November 6, 2012
We’re back at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend for the Advocare 500, and this will be the third race on the new surface and track configuration. This brings up one variable for fantasy racers: should you look at a driver’s overall history at this track or just the two races on the “new” Phoenix? Qualifying got even more important (in my opinion) once the track was re-configured, so make sure you keep that in mind this weekend.
During The Last Race At Phoenix…Denny Hamlin found himself in victory lane when the Subway Fresh Fit 500 was all said and done. He led 61 of the 312 laps that day. Kevin Harvick finished 2nd after leading a race-high 88 laps, and Greg Biffle followed him to the line in 3rd. Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…The schedule this weekend is very close to what we went through last weekend in Texas. At 2:00 pm on Friday the first practice session of the weekend will be held followed by qualifying at 6:00 pm. On Saturday morning, at 11:30 am, the second practice of the weekend will start and then Happy Hour is set to begin at 2:30 pm that day. The Advocare 500 is set to go green around 3:00 pm on Sunday.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Advocare 500:
1. Jimmie Johnson - Phoenix has always been one of Five Time’s best tracks on the circuit–he’s never finished worse than 15th in eighteen career starts–and I’d be willing to bet that he’s going to be challenging for the win once again on Sunday evening, and there’s also a good chance that he gets a third straight. In my personal opinion, the #48 Chevrolet was the best car here back in February, and his 14th-place effort in this event last season was due mainly to the re-configuration (the entire Hendrick was off that weekend). Jimmie has finished inside the top 5 in eleven of the last twelve Phoenix races, and unless he wrecks or has a mechanical issue on Sunday, he’s pretty much a lock for another. It’d be absolutely foolish to go against the #48 this weekend.
2. Brad Keselowski - Wouldn’t it be great if we saw another “2011 Tony Stewart v. Carl Edwards” battle this year? I’ve been saying it for awhile, and judging from last weekend it looks like it may be possible. Brad Keselowski tends to perform better at tracks when the series visits them a second time in a season. That’s a good sign for the #2 team because the Blue Deuce was a top 5 car here last time around, as I said before. BK’s career average finish at Phoenix in six starts has been 22.2, but you should know by now to ignore that number (although ESPN won’t). Keselowski will be a top 5 car on Sunday evening and there’s no reason to think otherwise, due partly to what I like to call “the Chase effect”. The question is to whether or not this team will be able to put a better car on the track than the #48 this weekend–or implement better strategy.
3. Kyle Busch - Believe it or not, only Jimmie Johnson has a better average driver rating over the last five Phoenix races than Rowdy Busch. I don’t think there’s any doubt the #18 Toyota will have a bunch of speed this weekend, but like it has been for the entire Chase thus far (well, the whole season really) it will come down to whether Kyle and the team can finish the race. Obviously I think they will be able to and, if that is the case, Busch should be a top 5 driver on Sunday–where he has finished at in four of the last five Sprint Cup races. Kyle finished 6th here back in February and led 52 laps.
4. Jeff Gordon - There are two main reasons that I like Jeff Gordon so much this weekend. One, his record at Phoenix is pretty good: in twenty-seven career starts in the desert, he owns an average finish of 10.8 and has collected two wins, the most recent coming last season. And the second (and more important) reason is the #24 Chevrolet has had a phenomenal record on the flat tracks this season. I do have my concerns, though, and you could see Jeff tumble in my final rankings on Saturday. After his awesome run in August and September, Gordon not hasn’t finished better than 7th in the last month of Sprint Cup action and has finished outside of the top 10 in two of those four events. Be sure to watch the #24 in practice this weekend. As a side note, I think the whole Hendrick stable will be strong this weekend.
5. Clint Bowyer - Clint’s record here at Phoenix is not very good–fourteen starts, 16.9 average finish, and just two top 5s–but doesn’t it seem like I’ve been saying that for the whole Chase? This team has been cranking out solid finishes week in and week out since NASCAR’s playoffs began, and if they wouldn’t have had the hiccup at Talladega in October, the championship race would probably be a three-man contest. Clint has just one top 20 finish at Phoenix in the last four events at this track, but like Brad Keselowski you kind of need to disregard his record here. There’s no reason to think that the #15 Toyota will be a solid top 10 car–if not better–all day on Sunday.
6. Kasey Kahne - As I said before, I’m expecting a good weekend out of the Hendrick organization. They have been one of the stronger teams here at Phoenix over the last few years and I don’t expect that to change on Sunday. In case you forgot, Kasey won this event a year ago while driving for Red Bull Racing, and he was running inside the top 5 here back in February but ended up in the wall and finished 34th. That was when this team had very bad luck, though, so keep that in mind. Kahne’s record at this track is anything but stellar–20.0 average finish in sixteen starts–but when he has a good car, he tends to get the finish. Kasey let fantasy owners down in Texas last weekend but I think he’ll bounce back in the desert and should have a top 10 car.
7. Tony Stewart - I say it every single week, but it’s true: it’s almost impossible to predict how Tony Stewart will be during any given Sprint Cup weekend based on the simple fact that this team is so non-consistant. That being said, I think Smoke’s 5th-place run in Texas last weekend will give him momentum here in Phoenix on Sunday. He finished 3rd in this event last season (which, to be fair, was during his awesome Chase run) and has led 228 laps combined over the last three races here. The #14 has been real solid on the flat tracks this season and I think that continues this weekend. As usual, however, make you Smoke’s car is good in practice. I don’t see him challenging for a top 5 in the Advocare 500 but a top 10 isn’t out of the question at all.
