August 28, 2012
We’re to our yearly stop at Atlanta Motor Speedway this week. From 2002 to 2010, there were always two events at this track, but that changed in 2011 (I think to make a spot for the race at Kentucky Speedway, although I may be wrong). Atlanta is a 1.5-mile race track and what many people consider one of the typical “cookie cutters” on the circuit. The others include: Charlotte, Chicago, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, and Texas.
During The Last Race At Atlanta…It was Jeff Gordon who started 5th and pretty much dominated most of the race, leading 146 of the 325 laps en route to his third (and ultimately last) win of the 2011 season. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, finished runner-up with Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards rounding out the top 5. Kasey Kahne won the pole for 2011′s race but had engine problems and finished 34th.
Practice Schedule…This is what I like to call a “normal” weekend, but people that play Yahoo! Auto Racing have a bit of a disadvantage because rosters lock before the cars get any track time. On Friday, there will be one practice session and then qualifying, at 2:30 pm and 6:00 pm, respectively. Then on Saturday, the drivers will get even more track time, with another practice starting at 2:30 pm and Happy Hour set to begin at 5:30 pm. The AdvoCare 500 should start around 7:30 pm on Sunday night. All times are in Eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Advocare 500:
1. Jimmie Johnson – I’m still dumbfounded as to how someone can start in the rear at Bristol and finish 2nd, all while looking average at best during all of the practice sessions that weekend. This team is just that good, and should be the most recent winner on the intermediate tracks. As long as their engine stays together on Sunday, however, there’s no doubt in my mind that Johnson will be contending for the win when it’s all said and done. He does have the best average finish here in the series (10th). Jimmie finished 2nd here last season, as I said before, and since driver rating has started to be kept (in 2005), he’s only had two races at Atlanta under 90.0. The #48 is just about as close to a lock for a top 5 this weekend as you can get. They’re just that good right now, and if it continues into the Chase, they’ll be holding the trophy in Homestead (or even before then).
2. Kasey Kahne – Kasey has finished 2nd and 3rd in the last two intermediate track events and, although this isn’t one of his best tracks, should be in contention on Sunday night. He’s in more reliable equipment than he was last year when he sat on the pole, and there’s no doubt that Hendrick has more power than Red Bull as well. Kasey has two wins here (in 2006 and 2009), and going with that little trend of three years apart, this could be his year as well. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, I’ll say that, and would lock him into the Chase. Kahne has almost as many bad finishes here as good ones, but many of the bad ones weren’t exactly his fault (wrecks, mechanical issues, etc.). When you take those out of the mix, Kasey’s average finish jumps up to 4.4 at Atlanta. Barring any kind of issue like that, the #5 should be up front early and often on Sunday.
3. Greg Biffle – The Biff has never won at Atlanta but he is coming off that impressive victory at Michigan and should be a contender come Sunday. In seventeen career starts here, Greg has averaged a finish of 16.1 and has recorded nine top 10s. When you go simply off of that, he really doesn’t deserve this ranking. But when you consider how solid this team has been on the intermediates this season, that should change your mind. Just check out this chart. In allocation leagues like Yahoo!, it would take the #16 looking like a dominating, race-winning car in practice to use him this weekend. This isn’t his best track, and I’m sure you’re like me and only have a small amount of starts left. Still, Biffle should at least be good for a top 10 on Sunday night, if not a top 5. Right now I’m not seeing a win out of them, but that could change.
4. Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin won at Kansas and recently finished 2nd at Charlotte and 3rd at Kentucky, so it is possible that we see back-to-back wins out of this team. Overall, Atlanta hasn’t been a very good track for Denny, but he tends to run well. In the last four races here, he has led a total of 135 laps, but has just two top 10s to show for it. What I caution you about in taking the #11 this weekend is how inconsistent this team has been on the intermediate tracks in 2012. It seems like they’re either a top 5 car or one that finishes 11th or much worse. There’s no in between, just check out this chart. Hamlin finished 3rd here in 2008 and won the pole for this event two years ago. Don’t let his 17.5 average finish here scare you away, Hamlin should be good once again this weekend.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – This team has been a top 10 machine on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here) and that shouldn’t change this weekend in Atlanta. This is actually Junior’s third-best track on the circuit, believe it or not. In twenty-four career starts here, Earnhardt has recorded ten top 10 finishes and just five outside of the top 20. When you average it all out, he usually ends up around 12th or 13th. Junior even won here back in 2004, and although he hasn’t finished inside the top 10 in the last six events here, that should change on Sunday. He had six straight finishes of 7th or better at Atlanta from 2001 to 2004, and this team is as strong as ever this year.
6. Brad Keselowski – Penske Racing as a whole have been very good at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and they actually have a better average finish than the Roush-Fenway bunch here since the start of the 2010 season, believe it or not. Keselowski wasn’t too good in his first two starts here (finishing 36th and 25th) but turned it around last season and ended up with a solid 6th-place finish after starting 14th and leading two laps. This team had a bad day last Saturday in Bristol but I don’t think that should affect them too much right now. They’re still one of the strongest teams in the garage right now (in my mind) and should bounce back. Remember, Brad won at Kentucky and finished 2nd at Michigan a couple weeks ago, and if this race comes down to fuel mileage, I’d pick Paul Wolfe over pretty much anyone else. Kurt Busch won the first 2010 race at Atlanta in the Blue Deuce and finished 6th in the second event that year.
7. Carl Edwards – This is where Cousin Carl needs to win. Plain and simple, he doesn’t make the Chase this year unless he’s in victory lane at the end of the 500 miles on Sunday. He’s won here three separate times so it’s definitely possible. When you look at Carl’s record at Atlanta, it’s a whole bunch of good runs mixed in with some bad ones, which bring down his average finish of 13.6. When you take away the terrible finishes (four that have been 37th or worse), however, his average finish jumps to an incredible 3.2. Seriously. Edwards hasn’t finished worse than 7th at this track except for the races I mentioned earlier (one he got parked, one was an engine problem). If there’s been any bright spot in this team’s 2012 season, it has been their performance on the intermediate race tracks–just check out this chart here.
