…Same schedule as the past two weekends but different times. First practice on Friday at 3:00 pm followed by qualifying Friday evening at 7:00 pm. On Saturday, the second session will start at 12:30 pm and Happy Hour will kick off around 3:30 pm later that day. All times are EST. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, that means rosters will lock before seeing any of the cars on the track.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Auto Club 400:
1. Matt Kenseth – Matty Ice (do people call Kenseth that?) is always a threat on the cookie cutter tracks and he has three victories at Auto Club Speedway–the most recent coming in 2009–to prove that this track isn’t an exception. Kenseth finished 4th in this race last season and has a career average finish of 10th here. What’s even more impressive is that in nineteen career starts at this track, Matt has completed all but two laps out of 4,655. He has just three finishes outside of the top 20, but in two of them he led at least 29 laps, so it’s not like he had a terrible car for the race. At Michigan, Kenseth has three straight top 10s and finished 2nd in the June race last season. Will we see victory number two of 2012 out of the #17 camp this Sunday? Going into the weekend, he’s my pick.
2. Jimmie Johnson – Well, Chad Knaus will be on the pit box this weekend because the suspension was overturned, so expect Johnson’s good run to continue. Furthermore, this is Jimmie’s home track, and his best venue on the schedule, statistically. His record here is ridiculously impressive: seventeen starts, twelve top 5s–five of those being wins–and a worst finish of 16th. Jimmie has led 849 laps at Fontana, which is by far the most of anyone in the series. His run in this race last season was actually kind of an off-day for The Champ: he only led three laps. In the eight races at Auto Club Speedway from 2007 to 2010, Johnson led an average of just under 93 laps per race. Still, he has just one finish outside of the top 3 in the last nine events here, and that was a 9th-place in 2009.
3. Tony Stewart – Smoke is the hottest driver on intermediate tracks and I have no doubt in my mind that h is #14 Chevy will be a force to be reckoned with at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. He won here in 2010 and he had the second-best driver rating in this race last season despite finishing 13th. He had a terrible restart and if there wasn’t that late-race caution, I think Stewart would have finished top 5. In case you have short term memory loss, Tony dominated the race in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, and he’s been the best driver at Michigan (average finish-wise) in the last two years. Smoke hasn’t finished worse than 13th at Fontana since 2008. That will not change on Sunday.
4. Greg Biffle – First the bad: Biffle hasn’t finished better than 10th at Fontana in the last four events and has led a grand total of zero laps here during that span. Now the good: he’s been great at Michigan (similar track) over that time and has some of the most momentum of anyone in the garage right now, not to mention you can never overlook him (or Roush) when it comes to the cookie cutters. Even though his recent record isn’t great by any means at Auto Club Speedway, Greg did capture a victory here in 2005 and has three other top 5 efforts on top of that in his seventeen career starts. Stick with The Biff!
5. Clint Bowyer – Reach alert! After the race this weekend, I may look back at this ranking of Bowyer and wonder why I put him there, but can we all agree that Michael Waltrip Racing is starting to look more and more like a great race organization? I shrugged Clint’s move there in the off-season off and considered it a downgrade, but I’m starting to re-think that. However, that being said, this is the week that Bowyer will prove to me that it wasn’t. He has made eleven starts at Fontana and has recorded the fourth-best average finish of anyone in the series at this track with 10.6. Clint has never won at Auto Club Speedway, but does own a couple top 5s and has five top 10s in the last six Fontana events. He also hasn’t had a driver rating under 109 in the last three races here.
6. Carl Edwards – I’d like to rank Cousin Carl in the top 5 this week, but I still think this team is off. I know that the #99 got caught up in the early wreck last week in Bristol, but it wasn’t super fast by any means. Edwards grabbed a top 5 at Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, but he didn’t have a top 5 car (his driver rating showed that). I’m really waiting for this team to have a “breakout performance,” if you will, and get over this supposed hangover from losing the championship last season. At Fontana, Carl has a career average finish of 9.0 in fourteen starts and won the race here in 2008. In the last six events, though, he hasn’t finished better than 6th (ironic huh?), but he’s done it three times. What’s even more concerning is Edwards has led just one lap at this track since 2008.