8. Ryan Newman - “The Rocketman” always excels on the flat tracks and should be a popular pick this weekend. He has been disappointing all season long, though, so make sure the #39 Chevrolet looks good in practice on Saturday before going “all in”. That being said, Newman has been really good here at Phoenix since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He finished 21st here back in February, but before that Ryan was on a four-race streak of top 5s at this track, including a win here in 2010. Newman’s career average finish at this track is 18.7 but I expect him to be much better than that on Sunday.
9. Denny Hamlin - Surprised that the most recent winner at this track is ranked so low? That’s understandable, but there’s a method to my madness. It’s been shuffled in the news because of the battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, but it’s starting to look like the #11 team is dismantling. This team was just off last weekend in Texas and ended up finished 20th. What’s even more concerning is the fact that that is Hamlin’s fourth finish OUTSIDE of the top 10 in the last five Sprint Cup races–and third straight. However, you can’t look past the fact that Denny has a career average finish of 10.9 in fourteen starts at this track and has just one finish worst than 12th in the last nine.
10. Kevin Harvick - ATTENTION: We have finally seen Kevin Harvick inside the top 10! With his 9th-place finish at Texas last weekend, “Happy” grabbed his first top 10 in Sprint Cup action since early September. And the good news for Harvick fans is that he may be able to make it two in a row this weekend in Phoenix. In three of the last four races at this track, Harvick has finished 6th or better, and that includes his 2nd-place run here back in February, as I stated before–but I don’t see that happening again. Only two drivers (Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman) have a better average finish than “Happy” at this track in the last five events. Nothing is guaranteed with this team, though, so make sure you pay attention to the #29 in practice.
11. Joey Logano - SLEEPER ALERT! Phoenix is Sliced Bread’s sixth-best track on the circuit, but you could argue that it is more like one of his top two or three. In seven career starts here, Joey has amassed an average finish of 15.6, but since his rookie season he’s been a lot better than that. In the five races here since 2009, Logano has ended up 11th or better in four of them, and the lone exception was the February race here in 2011, where the #20 ended up 33rd. Keep in mind, however, that Joey started 6th that race but had engine problems. He finished 11th in Texas last weekend and could challenge for a top 10 in the desert on Sunday.
12. Mark Martin - In reality, this ranking is too low for Mark Martin because this is his best track on the circuit. In thirty-one starts here, Martin has amassed a career average finish of 9th (second-best among active drivers) and two wins. He won the pole here back in March and ended up 9th despite only leading one lap. That makes it seventeen straight Phoenix races that Martin has finished 16th or better, and that shouldn’t change on Sunday, as this race isn’t very long mileage-wise (engine issues). About the only concerning thing about Mark Martin this week is that he has finished outside of the top 10 in three of his last five Sprint Cup starts, but a couple of those weren’t due to a slow race car by any means.
13. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Junior is a two-time winner at Phoenix International Raceway but those came back in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. A lot has changed since then, and Earnhardt has posted just one top 10 finish in his last seven starts at this track. The good news, however, is that in the last five, he has ended up 14th or better in four of them, and I expect that to happen once again on Sunday. The #88 has been decently strong on the flat tracks in 2012 and you should know by now what I think about Hendrick this weekend. This team’s 7th-place effort in Texas last week may just give them a shot in the arm that they need to finish out this season strong.
14. Greg Biffle - The Biff is either really good here or really bad, so keep that in mind this weekend. He finished 3rd here back in March, as I said before, and was 4th in this event during the 2010 season. However, in the two races between those two events, Biffle ended up 20th and 13th. In seventeen career starts at this track, Greg has averaged a finish of 14.1 and has posted five top 5s. It’s worth noting, however, that he has just six top 10s–reiterating the fact that he’s somewhat hit-or-miss. The #16 has ended up inside the top 10 in four of the last five Sprint Cup races (despite people thinking that they are struggling) and this team could challenge for another on Sunday. Be sure to keep an eye on Biffle in practice.
15. Matt Kenseth - Roush isn’t incredible here, but they tend to be pretty consistent, so that’s a good thing. In the last five events at Phoenix, Kenseth and the #17 team have finished 14th or better in four of them, and the lone exception was this event last season. Keep in mind, however, that Matt won the pole for that event and led 49 laps before finishing 34th (driveraverages.com lists the reason as “accident”). Kenseth has struggled on the flat tracks this season, however, so I’m a bit concerned with that. We’ll have to see what the #17 Ford looks like in practice on Saturday.
October 30, 2012
And now it’s down to two. The Sprint Cup Series championship will likely be won by either Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski, and there’s three races left on the schedule for those two to duke it out. On Sunday, the drivers will log 500 long miles at Texas Motor Speedway, which is a 1.5-mile tri-oval race track. Speeds will be high and cautions will be few, and it’s always possible that the race will come down to fuel mileage.
During The Last Race At Texas…Jimmie Johnson led nearly half of the race here back in April but it was Greg Biffle who crossed the finish line ahead of “Five Time”. Mark Martin ended up 3rd that day with Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth rounding out the top 5. Pole sitter Martin Truex, Jr., who led 69 laps that day, wound up 6th.
