July 25, 2012
Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the off-weekend because we’ll have a race every week for the next four months up until the end of the 2012 NASCAR season. We’re at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and this can be a tricky place to pick at for some because the series only visits the track once per season. Indy is a 2.5-mile flat track and it can be very difficult to pass here. My rankings after qualifying will be a lot more accurate, so I urge you to check for them over at www.ifantasyrace.com on Saturday afternoon.
During The Last Race At Indianapolis…It turned into a fuel mileage race in the end and it was Paul Menard who kissed the bricks and grabbed his first career Sprint Cup Series win. Jeff Gordon, who had the best driver rating in the race (136.0), followed Menard to the line with Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth rounding out the top 5. Kasey Kahne started on the outside pole that day and led a race-high 48 laps but ended up finishing 18th after spinning earlier.
Practice Schedule…Everything is happening in two days this weekend, which is a first (I believe) in a while. On Saturday, the drivers will hit the track bright and early (8:30 am) for practice, followed by Happy Hour at 10:30 am. The starting lineup will then be set in the afternoon and be televised at 2:00 pm on ESPN. This week’s race will start around 1:15 pm on Sunday afternoon, and this is the point in the season where ESPN officially takes over so you may want to get the radio ready.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard:
1. Kasey Kahne – If I could see one team going on a run right now and peaking too soon, it would be the #5 team and Kasey Kahne. I’m going out on a limb here putting him at #1, but every single week this car is super fast and capable of winning. And it did, as you probably remember, in Loudon two weeks ago. Kahne’s statistics here at Indianapolis aren’t great (15.9 average finish) but he qualifies well here (7.9 average start) and might have the most momentum of anyone in the garage right now. He had one of the best cars here last season while running for Red Bull but spun late and took himself out of contention (finishing 18th). Kahne finished 4th and 2nd in his first two career starts at this track and it would honestly surprise me if he wasn’t inside the top 5 at the checkered flag on Sunday. Right now, though, I’m saying that Kasey Kahne will kiss the bricks for the first time in his career.
2. Tony Stewart – Steve Addington was able to do decent with Kurt Busch at Indianapolis, so I don’t think that should affect Smoke too much this weekend. This is Stewart’s home track and he has won twice here, most recently in 2007. He has a slight slip-up in 2008 (finishing 23rd) but even with that, Stewart has finished 8th or better in seven of the last eight Brickyard 400s. Statistically, this is his second-best track on the circuit, right behind Watkins Glen. Tony Stewart should be a favorite pick this weekend among many people, and for good reason. That #14 Chevrolet should challenge on Sunday.
3. Jimmie Johnson – Do I really have to go into much detail here? Jimmie Johnson has won three of the last six Brickyard 400s and has started inside the top 3 in three of the last four. This team is solid week in and week out and has just one finish worse than 7th in Sprint Cup action since May (seriously). If you look at Pocono earlier this year, which some people are now comparing to IMS with the re-pave, the #48 finished 4th. You can’t go wrong with picking Johnson this week, but then again when can you? The driver (and team) are just that good.
4. Greg Biffle – I really like that The Biff was able to grab a top 10 at Loudon a couple weeks ago, because I felt like this team was starting to slow down a bit. Indianapolis has been a kind track to Biffle, though–especially recently–and the #16 should be a top 5 car heading into the practices on Saturday morning. In the last four events at this track, Biffle has finished 8th, 4th, 3rd, and 7th and has had an average driver rating of 104.5. He also led 38 laps in the 2010 event. This team has really brought it during qualifying all season and that should pay dividends this weekend.
5. Jeff Gordon – The #24 is strong week in and week out now and Gordon hasn’t finished worse than 6th in the last four “normal” Sprint Cup races (I don’t count Daytona). His stats at his home track are ridiculous, too, so right now I’m considering Gordon a lock for a top 5. Not only has he won on four separate occasions at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but Jeff has finished inside the top 10 in 77.8% of his starts here and inside the top 5 in 55.6% of them. His 476 laps led are by far the most in the series and Gordon has just two finishes worse than 9th over the last eleven years at this track. As I said before, he finished 2nd in this race last year, and it wasn’t because of fuel mileage.