7. Kevin Harvick – I didn’t think it was possible to beat Jimmie Johnson at his best track, but Kevin Harvick proved me wrong last season. He had the sixth-best driver rating at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and I’m expecting “Happy” Harvick to have another top 10 run here in Fontana on Sunday. His win here last season was the first in eighteen career starts at Auto Club Speedway, but that race made it four straight top 10s for Harvick at this track, and six in the last seven races. He hasn’t finished worse than 11th this season thus far and I wouldn’t expect that to change this Sunday.
8. Kyle Busch – If you take Rowdy this week, I’d exercise some caution in doing so. Seriously, who would have expected that happening last weekend in Bristol? Kyle is pretty good at the 2-mile racetracks, as you can tell by his domination in this race last season. He won at Fontana in 2005 and Busch has nine top 10 finishes in fourteen career starts here. At Michigan last year, he finished 3rd and 1st. Not too bad. Kyle struggled at his home track a couple of weeks ago, finishing 23rd, but he did start 2nd in that race. He spun out late in that race but didn’t really have that great of a car in race trim compared to how fast he was in qualifying. Like I said, it will be risky, but Rowdy’s record is pretty good at these type of race tracks recently.
9. Ryan Newman – No Neck Newman has two straight 5th-place finishes at Fontana and has recently been a pretty good pick on these 2-mile ovals (he finished 6th and 5th in the two Michigan races last season). Add in this team’s 4th-place run in Vegas a couple weeks ago and I think Newman has a shot at another top 10 in California this weekend. His history is shaky here (just six top 10s in seventeen career starts) but Stewart-Haas Racing has been incredible at these cookie cutter tracks over the last half year.
10. Mark Martin - Like I’ve said many times, you just can’t go against a hot team early in the year, and this crew and Rodney Childers seem to have the most momentum and confidence right now that it doesn’t even matter who’s driving the race car. Mark has made twenty career starts at Fontana and half of them he brought the car home inside the top 10, including one win back in 1998. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Martin has just three finishes outside of the top 20 here. He struggled last season as the lame-duck with Hendrick, but in the three races prior to that, Martin recorded top 10s and led at least five laps in each. He had a top 12 car at Las Vegas a couple weeks ago before the next guy on this list put him in the fence…
11. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior had a pretty strong Chevy a couple of weeks ago at Las Vegas and I expect him and Steve Letarte to bring another hot rod to Fontana this weekend. His record isn’t stellar here, but Earnhardt does have three top 5s to his name at this 2-mile race track, and has finished 16th and 12th in the last two events here. It is somewhat of a risky pick, but I like the way this team is running to start off the year. If he looks good in practice, I’d have no problem with Earnhardt, Jr. on my roster this weekend.
12. Joey Logano – Before last year absymal 25th-place finish at Fontana, Sliced Bread had a string of three-straight top 15 finishes here, including a 5th-place effort in the first 2010 event here. Last season at this track, Joey posted a solid 3rd-place qualifying effort but engine woes struck this team again and he had to start the event from the rear of the field. Logano never really recovered and finished 25th. However, as strong as the Gibbs stable was here last season, and with their engine difficulties pretty much gone, I expect to see the #20 somewhere in the top 15 at the end of 400 miles on Sunday.
13. Paul Menard – The beginning of the season is the point where it’s a good idea to pick Paul Menard, as you can tell from his three top 10s in the first four races in 2012. He has had a fair amount of struggles at Auto Club Speedway–as in not having one lead lap finish in his first six starts–but the last three races here have all ended with Menard on the lead lap and he has a couple of teens finishes (16th last season and 18th in 2010). He also ran a nice race at Michigan last June, where he started 9th and finished 4th after leading two laps.