Practice Schedule…Just like last weekend at Martinsville, the Sprint Cup Series will practice on Friday afternoon (12:30 pm) and then have qualifying later that day (4:30 pm). Then, on Saturday, there will be two additional practice sessions, the first starting at 3:00 pm and Happy Hour set to kick off at 5:30 pm. The AAA Texas 500 should start sometime around 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The AAA Texas 500:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson - Five Time’s record here isn’t as great as it is at other tracks, but it’s still good nonetheless. In eighteen career starts here, Johnson has only one win but averages a finish of 9.7 and has finished inside the top 5 nearly half of the time. This team will be on the A game from here on out so get used to seeing Jimmie’s name near the top of every power rankings chart. On similar tracks this season, nobody has been as strong consistently as the #48 team and here at Texas back in April Johnson led a race-high 156 laps. He has five top 5s in the last seven Sprint Cup races and should easily make it six of eight on Sunday evening.
2. Matt Kenseth - Statistically this has been Matt Kenseth’s best track on the circuit and he also has the best average finish here at Texas (8.6) among active drivers. The #17 won a couple weeks ago in Kansas–another tri-oval intermediate track–and wound up 5th here back in April. That makes it six top 5s in the last seven Texas races for Kenseth and twelve in the last fourteen. The #17 is up front here every single race and that won’t change this weekend, as Kenseth should be challenging for his third win in the last five Sprint Cup races–and his third career at this track.
3. Clint Bowyer – Right now it’s just difficult to overlook how strong this #15 team has been for the last month or so. I didn’t really take Clint seriously when he said they were going to go out and try to win every week for the rest of the season but this team has been living up to that statement. At Texas specifically, Bowyer’s record isn’t super strong, but it’s still pretty good. Three of the last four races at this track have ended with Clint solidly inside the top 10 and only five drivers have a better average driver rating in the five races here since the beginning of the 2010 season. Clint won at Charlotte a few weeks ago and ended up 6th back at Kansas, both of which are tri-oval intermediate tracks. He has eleven top 10s in the last thirteen Sprint Cup races and should make it twelve for fourteen when the checkered flag waves on Sunday.
4. Kasey Kahne – When you look at Kasey Kahne’s record on the tri-oval intermediate tracks this season, it might surprise you a little bit considering this team got off to quite a rocky start early on. In the nine races on these types of tracks thus far, Kahne has recorded seven top 10 finishes and one win, which came at Charlotte in May. Most recently, he finished 4th at Kansas after starting on the pole. Here at Texas Motor Speedway, Kasey has recorded one victory (back in 2006) and has finished 3rd and 7th in his last two attempts. Kahne’s average finish of 18.8 here might worry you a little bit but keep in mind that this team has been firing on all cylinders since the Chase started and hasn’t finished worse than 15th.
5. Kyle Busch - Speaking of being really strong in this year’s Chase, the #18 team has been right up there with the best of them when there hasn’t been any mechanical issues, something you can’t predict. In the last eight races on tri-oval intermediate tracks, Rowdy has finished 11th or better in all but one of them, and that was at Kansas a couple weeks ago. We all know what happened there. At Texas, Kyle has been somewhat hit-or-miss–similar to his record last week at Martinsville–but when he has a good car, he can be counted on for a top 5 for the most part. Busch finished 11th here back in April but should be much stronger than that this weekend, and he’s a lot better here than his 15.8 average finishes makes him out to be.
6. Brad Keselowski - Well, in the two Chase races that Brad Keselowski was worried the most about, he finished 8th and 6th. He still lost the points lead to Jimmie Johnson but I think it should be a good battle from here on out between the #48 and the #2. Keselowski’s record here at Texas is nothing special whatsoever–five starts, ZERO top 10s, and an average finish of 25.3–but this is one of those weeks where you simply need to disregard those statistics. On similar tri-oval intermediate tracks this season, Bad Brad has been one of the best and has finished 11th or better in each of the last seven. I boldly predict (just kidding, this isn’t bold at all) that Keselowski will post a career-best finish at Texas this weekend. His current best is 14th, which came back in 2010.
7. Greg Biffle - Despite having a career average finish of 16.2 at Texas, this is actually one of the best tracks on the circuit to use Greg Biffle in fantasy racing. He’s always strong here but sometimes he simply doesn’t get the finish he deserves. However, as I stated earlier, The Biff is the most recent race winner at this track and is currently on an eight-race streak of top 10s here and has led an incredibly impressive 452 laps over that span. There’s no doubt in my mind that the #16 should be solidly inside the top 10 here on Sunday, but it is worth noting that this team has been disappointing on the tri-oval intermediate tracks as of late, with just one top 10 (at Charlotte) in the last five races. The other four results were: Kentucky (21st), Atlanta (15th), Chicago (13th), and Kansas (27th).
8. Denny Hamlin - Hamlin won both races here during the 2010 season but hasn’t done much since. In the three events at Texas since those two victories, Denny has finished 15th, 20th, and 12th and has led a grand total of zero laps. That being said, he’s been really strong on the tri-oval intermediate tracks as of late, posting a 3rd-place finish or better in five of the last seven. With two “stumble” weeks in a row, however, you have to wonder how that is affecting Denny Hamlin mentally, and whether or not that will show on the racetrack this weekend. In a perfect world, Hamlin would be a serious threat for a top 5 finish on Sunday (and maybe even a win), but this world is nowhere near perfect. In fourteen career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Denny has an average finish of 10.3, which is good enough for third-best among active drivers.
9. Jeff Gordon - This ranking will most likely be too low when it’s all said and done on Sunday, but there are just other drivers that I like more than Jeff Gordon this weekend. As I stated earlier, he finished 4th here back in April and that was a follow-up to his 6th-place effort in this event last season. When you look at the recent tri-oval intermediate track races, however, the #24 hasn’t been as strong as expected (35th at Chicago–not his fault–18th at Charlotte, and 10th at Kansas). In twenty-three career starts at this track, Jeff Gordon has a career average finish of 16.2 but should improve upon that in the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday. I’m not expecting another top 5 out of him, though. He has one career victory at this track, which came back in 2009.