6. Matt Kenseth – The #17 still hasn’t finished worse than 13th since back at Fontana back in March (seriously), and that shouldn’t change this weekend. Even at his bad tracks Kenseth is running well this year, and that’s a good thing because he actually runs pretty decent here at Indianapolis. In twelve career starts here, Matt has an average finish of 14.3 and has racked up five top 5s–the most recent coming last year, when Kenseth finished 5th. That makes it six finishes of 12th or better in the last seven Indianapolis races for the 2003 champ. If you believe what some people say and think Pocono compares to Indianapolis with the repave, remember that the #17 finished 7th earlier this year at The Tricky Triangle. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kenseth with be fast again on Sunday. That statement is almost becoming too repetitive this season.
7. Denny Hamlin – I think this driver and team will be coming out of the gates hot from last week and will be looking for vengeance. Hamlin has been hit-or-miss over the past two months, though, so make sure the #11 is fast in practice. When I say hit-or-miss, I’m talking about the five top 5 finishes compared to the four finishes of 18th or worse. One thing I like about Hamlin this week is his success at Pocono, which some people are now comparing to Indianapolis. Another thing I like is that he should fly under the radar this weekend: in six starts here at the Brickyard, Denny has an average finish of 18.5, which will scare people away. Don’t forget, though, that Hamlin finished 3rd here in 2008 and grabbed a top 10 in his first start back in 2006. Oh, and don’t forget that he now has Darian Grubb on the pit box, who never finished worse than 6th with Tony Stewart at this track. I’m warning you now: don’t brush off the #11 right off the bat this week.
8. Kevin Harvick – Indianapolis has been a very good track for Kevin Harvick, and it is actually his second-best on the circuit (statistics-wise), but this team just seems to be off a little bit every week to me. There’s no doubt in my mind that the #29 will be in the running for a solid top 10 on Sunday, but I don’t see them getting much more than that. In eleven career starts here, Harvick owns an average finish of 10.0 and even won the race from the pole here back in 2003. What I really like is that in nine of his eleven starts here, “Happy” has ended up 11th or better. When you take out his 37th-place finish here back in 2008, Kevin’s average finish jumps to 7.3. Statistically, no one has been better on the flat tracks since the beginning of the 2010 season than Kevin Harvick.
9. Mark Martin – As I’m typing this, the weather forecast for Sunday is calling for a high of around 90 degrees, and that means one thing: more pressure on those engines. This race is 500 miles long and Mark Martin has a tendency to over-do it in practice. I don’t think that it is any coincidence that Martin has had three engine failures in his last seven races. That’s just something to think about. Anyway, barring any mechanical failures, the #55 will no doubt be a good pick this weekend. Although he has never won here at the Brickyard, Martin owns an average finish of 12.9 and has scored top 10 finishes in eleven of his eighteen starts. What’s even better is that he hasn’t finished worse than 11th at this track since 2004. Qualifying will be very important this weekend and Martin has been a qualifying machine all year. He finished 2nd at Pocono earlier this year, a track some compare to Indianapolis.
10. Brad Keselowski – Typically I’m reminding people not to look too much into BK’s past at a certain track, but he hasn’t fared too bad at Indianapolis. In two starts here, Keselowski has finished 19th and 9th, and he even led eleven laps in last year’s event. This team is proving many people–myself included–that their Chase birth last year was no fluke, and you have to consider the Blue Deuce a threat pretty much every week. Over the last eight Sprint Cup races, Keselowski has just one finish worse than 13th, and he’s on a three-race streak of top 10s with that 5th-place finish in Loudon a couple weeks ago. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on this weekend.
11. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – His record here is pretty tough to look at, but this is the new and improved Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and like Brad Keselowski it’d hard to look at his past and go completely off of it. Junior has made twelve career starts at this historic race track and has come away with only two top 10s and an average finish of 21.7. What’s even more scary is that he has completed only 91.8% of the laps ran. Still, how can you go against this team? You really can’t. Earnhardt finished 4th last week at Loudon–his fifth finish of 6th or better in the last eight races–and ended up 8th at Pocono earlier this year, which some people compare to Indy. It’s hard to recommend a guy at one of his worst tracks on the circuit but Earnhardt is an exception to that rule right now.