14. Martin Truex, Jr. – I really have no statistics for you of any success that Truex has found at Auto Club Speedway, but sometimes you have to overlook history at a track when a driver has this much momentum (as in the second-best average finish over the last five Sprint Cup races). Martin hasn’t finished better than 18th at Fontana in his last six attempts here, but he did finish 6th here in 2007 and 2008 while driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He had the 9th-best driver rating in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago despite finishing 17th, and his new teammate (Clint Bowyer) may be able to help him a bit this week in California.
15. Brad Keselowski - You didn’t think the most recent winner was going to miss my Preview rankings this week, did you? You know I hate going against them. Look for Bad Brad to get a career-best finish at Fontana this weekend, which won’t be that hard to do considering he hasn’t finished better than 21st in three career starts here. While that isn’t great, BK also hasn’t finished worse than 26th, so at least he’s been consistent. Keselowski has a knack for getting to the front (he’s led at least one lap in the last three races) and that could pay dividends on Sunday.
Those To Avoid Entering The Auto Club 400:
Kasey Kahne – Casey Mears has more Sprint Cup points that Kahne right now, that’s all I need to say. I want to see him go a full race without hitting something before going anywhere near KK in fantasy.
Marcos Ambrose – I like to give this guy a free pass when it comes to history on the big oval tracks, but I just can’t overlook the fact that Ambrose is awful at both Fontana and Michigan. His average finish at those tracks is 28.8 and 27.0, respectively. Marcos has never finished on the lead lap in a race at Auto Club Speedway.
Kurt Busch – He might look like a good pick by simply looking at this average finish of 12.9 at this track, but I’m still waiting for this Phoenix Racing team to put together a whole race this season. I’d be surprised if Kurt brought his Chevy home in the top 20 on Sunday to be honest with you. The last two events at Auto Club Speedway have ended with Busch in 21st and 17th.
March 14, 2012
Get ready for some good old fashioned beating and banging on Sunday afternoon because the Sprint Cup Series is heading to Bristol! Just as a heads up, Brian Vickers is in the #55 Toyota this weekend, so nobody’s fantasy rosters are safe. Just kidding–I expect “The Sheriff” to be on best behavior in all of his races this season. Nicknamed “The Bullring,” Bristol Motor Speedway is 0.533-mile race track in Tennessee that is always a fan favorite and a producer of some of the most exciting races. Those starting from mid-pack to the rear of the field are always susceptible to going down a lap (or more) early in the races at this track.
During The Last Race At Bristol…Brad Keselowski–in the midst of this hot streak–grabbed the victory, which was his third (and ultimately final) of the 2011 season. He led 89 of the 500 laps ran. Martin Truex, Jr. finished 2nd–a career-best for him at the track–with Jeff Gordon ending up 3rd. He led the most laps that night with 206. Gordon’s Hendrick team mate, Jimmie Johnson, finished 4th, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 5 after starting 6th. Keselowski and Matt Kenseth (who ended up 6th after leading 110 laps) were accused of taking advantage of the timing lines on pit road after the race, although I believe it was perfectly legal.
Practice Schedule…Very similar to the schedule last week in Las Vegas: practice on Friday at noon followed by qualifying at 3:30. On Saturday, a second practice session will be held, starting at 9:30 am, and then Happy Hour will take place at noon. The Food City 500 should start around 1:15 pm on Sunday. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Food City 500:
1. Kyle Busch – I’m not ready to hand him the checkered flag yet, but there really is no reason why Rowdy Busch shouldn’t be on the top of everyone’s boards going into this race weekend. Fourteen starts, five wins, 1,374 laps led, and an average finish of 9.1. And that’s just in the Sprint Cup Series… More impressive? Not a single DNF.
2. Tony Stewart – “Smoke” has really struggled lately at Bristol, as in five finishes of 17th or worse in his last six starts. So why would I have him ranked 2nd going into the race this weekend, other than the fact that he’s the most recent winner? One person: Steve Addington. In the two years with Kurt Busch, those two compiled three top 10s in four starts at Bristol, and he was Kyle Busch’s crew chief in 2009 when Rowdy led 415 of the 500 laps in the August race despite finishing 2nd. Smoke won at Bristol in 2001 and has amassed eight top 10s in twenty-six starts at the track. I full expect that to be at least nine of twenty-seven after Sunday.