8. Matt Kenseth – Throughout the entire season, Matt Kenseth has generally been a lock for a top 5 ranking at tracks like Atlanta. However, I’m seriously starting to question what’s going on with this team. Has the announcement of Kenseth leaving Roush-Fenway after this season finally done some damage to them? In the six races since Daytona in July, where he finished 3rd, Matt has posted just one top 10 (a very surprising one at Watkins Glen) and has averaged a finish of 20.2. He’s pretty much locked into the Chase, so will Kenseth “take it easy” for the next couple races? And will his new feud with Tony Stewart cause trouble on Sunday night? Everything I pointed out are just things to keep in mind this weekend. At Atlanta, Kenseth owns an average finish of 12.9 in twenty-three career starts, and although he has never won here, he does have twelve straight finishes of 13th or better at this track.
9. Martin Truex, Jr. – Atlanta has been a nice track for Truex over the past two years and with the way that this team is firing on all cylinders this season, that should equal a good run for him on Sunday. Last year, Martin brought his Toyota home in 14th after leading 3 laps and starting 8th. In 2010, Truex had a very solid driver rating of 104.6 throughout the race and ended up finishing 12th. He loves running the high line on the intermediate tracks and that should work very well here at Atlanta this weekend. Believe it or not, Truex has the fifth-best average finish (8.9) on these types of tracks this season, which is better than drivers like Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth (chart here). Anything other than a top 10 out of the #56 on Sunday would be surprising to me.
10. Jeff Gordon – The #24 Chevy will, in all reality, probably be contending for a top 5 on Sunday, but I want to see some practice before I jump to that conclusion. As I said before, Gordon was the best car here last time around and has a pretty good record at Atlanta throughout his career. In thirty-eight career starts here, Jeff has amassed twenty-four top 10s, fifteen top 5s, and has visited victory lane five separate times. His average finish of 12.2 here is third-best in the series right behind Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. A statistic that I like to see is consistency, and Jeff Gordon has that at Atlanta: he hasn’t finished outside the top 20 here since 2005 (twelve races) and has recorded nine top 10s during that span as well. He finished 5th most recently at Kentucky, another 1.5-mile race track.
11. Kyle Busch – Rowdy has had some good cars here at Atlanta recently, but I still think he’s in somewhat of a defeated mindset. Yes, he’s in the second wildcard spot, but that could easily change. Personally, I’d like to pick a driver this weekend with some more desire, as well as one that has been stronger on the intermediates this season (Kyle’s average finish is 12th–chart here). In the last five Sprint Cup events at AMS, Busch has qualified in the top 10 in all of them and led at least 19 laps in three of them. Do you know what he has to show for them, though? Pretty much nothing: one top 10 and an average finish of 16.8. He won here in 2008, so it’s not like he’s completely clueless at this track. Kyle finished 10th and 13th recently at Kentucky and Michigan, which are two tracks that I mentioned earlier that are similar to Atlanta.
12. Clint Bowyer – Clint is generally hit or miss when the series comes to Atlanta, so keep that in mind if you pick him this weekend. Or, in other words, make sure that #15 looks speedy in practice. In eleven career starts at this track, Bowyer owns an average finish of 17.4 and five top 10s. On the flip side, the other six starts have ended with him in 20th or worse. Like I said, hit or miss. It’s been somewhat of the same story for this team on the intermediate tracks this season as well (chart here). Keep in mind, however, that Bowyer has been one of the hottest drivers in the garage over the last two months, with five top 10s in the last six Sprint Cup races. The other race was his 15th-place effort at Indianapolis. Bowyer has a lot more going for him this weekend than he does going against him, I’ll say that.
13. Kevin Harvick – Happy Harvick is getting a rank on here this weekend simply because of his recent performance at Atlanta. I still think this team is off in some way, but maybe the crew chief change will turn things around. It’s certainly possible, but until that happens I would consider going with someone other than Harvick. In allocation leagues especially, there are better options. Anyway, in the last seven races at this track, Kevin has recorded five top 10s and has an average driver rating of 96.3. He’s been good for a finish between 10th and 15th on the intermediate tracks all season and that shouldn’t change on Sunday. He’s finished 15th or 16th in each of the last four Sprint Cup series races.
14. Paul Menard – This team could lose Slugger Labbe this weekend, which would knock them down a few spots in my book, but I’m still thinking that Paul Menard is good for a solid top 15 on Sunday. He has finished inside the top 20 in all but one of the intermediate track races this season and has an average finish of 14.8 (chart here). He finished 18th at Atlanta last season and had a career-best 5th-place finish here in 2010 while driver for Petty. What I really like is this team’s momentum, however. With his 10th-place finish last week, Menard has now finished 14th or better in all but one of the last eight Sprint Cup races, and that lone exception was a 17th-place effort at New Hampshire. Be sure to keep an eye on the crew chief suspension story this week.
15. Marcos Ambrose – Well look what we have here: a playoff push from Marcos Ambrose. This team now has four straight top 10s in Sprint Cup action–three of which have been top 5s–and are in striking distance (albeit still quite far away) from the second wildcard birth. The Tasmanian has had some good runs on the intermediate tracks in his career and is definitely someone you should keep an eye on this week with the way this team has been running. At Atlanta specifically, Marcos has made six career starts, and although his average finish of 22nd is a bit scary, in two of the last three events here he has finished 10th and 11th. In the last five intermediate track races, Ambrose has three top 10s and just one finish worse than 13th (chart here).
Those To Avoid Entering The Advocare 500:
Tony Stewart - It’s really odd how hit-or-miss this team has been on the intermediate tracks in 2012. As you can tell from this chart (click here), Smoke has four top 5s on them as well as four finishes outside of the top 20 entirely. This team lacks consistency and that’s not something that I like go with in fantasy racing, especially this late in the season. What Stewart does have on his side this weekend is his record here at Atlanta; in twenty-five career starts at this track, Smoke averages a finish of 11.2 and has won three times. I wouldn’t blame you for picking him this weekend, but if you do, make sure you have a backup plan.