10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Yeah, he disappointed fantasy owners last week in Martinsville (myself included) but the #88 Chevrolet was still strong, in my opinion. This week we’re at Texas Motor Speedway and this venue is actually one of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s best tracks on the circuit. In twenty career starts here, he has collected eleven top 10 finishes and he won here back in 2000. Currently, Junior is on a three-race streak of top 10 finishes here and should make it four-straight on Sunday. When you look at the tri-oval intermediate track races this season, it may or may not surprise you that Earnhardt hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 in any of them.
11. Mark Martin - The one reason that I have Mark Martin outside of the top 10 this week is because the engine woes returned for him at Kansas a couple weeks ago. That may very well have been a fluke problem but the race this Sunday is a 500-mile event and that adds a little bit more worry into my mind. That being said, Mark was a solid top 5 car here last time around and his average finish of 13.3 here is sixth-best among active drivers. Also, in five of his last seven Texas starts, Martin has finished 6th or better, which shows you how much he likes this track. If the #55 doesn’t have another engine problem, Martin should be a very good pick on Sunday–I’m back to thinking that that’s a pretty big “if,” though.
12. Martin Truex, Jr. - Believe it or not, Truex has just one finish this season outside of the top 12 on the tri-oval intermediate tracks this season, and that was his 17th-place run at Las Vegas back in March. I know that the #56 Toyota has been strong this season but even that surprises me. Truex ended up 2nd in Kansas a couple weeks ago, and although I don’t think he’ll be that strong this weekend in Texas, a top 10 is nowhere out of the question for this team. As I mentioned before, he was 6th here last time around and that followed up his 8th-place finish in this event one year ago. Before his breakout season this year, Texas had actually been a pretty good track for Martin; he has finished inside the top 10 in half of his fourteen starts here and really Truex’s bad runs only happened due to either a wreck or engine problems.
13. Kevin Harvick – This team had an engine failure in Martinsville last weekend but I wouldn’t expect that to happen again, so you can probably count on Harvick for another finish between 11th and 16th. He finished 9th here back in April but that’s when this team was running a little better than they are now. I’m not sure what’s going on there but right now it looks like the #29 Chevrolet is the second-strongest car out of the RCR fleet every week. Happy has a career average finish of 12.7 here at Texas Motor Speedway and that is good enough for fourth-best among active drivers.
14. Tony Stewart - Smoke won this event last season but keep in mind that that was during his incredible run to win the championship. When you take that out of the equation, that is Tony’s only top 10 finish at this track since the start of the 2010 season. Still, with an average finish of 13.1, Smoke still has the fifth-best average finish here among active drivers and he finishes inside the top 10 more often than not. He’s a two-time winner at Texas and even though I don’t think the #14 has a shot on Sunday, it’s certainly possible (remember how strong this team was on the intermediates to start the season?). In recent tri-oval intermediate track races, Stewart has finished 5th (Kansas) and 6th (Chicago) among four races outside of the top 20 (both Charlotte races, Atlanta, and Kentucky).
15. Paul Menard - Paul has finished 15th or better in three of the last four Texas races and he should make it four in the last five on Sunday evening. This team has picked up right where they left off once Slugger Labbe came back and that includes their surprising 3rd-place run in Kansas a couple weeks ago. I’m not predicting a finish similar to that at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the #27 Chevrolet flirted with the top 10 in the AAA Texas 500. Menard’s best run here came in 2011 when he finished 5th. Since the Charlotte race in May this team has been a top 15 machine on the tri-oval intermediate race tracks.
October 16, 2012
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.
October 9, 2012
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.
September 25, 2012
We’re at another one-mile race track this weekend, but unlike Loudon the speeds at Dover International Raceway tend to get pretty fast. Nicknamed “The Monster Mile,” there seems to be no “middle ground” for drivers here in Dover Delaware; essentially, you’re either really good or really bad here. Six of the twelve Chase participants have an average finish of 16th or worse at this track, so to say this year’s AAA 400 is important is an understatement. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing some people’s championship hopes go up in smoke (maybe literally) on Sunday.
During The Last Race At Dover…Jimmie Johnson simply dominated here back in June, which shouldn’t be surprising. He led 289 of the 400 laps en route to the victory. Following him to the line was Kevin Harvick, who started 6th that day, followed by Matt Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 5. Pole sitter Mark Martin, who led 43 laps that day, ended up 14th.
Practice Schedule…This weekend we’re back to the schedule that we’ve been more accustomed to this year. On Friday, there will be two practice sessions. The first will start at 11:00 am followed by Happy Hour at 2:30 pm that afternoon. Once those are done with, the cars won’t be on the track again until Saturday afternoon during qualifying. There will be no practice after that and then the race on Sunday is set to start around 2:00 pm. All times are in Eastern. If you play Yahoo! Auto Racing, that means we don’t have to lock down our rosters until Saturday morning, which is pretty advantageous (and allows you to use some start savers/sleepers).