3. Matt Kenseth – He’s known for his flat track expertise, but Matt Kenseth is a very good racer at Bristol. In twenty-four starts in Thunder Valley, the 2012 Daytona 500 champ has collected two wins while amassing sixteen top 10s. He’s only finished outside of the top 20 four times at this track, which is extremely impressive. Matt is on a five-event streak of top 10s at Bristol and has finished there in seven of the last eight as well. His average finish of 12.0 is fifth-best in the series at this track, and Kenseth has also led the fifth-most laps (852) of anyone in the series here.
4. Greg Biffle – It’s hard to go against a driver this hot, especially when the next stop is a track that he has found success at in the past. Biffle finished 31st here last fall, but before that he went on a streak of four straight top 10s at this track, with two finishes of 4th and two finishes of 8th between 2009 and 2011. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) The Biff has the fourth-best average finish at this track (11.8) despite never visiting victory lane. However, eleven of Biffle’s eighteen starts here have ended with top 10 finishes, and he has ended up outside of the top 20 just three times. The Roush-Fenway camp has been the best organization at Bristol over the last two years.
5. Jimmie Johnson – Chad Knaus will be on top of the pit box this weekend, and I fully expect this team to continue their “dig out of the hole” run this weekend. “Five Time” won this race in 2010 and he has finished 8th or better in five of his last six starts at this track. Johnson has made twenty starts at Bristol and over half of them have ended in top 10 finishes for him. Over the last two years, Jimmie has averaged the best driver rating of anyone in the series in Thunder Valley (119.6) and has led 499 laps. In the last six, Johnson has led at least 76 laps in every single event. I see no reason to not pick the #48 this weekend.
6. Carl Edwards – I still don’t like how this team is running despite the 5th-place finish posted by Cousin Carl last week in Sin City. He may be able to turn that around this weekend, though. Edwards started his Bristol career off with some struggles (33rd, 26th, and 24th-place finishes in his first three starts), but in the twelve races since then, Carl hasn’t finished worse than 16th, and seven of those twelve races ended with him in the top 10, including two victories (in the fall races of 2007 and 2008). Edwards’ average driver rating of 104.2 over the last two years at Bristol is fourth-best in the series.
7. Ryan Newman – His owner may have had a few speed bumps at this track over the last few years, but the same cannot be said for “The Rocketman”: he is the most recent pole winner at this track and hasn’t finished worse than 16th here since early 2008. Newman has never visited victory lane here, but he has finished inside the top 10 in 60% of his starts in Thunder Valley. His average driver rating of 96.8 if seventh-best in the series at this track over the last two seasons. Newman is a lot better than his average finish here (16.7).
8. Kevin Harvick – One of the most surprising things thus far in the 2012 season is how well Kevin Harvick has qualified. Hopefully that continues this weekend because it can be hard to pass at Bristol, although it’s not impossible. In fact, four of Harvick’s twelve top 10s at this track have came when he started the race outside of the top 20. He owns one victory here (which came back in 2005), and although Harvick has struggled here recently, I like how this team is running, and it’s not like he hasn’t been good at this track (seventh-best average finish–12.5–of anyone in the series). Only six of Kevin’s twenty-two starts in Thunder Valley have ended with him outside of the top 20, and twelve have ended with him inside the top 10.
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - In case you missed ESPN’s breaking news (click here) that was more important than Tony Stewart winning the race or Greg Biffle’s awesome start, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is off to the best start in his career. NASCAR’s most popular driver has the third-best average finish (11.7) in the series at Bristol and he has finished in the top 20 in twenty-one of his twenty-four starts at this short track. Junior hasn’t grabbed a top ten here since early 2010, but he has finished there in exactly half of his races in Thunder Valley. Junior ranks 7th in the amount of laps led (with 743) of all active drivers at Bristol. He was better when he drove for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., but Junior should still be a solid pick this weekend, continuing his “awesome” start.