12. Clint Bowyer – This is actually Clint Bowyer’s fifth-best track on the circuit, and he also owns the fifth-best average finish of everyone in the series at Indianapolis. In six career starts here, Bowyer has gathered two 4th-place finishes and has yet to finish outside of the top 20. When you look at the last two flat track races–New Hampshire and Pocono–the #15 ended up 3rd and 6th. Not too bad. It also doesn’t hurt that Bowyer has five single-digit finishes in the last seven Sprint Cup races. This team has been putting up solid qualifying efforts lately (that’s important here) and having Mark Martin as a teammate to learn from can only help Bowyer. Believe it or not, Clint is one of only seven drivers this year with at least ten top 10s. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get number eleven here on Sunday.
13. Joey Logano – Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a really unique track, and not very similar to any of the others that the Sprint Cup Series visits. However, it is a flat track, and when you look at the other flat track–according to driveraverages.com–races this season (Phoenix, Pocono, New Hampshire), Joey has finished 10th, 1st, and 14th. At Indianapolis specifically, he has an average finish of 15.3 in three career starts and his best finish has been 9th (2010). What I really like is how this team has been running over the past month and a half: Logano has finished 14th or better in five of the last seven Sprint Cup Series races.
14. Carl Edwards – Well in case you haven’t been around for the last week, Cousin Carl has a new crew chief because Bob Osbourne stepped down. Click here to read who the new guy is. Even with the change, though, I’m not expecting much out of the #99 this weekend. This just isn’t their year, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to turn around at a track like Indianapolis. Edwards actually has the fourth-best average finish in the series here (11.0) and has grabbed a top 10 in each of the “even” years that he’s raced here in the Cup series–2006, 2008, and 2010. Will that continue on Sunday? I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s possible I guess. Carl’s average starting position at Indy over seven races has been 24.9.
15. Jamie McMurray – No one has been better (average finish-wise) over the past two season at Indy than Jamie Mac. He won the race in 2010 and finished 4th last season. McMurray stumbled a bit here in 2009, finishing 21st, but in 2008 he ended up 6th with a driver rating of 102.1. He’s going to be a sleeper pick for many people on Sunday, and for good reason. But one thing that discourages me from picking the #1 this week is how terrible they have been at qualifying this season. McMurray’s average starting position in 2012 thus far is 21.7, and as you know qualifying will be very important this weekend. If Jamie starts in the top 10 on Sunday, I’d give him the green light; in his three starts inside the top 10 at this track, McMurray has finished 7th, 6th, and 1st.
Note: If Juan Montoya can put a whole race together, he could challenge for the win this weekend. He’s generally real fast here but something happens in the end (surprising, right?). Also, Trevor Bayne is scheduled to race this weekend in the #21 Wood Brothers’ Ford.
Those To Avoid Entering The Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard:
Marcos Ambrose – This one is pretty easy. In four career starts here, the Tasmanian’s best finish has been 21st and he hasn’t had a driver rating over 67.7. Don’t expect Ambrose to learn how to run this place overnight. The #9 team may be running pretty well here as of late but that doesn’t even make me want to consider Marcos a sleeper this week. I’ll be surprised if he is in the top 10 at all during the race on Sunday.
Ryan Newman - I’m still surprised that not many people are mentioning just how mediocre this team has been all season long. Newman will finish in the teens on Sunday but that’s not what I want out of my fantasy racers. He sports an impressive 7.6 average start at Indianapolis but when you compare that to Ryan’s 20.2 average finish, it definitely makes you think again. He hasn’t had a top 10 at this track since 2002, although Newman has finished between 12th and 17th in each of the last four races here. I’d expect something similar out of the #39 on Sunday.
Martin Truex, Jr. - Okay, Martin, time to prove the racing world wrong. This team has impressed all season, and if Truex can have a good run here at Indianapolis on Sunday, he may finally show me that he is a legitimate Sprint Cup Series driver. In seven career starts at this track, Martin has an average finish of 23.4 and has zero top 10s. Another thing that I don’t like is that his best driver rating during a race here has been just 83.2. I’d be surprised if the #56 team finished in the top 10 on Sunday, but then again they have been surprising me week in and week out all year.
July 10, 2012
We’re done with the Saturday night races for a while and this Sunday we will have some good old fashioned short track action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Qualifying at this track is super important, but the last few races have come down to fuel mileage, so looking at the results you may not notice that. Seeing as we haven’t had many short track races this season, I’ll be going off of past performance at Loudon when making my picks this weekend as well as looking back at Bristol and Martinsville a little bit. This is not the weekend to take sleeper picks and hope for the best. There are favorites and guys that always run well here, and there’s no reason to go against them.