Mark Martin - I’m starting to think that Mark Martin is getting a “free pass” from people as of late. The point of the matter is this: he has one lone top 10 in his last eight Sprint Cup starts. That’s it. Also, thus far in 2012, Martin has managed the exact same number of single-digit finishes as he has DNFs. Obviously most weren’t his fault, but I personally like to keep a low level of risk in fantasy racing during weeks like these. This is the AdvoCare 500, and I stress the “500″ part of that. We’re going to be going at least 500 miles on Sunday night, and with three practice sessions scheduled throughout Friday and Saturday it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the engine in that #55 blow…once again. Until this team starts limiting the amount of laps that Mark runs each weekend–thus keeping the workload on the motor light–I won’t be picking him.
Joey Logano – Sliced Bread is making one final leap of faith to get into this year’s Chase, but it’s simply not going to work this weekend unless something drastic happens. This is Logano’s worst track on the circuit, and an extra “push” by the team isn’t going to fix his problems here. In five career starts here, Joey has an average finish of 27.6 and has never ended up better than 22nd. Among those with a better average finish than Logano in as many (if not more) starts here at Atlanta: David Gilliland, J.J. Yeley, and David Stremme.
August 14, 2012
It seems like it’s been forever but the Sprint Cup Series is back on an intermediate race track this week with the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. This track was re-paved before the last race here (back in June) and this time around the teams will be working with a brand new tire from Goodyear. The race is 400 miles this week meaning the cars will run 200 laps around this D-shaped oval on Sunday. Michigan is one of two 2-mile tracks on the circuit, with the other being Auto Club Speedway in California.
During The Last Race At Michigan…Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spanked the competition here back in June, leading 95 of the 200 laps and breaking his win-less streak that stretched back to 2008. Tony Stewart, who won back at Auto Club Speedway this season, finished 2nd followed by the Roush teammates of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Those three led 18, 17, and 38 laps, respectively. It was “Five Time” Jimmie Johnson who rounded out the top 5 that day.
Practice Schedule…We will get practice both before and after qualifying this week, although for Yahoo! Auto Racing players that means that the rosters will lock down before seeing the cars on the track. The first practice of the weekend is set to begin at 12:30 pm on Friday followed by qualifying at 4:00 pm. Most cars in the first session will be focused solely on qualifying trim. Then on Saturday we have an early practice for the second weekend in a row as the cars will hit the track at 8:30 am sharp followed by Happy Hour at 11:00 am. All four can be seen on SPEED and the times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Pure Michigan 400:
1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Steve Letarte said on Twitter that the #88 team is bringing back the same chassis from June and that should worry the competition considering how strong they were then. I never thought I’d say this, but I think Junior could get his second win of the season here on Sunday. He has two wins at Michigan International Speedway and has finished inside the top 10 in almost 35% of his starts here. While that number isn’t that great, the way that this team has been running on the intermediates this season is: Earnhardt has an average finish of 7.3 and an average driver rating of 105.1. With Pocono and Watkins Glen, this team has now had two terrible weeks in a row for the first time this season, but I expect the #88 to bounce back in a big way on Sunday. Remember, Junior ended up 3rd back at Auto Club Speedway, the other 2-mile race track on the circuit.
2. Greg Biffle – When you look at the last five races here at Michigan, The Biff has had some great runs but doesn’t exactly have the finishes to show for it. In those events, Greg has averaged a driver rating of 117.3 but has just three top 10s to show for it. This team has been top notch on every intermediate track this season, though (chart here) with an average finish of 7.0. The #16 ended up 6th back at Fontana and followed that up with a 4th here at Michigan back in June. Remember, this is Ford’s playground and the Roush cars are always fast. In the last three races at this track, Biffle has led a combined 192 laps, which is much more than anyone else in the series. Statistically Michigan is his 5th-best track on the circuit, and Greg has visited victory lane here twice (most recently in 2005). This team would love a second win before the Chase and it could happen this weekend.
3. Matt Kenseth – After a little three-race slump, the #17 team bounced back with an 8th-place finish at Watkins Glen (his career best there, by the way). That should give them a little momentum coming into Michigan, which has been Kenseth’s third-best track on the circuit. In twenty-six career starts here, Matt has an average finish of 9.3 and has visited victory lane twice in addition to his seventeen top 10s. He finished 3rd here back in June and should be top 5 material once again this weekend. On the intermediate tracks this season, the #17 car has been the sixth-best in the series when it comes to driver rating (chart here). Again, there’s really no reason to go against the Roushkateers this weekend, as they all should at least be fighting for a top 10 once the checkered flag waves on the Pure Michigan 400.
4. Jimmie Johnson – This team’s main mission right now is to win races, and with the races here at Michigan sometimes ended up as fuel mileage races, you can bet that Chad Knaus will pull the trigger and take a gamble. For fantasy owners, that can have great consequences or terrible ones. However, if Sunday’s race doesn’t come down to a variable like fuel mileage, you can expect the #48 to be a top 5 car at least. Nobody has been better on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here) and although he has never won here, Johnson has finished inside the top 5 in each of the last two events at Michigan. This team has been a top 5 machine lately and are in “Chase” form in my opinion. Whether that’s a good thing for them or not is yet to be determined, but it’s great for fantasy owners right now.
5. Tony Stewart – This summer has been a bit of a disappointment for Tony Stewart and the #14 team, so make sure they look pretty good in practice before going all in with them. Smoke won the rain-shortened event in Fontana and followed that up with a 2nd-place finish here back in June. This is actually his fifth-best track on the circuit and Stewart has now finished 9th or better in each of the last five Michigan events. He has notched an incredible nineteen top 10s in twenty-seven career starts here and should be in the running for a twentieth on Sunday. The only thing that worries me about Tony this weekend is how incredibly inconsistent this team has been on the intermediate tracks this year (chart here). He could win or finish 20th, I’m not 100% sure right now. Be sure to check back at ifantasyrace.com for my final predictions for this week’s Pure Michigan 400 after Happy Hour on Saturday.