10. Marcos Ambrose - Marcos has never led a lap at The Bullring, but I still consider him a good driver here, just like I do at most tracks when it can help to conserve your brakes. His first start at Bristol netted Marcos a top 10 finish, and he followed that up with a 3rd-place run in the fall race that year. He struggled in 2010, but Ambrose bounced back last season with finishes of 15th and 10th in the two Bristol events. In six starts, he has just one finish outside of the top 20 at this track.
11. Brad Keselowski – I’m just hoping that this team has the fuel issue figured out from last week. As I said before, Bad Brad is the most recent winner at this track, and he’s actually been pretty consistent here throughout his career. Keselowski has made four career starts in Thunder Valley and has finished inside the top 20 in all of them. He has completed all but one lap in those four races and has led a total of 115 laps. My sleeper pick for the week, by the way, is BK’s teammate, A.J. Allmendinger. Penske has been the third-best organization at Bristol over the last two years.
12. Jeff Gordon – I’m still waiting for a breakout performance from this team in 2012. However, I don’t think that’s going to happen this weekend. Jeff has five wins at Bristol, but the most recent of those came in 2002. Fact of the matter is, Gordon has just one top 10 finish in the last five events in Thunder Valley and has led more than 6 laps just once in all of the races here since 2006. Still, Gordon had a great car here last fall, leading 206 laps, so this weekend could be the great performance this team needs, although I wouldn’t bank on it. Gordon’s average finish of 11.5 at Bristol is second-best in the series behind Kyle Busch.
13. Denny Hamlin – Denny has really struggled at Bristol recently (three finishes of 19th or worse in the last four events) but that doesn’t make me look past the fact that half of his starts here have ended with the #11 in the top 10, including a streak of four straight finishes of 6th or better in 2008 and 2009. Denny finished 7th in the fall race here last year despite having just the 12th-best driver rating in that race. If he looks just decent (or worse) in practice this week, I’d stay away from Hamlin this week. But if he looks fast, I wouldn’t let his recent struggles here keep you from starting him on Sunday.
14. Martin Truex, Jr. - Did you know that over the last five Sprint Cup Series races (yes, I’m going back to last season) that Martin Truex, Jr. has the sixth-best average finish of anyone with 11.8? I expected more out of him last week in Las Vegas but, as I always say, you have to forget quickly in fantasy racing when someone disappoints. Truex will be entering Bristol this weekend to prove that his 2nd-place run here last fall wasn’t a fluke. Although I don’t see him repeating that performance, I’m still expecting a solid run out of the #56 this weekend. Martin hasn’t finished worse than 17th in the last four races at The Bullring and had led a total of 68 laps in the last two races here. His average finish of 20.7 here may scare you off but Truex has finished 99.9% of the laps ran here in the last three years (2,997 of 3,000).
15. Jamie McMurray – After last week’s solid run in Sin City, I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come from Jamie Mac and the #1 team. He’s had his fair share of struggles in Thunder Valley (eight finishes outside the top 20 in eighteen starts), but lately McMurray has found some success: in the four races here since joining Earnhardt-Ganassi, he has amassed three top 10s and a worst finish of 21st. Jamie has had a driver rating of over 100.0 in three of those four as well. It’s risky, but I like to think of Bristol as a place to take some risk. If he looks good in practice and likes his car again this week, I’d take a shot with McMurray.
Those To Avoid Entering The Food City 500:
Clint Bowyer – He owns three top 5s in twelve starts in Thunder Valley, but that doesn’t hide the fact that six of those starts have ended in finishes outside of the top 20 for Bowyer. Michael Waltrip Racing as whole is majorly hit-or-miss at Bristol (with most the races being “miss”) and like I’ve said before, I want consistently good races out of this team before I consider Clint at tracks other than the ones he’s good at. His career average finish here is 18.9.
Kasey Kahne – Kahne is a wrecking machine lately and I want nothing to do with that going into a track where you have to survive for 500 laps. His stats here of late have been good (three straight finishes of 11th or better) but he has just six top 10s in sixteen career starts at The Bullring and had led in only one race. Kahne has an average finish of 18.7 in his career at Bristol while completing just 86.3% of the laps.