During The Last Race At Loudon…Tony Stewart was on the right side of a fuel mileage gamble this time as Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel in the closing laps and Smoke was able to grab his third career win at new Hampshire Motor Speedway. Brad Keselowski finished 2nd behind the #14 followed by Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, and Brian Vickers, who rounded out the top 5. Gordon led the most laps that day (78 out of the 300).
Practice Schedule…Unfortunately the Yahoo! Auto Racing players don’t get to see practice before setting their rosters this weekend. On Friday at noon, there will be the first practice session of the weekend followed by qualifying on 3:30 pm. Then, on Saturday, there will be two practices. The first will start at 9:00 am and Happy Hour will start at 11:00 am.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The LENOX Industrial Tools 301:
1. Tony Stewart – Smoke had a bit of a stumble in Kentucky but with his win at Daytona last weekend, he now has finished 3rd or better in four of the last five Sprint Cup Series races. You’re warned every year that this is the time to pick the #14, so hopefully you aren’t ignoring that. At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Stewart is always a very good fantasy driver whether he has momentum or not. In twenty-six career starts here, he owns an average finish of 11.5 and has collected three victories, fourteen top 5s, and sixteen top 10s. What’s most impressive is that Tony has led 1,180 laps (averages out to about 45 per race) in his career at Loudon, which is second only to Jeff Gordon’s 1,304 in eight more starts. Stewart finished 2nd in this race last season and, as I said before, followed that up with a win in the fall during the Chase. He hasn’t had a driver rating below 90.0 at this track since 2006, and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday. The #14 should be a contender for the win even if the race comes down to fuel mileage. If he didn’t run out of gas in the fall race in 2010 here, Stewart would be on a four-race streak of finishes 2nd or better at this track. Barring a major mechanical failure or something, Stewart should be considered a lock for a top 10, if not a top 5, on Sunday.
2. Jimmie Johnson – Five Time doesn’t lead a whole bunch of laps at Loudon (just 317 in twenty career starts) but he gets the finishes, and that’s a good thing for fantasy racers. He sports an average finish of 10.1 at this track (second-best in the series) and has visited victory lane three separate times (most recently in 2010). This team has struggled a bit in the last three events here (finishes of 25th, 5th, and 18th), but before that Johnson put together a string of seven straight finishes of 9th or better at this track. He hasn’t had a driver rating above 100.0 in the last three races here–which is a little concerning–but with the way this team has been running over the last month or two, it’s real hard to go against them. Jimmie finished 9th at Bristol earlier this year and then 12th at Martinsville, although he would have probably finished 2nd in the latter if that late wreck didn’t happen.
3. Jeff Gordon – New Hampshire will be one of (if not the) best opportunities for Gordon to grab a win to get into the Chase this year. What I’m hoping for (because he will be on my Yahoo! roster) is that what happened back in Martinsville will happen this Sunday, except that Gordon will actually win. Jeff has made thirty-four career starts at Loudon and has finished inside the top 5 in nearly half of them (fifteen), including three victories, the most recent coming in 1998. Over the last two years (four races), only one driver has an average driver rating better than Gordon, and that is Tony Stewart. The #24 finished 4th here last fall and the last time that Gordon finished worse than 15th at Loudon was back in 2005. He has also had a triple-digit driver rating in eight of the last eleven events here. Gordon had three straight finishes of 6th or better before Daytona and I expect him to finish there on Sunday as well.
4. Denny Hamlin – Despite only having one career victory here, Denny Hamlin does have the best average finish at Loudon of anyone in the series with 9.0. In his twelve career starts here, he has been able to grab five top 5s and has just one finish outside of the top 20. That one finish came last fall, when Hamlin ended up 29th after starting 28th. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again on Sunday, though. Before that, Denny finished 3rd and 2nd in the two previous events at New Hampshire, and he ended up 2nd in the 2009 September race at this rack as well. Hamlin finished 6th in Martinsville earlier this year and won the second race of the season at Phoenix, which some people compare to New Hampshire a bit. What’s a little concerning is his back injury, but the last time that Hamlin was injured it only made him better it seemed like.
