Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Charlotte 2 – Bank of America 500 (2012 Chase Race #5)
by Jordan McAbee, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am a fantasy NASCAR junkie. In addition to my preview articles on OnPitRow, I also post weekly practice breakdown and race prediction articles at www.ifantasyrace.com . Follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredicOctober 9, 2012 7:44 pm UTC No Comments
We can all take a big sigh of relief because there’s no more restrictor plate races on the schedule this year. If you had a great fantasy week in Talladega, congratulations, and you should probably go buy some lottery tickets. We have six weeks to go in the 2012 NASCAR season and the second race of the year at Charlotte Motor Speedway is this Saturday. Expect the points leaders to be up front from here on out because it’s crunch time and they are all elite teams.
During The Last Race At Charlotte…The Coca-Cola 600 was ran here back in May and it was Kasey Kahne who got the win for Hendrick Motorsports. He led 96 of the 400 laps that night. The Gibbs teammates of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished 2nd and 3rd (respectively) with Greg Biffle following them to the line and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top 5. The Biff led a race-high 204 laps that night.
Practice Schedule…We have what I like to call a “normal schedule” this weekend. It does, however, bring a disadvantage to fantasy racers in Yahoo!, as roster lockdowns are due before we see the cars on the track. The first practice session of the weekend will be on Thursday and starts at 3:30 pm. Qualifying is later that night with a start time of 7:00. On Saturday, the drivers will get even more track time with an additional practice session at 3:00 pm and Happy Hour starting at 5:30 pm. The Bank of America should start around 7:45 pm on Saturday. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Bank of America 500:
*Chase drivers are marked in red*
1. Kyle Busch – Somehow Kyle Busch has never won at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but that will change sometime soon. Rowdy is consistently up front at this track and will be once again on Saturday night. In the last ten points-paying races at this track, Busch has recorded nine top 10 finishes, seven of which have also been top 5s. He’s also led a total of 726 laps in those ten races. Like I said, he’s good here, and it’s really surprising that he’s never won. Don’t be concerned if the #18 will start far back on Saturday; Busch was 3rd here last time around despite starting 17th, and he qualified in 25th for this race last season and wound up 2nd. This team has been super strong as of late and as long as they can finish the race on Saturday, Kyle should at least get a top 5 finish.
2. Denny Hamlin – Joe Gibbs Racing is strong here overall, and now that it is crunch time in the Chase, Denny Hamlin and the #11 team should step it up another notch performance-wise, which could be some bad news for the rest of the field. As I said earlier, Hamlin ended up 2nd here last time around and that made it four straight top 10s at this track for him. Denny should easily make that five straight on Saturday night. Like teammate Kyle Busch, Hamlin has never won at Charlotte, but that could change soon. This is the same team that has won three of the last seven Sprint Cup races and has been rolling out rocketships week in and week out. Barring a major meltdown by the #11, #48, or #2 team(s), those drivers should be contenders for a top 5 every week from here on out.
3. Kasey Kahne – Kahne’s struggles and successes tend to come in streaks at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so pick him while he’s hot. This team was in victory lane here back in May, and in this event last season Kasey ended up 4th while still with Red Bull Racing. This #5 team has struggled finishing races here as of late, but when they do it has always been a top 5, so it’s not like the cars have been slow. Most recently, KK ended up 3rd at Chicago, which is also a 1.5-mile race track. Kahne’s average finish at Charlotte in seventeen career starts has been 12.7, which is fifth-best in the series among active drivers. Statistically, this is his second-best track on the circuit. As long as he looks good in practice, you should be able to count on Kahne for a solid top 5 finish on Saturday night.
4. Jimmie Johnson – Five Time finished outside the top 10 here back in May (11th), but it’s Chase time now and this team has finished 6th or better in three of the last four fall races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In case you forgot, Johnson won the All-Star Race earlier this season and used to absolutely dominate this track up until it was repaved before the 2007 season, and by dominant I’m talking eight finishes of 3rd or better in a row, five of which were wins. Yeah, it was almost unbelievable at the time. Jimmie and crew chief Chad Knaus know that they have to make up some points on Brad Keselowski this weekend, so I expect them to be aggressive yet conservative at the same time on Saturday. Either way, I expect Johnson to challenge for a top 5, although I don’t see him winning right now. A couple solid practice sessions on Friday could easily change my mind, though.