6. Brad Keselowski – In case you missed it, I posted an article earlier this week on Brad Keselowski and how good he has been during the summer these past two seasons. You can read it by clicking here. Michigan is BK’s home race track and he will be looking to back up his 3rd-place finish in this race last season on Sunday. Back here in June, Keselowski was decent, finishing 13th, but he has momentum on his side this time around and is the most recent intermediate track winner. With each passing week, it’s getting more and more difficult not to at least consider Brad on your rosters. If you want an off-sequence type pick this weekend, the Blue Deuce would be your best choice.
7. Jeff Gordon – This team had a little slip up last weekend in Watkins Glen, but I fully expect them to bounce back here at Michigan. In a whopping thirty-nine career starts here, Gordon has an average finish of 11.3 and twenty-five top 10s. He has finished 6th in each of the last two events here and has recorded five in the last seven. Gordon has finished 7th, 6th, and 5th in the last three intermediate track races (chart here) and is probably going to need another win to get in the Chase this year. I don’t think that will happen this weekend, but a top 10 is definitely within the #24 team’s reach.
8. Clint Bowyer – Clint finished 13th back at Auto Club Speedway and following that up with an 7th-place finish here at Michigan in June. That makes it three straight top 10s for Clint at this track, and he should challenge for a fourth-straight on Sunday as well. Bowyer has an average finish of 14.9 on the intermediate tracks this year (chart here) and has been pretty solid in the last month of Sprint Cup action. Clint has an average finish of 17.5 here at Michigan International Speedway but should be much better than that on Sunday.
9. Kyle Busch – It’s crunch time now for Kyle Busch because he’s on the outside looking in at the Chase wildcard. The good thing for him is that he is the defending winner of this event and he has the seventh-best average driver rating in the last five races at Michigan. What could turn fantasy racers away from the #18 this weekend, though, is the chance that he tries too hard and ends up putting the car in the fence on Sunday. Back in June, Rowdy started 34th and got up to 7th before blowing a tire and ending his day, finishing 32nd. You can’t predict things like that happening, and if something similar doesn’t happen on Sunday, Busch should be good for a top 10. Make sure you pay attention the #18 in practice, though, as this isn’t Kyle’s best track (16.6 average finish).
10. Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex has been the fourth-best driver on intermediate tracks this season (chart here) and he should be strong once again this weekend. Back in June, Martin ended up 12th after starting 16th, and at Fontana he ended up 8th. He owns a career average finish of 17.1 here at Michigan with runner-up finishes in both events back in 2007 while at DEI. It’s hard to go against the guy that has the fourth-most points in the series over the last six races (chart here). If Truex is able to put up a top 10 qualifying effort on Friday, I expect him to challenge for a top 10 finish on Sunday. The story of his year has been if he qualifies well, he races well.
11. Ryan Newman – With an 11th-place finish last weekend at Watkins Glen, “The Rocketman” now has finished 11th or better in each of the last five Sprint Cup series races. It’s evident, too, as only five drivers have scored more points than him over the last six Cup events (chart here). The good thing for Newman is that this week we’re at a track that he owns two career wins at (the most recent in 2004). The #39 should be top 15 material all weekend and have a shot at the top 10 on Sunday if they play their cards right. He finished 15th here back in June and 5th and 6th in the two events prior.
12. Carl Edwards – Cousin Carl started in the back of the field back here in June and came home with an 11th-place finish. I’m still not sure what I think about the Carl/Chad Norris pairing, though. I’m kind of giving them the benefit of the doubt, though, considering the Roush Fords are always real strong here at Michigan. Statistically, this is Edwards’ second-best track on the circuit with an average finish of 8.4 in sixteen career starts. He won here in 2008 and while I don’t think that’s going to happen again on Sunday, a top 10 is definitely possible out of the #99. Carl has averaged a finish of 9.3 on the intermediate tracks in 2012 (chart here) and finished 5th back at Auto Club Speedway in March.
13. Kasey Kahne – Kahne started 4th here back in June but really fell back pretty quickly and ended up getting caught up in a wreck with Joey Logano and finishing 33rd and 49 laps down. The #5 Chevy should have some power here this weekend, which is a good thing, but it’s all up to Kasey and the team to get the car handling well for the race. If they can accomplish that, Kahne should be good to go. One thing to remember, however, is that Kasey likes to run the high line and with the re-pave that might not be the fastest way around the track. He has had the 8th-best average driver rating on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here) and should improve upon his average finish of 16.5 here at MIS. Don’t forget that this team is pretty hot as of late, with the second-most points scored in the series in the last six races (chart here).
14. Denny Hamlin – With finishes of 29th and 34th in the past two weeks, this team needs a rebound and Michigan could be the perfect place for it. Remember, Hamlin almost won the race back in Fontana but Darian Grubb made a questionable pit call late in the race with rain looming and Hamlin finished 11th. He had a driver rating of 115.1 in that race, though, so that tells you how good the #11 was. Denny has finished 34th and 35th in the last two Michigan races but has four finishes of 3rd or better in the last seven. Typically the Joe Gibbs Toyotas are really good here or just mediocre with no middle ground. Watch this team closely in practice if you’re thinking about picking Hamlin, although I do think that there are a lot better picks this weekend (and safer ones as well).
15. Mark Martin – Martin has a career average finish of 13.6 here at Michigan and was running solidly inside the top 10 here last June before having an engine problem late and ending up 29th. That’s the one issue I have with the #55 this weekend, as I have had for the last month or so as well, and part of the reason why I have Mark ranked 15th going into the weekend. The engine failure at Watkins Glen last weekend with Brian Vickers behind the wheel doesn’t help much either. However, you can’t predict mechanical failures, and with no problems Martin should be good for a top 15 on Sunday. He finished 12th back at Auto Club Speedway in March.
Those To Avoid Entering The Pure Michigan 400:
Richard Childress Racing - This entire organization is off a little bit and lacking speed. This includes Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, and Jeff Burton. Harvick or Menard could net you a top 15 finish this weekend, but I wouldn’t expect much more. If the #29 or #27 look really fast in practice this weekend I might change my mind, but right now I think it’d be best to steer clear from the RCR Chevrolets this weekend. There’s just too many other (better) options.