5. Ryan Newman – Even though he (got lucky) won the race back at Martinsville, Newman has been disappointing for fantasy owners all season, so take this ranking with a huge grain of salt. This is where Newman should be, but there’s no guarantee. If this team looks a little off in practice, expect The Rocketman to fall in my final rankings and I would definitely consider picking someone else. He’s going to qualify up front, which is very important here, but that doesn’t mean he’ll finish there. Now that the doom and gloom part of this is over, let’s look at the good stuff with Newman. In twenty career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, The Rocketman has notched three victories and has finished inside the top 10 in 65% of them with an average finish of 13th. He won both poles here last season and led a total of 181 laps in the two races. Newman ended up 25th in the fall race, but remember that came down to fuel mileage in the end. Still, he has finishes inside the top 10 in four of the last five races, and won this race a year ago. He could go either way this week, but Newman will still be on my Yahoo! roster this weekend.
6. Clint Bowyer – The Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas have been really good on the short tracks thus far in 2012, and that makes me like Clint Bowyer even more this week. As I said earlier, Clint was in the lead in the final laps of the last race here at Loudon in 2011, but he ran out of gas and ended up finishing 26th. Yes, pretty disappointing, I know, especially if you had him on your fantasy roster that race (like I did). Still, Bowyer has led more laps at this track (229) than anyone over the past two seasons, and he does have two wins here. And those victories were absolute dominating performances. During the first, in 2007, Clint led 222 of the 300 laps and had a perfect driver rating of 150.0. In the second, which came in 2010, he led 177 of the 300 laps and had a near-perfect driver rating of 149.4. There’s no doubt that Bowyer knows how to get around this track, and like I said before, the MWR cars have been top-notch on the short tracks in 2012. Clint finished 4th at Bristol and 10th at Martinsville.
7. Kasey Kahne – Kahne will be one of the riskier picks this weekend, just like he has been all season. His average finish of 17.8 in sixteen career starts at this track is nothing to get excited about, but let’s look a little deeper into the races quick. Over the last two years (four events), Kahne has just one top 10 finish. However, in one of those outside the top 10 (June 2010, where Kahne finished 36th), he lost an engine after starting on the outside pole and leading 110 laps. Kahne also started 2nd in the most recent race here and led 43 laps but only finished 15th. What is promising is that Kasey has a driver rating of at least 100.0 in four of the last six New Hampshire races. There is no doubt that the #5 Chevrolet will be fast this weekend, but it will all come down to whether or not Kasey and this team can put a whole race together and bring the finish home. Only four drivers have a better average driver rating than Kahne at Loudon over the last years. He could easily finish inside the top 5 or outside the top 20, you really have no idea with KK right now.
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Despite his struggles over the last few years, Junior has actually been pretty good at New Hampshire. In the last four races here, Earnhardt has the fifth-best average finish (11.0) and is one of only four drivers to finish inside the top 20 in all four events. He has been a pleasant surprise at nearly every race track this season, so don’t let the #88 sneak up on you this weekend. Junior has never won at Loudon, but has recorded ten top 10 finishes in twenty-five career starts and owns an average finish of 16.7. If he qualifies near the front on Friday, I would have a lot more confidence in picking the #88 on Sunday. Even if he doesn’ t, though, I still consider Junior to have a solid chance a top 10 finish this weekend. Big surprise, huh? Dale finished 15th at Bristol and 3rd at Martinsville.
9. Matt Kenseth – Of all the organizations in the Sprint Cup Series, Roush-Fenway Racing has just the fifth-best average finish at Loudon over the last two years. In short, you may want to lay off of the Roushkateers this weekend. Keep in mind that they generally run better here in the fall race during the Chase for whatever reason, especially if you are in an allocation league. However, it’s extremely difficult to go against Kenseth at any track this season because this team has been so strong week in and week out. I haven’t really noticed, but when I looked at this chart, it showed me exactly how consistent this team has been. Right now, you have to consider Kenseth the runaway favorite for the 2012 championship (wouldn’t that be a nice going away present?). At Loudon, Matt The Brat has been nothing too special, but he does top 10 finishes in half of his twenty-four starts here and boasts a decent average finish of 14th. What I don’t like is what he has done at New Hampshire recently: only one finish better than 17th in the last eight races. The good news? That one finish was in the fall race last season, where Kenseth came home in 6th. He’s not a lock for a top 10 by any means, but right now I don’t think Kenseth will be too bad of a pick on Sunday.
