Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Kansas 2 – Hollywood Casino 400 (2012 Chase Race #6)
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 16, 2012 5:28 pm UTC No Comments
This week we’re at Kansas Speedway for the second time this season, but fantasy racers have an unknown variable to work with. The track was recently re-paved and progressive banking was added. Will there be much of a difference from the old Kansas to the new? Right now I don’t think anyone’s sure. There are testing sessions planned for Wednesday and Thursday so that will give us a little more of an idea. For the rankings below, however, I will be using past Kansas data along with some recent performances on intermediate tracks.
During The Last Race At Kansas…It was Martin Truex, Jr. who had the dominating car all afternoon (leading 173 of the 267 laps) but Denny Hamlin was the one who ended up in victory lane. Truex finished 2nd with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle rounding out the top 5. Pole-sitter A.J. Allmendinger led the first 44 laps of the STP 400 but ended up 32nd when it was all said and done due to engine issues throughout the race.
Practice Schedule…After the testing sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, an official practice session will be held on Friday afternoon. It starts at 12:30 pm and will be followed by qualifying at 5:00. On Saturday, there are two more practices scheduled, the first beginning at 11:00 am and Happy Hour set to start at 1:30 pm. The Hollywood Casino 400 green flag should wave around 1:45 pm on Sunday. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Hollywood Casino 400:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson – This isn’t “Jimmie’s House,” but it certainly is close. Five Time is a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway (the most recent victory coming in this race one year ago) and has an incredible average finish of 7.9 at the track, which is good enough for best in the series. Johnson has led 503 laps in his career at this venue and has had a driver rating of at least 99.5 in every single race here since NASCAR started keeping track of that in 2005. He almost always finishes up front at Kansas and has been the best on the intermediate tracks all season long. There’s absolutely no reason to go against the #48 this weekend, plain and simple. I’d actually consider Johnson almost a lock for a top 5 on Sunday.
2. Brad Keselowski – As I stated earlier, the Penske #22 car was really good here last time around, and Keselowski wasn’t too shabby either in the Blue Deuce (he finished 11th that day after leading two laps). Ever since Bad Brad jumped into Sprint Cup action, he’s been good at Kansas Speedway, actually. In his first start at this track (with Hendrick in 2009), he wound up 13th. He grabbed a win in the spring race here a year ago and followed that up with a solid 3rd-place effort in this event in the fall. There’s no reason to think that Keselowski will have a bad race this weekend. He’s had just one in the last fifteen Sprint Cup events, and that was the fluke race in Bristol in August. It also doesn’t hurt that the Blue Deuce gets the best fuel mileage in the garage, and with the way this Chase is going, the Hollywood Casino 400 could very well come down to that factor.
3. Denny Hamlin - Wouldn’t it be something if these three guys pulled off a “Tony Stewart vs. Carl Edwards, 2011″ type of run in these last five Chase races? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, I’ll tell you that. As I said before, Hamlin won the race here last time around and should be challenging for a top 5 once again in the Hollywood Casino 400. He also ended up 3rd here last June and was 5th in the 2009 race at this track. All in all, Hamlin has just one finish worse than 12th in the last six Kansas races, and that was a 16th-place effort in this race one year ago. This race could be a deal-breaker for the #11 team, though. If Denny struggles on Sunday (Darian Grubb doesn’t have the best record here exactly), he could find himself out of the championship hunt–in my opinion, anyway. I don’t see that happening, though. This #11 Toyota has arguably been the strongest car in the Sprint Cup series over the last two months.
4. Greg Biffle – This will be the week that really shows whether or not Greg Biffle is back to mid-season form or not. Statistically, Kansas Speedway is the best track on the circuit for The Biff. He’s collected two victories here over his twelve career starts and has an incredible average finish of 8.0 at this track. When you take away his first attempt here, which was with Andy Petree Racing and where Biffle finished 36th, his average finish jumps up to a staggering 5.5. There’s no doubt that the #16 is right there alongside the #48 this season for the strongest on the intermediate tracks, and both should at least be challenging for top 5 finishes on Sunday.