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The AAA 400:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson – I’m still waiting for a legitimate reason as to why Jimmie Johnson should not be the favorite going into Dover this weekend. There really is none, but if you think you have one, go ahead and send me it. Not only is this team firing on all cylinders, but this is one of Five Time’s best tracks. He’s won at Dover an incredible seven times and has led more laps (2,275) than anyone except Jeff Gordon, who has led 2,291. However, keep in mind that Gordon has made 18 more starts here than Johnson, and I have a feeling that Jimmie will pass his teammate on Sunday. When you take out his two finishes in the mid-30s (back in 2003 and 2004), which were due accidents, Jimmie Johnson has never finished worse than 16th at Dover–he’s just that good here.
2. Matt Kenseth – Matt Kenseth is a two-time winner at The Monster Mile (most recently in the spring race of 2011), and although his record isn’t quite as impressive as Jimmie Johnson’s, it’s still pretty damn good. Basically, Kenseth is a top 5 machine here; in eight of the last nine events at Dover, the #17 has ended up inside the top 5 once the checkered flag waved. Furthermore, Kenseth has had a driver rating below 100.0 in only two of the last fifteen races here. This team needs a great run (read: win) this weekend to keep their Chase hopes alive, although it should be a little concerning to fantasy racers that they haven’t been as strong lately. Matt has just three top 10s in the last ten Sprint Cup events. Still, Dover his is fifth-best track on the circuit and he has finished inside the top 10 in 66.7% of his starts here. The #17 Ford should be a factor come Sunday.
3. Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer finally cracked through and got his first top 5 finish at Dover earlier this year, and I’m expecting something of the same on Sunday as well. Statistically, this is Clint’s seventh-best track on the circuit, and he has just two finishes outside of the top 20 in his thirteen career starts. So at least he’s consistent. What I really like is how strong this team has been lately, with seven top 10s in the last eight Sprint Cup events, including the win at Richmond and the solid 4th-place showing at Loudon last week. I did, however, hear that Bowyer was a little disappointed with their finish at New Hampshire, so that may give him some extra fire come Sunday. This may end up a bit of a reach with the #15 in 3rd, but don’t sleep on this team this weekend.
4. Kyle Busch – You can’t do anything about engine issues, so try and keep Kyle Busch’s woes in Loudon out of your head this weekend. Ironically, Busch also had problems with the motor the last time we were here at Dover. The good news, however, is that he was inside the top 5 for most of the race before that happened. The story of Kyle Busch at this track is really him simply being a hit-or-miss pick. In fifteen career starts at The Monster Mile, Rowdy has recorded nine finishes of 6th or better including wins in 2010 and 2008. On the other hand, Kyle has five finishes outside the top 20 completely. Most, if not all of those, however, were not the result of a slow car, but rather a mechanical issue or wreck. There’s no doubt in my mind that the #18 Toyota will be one of the fastest cars this weekend, it will just be up to this team to put a full race together and bring home the finish. It’s a super risky pick to take Kyle Busch this week, but you know what they say: high risk, high reward.
5. Denny Hamlin – Half of the 2012 Chase drivers have an average finish of 16th or worse at Dover International Raceway, and that includes Denny Hamlin. This team will be facing an even tougher test this weekend as well because Darian Grubb has been terrible with Tony Stewart here the past couple years as well. Looking at Hamlin’s statistics at this track, he has made thirteen career starts at The Monster Mile with an average finish of 20.5 and only four top 10s, and (even worse) two top 5s. He finished 18th here back in June and has had just two races at this track with a driver rating of at least 100.0. So, you may ask, why am I ranking him 5th? The Chase Effect. This team has been putting race-winning cars on the track for what seems like the last two months, and drivers tend to “step it up” once NASCAR’s playoffs begin. You hate to do it, but sometimes history needs to be thrown out the window. This race could easily be Denny’s Achilles heel and de-rail his championship hopes, but I wouldn’t count on that. I don’t think he’ll win, but I do think that Hamlin will be in the mix for a top 5 come Sunday.
6. Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski is another driver that I think is going to benefit from the Chase Effect this weekend. He hasn’t quite figured Dover International Raceway out yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Brad ended up 12th here back in June, which is also his best career finish at this track thus far (five career starts). What’s encouraging to me, however, is that Kurt Busch was able to win this race last season while running for Penske. I know that that doesn’t necessarily transfer over to Brad Keselowski this year, but I think it will help them in a way. It’s also hard to go against the driver that has finished worse than 9th just once in the past twelve Sprint Cup races and who is 2nd in points.
7. Martin Truex, Jr. – I’ve had this race circled for this #56 team all season, and I’m sure Martin has as well. Dover is the site of Truex’s first (and only) Sprint Cup victory, and although he hasn’t really gotten the finishes he deserves here sometimes, he always tends to run well when the series visits this track. Back in June, Martin started 18th but ended up with a solid 7th-place finish at the end of the day. He won the pole for this event last season as well. His average finish of 16.4 may scare some people away this weekend, but I fully expect Martin Truex, Jr. to be in the running for a top 10 in the AAA 400. I don’t know about a top 5, but a top 10 is definitely within reach for this team.
8. Kevin Harvick – This #29 team still isn’t showing anything overly impressive on Sundays, but Dover has been pretty good to Kevin Harvick lately. As I said before, he ended up 2nd here back in June, and that makes it three straight top 10 finishes for him at this track. Furthermore, Harvick has finished 12th or better in six of his last eight starts here, and hasn’t finished worse than 12th in the last month of Sprint Cup action. It would probably surprise me to see this team challenge for a win again come Sunday, but I do think the #29 will be good for a top 10 finish. As always, however, make sure this Chevrolet shows some speed in practice before committing.