Brian Vickers – He may be a good “start saver” pick in the Yahoo! game but I’m seeing no value anywhere else for this guy. Another season concluded in 2011 with Brian Vickers still not notching a top 10 at Bristol. Fourteen starts here, zero top 10s, and an average finish of 24.6. Michael Waltrip Racing has been just the eighth-best organization at this race track in the last two years.
March 7, 2012
This week, the drivers of the Sprint Cup Series will be in Sin City for the Kobalt Tools 400. You can gamble on slots in Las Vegas, yes, but I feel like races here are also a good time to do a little gambling in fantasy leagues. Unlike last week in Phoenix, no active driver really dominates at this track on a consistent basis, and there tends to be new faces up front each race (possibly because there’s only one event here each season). To prove my point: in the last three races here, there have been fifteen different drivers who have notched top 5s at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This track is your typical 1.5-mile tri-oval cookie cutter.
During The Last Race At Las Vegas…It was the Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards show here last March. Those two led 232 of the 267 laps ran (163 and 69, respectively) but it was Carl backflipping in the end. Smoke finished 2nd with Juan Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…This is the type of practice schedule that I prefer. There will be one practice session on Friday afternoon (3:00 pm) followed by qualifying at 6:30 pm that evening. On Saturday at noon, a second practice will be ran, and at 3:00 pm, Happy Hour will be held. All cars should be in race trim on Saturday. The race is set to start around 3:00 pm on Sunday. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Kobalt Tools 400:
1. Greg Biffle – You really can’t ignore the hot start that The Biff has gotten off to in 2012, and I wouldn’t expect him to cool off in Sin City this weekend. It seems like Biffle always runs well at Vegas, but sometimes he fails to get the finish he deserves (like last season when his pit crew ruined his great day). Well, good thing for Greg is that he pretty much has an entire new crew. Before that, he had three straight top 10s at Vegas and has finished there in five of his eight starts here. Biffle has had a driver rating of at least 103.6 in six of the last seven races here, which is real impressive to me. The #16 should be challenging for the win at the end of the 400 miles on Sunday, as long as he doesn’t run out of gas again.
2. Tony Stewart – Speaking of gas, I bet “Smoke” doesn’t make the same mistake he made in Phoenix again. Someone has to learn, I guess. Anyway, Vegas has been a good track for Stewart over his career, although he hit a bit of a rough patch from 2006 to 2009. However, after his 36th-place finish here in 1999 (Tony’s rookie year), Smoke six straight finishes of 12th or better, and four of those were top 5s. As I said before, Stewart led the most laps here last season, and in 2010 he led seven laps en route to a 7th-place finish. Over the last two years, Stewart has the third-best average finish (10.1) on the tri-oval tracks, and Stewart-Haas Racing has been the best at Vegas over that span.
3. Matt Kenseth – The Daytona 500 champion is a two-time winner at Las Vegas (in 2003 and 2004) and sat on the pole in last season’s event. He cut a tire down early (like lap 13 early) but battled back for an 11th-place finish in the end. Kenseth’s average finish in Sin City is 11.7 and he has led a total of 450 laps in twelve career starts, which is second-best in the series. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Matt has the best average finish on tri-oval tracks in the past two seasons (8.1) without a single DNF. Kenseth has just one finish out of the top 20 in his twelve career starts at Las Vegas, and I highly doubt he adds to that total this weekend.
4. Jimmie Johnson – Five Time isn’t consistently dominant at Las Vegas like he is at other tracks, but he still has the best average finish of anyone in the series here (10.6 in ten races). His car wasn’t great here last season when he finished 16th, but that was right around the time the #48 team was struggling on the cookie-cutter tracks, so I’m not really worried about that. Jimmie has four victories at Las Vegas (in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010) and he has led at least one lap in eight of his ten starts here. Chad Knaus may be gone this week starting his suspension, so that might bring Jimmie’s ranking down a little but, but I still see him as a top 10 driver at least on Sunday, with or without Knaus.