10. Greg Biffle – The Biff is pretty hit-or-miss here so make sure he looks good in practice (and starts up front) before picking him on Sunday. What’s good, though, is Biffle has finished 18th or better in each of the last seven races at Loudon, including his 3rd-place finish in the fall race last year (as I said earlier). He won here in 2008 and has averaged a finish of 16.6 in his nineteen career starts at this track. I’m expecting Biffle to improve upon that average on Sunday, though, even if it is just a little bit. He finished 13th at both Bristol and Martinsville earlier this season. In an allocation league like Yahoo!, I would stay away from the #16 this weekend because he is much too valuable at the other, larger race tracks.
11. Kevin Harvick – Well DeLana had her baby so we won’t have to worry about Harvick getting out of the car mid-race this weekend. I would think that would be a little bit of a distraction for Kevin this weekend, though, so you may want to shy away from him for the time being. He has also been pretty disappointing on the short tracks thus far in 2012 (yes, I still remember his monstrous letdown in Martinsville). Harvick isn’t too bad at Loudon, though. In twenty-two career starts here, he has compiled an average finish of 14.1 and has one victory (in 2006). He finished 12th in the most recent event here and got top 5s in both races at New Hampshire during the 2010 campaign. A stat that I like is that Harvick has finished inside the top 20 in sixteen of his twenty-two starts. However, with him being such a “top” driver in most leagues, I’m not sure I would take him on Sunday. I think there are better choices going into the weekend, but we’ll have to see how the #29 looks in practice before I make my final decision.
12. Joey Logano – I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but ever since the rumors that Logano could be out of a job next season have heated up, this team has really rose to the occasion. I still think Joey is spending too much time in the Nationwide Series, but that argument is for a different time. At Loudon, Sliced Bread does have one career win (back in 2009), but that was a rain-shortened event. Still, you have to put yourself in the position to win races like that, and I like my fantasy picks to have the guts to take a risk like that. What’s interesting when you look at Joey’s Loudon stats is that he has been sort of “on-off” his entire career here. In the three July races that he has ran, Logano has finished 1st, 9th, and 4th. In the four September starts, he has finished 32nd, 21st, 35th, and 14th. If you are superstitious like that, go ahead and take the #20 this weekend. He shouldn’t be a bad pick by any means.
13. Brad Keselowski – BK is going to be one of those guys this weekend that could go either way once we see them on the track. He’s either going to look good and go up in my rankings on Saturday, and the exact opposite. Keselowski has made five career starts at this 1.0-mile race track and owns an average finish of 17.4. He grabbed a top 10 in his first career start here back in 2009, and, as I said before, finished runner-up to Tony Stewart in the fall race last season. Brad’s driver rating in that race was just 93.8, though, so it wasn’t just a good car that got him up there. Still, Keselowski knows how to get around this track (he won the pole for the fall 2010 race) and he has been getting better and better every year since coming to the Sprint Cup series full time. Because of that, you can’t really look at his history at a certain racetrack and use that to predict how he will race. Once we see the cars on the track, however, we should find out whether the Blue Deuce will be any good on Sunday.
14. Martin Truex, Jr. – As I said before, Michael Waltrip Racing has been great on the short tracks in 2012, and that is part of the reason that I have Truex ranked this weekend. Believe it or not, this is actually his fifth-best track on the circuit. In twelve career starts here, Martin owns an average finish of 15.1 and has compiled five top 10s–the most recent coming in this race last season. Truex followed that solid performance with a 16th-place effort in the 2011 fall race, and even led three laps that day. When you look at the short tracks this season, the #56 has been a valuable pick: Truex finished 3rd at Bristol and followed that up with a 5th-place at Martinsville. Keep an eye on him in practice.
15. Jeff Burton – He’s not going to go out there and challenge for the win on Sunday but Jeff Burton could be a very valuable asset in fantasy racing this weekend at Loudon. He has raced here thirty-four times and he just gets how to race the track–twenty-nine of those events have ended with Burton in the top 20. He’s coming off of his best finish of the season last weekend in Daytona (2nd) and I could seriously see him challenging for a top 10 on Sunday when the checkered flag flies. In the last five races here, Burton hasn’t finished worse than 16th and has completed every single lap (1,502 in total). His career average finish here is 13.6 and Jeff has visited victory lane four separate times at this track, the most recent coming in 2000. He would be an excellent “start saver” pick this weekend in the Yahoo! Auto Racing game.