Juan Montoya - He hasn’t even been able to get the finish at the road courses this year, so why would you trust Montoya on the ovals? He did finish 8th here back in June but Juan hasn’t finished better than 14th in Sprint Cup action since then. In eleven career starts here at Michigan, JPM has an average finish of 21.8 and just four finishes inside the top 15. On all of the intermediate track races thus far in 2012, Montoya has averaged just a 17.0 finish. I wouldn’t expect this team to be anywhere close to where they ended up back in June.
Casey Mears - I like to use Mears on the intermediate tracks in allocation leagues, but not this week. Why? This team plans to start and park. As far as the C Group goes in Yahoo!, Trevor Bayne is racing again this weekend. He started 7th back in June here but had an engine problem and finished 43rd. Another driver to consider is Bobby Labonte, who has finished 15th and 16th in the last two Michigan races.
August 7, 2012
This week the Sprint Cup Series is at the second and final road course event on the schedule. In years past we generally saw some new faces up front on Sundays, but the Cup regulars have really closed the gap between themselves and the ringers. We only visit Watkins Glen and Sonoma once per year, so there’s not a whole lot of data to go off of this week. These races can easily come down to fuel mileage, and any driver’s day can be messed up quite easily if they get booted off track.
During The Last Race At Watkins Glen…Kyle Busch started on pole and led over half of the laps but it was Marcos Ambrose who visited victory lane that day. Busch finished 3rd, right behind Brad Keselowski, with Martin Truex, Jr. and Joey Logano rounding out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…It’s going to be a pretty normal weekend at The Glen. First there is a practice session on Friday starting at 12:00 noon. Happy Hour will then be ran four hours later, followed by qualifying on Saturday at 11:30 am. The Finger Lakes 355 should start around 1:15 pm on Sunday. If you play Yahoo! Auto Racing, that means we get to see practice before setting our rosters, which is nice. All times listed are eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Finger Lakes 355:
1. Jeff Gordon – Although I don’t really believe it, Jeff Gordon may need two wins to get into the Chase, and this might be his best shot for the next month. He now has finishes of 6th or better in six of the last seven Sprint Cup races, and this little hot streak started back in June at Michigan. After that race was Sonoma where Gordon started on the outside pole and led 13 laps en route to a 6th-place finish. At Watkins Glen, he was unstoppable from 1994 to 2001, grabbing four victories and six total top 5s. Since then, though, this track has been hard on the Rainbow Warrior, as Gordon has just two top 10s in the last ten years here. Still, I like the way this team is running and I think they will challenge for the win on Sunday, although this is the one ranking that may change a lot after practice and qualifying. Be sure to check out www.ifantasyrace.com Saturday afternoon for my post-qualifying Predictions for the Finger Lakes 355.
2. Jimmie Johnson – I’m getting as tired of ranking Jimmie Johnson near the top every week as you are of reading about him, but I can really think of no reason to go against this team. The hot streak they’ve been on is seriously reminding me of their Chase performances throughout Johnson’s five championships. At Sonoma, Jimmie started 3rd and despite not leading any laps, finished a solid 5th. At The Glen, he has an average finish of 14.2 in ten career starts with five top 10s, including a 10th-place finish last season. Although he has never won here, Five Time did finish 3rd back in 2005. Also, one last thing, expect the #48 to qualify near the front on Saturday; in the last eight Watkins Glen races, Jimmie Johnson has just two starts outside of the top 5 and has won two poles.
3. Tony Stewart – Smoke finished 27th here last season (with a driver rating of 96.2, so he wasn’t terrible) but when you look past that you see that the guy has won five of the last ten races at this race track. Another impressive statistic about Stewart at The Glen is that he’s completely 100% of the laps ran here since he made his first start back in 1999 (he finished 6th, by the way). At Sonoma, Tony finished 2nd, and he should definitely be a threat for a top 5 come Sunday. He definitely has some momentum on his side, with just one finish worse than 12th in the last eight Sprint Cup races. Statistically this is Stewart’s best track on the circuit.
4. Clint Bowyer - In case you don’t remember Sonoma back in June, Clint Bowyer basically dominated, leading 71 of the 112 laps and grabbing his only win so far this season. It was somewhat surprising, but not really. Clint has been a pretty good road racer and this year he has Juan Montoya’s old crew chief on the pit box. At Watkins Glen, Clint has an average finish of 17.5 in six career starts with a best finish of 9th (back in 2009). I expect him to better that on Sunday. The entire Michael Waltrip Racing stable should be stout once again, just like back in June at Sonoma.
5. Marcos Ambrose – There’s no such thing as a sure pick in fantasy racing, but Marcos Ambrose is about as close as you can get to that at Watkins Glen. He’s made four career starts here and has never finished worse than 3rd, which is incredible. As I said before, he finally got into victory lane here last year, and don’t be surprised if we see the same thing this weekend. Back at Sonoma, Ambrose was the runaway favorite to win, winning the pole and looking dominant throughout the practices, but faded early. He still came back with a top 10, though (8th).
6. Juan Montoya – Yes, I was one of those that got screwed by Montoya back in June at Sonoma when he finished 34th. You can’t predict mechanical problems, though. I do think that the Colombian is losing his edge on these road courses, though, and it will be interesting to see how this team looks in practice. Believe it or not, I might keep the #42 off of my rosters on Sunday. Anyway, Montoya won this race in 2010 and is on a streak of four-straight top 10s at The Glen. When you take out his 39th-place finish in his first start here (I think that was when he got together with Mr. Happy Harvick), Montoya’s average finish here is 4.5. He will definitely be a favorite among fantasy racers this weekend, so I can’t blame you for not picking him.