9. Jeff Gordon – I still think that this team’s championship chances are over, but a solid run out of the #24 Chevrolet this weekend (at least a top 5) could change my mind. There’s no doubt that this team will bring a fast car to the track on Friday (they’ve been doing it for the last two months it seems), but whether or not they will be able to fine tune it to Jeff’s liking is the question. Gordon hasn’t recorded a top 10 finish at Dover since 2009, although in the five events since that last occurred, he does have four finishes between 11th and 13th. Also, back in June, this #24 car was really one of the only ones that had a shot of keeping up with the #48. Gordon ended up 13th that day but it was because of a loose wheel. This car should have top 5 power on Sunday, but it will come to this team having a mistake-free race. Gordon’s pit crew has been a bit of a let-down all season long as well.
10. Carl Edwards – Cousin Carl has the best average finish among active drivers at this track, so it’s hard to go against him this weekend. Do remember, however, that this team has under-performed all year and is in no way a lock for a top 10 on Sunday. In other words, make sure that the #99 Ford looks good in the practices on Friday before committing to Edwards on Sunday. In sixteen career starts here, Carl has an average finish of 8.5 and has captured one victory (back in 2007). Before his 26th-place finish here back in June, Edwards was on an eleven-race streak of finishes 11th or better at The Monster Mile. He hasn’t gotten a top 10 in Sprint Cup action in over a month, though, so I do think there are better options. However, this team can’t be terrible forever, can it?
11. Kasey Kahne – Kasey Kahne has been pretty bad here at The Monster Mile over his career, but he’s in Hendrick equipment now and has what I like to call the Chase Effect on his side. Also, he’s coming off of a surprising top 5 finish at Loudon last weekend and has been fast pretty much week-in and week-out over the last two months. Kasey ended up 9th here in June, which isn’t bad, and finished 4th in this race last season while driving for Red Bull Racing. That has been his best and only top 5 finish in his seventeen career starts at Dover. I don’t think he’ll make it another on Sunday, but a top 10 isn’t out of the question for this team at all.
12. Jeff Burton - Burton finished 22nd here back in June, but you really have to dig deeper than that. The #31 was running solidly inside the top 15 all day and Burton made it up to the top 10 before having engine problems with about 40 laps to go. You can’t predict mechanical failures, and I don’t try to. When you look at the races at Dover over the years, Jeff Burton is the model of consistency. Since 2005 (fifteen total races), Burton has amassed twelve finishes of 12th or better at this track including an 11th-place effort in this event last season. In some leagues (like Yahoo!), Jeff would be an awesome “start saver” this weekend, as he could pull off a surprise top 10 on Sunday considering this team has shown some speed as of late.
13. Mark Martin – Martin has finished between 10th and 14th in four of his last six Sprint Cup startes, and I think we’re looking at another between there this weekend. For whatever reason, it seems like his old age is catching up to him to me. It’s getting late in the season and he’s just a tick slower than he was early in 2012. Still, Mark has been a qualifying machine this season, and he won the pole here back in June, like I said before. Dover is his seventh-best track on the circuit and he owns thirty-one top 10 finishes in fifty-two career starts. Martin’s average finish of 12.5 here is seventh-best among active drivers with more than ten starts.
14. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior finished top 5 here last time around, but this team has taken a noticeable step backwards, and that worries me. Another alarming statistic? That his Earnhardt’s only top 10 at Dover since the 2007 season. This team has gotten off to a slow start in the Chase this year and I think their little slump could continue this weekend as well. However, this is a Hendrick Motorsports team, and Steve Letarte has found success here with Jeff Gordon over the years. I’m not guaranteeing a mediocre finish out of Junior on Sunday, but right now I’m saying that it is likely. Pay attention to this team in practice, they may jump up in my final rankings if the #88 shows some speed.
15. Marcos Ambrose – SLEEPER ALERT! With his 10th-place finish here back in June, that makes it three straight top 10s for Marcos Ambrose at Dover. For some reason, Richard Petty Motorsports has a handle on this track as of late (Aric Almirola finished 6th here last time). The #9 team didn’t crack the top 10 at all in September, but I think that could change this weekend. Then again, he’s a sleeper pick, so nothing is guaranteed. Like Earnhardt, it will all come down to how Ambrose looks in practice before I make my final decision about him.
Those To Avoid Entering The AAA 400:
Tony Stewart - Smoke is a two-time winner at Dover but for whatever reason has really struggled here recently (even during his incredible run in last year’s Chase). With his 25th-place effort here back in June, Stewart now has four finishes outside of the top 20 at this track and has recorded only four top 10s in his last FIFTEEN starts. Don’t let his somewhat attractive average finish of 13.4 here fool you: Tony Stewart won’t be a good pick this weekend, and you should avoid him at all costs.
Juan Montoya - In some leagues, you are required to dig a little deeper and go with someone “out of the box”. That’s fine, and I have no problem with that, just don’t go with Montoya in Dover. He’s had one good run here (a 4th back in 2009) but other than that the results have been terrible for the Colombian. In eleven career starts, Montoya has compiled an average finish of 23.4 and completed only 93.4% of the laps. Furthermore, he finishes outside of the top 20 more often than not (seven times total thus far). Let’s not forget that Juan has just one finish better than 20th in the last eleven Sprint Cup events and probably doesn’t even deserve a ride in this series.
Regan Smith - He ended up with a 17th-place finish in this race last season, but don’t look too far into that. Smith ended up 27th here back in June and that goes along well with his career average finish of 26.7 over nine career starts. He’s turned into a qualifying machine, and even if he gets the pole on Saturday I wouldn’t consider him. Smith has finished on the lead lap in only one of his nine career starts at The Monster Mile.