5. Brad Keselowski – Bad Brad survived the race at Talladega and now has a 14 point lead with six races remaining. In my opinion, the Sprint Cup championship is his to lose now (click here to read my article on that). He’ll need a good run here at Charlotte on Saturday night, but that shouldn’t be too hard. Keselowski ran 5th here back in May and finished 2nd in the All-Star Race to Jimmie Johnson. This team has also been on an absolute tear lately with only one finish outside of the top 10 in the last fourteen races. I don’t think the media has given this enough attention so I’m going to continue to mention it. That’s not easy to do and it shows exactly how strong this Penske team is. In my opinion, BK has put himself into the “elite” drivers category, and elite drivers perform when they need to. The Blue Deuce should at least be in the top 10 on Saturday night, but I’m betting a top 5 is more likely for this team.
6. Matt Kenseth – I’m being a little optimistic with Kenseth this weekend, hoping that the win at Talladega jumpstarts this team. To say that they struggled in August and September would be a major understatement. Still, Charlotte has been a very good track for Kenseth, especially as of late. He won this race in 2011 and his 10th-place finish here back in May made it six finishes of 10th or better in the last seven points-paying races at this track. The lone exception? A 14th-place effort in the 2011 Coca Cola 600, and Matt led over 100 laps that day. Kenseth is a two-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and although I don’t see him adding a third on Saturday night, a fifteenth top 10 at this track isn’t out of the question. If the #17 looks off during practice on Friday, however, expect Matt to fall in my final rankings this weekend.
7. Jeff Gordon – With his 2nd-place finish at Talladega last weekend, that now makes it six finishes or 3rd or better in the last seven Sprint Cup Series events for Jeff Gordon. Not too bad. Although I don’t see him making that seven of the last eight here at Charlotte on Saturday, a top 5 isn’t out of the question for this team. The #24 has had top 5 power week in and week out for the last two months it seems, and it doesn’t hurt that Gordon’s teammate, Kasey Kahne, won here back in May. Jeff ended up 7th in that event, and that broke a three-race streak of finishes 20th or worse for him at this track. Gordon is a five-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway and has finished inside the top 10 in 53.8% of his starts here. He should have no trouble improving upon that percentage this weekend.
8. Kevin Harvick – Believe it or not, nobody in the series has a better average finish at Charlotte over the last five points-paying races than Kevin Harvick. In those events, “Happy” has finished 11th or better in all of them, and that includes his win in the 2011 Coca Cola 600. He ended up 8th here back in May, and Harvick hasn’t finished worse than 13th in Sprint Cup action since August. I’m slowly gaining faith in this #29 team again. Kevin’s career average finish here over twenty-three career starts has been 18.1, but that has been skewed a bit in my opinion. Since the repavement before the 2007 season, Harvick has really turned things around at Charlotte. I’m penciling him in for a top 10 finish on Saturday night right now.
9. Greg Biffle – The Biff’s success this weekend, like his teammate, Matt Kenseth’s, will depend on whether or not the Roush-Fenway Fords have gotten back on track. This organization has struggled as a whole here lately, and you have to keep that in mind before picking any of them this weekend. Strictly looking at recent races here at Charlotte, though, Biffle should be a pretty good pick on Saturday. As I stated earlier, the #16 was out front for a race-high 204 laps here back in May, and that makes it three straight races at this track that Biffle has led 50 or more laps. As you probably remember, 2011 was a season of not finishing for this #16 team, and he ended up outside the top 10 in both of those races despite having a much better car than that. I have faith that the Roush organization will bounce back this weekend, but make sure they look good in practice before picking any of the Roushkateers.
10. Martin Truex, Jr. – The #56 Toyota has been one of the best on the 1.5-mile race tracks this season, but the exception was here at Charlotte back in May. They weren’t terrible, but they still weren’t as fast as they were in the other races. Still, Truex finished 12th in this year’s Coca Cola 600 and should challenge for a top 10 on Saturday night, something he hasn’t achieved at this track since 2009. In fourteen career starts here, Martin owns an average finish of 19.4, but he does know how to get around here, as Truex has won the Sprint Showdown twice in his career. He’s really a driver that could go either way on Saturday, but right now I think that the #56 Toyota will be in the mix for a top 10 this weekend. Then again, Truex does have four finishes outside of the top 20 in the last seven points-paying Charlotte races.