5. Kasey Kahne – This team has regressed a bit over the last few weeks, but I’m not too worried. Kahne was the runner-up driver in this event last season (in the Red Bull car) and he followed that up with a solid 8th-place effort here back in April. What worries me a little bit, however, is the new track surface. Kahne tends to run the high line on the intermediate tracks, and usually when a track is re-surfaced, the low line is the place to be on race day. That being said, KK still ended up 3rd at Michigan in August, which also got a new surface before that race. This team is having a decently strong Chase and finished 3rd at Chicagoland a month ago. Keep an eye on the #5 in practice on Saturday.
6. Clint Bowyer – I’m sure you’ve heard it a few times already, but this team’s goal for the rest of the season is simple: keep on winning and the points standings will fall as they may. Sorry to say, but this team probably won’t win the championship even if they win every race from here on out (which they won’t, by the way). But still, Bowyer will probably be a popular pick this weekend in Kansas. This is his home track and he generally runs very well at it, although the stat sheet says different. Bowyer ended up 36th here back in April but that was due to an engine problem. He was 7th in this race one year ago, however, and is the most recent winner in the Sprint Cup series. On top of that, Clint has nine finishes inside the top 10 over the last eleven races, believe it or not. He should make it ten out of twelve on Sunday.
7. Jeff Gordon – At 11.1, Jeff Gordon has the fifth-best average finish at Kansas Speedway among active drivers. He’s collected two victories here in his thirteen starts (the most recent coming in 2002) and has finished 5th or better in five of the last seven events at this track. The bad news? The most recent two races were the ones where he broke that streak. Gordon wound up 34th here in this race one year ago (due to an engine problem) and never really got going here in April, where he qualified 20th and finished 21st. However, you have to consider how much stronger and consistent this team is now compared to six months ago. Gordon had a hiccup in Charlotte last weekend but should be able to get back on track here at Kansas on Sunday.
8. Matt Kenseth – I still don’t think he’s bounced back as much as his teammate, Greg Biffle, but Matt Kenseth and the #17 team is getting there. Kansas Speedway has been a really nice track for the ’03 champ, especially as of late. In the last six events at the track, Kenseth has ended up 7th or better in all but one of them, and the lone exception was due to an engine failure in the 2009 race. He’s never won here, but Matt has compiled four top 5 finishes alongside seven top 10s in thirteen career starts at this 1.5-mile venue. He’s not a lock for a top 10 on Sunday, so make sure the #17 Ford looks good in practice on Saturday.
9. Mark Martin – The race here at Kansas back in April was when I originally stopped trusting Mark Martin and the #55 Toyota’s engines. Boy have things changed. Martin no longer logs lap after lap after lap in practice and the cars have been super fast in the race for the last month (I’m not sure if those two things are related, but I’m going with it). Furthermore, Mark is finishing races. He ended up 6th at Charlotte last weekend and that makes it three finishes of 6th or better in his last four Sprint Cup starts. That also makes it four top 10s in his last five attempts. Back in April, Martin was running solidly inside the top 10 all day, but as I eluded to earlier, his engine let go and he finished 33rd. Unless that happens again on Sunday, expect a good run out of the #55 team.
10. Carl Edwards – When Cousin Carl makes it through a Kansas race without getting caught up in someone else’s wreck (video here), he’s pretty good. Even though he has slumped this season, Edwards still managed a 9th-place finish here back in April after qualifying 21st. That makes it eight finishes of 10th or better in the last nine Kansas races for Carl. He’s coming off a 7th-place effort at Charlotte last weekend and grabbed just his third top 5 of the season in Dover a few weeks ago. Could this team be turning things around for a late season surge, similar to Denny Hamlin last season? Only time will tell, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
11. Martin Truex, Jr. – There are a whole lot of things to like about Martin Truex, Jr. and the #56 team this weekend. As I stated before, they had the absolute best car here last time around, and Truex has been one of the best in the series this year on the 1.5-mile race tracks. His 10th-place finish at Charlotte last weekend backs that up to a degree. However, there is one thing I don’t like about this team this weekend, and that is something entirely out of their control: the track. Truex really excels when he can work the high line in, and with the repavement, the fastest way around the track is probably going to be hugging the bottom. We’ll have to see what the cars look like in practice but I think this is something that goes against the #56 team this weekend. You can’t argue with the fact that Truex has been one of the best/safest picks on these cookie cutter tracks in 2012, though.