5. Kyle Busch – When you look at the tri-oval race statistics over the last two years, there’s really nothing there to show that Rowdy deserves this ranking. However, it looks like Gibbs is over their engine problems from a season ago, and Kyle is due for a good run in my book. He’s had some great cars at Las Vegas over the last four races (top 5 qualifying effort in all four), but the finishes haven’t really shown that (one lone top 10, a win in 2009 from the pole). With that being said, Busch had a great car here last season but blew an engine early, and he’s had only one race here in the last seven with a driver rating under 100.0. Last week was a quiet top 10 for Rowdy in the desert, but I expect this team to make more of a statement all weekend in Las Vegas and come away with a solid top 5.
6. Carl Edwards - I’m really starting to believe the whole “hangover” theory for drivers that lose the championship even though Cousin Carl hasn’t ran too terrible thus far in 2012. However, I think this week will be a big test for the #99 team to prove they still have it; this is Edwards’ bread and butter track type and he has two wins here in seven starts. Those two victories, though, are his only top 5s here in seven career starts, which is a bit surprising. Still, Carl averages an 11th-place finish in Sin City and should at least run top 10 come Sunday, along with the other big three at Roush-Fenway.
7. Kevin Harvick - Statistically, “Happy” Harvick has been great on the tri-oval tracks in the last two years, and he hasn’t been too shabby at Las Vegas, either. In the nineteen tri-oval cookie-cutter races in the last two years, Harvick has recorded eleven top 10s and has the fifth-best average finish of anyone in the series, with 11.2. Kevin’s never won in Sin City, but he did finish 2nd here in 2010, and he had another top 5 in 2008 (4th-place). If this little streak continues, maybe another top 5 is in the cards for Harvick on Sunday. Right now, though, I have him as just top 10.
8. Denny Hamlin - If you haven’t read much of my fantasy advice, then you don’t know that I hate going against the most recent winner. And this week is no exception. Denny looks like he got over his hangover of last season, and Darian Grubb is getting calls on Twitter as the best crew chief in the series. We’ll see about that, there’s still a lot of season to go. Anyway, Hamlin has the fifth-best average finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has just one finish outside of the top 20 in his six career starts here (and that was 22nd in 2010). Last year, Hamlin finished 7th at Las Vegas, and he has been the eighth-best driver on the tri-oval tracks in the last two years (with just three finishes outside of the top 20 in nineteen races). Got to pick the drivers that are hot.
9. Kasey Kahne - Yep, he burned me on most of my rosters last weekend as well. However, in fantasy racing, you have to be able to get over things quick, and Kahne should get a solid top 10 this weekend as long as he doesn’t nail the wall…on lap twenty-two…again. We all know how good Kasey is on the cookie-cutter tracks, and the Hendrick Chevys have found success here in the past with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon collecting six wins combined. In Kahne’s eight career starts here, he owns an average finish of 14.9 and is on a streak of four straight finishes of 14th or better. His two bad finishes here (38th in 2005 and 35th in 2007) were due to accidents. Real surprising…
10. Jeff Gordon - Jeff has won twice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has five top 5 finishes in the seven races at Las Vegas since 2005. So why is he ranked this low? Because Gordon hasn’t been too great on the tri-oval tracks in the last two years. In those nineteen races, Jeff has just eight top 10s and an average finish of 16.7. I have no doubt that the #24 Chevy can be top 5 material on Sunday, but I’m being conservative right now with this ranking. His six top 5s in Sin City is tied with the next driver in this ranking for best in the series.
11. Mark Martin - I’m a firm believer in picking people often when they start off the season hot (like Scott Speed a few years ago, for example) and Mark Martin is your best bet this weekend. He hasn’t been too bad at Las Vegas in his career (13.1 average finish and one win in fourteen starts) and it helps that his Michael Waltrip Racing equipment was strong here a season ago, with Martin Truex, Jr. finishing 6th and David Reutimann finishing 13th. Mark finished 4th here in 2010 and has four straight top 10 qualifying efforts in Sin City. I see it as very obtainable for Martin to go 3-for-3 in top 10s for this season.