11. Joey Logano – Up until this year’s Coca Cola 600, Joey Logano had an incredible record here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s still pretty impressive–Logano’s 10.3 average finish is the best in the series–but it’s a little concerning that the #20 was good enough for just a 23rd-place finish in May. Up until this season, Sliced Bread finished 13th or better in all six of his starts at this race track, four of which were top 10s (including two top 5s). This team has turned things around as of late, and if the #20 Toyota is fast off the truck, make sure you keep Logano in your mind on Saturday when you make your picks. As I said before, the Gibbs organization has been very strong here over the years, and actually has the best average finish of all Cup organizations at Charlotte since 2010.
12. Carl Edwards – As I said before, I’m expecting the Roush Fords to complete their turnaround this weekend. Cousin Carl finished 9th here last time around, which is actually pretty good for this team considering how their season has gone this year. Over the last five points-paying races at Charlotte, Carl has the seventh-best average driver rating (94.8) among active drivers and the fifth-best average finish (11.2). Statistically, this is Edwards’ eighth-best track on the circuit, and he has posted nine top 10s in fifteen career starts here. Obviously it’s hard to trust the #99 this season, but this team did have that top 5 run back in Dover a couple weeks ago (if that eases your mind about picking Carl).
13. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – NASCAR’s favorite driver finished 6th here back in May, but that was then and this is now. It’s no secret that the #88 is in a slump, and it doesn’t look like their coming out of it anytime soon. I could be wrong, but I don’t see Junior ending up better than the mid-teens on Saturday night. In twenty-six career starts here at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has a career average finish of 18.9 and just eleven top 10s. In the last five fall events here, he hasn’t been able to finish better than 19th. That should change this weekend, but I don’t think it will be excessively better. The #88 did run 8th back at Chicago recently, though, so pay attention to the #88 in practice on Friday.
14. Clint Bowyer – Bowyer just isn’t great at Charlotte, but it’s not like he’s terrible, either. The #15 team walked away with a 13th-place finish here back in May after qualifying 5th, and that made it four straight points-paying races that Bowyer failed to crack the top 10 at this track. In thirteen career starts here, he has an average finish of 17.5 and has been able to muster just three top 10s. Chances are, if you play Yahoo!, you’re running low on Bowyer starts, and this is not the track that you want to use him at, especially with your last start. He finished 10th at Chicago a few weeks ago.
15. Mark Martin – Martin finished 34th here back in May, but don’t read too much into that; he was solidly inside the top 15 all night until his engine gave out with about 60 laps to go (big surprise, huh?). Lately, however, this team seems to have figured out their engine woes, which I personally believe is due to the fact that Mark doesn’t log lap after lap in practice like he did earlier this season. In the eight points-paying races at Charlotte from 2007 to 2010, Martin never finished worse than 17th, and I’m expecting a solid top 15 out of him on Saturday night. If he looks really fast in practice, I might bump up my prediction a little bit, but I like him a lot more on the shorter tracks. For whatever reason, he tends to disappoint when the track gets above 1 mile in length.
***NOTE***: Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. are both scheduled to attempt the race at Charlotte this weekend.
Those To Avoid Entering The Bank of America 500:
Jeff Burton - Yeah, he had a top 10 last week, but really the only time you should pick Jeff Burton is when a plate race rolls around. The #31 will be good for a top 20 finish on Saturday night, but that’s not what you want in these final six races. Jeff was good–and by good I’m talking a win in 2008 five finishes of 6th or better in six races–at Charlotte up until 2009. In the six races since he’s only been able to muster one top 15 finishes.
Tony Stewart - For whatever reason, Smoke just isn’t very good at Charlotte. He finished 8th in this race last season but that was in the midst of his incredible run during the Chase, so you have to put an asterisk by that. That is Stewart’s only top 10 at this track in the last nine points-paying races here, and I don’t expect him to compete come Saturday night. This team struggled mightily in the Coca Cola 600, finished 25th after qualifying 21st. The time to pick Smoke at Charlotte was before the repave.