Extra Note: Brian Vickers will be in the #55 Toyota this weekend and Sam Hornish, Jr. will race the #22 Dodge in place of A.J. Allmendinger, who is suspended.
Those To Avoid Entering The LENOX Industrial Tools 301:
Marcos Ambrose – At Loudon, I like to pick drivers that can conserve their brakes, and Ambrose is one of the best at it. For some reason, though, he hasn’t found much success at this 1-mile race track. In six career starts here, Marcos has averaged a finish right around 20th and has never had a driver rating over 74.9. He ended up 9th in this race last season but when you look at his Yahoo! chart from that race, you can tell the #9 wasn’t a top ten car.
Paul Menard - Just stay away. It’s pretty pathetic when your best finish in ten career starts at a track has been 20th, and that is the case with Paul Menard. He tends to qualify well here, but the finishes just don’t show up. In the last two years, Menard has started 14th or better in all four races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Qualifying is important at this track but so is being able to race well. Paul has just one lead-lap finish in the last six events at this track.
Kyle Busch - This is Rowdy Busch so it’s hard to say not to pick him, but I just think that there are too many other (better) options this week. Kyle does have one win here (back in 2006), but in fourteen career starts at Loudon he has more finishes outside of the top 10 than he does inside. That’s something that I do not like to see. Not to mention that this team has been under-performing for the last month-and-a-half now. If he starts on the pole and looks the fastest in practice, I may change my mind.
July 3, 2012
Well, believe it or not, after the race on Saturday night we will officially be halfway through the 2012 NASCAR season. This Saturday also marks the first “double” stop of the year, seeing as the Cup series raced here back in February for the Daytona 500. The events at restrictor plate race tracks are really almost impossible to predict, and really I find it a bit of a waste of time putting a whole bunch of time/effort in your fantasy rosters on weeks like this. That being said, it’s a good thing to pay attention to how drivers are talking about their car this week. I also find the events at Daytona and Talladega an excellent time to pick drivers you normally wouldn’t (especially in allocation leagues). Practice speeds mean nothing this week, and neither does qualifying. The driver that wins the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night will do so because they were at the right place at the right time (along with good horsepower underneath the hood).
During The Last Race At Daytona…Well after a rain delay and Juan Montoya nearly burning the place down, the 2012 Daytona 500 champion was finally crowned: Matt Kenseth. He led 50 of the 202 laps that night and was followed to the line by fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who passed Greg Biffle right before crossing the line. Denny Hamlin, who led the most laps that night (57), finished 4th, and Jeff Burton rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…Like I said before, practice means absolutely nothing this week. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing and want to base their picks on it, though, we do get to see the cars on track before locking down our rosters. There will be two practices on Thursday (at 4:00 pm and 6:30 pm) and then Yahoo! rosters are due early Friday morning. At 4:00 pm on Friday, qualifying will be held and then the Coke Zero 400 is set to start around 7:15 pm on Saturday evening. Maybe TNT will step up their game this weekend (I wouldn’t hold your breath) with a few races under their belt because so far, in my opinion, their coverage has been downright terrible.
My Top Five For The Coke Zero 400:
1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Yes, I know this pick is cliché, but my reasoning goes farther than just “he’s good this year and he’s good on the plate tracks.” If you read my 2012 Daytona 500 Preview earlier this year, you know about Junior’s streak he has going on at this track. Let me refresh your memory: last season (odd year), Junior finished 24th and 19th in points-paying races at Daytona; in 2010, he finished 2nd and 4th; in 2009, 27th and 39th; in 2008, 9th and 8th; in 2007, 32nd and 36th. As you know, Earnhardt brought the #88 home 2nd in the season-opening race this year. He also finished 9th at Talladega in May. I think he’s too valuable at other tracks this season to use Junior in an allocation league, but he should be a great pick so I’ll let you make that decision.
2. Jeff Gordon - It’s really crunch-time for this team. If they want any chance at making the Chase this year, Gordon is going to have to put the #24 in victory lane here soon. One thing that I like drivers to have going into restrictor plate tracks is momentum, and with his 5th-place finish at Kentucky last weekend, Gordon has now finished 6th or better in each of the last three Sprint Cup Series races. He started on the pole at Talladega earlier this season but finished 33rd. Still, Jeff leads all active drivers with six career wins at Daytona and has finished 6th and 3rd in the last two July races here. It’s nowhere near a guaranteed pick, but I think Gordon has a great shot to get a win on Saturday night.