7. Kyle Busch – Rowdy has actually been one of the best at Watkins Glen believe it or not, and a good run is just what this team needs right now. However, are you willing to take the risk? It seems like the bad luck bug has hit this team all year, so I wouldn’t be opposed to staying away from the #18 this weekend. Still, if nothing happens mechanically, Busch could easily win this race and pretty much guarantee his spot in the Chase. He was great here last season, like I said earlier, and even visited victory lane from the pole at The Glen back in 2008, having a near-perfect driver rating of 145.1. Kyle ended up 33rd in his first start here back in 2005, but since then has never finished worse than 9th on this road course.
8. Martin Truex, Jr. – SLEEPER ALERT! If you can call Martin Truex a sleeper this season… Don’t forget how great the MWR Toyotas were back in Sonoma (Truex looked well on his way to a top 6 finish until late and had the 5th-best driver rating), and I’m expecting something of the same out of them here at Watkins Glen this Sunday. Some people will look at Martin’s average finish of 14.3 here and go with another option, but don’t forget he finished 4th here last season and had runs of 6th and 5th in 2007 and 2008 with running for DEI. I don’t think he’ll win, but Truex could surprise some people on Sunday.
9. Kevin Harvick – Happy Harvick is a generally a pretty solid pick here at Watkins Glen (12.9 average finish and seven finishes of 11th or better in eleven starts), but I really don’t like how this team is running right now. It seems like they’re way off every week, and if they’re lucky and actually hit on something all they can muster is a finish of around 8th or so. Harvick started mid-pack back in June at Sonoma and made his way up for a decent 16th-place finish. There are better options than the #29 this weekend, but right now I’m penciling Harvick in for a top 10 finish. If he looks slow in practice, though, expect him to drop in my final rankings on Saturday.
10. Matt Kenseth – Kenseth isn’t too bad here at Watkins Glen but I bumped him up this week simply because of how great this team has been all season. He started 9th and finished 13th back at Sonoma while having the 10th-best driver rating (96.7). Over here at The Glen, Kenseth has been the definition of consistent over the five years, with every single race ending with him between 12th and 14th in the running order. In allocation leagues like Yahoo!, I’d stay away from the #17 this weekend, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a shot with him in other leagues–just don’t expect a win or anything.
11. Carl Edwards – I really wish Carl Edwards was running a little bit better this season because Watkins Glen is generally a very good track for him. In seven career starts here Carl has an average finish of 8.7 with a worst finish of 19th (first start here in 2005). What’s surprising is that he’s never led a lap at this track (even in 2010 when he won the pole) although Edwards has completed every single lap in the events that he has started here. We’ll have to see what kind of setup Chad Norris can come up with this weekend. Edwards finished 21st back in Sonoma with Bob Osborne at the control.
12. Brad Keselowski – Well, with his 4th-place finish in Pocono last weekend, Brad Keselowski now has five straight top 10s and has finished 13th or better in all but one Sprint Cup race since the end of May. What I really like about this team is how good Paul Wolfe usually is with fuel mileage calculations and gambling. BK has made two starts here at Watkins Glen and has finished 20th and 2nd. That runner-up finish came last year and was during the time when Brad was super hot after his ankle injury (making it all the more impressive, in my opinion). The Blue Deuce came home 12th back in Sonoma and that’s about where I have him penciled in for Sunday, too.
13. Joey Logano – As I said earlier, Logano finished 5th here last season, and he followed that up with a 10th-place run at Sonoma earlier this year. I think he could fly under the radar this weekend simply because of his average finish of 18th here at The Glen. I’m not saying right now that Joey will finish in the top 10 on Sunday, but it’s certainly possible. If this team has a fast car right off the truck, I’d recommend giving Logano a hard look before setting your rosters. In Yahoo! there will be several other drivers to choose from, but the #20 could be a good out of sequence pick this weekend.
14. Kurt Busch – To make one thing clear real quick: don’t put too much emphasis on Kurt Busch’s 3rd-place effort at Sonoma earlier this season. In case you forgot, something broke on the car late in the race (surprising, huh?) and Tony Stewart had no idea how Kurt limped it home to the checkered flag. That being said, it’s hard to look past that good run, and we rarely get the opportunity to use Kurt this year. He has an average finish of 19.8 in eleven career starts at The Glen, and before his 38th-place finish in this event last season, he had a three-race streak of top 10s here. It’s a very risky pick, but it could pay dividends to take the #51 this week (just like it did back in Sonoma).
15. Brian Vickers – As I said before, I’m expecting the MWR cars to be strong here at Watkins Glen just like they were back in Sonoma, and that includes Brian Vickers, who is taking over the #55 in place of Mark Martin this weekend. Vickers isn’t great here (20.3 average finish in seven starts) but he had one of the best cars back at Sonoma (finished 4th) and has been great in the #55 no matter what track he’s at this season. Brian also finished 11th here back in 2009 while driving for Red Bull, and should be top 15 material on Sunday.
Those To Avoid Entering The Finger Lakes 355:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – It’s hard to go against a team that is this hot right now, but Junior is just not very good at road course racing. He finished 23rd back at Sonoma and has an average finish of 22.3 in twelve career starts here at Watkins Glen. About the only time you can take the chance on Earnhardt at these type of tracks is if he qualifies up front.
Aric Almirola - In Yahoo! especially, there’s really no reason to pick Aric Almirola this weekend. He started 30th and finished 28th at Sonoma earlier this year, and he has made just one career start here at Watkins Glen (he started 15th and finished 35th back in 2008).
Paul Menard - Same story here with Paul Menard. In eight career starts at Watkins Glen, his average finish has been 24.9 and he has never ended up better than 16th. At Sonoma back in June, the #27 qualified 23rd and came home 20th. This team has been running real well for the last month-and-a-half but there are way too many other options this week other than Menard.
August 1, 2012
Well it seems like we were just here a little bit ago, but the boys of the Sprint Cup Series are back at Pocono Raceway this weekend for the Pennsylvania 400. This time–hopefully–we shouldn’t have the pit road speeding penalties like we saw back in June. People often compare Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway now with the re-pavement, so it’s convenient that the Brickyard was last weekend. Last time we were at The Tricky Triangle, it was a good opportunity to use some sleeper picks, so be sure to keep that in mind this week.