September 19, 2012
We’re back at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend for the second race of the 2012 Chase. The events at this short track are some of the shortest on the schedule (only 300 miles on Sunday), so qualifying is pretty important here. As far as making picks this weekend, the drivers get a whole bunch of practice (three sessions total) and that should help a bunch. As usual, if a driver is missing from the ten-lap average charts, pass on him.
During The Last Race At Loudon…A mis-communiction between Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb cost the #11 team the win here back in July. Hamlin led 150 of the 301 laps but ended up running out of time in his charge to the front at the end of the race and finished 2nd to race-winner Kasey Kahne. The top 5 was rounded out by Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Brad Keselowski.
Practice Schedule…For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, be sure to lock down your rosters before Friday. No, we don’t get to see any practice before doing so. There is one session scheduled for Friday at noon followed by qualifying at 3:40 pm. Then, on Saturday, the teams (and us) will have an early day, with the second practice of the weekend starting at 9:15 am followed by Happy Hour at 11:00 am. The 2012 Sylvania 300 is set to begin around 2:00 pm on Sunday. All times are in Eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Sylvania 300:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Brad Keselowski – I hope you’re still not sleeping on Bad Brad because this kid’s the real deal. This Blue Deuce team puts out super fast cars each and every week and have done so for the last three months straight (seriously). With his win at Chicagoland last Sunday, Keselowski has now finished 3rd or better in four of the last six Sprint Cup events and he has single-digit finishes in all but one of the last eleven. Earlier this season I said that BK didn’t belong in the A Group for Yahoo!, and boy was I wrong. After finishing runner-up in this event last season, Brad brought home another top 5 here back in July. He also grabbed a pole here back in 2010, and he finished 6th back in 2009 in his first career start at the track while driving for under-funded Phoenix Racing. A couple of weeks ago in Richmond, Keselowski said that they were testing R&D things on the car for this weekend at New Hampshire, for what it’s worth. He finished 7th that day. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Blue Deuce and Brad Keselowski will be in the top 5 (at least) once it’s all said and done on Sunday.
2. Denny Hamlin – Despite only having one victory here at Loudon (back in 2007), Denny Hamlin has the best average finish (8.5) among active drivers. A pit road miscue made him charge through the field here back in July, and if that race was one or two laps longer, there’s no doubt in my mind that Hamlin would have won. That 2nd-place disappointment, however, makes it four top 3 finishes in the last six events this track, though. After the race at Chicago last weekend, Denny tweeted that they were going to win in New Hampshire on Sunday. Drivers rarely make guarantees like that, and when they do it seems (to me, anyway) that they never happen. But that’s just my two cents. Either way, the #11 Toyota will be force come Sunday, just like it is every time we stop at this short track.
3. Jimmie Johnson – Despite having three victories here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson really hasn’t dominated at this track like we’ve seen him do at countless others. In twenty-one starts here (roughly 6,300 laps), Five Time has led just 319 laps total, which equals roughly 5.1%. Still, he has an average finish of 9.9 here and that ranks him second among active drivers. However, Johnson has had a little struggle as of late at this track, with just one top 5 in the last four events. Still, this team looks as strong as I’ve seen them in a long time and there’s no doubt in my mind that the #48 will be near the front on Sunday. Loudon is technically considered (by DriverAverages.com) a flat track, and nobody has been better on them since the start of the 2010 season than Johnson. He started 7th and finished 7th at the race here back in July.
4. Kasey Kahne – Kahne will be one of those drivers that I will watch closely in practice and his ranking could change drastically once I post my final race predictions on Saturday. As I said earlier in this article, he’s the most recent winner at Loudon, but he didn’t have the best car that day. Still, his #5 Chevrolet was really strong, and Kasey led over 20% of the race that day. He was great in both races here during the 2011 season but had some problems in the fall event, finishing 15th despite leading 43 laps and having a driver rating of 118.2. He ended up 6th in the July race that year. Both of those were while Kahne was in his one-year stint with Red Bull, though, so you have to consider that. As long as he doesn’t run into problems, KK is generally a pretty good bet here at New Hampshire, but his two top 5s in seventeen career starts can be a little alarming. Still, only one driver has had a better average driver rating than Kahne in the last five races here. Kasey knows how to get around this place and should be a threat this weekend.
5. Clint Bowyer – I tend to view Michael Waltrip Racing at its strongest on the shorter tracks, and considering that Clint Bowyer has won here at Loudon twice, that makes a really good combination. Both of those victories were dominating efforts, too; in 2007, he started from the pole and led 222 of the 300 laps with a perfect driver rating of 150.0, and in 2010 he led 177 of the 300 laps from his 2nd-place starting position and had a driver rating of 149.4. I would consider Loudon to be one of Clint’s best tracks on the circuit, but his average finish says otherwise. In thirteen career starts here, that number is 15.9. However, only two drivers have a better average driver rating over the last five races here than Bowyer (107.2) and he should be in the running for a top 5 on Sunday. I’m not sure about a win, though, but we’ll see.
6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Junior has actually ran very well here since joining Hendrick in 2008, but sometimes he didn’t get the finishes that he deserved. This team has no problem with that this season, however, and should have another rocketship to work with all weekend. Earnhardt was solid all day here back in June, posting a 4th-place finish with a driver rating of 116.1. He even qualified near the front that weekend (9th), which has been a struggle for this #88 team in 2012. Junior has never won here at Loudon, but he does have eleven top 10s in his twenty-five starts here, and seven of them have also been top 5s. Only two drivers have a better average finish over the last five races at New Hampshire than Junior (9.6).