12. Kyle Busch – The #18 Toyota has been super fast week in and week out since the Chase started, and this driver will probably jump up in my final predictions on Saturday (you can find those at www.ifantasyrace.com). The fact of the matter is that Kyle Busch’s record at Kansas Speedway leaves a lot to be desired. Through ten career starts here, Rowdy has an average finish of 20th and has recorded just two top 10s. He has led 84 laps here in his career though, which is good enough for 11th-best among active drivers. Busch’s best effort at Kansas (7th) came during the 2006 season.
13. Joey Logano – This #20 team seems to have hit on something as of late, and like Mark Martin, you need to roll with them while they’re hot. With his 9th-place effort at Charlotte last weekend, Logano now has four top 10 finishes in the five Chase races ran thus far with the lone exception being his 32nd at Talladega. Qualifying has been a strong suit for Joey here at Kansas Speedway over the last two years (three top 5 qualifying efforts in four races) but he hasn’t been able to breakthrough with a great finish yet. His best effort at this track came in the spring when Sliced Bread started 3rd and finished 15th. His stats aren’t great at this track but that’s why Joey Logano is considered a darkhorse driver this weekend.
14. Kevin Harvick – Make that five straight weeks without a top 10 finish for this #29 team. They’re not running terrible by any means, but in most leagues you don’t want a teens finish out of a driver like Kevin Harvick. He may be able to turn things around in Kansas this weekend, though. Over the last seven races at this track, “Happy” has wound up 6th or better in five of them and he has just one finish outside of the top 11 over that span. His career average finish here is 13th. Right now I don’t think this team will turn things around this weekend in Kansas, but be sure to check out my predictions after Happy Hour on Saturday to get my final word. Those can be found at www.ifantasyrace.com.
15. Regan Smith – Okay, I’ll bite. I was a bit rough on this guy last weekend at Charlotte but he actually looked pretty good–although I hope you listened to me and didn’t pick him. We know he’s going to have some power under the hood this weekend and with the two testing sessions along with the practices this weekend, that should give Steve Letarte and the boys enough time to make Regan comfortable in the #88 car. Unless you hear that they plan on testing for the other Hendrick teams, feel free to take a shot with Smith this weekend. He’s finished 24th in the last three Kansas races but should be better than that in the Hollywood Casino 400.
Honorable Mention: Sam Hornish, Jr. The Double Deuce Penske car was really strong here last time around and Sammy got some of his mojo back in Charlotte last weekend with a solid 15th-place finish. He also finished 19th here back in April after starting 10th and leading seven laps. He was in the #12 Penske Dodge that weekend.
Those To Avoid Entering The Hollywood Casino 400:
Tony Stewart - This team is an enigma right now–heck, this whole organization, really–and has been really for the whole season except for the early months when the #14 Chevrolet was dominant at all the intermediates. And one thing I really don’t like on my fantasy team, especially in the final races, is a question mark. Smoke’s 13th-place effort at Charlotte last weekend makes it three straight Sprint Cup races without the #14 inside the top 10. He’s generally pretty good at Kansas Speedway (eight top 10s in thirteen starts, including two wins) but has finished 15th and 13th in his last two efforts. I prefer safer options at this time of the year in fantasy racing.
Danica Patrick - Yes, NASCAR’s favorite female is entered in the race this weekend, but unless you are in a league where you need to reach middle-of-the-Earth deep, there’s no reason to take the #10. What I will say about Danica, however, is that she is improving, and doing a whole lot better that I thought she would. In the last two intermediate races she’s been in (Charlotte and Atlanta), Patrick has ended up 25th and 29th. If for some reason this race in Kansas turns into a wreckfest, Danica might be able to gather her first top 20 finish in NASCAR’s top series. I wouldn’t count on that, though.