3. Matt Kenseth – Not only did Kenseth win here back in February, but he followed that up with a solid 3rd-place effort at Talladega in May. He also led 73 laps that day. One thing that I have noticed over the years is that if a driver is having a good year on the restrictor plate tracks, for some reason it generally stays like that for the entire season and all four stops at Daytona and Talladega. Kenseth finished 2nd in this race last season and, believe it or not owns six top 10s in the last eight points-paying races at Daytona. The other two races ended with Matt in 15th and 34th. While we’re all waiting for him to announce where he will drive in 2013, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Matt Kenseth in victory lane once again at Daytona on Saturday night. Remember that he won his Duel race here back in February as well.
4. Greg Biffle – As I said before, when a driver is doing good on the restrictor plate tracks, it’s hard to go against them. Once again, case in point: Greg Biffle. He finished 3rd in the season-opening Daytona 500 and followed that up with a 5th-place finish at Talladega in May. Overall, The Biff hasn’t been great at this track throughout his career, but he does have a victory here (back in the July race in 2003). I will warn you, though: Greg has a tendency to do better in the Daytona 500 than in the July race here. Over the last five years, his average finish in The Great American Race has been 14.2 while his July average finish has been 24.8. In allocation leagues specifically, I wouldn’t use Biffle this week because he is too valuable on the intermediate tracks.
5. Denny Hamlin – Denny led the most laps in the Daytona 500 this season and when you look at his stats here, it’s obvious that he knows how to get to the front: in each of the last six races at Daytona, Hamlin has led led at least one lap, with a total of 136 over the two-and-a-half years. Remember, if you’re out front, it’s highly unlikely that you will be caught up in a wreck (not saying that we’ll see many on Saturday, because I honestly don’t think we will). He has finished inside the top 5 in four of the last seven Sprint Cup races and I think Hamlin will be a major player on Saturday night in the Coke Zero 400.
A Few “Outside The Box” Picks For The Coke Zero 400:
Brad Keselowski - It’s kind of hard to believe that Bad Brad hasn’t found success at all at Daytona. As you probably remember, he got the win earlier this year in May at Talladega, his second Cup victory at the track. His plate racing skills haven’t translated to much at this track, though. In six career points-paying races at Daytona, Keselowski has a best finish of just 15th and four finishes of 29th or worse. For our sake, I hope other fantasy racers look at that and stay away from BK this weekend, because I think he’s going to be good. He’s coming off the win last weekend in Kentucky, and that begs the question: is Keselowski now an elite driver? Click here to vote yes or no. I also like when a driver has confidence coming into a plate race.
Kurt Busch - You know, I kind of jumped the gun earlier this season with this team in the Daytona 500. They’ve been together for half of a season now and I think they’re starting to gel a lot more (see Sonoma race a couple weeks ago). We all know that these Finch cars have horsepower on the plate tracks, and Busch is a real good racer on them even though he hasn’t won a points-paying race at either Daytona or Talladega. Don’t forget that he was running 2nd with 8 laps to go at Talladega earlier this year and then got spun by Brad Keselowski.
Marcos Ambrose – Ambrose is nowhere near great at restrictor plate racing, but there are a few things that I really like about picking him this week. He brought the #9 Ford home in 13th back in February, and posted his career-best finish at this track (6th) during his rookie year. Marcos started in the top 5 at Talladega as well and brought his car home in one piece in 14th. Finally, and what I really like most, is that Ambrose hasn’t finished worse than 13th in Sprint Cup action since the end of may. Hard to believe, huh? If you want to pick someone this week that could get you a bunch of points–and one that not many other people will go with–pick Ambrose. Just hope that him and Aric Almirola can work well together.
A Favorite To Avoid For The Coke Zero 400:
Tony Stewart - This is not at all a “avoid like the plague” for Smoke this weekend. We all know he’s good at plate racing and he could easily take the checkered flag on Saturday night. However, I’d like him a whole lot better if this was, say, 2006. In the July races at Daytona since that time (starting in 2007), Tony has finished 38th, 20th, 1st, 25th, and 11th. In this year’s Daytona 500 he started 3rd but finished 16th, and at Talladega in May he ended up four laps down in 24th. He will be a popular pick on Saturday but you probably won’t find Smoke on my rosters.