During The Last Race At Pocono…Joey Logano led 49 of the 160 laps and bumped Mark Martin out of the way for his first Cup win of the season. The #20 Toyota was super fast all weekend and even won the pole for that event. Martin finished 2nd and then it was Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson who followed him to the line. Finally, the “Pocono Master,” Denny Hamlin, rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…We’re back to a normal schedule this weekend, thankfully. There’s two practice sessions scheduled for Friday, with the first starting at noon and Happy Hour beginning at 3:30 pm. Then, on Saturday, the starting lineup will be set, with qualifying beginning at 10:30 am on ESPN2. The Pennsylvania 400 should start around 1:20 pm on Sunday. All times are in Eastern. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, you won’t have to lock down with your rosters until Saturday morning, so at least we get to see the cars on the track before making a decision.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Pennsylvania 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – Saying that the #48 team is ‘hot’ is a complete understatement right now. Over the last two months of Sprint Cup action, Johnson is averaging 37.4 points per race–and that’s including his 36th-place finish at the second Daytona race! As I said before, some people are starting to compare Indianapolis to Pocono, and if Johnson starts up front Sunday I think we could see the second dominating performance in a row out of this team. Back in June here at the Tricky Triangle, Five Time started mid-pack, had two speeding penalties, and still finished 4th. He had one of the best cars that weekend–if not the best–and I expect the same to be true this time around. I consider the #48 a lock for a top 5 and I haven’t even seen the cars on the track yet. Oh, and one more thing: Johnson has the best average finish here of anyone in the series (8.8).
2. Denny Hamlin – I personally consider Denny Hamlin the king of Pocono right now and for the past few years. He’s understood this track since his rookie year and his stat line is super impressive: thirteen career starts, four visits to victory lane, and eight top 5s. He has led 660 laps at this track, which is second only to Jeff Gordon, who has 957. However, Gordon also has twenty-six more starts than Hamlin. When you look at the last six events here at Pocono, the #11 has been P1 for at least 19 circuits in all of them, and has never had a driver rating less than 105.7. It also helps that Hamlin had a great run last weekend in Indianapolis, and has been pretty hot over the last two months (four top 6 finishes in seven Sprint Cup races). He’s going to be a favorite pick among fantasy racers this weekend, and for good reason; Denny Hamlin is just that good here at Pocono.
3. Jeff Gordon – Gordon finished 19th here in June, but really had a better car than that for most of the race (just check out his Yahoo! race chart). That was the time when this team was still trying to get out of the slump that they were in, and navigating away from the bad luck. They’ve definitely turned things around, though; with his 5th-place finish in Indianapolis last weekend, Jeff Gordon has now finished 6th or better in five of the last six Sprint Cup races, and the lone exception was Daytona where he ended up 12th. Jeff is a five-time winner at Pocono and has came home with twenty-seven top 10 finishes in thirty-nine starts (69.2%). You just can’t go against this team right now (or any of the Hendrick bunch for that matter).
4. Kyle Busch – This team was nowhere on my radar for Indianapolis (early in the week anyway) but I’m not letting that happen at Pocono this weekend. Kyle’s stats here aren’t great at all (18.3 average finish and only five top 10s in fifteen starts) but I really think this team is hitting on something, and they’re going to need to find victory lane soon to lock themselves into the Chase this year. It seems like Rowdy really got ahold of this place after his fourth season in Sprint Cup. Since then, Kyle has finished 2nd or 3rd in three of his last five Pocono starts, and he started 4th here in June but ended up 30th after an engine problem. Barring any mechanical failure, though, I expect the #18 to challenge for a top 10 finish at least on Sunday.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Hey, did you hear? Junior is leading the Sprint Cup points! ESPN only mentioned that forty-seven times during the race last Sunday. Anyway, like Kyle Busch, NASCAR’s favorite driver doesn’t have a great history here at Pocono, but he should still be a good pick for fantasy owners come Sunday. Back in June, the #88 led 36 laps and should have challenged for a top 5 but they played the conservative route with fuel and took an 8th-place finish in the end. Earnhardt has been a 4th-place machine here lately, finishing there in three of the last four Sprint Cup races, including last weekend in Indianapolis. He’s on a three-race streak of top 10s here at the Tricky Triangle and should easily make that four straight once the checkered flag waves on Sunday. Heck, it wouldn’t even surprise me to see Junior standing in victory lane.
6. Tony Stewart - Somehow Smoke was able to salvage a top 10 in his home state last weekend, and I think that says a lot about this team right now. Stewart now has just one finish worse than 12th in the last seven Sprint Cup races, and that exception was at Daytona, so I’m not sure it really counts. At Pocono specifically, Tony has made twenty-seven starts and has visited victory lane two separate times, the most recent in 2009. He came home 3rd here in June and could easily challenge for a top 5 this Sunday.
7. Matt Kenseth – Coming off his worst finish of the season last weekend in Indianapolis (35th), Kenseth should be looking to gain some points here in Pocono this weekend–well, in ESPN’s mind, anyway. Matt seemed pretty disinterested in points on Sunday, probably because he’s virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase this year, barring some kind of epic meltdown that we’ve never seen before. Anyway, Kenseth has a 13.9 average finish in twenty-five career starts at this track, and he always seems to run better here in the summer than in the fall. In the last two August races at the Tricky Triangle, Matt has finished 16th and 18th, and in the last two June races he has finished 7th and 8th. That’s worth noting, so if the #17 looks slow in practice, you may want to go with someone else.
8. Kevin Harvick – “Happy” has five straight finishes of 14th or better at Pocono and I’m expecting something of the same here on Sunday out of the #29 team. What’s worth noting (to me anyway) is that Harvick’s car was junk for most of last weekend and the team still worked on it all day and was able to walk out of Indy with a 13th-place finish. Kevin has made twenty-three starts here in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, and has an average finish of right around 14th. He’s only led 5 laps, believe it or not, and those all came in the 2010 June race. This team hasn’t been able to finish better than 8th in the past two months of Sprint Cup racing, and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday.