12. Marcos Ambrose – Man, what a heart breaker for this guy last weekend in the desert. Luckily, the series is going to a track that Marcos has found some success at in the past, especially his 4th-place run here last season. Ambrose has only made three starts at Las Vegas, but he hasn’t finished outside of the top 20 and has an average finish of 12.7. For all those looking to bank in on qualifying bonus points, remember that Marcos started on the outside pole here last season. Surprisingly enough (to some), Ambrose really has been consistent on these tri-ovals over the past two years, with an average finish of 16.1 and fourteen top 20s in nineteen starts. I’ll pencil the Tasmanian in around the teens for Sunday, but he may bump up if his Ford looks sporty in practice.
13. Joey Logano – And Joey’s make-it-or-break-it season continues with another “make it” run in Phoenix… A good thing for Logano is that he has been pretty good in Las Vegas, at least qualifying wise. In the last two events here, Sliced Bread has started both of them in 6th place, and in the 2010 event he finished there as well (a career-best in his three starts here). He ended up in 23rd in the event last season, but I’m overlooking that stat because of how miserable the #20 team’s 2011 was. Logano finished 13th in his other start here after starting 23rd. I’m expecting a result similar to that this Sunday.
14. Jeff Burton – As Ryan from ifantasyrace.com said, “2012 is Jeff Burton’s come back year and Las Vegas is a good track for his renaissance to continue (10.7 career average finish).” Jeff’s average finish here is second-best in the series and he has just two finishes outside of the top 20 in fourteen starts at this track. He won here in 1999 and 2000 and Burton had five-straight top 15s at Vegas before his 21st-place showing here last season. I’m not expecting a great run out of this team on Sunday, but a mid-teens finish wouldn’t surprise me one bit, and if they get a little luck maybe a top 10.
15. Clint Bowyer - I’m giving Clint the nod over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in this spot right now simply because I think Bowyer is a better cookie-cutter racer. In four of his six starts at Las Vegas, Bowyer has finished in the top 15 (including each of the last three events here) and he finished 2nd in the 2009 race. His driver ratings worry me a bit, though, as Bowyer’s best has been 89.4, which came in the 2010 race where he ended up 8th after starting 13th. Like I said before, I think the MWR Toyotas will be good in Sin City this weekend, but if Clint doesn’t blow me away in practice, I may just leave him off of my rosters this weekend.
Those To Avoid Entering The Kobalt Tools 400:
Juan Montoya – I’m not convinced with JPM’s 3rd-place run in this race last season. Before that, Montoya’s best finish was 19th in his first four starts and he only finished on the lead lap in one of those events. Statistically, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has been the worst team at Las Vegas over the last two seasons. Obviously, I’d stay away from Montoya’s teammate, Jamie McMurray, as well.
David Reutimann – If Reutty was in the same #10 car that Danica Patrick drives, I might have given him a chance this weekend, but I’m just not convinced that this team has the equipment to make it through the race (remember last week in Phoenix?). Even at the tri-oval tracks in 2010, Reutimann wasn’t very great and he was in a lot better equipment. David finished 4th here in 2009 and ended up 13th in the last two events at Vegas, but I’d be surprised to see this team crack the top 25 on Sunday.
A.J. Allmendinger – Penske Racing has struggled to get finishes here over the last few years–although Kurt Busch did qualify well here in this Double Deuce–and when you couple that with the fact that The Dinger struggles at Vegas as well, I’d suggest leaving him off your rosters this week. Last year, Allmendinger looked promising with a 7th-place start, and he also posted a career-best finish at this track. With that being said, he ended up 19th in that race, and I just don’t see him improving on that this weekend.
March 2, 2012
Downloadable 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Schedule
Click here to download your 2012 TV broadcast schedule with race times for the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Sorry this is a little late. It’s been a crazy start to 2012 for us at On Pit Row. If you value things like the printable schedules, please click the Like Button below. We’ll let you know as these things come out. Thanks.