9. Greg Biffle – The Biff eventually lost an engine here last time around so don’t get too concerned about his 24th-place finish. What you should remember from that race is that he led 19 laps and was inside the top 10 for pretty much the whole day before he lost a cylinder. Biffle won this race two years ago, and if his performance last weekend at Indianapolis is any indicator, he might have something to say for the field in Pocono on Sunday. However, here’s something to consider: in nineteen career starts at the Tricky Triangle, The Biff has just four top 10s. The good thing is that two of those have come in his last four starts. Right now I’m penciling the #16 in for a top 10 finish on Sunday.
10. Kasey Kahne – Back in June, the #5 Chevy was at least a top 10 car but Kasey Kahne was trying to get more out of it than he could and eventually put it into the wall and finishing 29th. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again this time around, but you never know. Kasey’s stat line at Pocono isn’t the greatest: seventeen starts, 17.7 average finish, and just five top 10s (the most recent coming in 2009). He does have a win here at the Tricky Triangle, though. In the June 2008 race, Kahne started on pole and led 69 laps en route to his second win of that season. He finished 12th at Indianapolis last weekend.
11. Ryan Newman – It would only make sense that when I start mentioning Ryan Newman’s lackluster performance all year is when the team heats up a little bit, wouldn’t it? With his 7th-place finish in Indianapolis last weekend, The Rocketman now has three-straight top 10s in Sprint Cup action and could easily make that four in a row on Sunday here at Pocono. In the last eight events at this track, Newman hasn’t finished worse than 14th and has been about as consistent as you can be. He ended up 12th in the June race here this season and I’m expecting something similar out of the #39 team on Sunday, maybe a little bit better. Newman’s average driver rating of 92.1 over the past five Pocono races is tenth-best in the series.
12. Mark Martin – As I said earlier, Martin finished runner-up to Joey Logano here in June, but this team has fallen off a little bit from where they were a couple months ago, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the #55 Toyota still has speed every week, but it’s more like ‘possible top 10′ speed than ‘possible top 5′ speed. Still, Martin should be a good pick come Sunday as long as he keeps his mileage down during practice. A good thing for the engines this weekend, though, is that it is only supposed to be in the lower 80s during the Pennsylvania 400 on Sunday. Pocono is Mark’s third-best track on the circuit, and although he has never won here, he has finished inside the top 10 in 66.7% of his starts (34-for-51). Also, one more thing worth noting is that in the last five fall races at this track, Martin has compiled four top 10s and a worst finish of 13th.
13. Brad Keselowski – Bad Brad won this event last season, but other than that his performance at Pocono has really been mediocre to say the least. It’s nothing terrible, but not great either: in his four other starts here (excluding the win), Keselowski hasn’t finished better than 18th, but he also hasn’t finished worse than 23rd. So at least he’s consistent, I guess? The Blue Deuce came home 9th last weekend in Indianapolis–making it four straight top 10s for Keselowski in Sprint Cup action–but I’m expecting more of a teens finish from Keselowski at Pocono on Sunday. You also can’t look past the fact that he has just one finish worse than 13th in the last nine Sprint Cup races. As I’ve said a couple times before this season, BK is truly proving himself as a championship contender in NASCAR’s toughest series.
14. Paul Menard - The #27 should be good for a top 15 this weekend, just like he was the entire month of July. His stats here at the Tricky Triangle aren’t great by any means–21.6 average finish in eleven starts–but Menard brought his Chevy home in 9th here in June and has now finished 16th or better in each of the last five events here. He ended up 14th last weekend in Indianapolis and had the 11st-best driver rating in this year’s Brickyard. If he starts up front, Menard would be a great option for a “start saver” in allocation leagues like Yahoo! He qualified 3rd here a month-and-a-half ago.
15. Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex just wasn’t that good here in June, so it will be interesting to see how he fares this time around. If I remember correctly, he was without his crew chief that weekend, which I think made a major difference. He did score an impressive 8th-place finish last week in Indianapolis, though, so hopefully that momentum can carry a couple states over for this #56 team. One thing that’s a little promising about picking Martin this week is that he had three straight finishes of 12th or better at this track before the spring race this year. He’s not firing on all cylinders like he was early on in the season but Truex should be good for a top 15 finish on Sunday with a shot at a top 10.
Those To Avoid Entering The Pennsylvania 400:
Joey Logano - Surprised? This is a weak ‘avoid’ ranking, but it’s still an avoid. For whatever reason, Logano usually isn’t very fast here in the fall race. In the last three summer races, Joey has picked up finishes of 1st, 11th, and 13th at the Tricky Triangle, compared to 26th, 25th, and 27th-place results in the last three fall events. One thing you have to pay attention to with this team is whether they’re fast off the truck. If that’s so, Joey could be of great value to fantasy owners (the #20 was very fast off the truck here last time around).
Carl Edwards - This is, in no way, an “avoid like the plague” warning, but you probably won’t find Cousin Carl on my rosters this weekend for one basic reason: no momentum. Excluding Daytona a few weeks ago, the #99 hasn’t finished inside the top 10 since Charlotte at the end of May. This will be the second week that Edwards’ new crew chief, Chad Norris, will be on the pit box. One thing I liked to hear from Carl after Indianapolis was that this team is now in a “win-or-nothing” mode. That can be great for fantasy owners, but if a gamble doesn’t work out, it could be devastating. Edwards started on the outside-pole at Pocono back in June and had an early on-track incident with Denny Hamlin (I think). He battled back for an 11th-place finish.
Jamie McMurray – The only reason you should consider Jamie Mac this weekend is if he qualifies well and looks okay in practice. That was the story here last June and I rolled the dice with him in Yahoo!. Thankfully, Jamie ran solid all day and grabbed a 10th-place finish. Still, in the last six Pocono races, that is his only finish better than 20th. The same applies for his teammate, Juan Montoya.
Casey Mears - For those that were considering Mears as an option in allocation leagues this week, take notice to this: he will be start & parking at Pocono this weekend, racing at Watkins Glen, and then start & parking at Michigan in August. In other words, don’t pick him for awhile.