7. Jeff Gordon – Statistically, nobody has been better at Loudon since the start of the 2010 season than Jeff Gordon. Over those five races, he has a series-best average finish of 6.2 and a series-best average driver rating of 111.8. You have to go back all the way to 2005 to find the last time that Gordon finished outside of the top 15 here–he’s just that good. Over thirty-five career starts at this one-mile race track, Jeff has amassed twenty top 10s–fifteen of which were also top 5s–among three visits to victory lane, the most recent coming in 1998. Nobody in the series has led more laps at this track than Jeff Gordon (1,309), although he does have a lot more starts than most. I still think that this team “used everything up” (so to say) getting into the Chase, so if he looks weak in practice, expect Gordon to drop like a rock in my rankings.
8. Tony Stewart – Smoke is a three-time winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and could easily find himself in victory lane for a fourth time this Sunday. It all comes down to which #14 car and team shows up. I’ve harped all year about the inconsistencies of this team, and I’m not going to stop until they prove me wrong. Stewart finished 12th here back in June and that was the first event here since early 2007 that he didn’t lead at least one lap. Is that foreshadowing as to what’s to come this weekend? I guess we’ll find out. Over the last five events here, Stewart has the second-best average finish (8.2) and the fourth-best average driver rating (106.2). His stats would be even better if he didn’t run out of fuel in this race two years ago.
9. Martin Truex, Jr. – Before this breakout season for Truex, New Hampshire Motor Speedway was actually somewhat of a bright spot on his resume, and it is his fifth-best track on the circuit statistically. In thirteen starts here, Martin has averaged a finish of 14.8 while amassing five top 10s and only three finishes outside of the top 20. In the July race, he qualified 4th but didn’t race that well and ended up 11th. He was somewhat disappointing for fantasy owners last weened in Chicago, but this is still the same guy that has finished 11th or better in eight of the last nine Sprint Cup races. He should make it nine of the last ten once it’s all said and done on Sunday. That being said, it’d take a lot for this team to finish top 5, but I guess it’s possible.
10. Kevin Harvick – Happy is getting back to being better-than-average with three straight finishes of 12th or better, and I’m expecting him to make it four straight on Sunday. Harvick does have one win here at New Hampshire (a dominating run in 2006), and he currently has four finishes of 12th or better in the last five events at this track. That includes his 8th-place run here back in July. Harvick actually has the eighth-best average finish at this track among active drivers (13.8) and has led more laps than Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne, believe it or not. I wouldn’t take the #29 in Yahoo! this weekend, but in other formats I wouldn’t have a problem with it–just make sure Harvick looks good on the speed charts.
11. Ryan Newman – After his mishaps at Bristol and Atlanta, I kind of wrote off Newman, but with his 5th-place finish at Chicago last weekend, it seems like this team is back to cranking out top 10s again. That makes eight finishes of 11th or better in the last ten Sprint Cup races for The Rocketman, and this week we’re stopping at one of his best tracks on the circuit. In twenty-one career starts here at Loudon, Newman has amassed three victories (the most recent in the 2011 July race) and an average finish of 12.9. He ended up 10th here back in July and started on the pole in this event last season, leading 62 laps but finishing 25th. I think he had a loose wheel or something with 5 laps to go, but I’m not sure because there seems to be no history of that race in the NASCAR.com archives. He still had a driver rating of 101.1 in that event, and that is Ryan’s only finish outside of the top 10 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway since early 2009. In other words, he should be a good pick this weekend.
12. Brian Vickers – If you have been paying attention at all this season, you should know that Vickers has been a force pretty much every time he’s gotten behind the wheel of the #55 Toyota. In just six starts this year, he has amassed three top 5 finishes and an average finish of 14.8. When you take out his 43rd at Watkins Glen (he blew an engine at the start of the race), that average finish jumps up to 9.2. He raced this car in the July event here and ended up 15th after starting in that spot as well. If they can get the setup right this weekend, however, Brian could possibly challenge for a top 5 on Sunday. He ended up 5th in this race last season and 11th in 2009. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that it seems like this #55 car has come down a notch over the past few weeks. Still, I’m still expecting a top 15 out of Vickers this weekend.
13. Joey Logano – This team hasn’t been able to put back-to-back top 10s together since June, and I wouldn’t expect that to happen this Sunday, either. However, a top 15 isn’t out of the question for young Joey. He ended up 14th here in July and also finished there in this event last season, which was pretty surprising. Historically, the fall race at Loudon has been a let-down for Logano despite his success in the spring race. Just look at the finishes. In the spring events here, Logano has posted a win (rain-shortened event in 2009), a 9th, a 4th, and a 14th. On the other hand, in the fall races, Joey has put up finishes of 32nd, 21st, 35th, and most recently 14th, like I mentioned before. It’s quite a risky pick, in my opinion, but if you’re looking for a start saver in Yahoo!, Sliced Bread just might be your guy this weekend.
14. Matt Kenseth – I’m still trying to figure out what happened to this organization last weekend in Chicago. It certainly doesn’t give them any momentum coming into a track in which the Roush Fords generally struggle at. Kenseth has an average finish of 14th here at Loudon and has recorded just five top 5s in twenty-five career starts. The good news, however, is that he has just five finishes outside the top 20. He’s consistent here, but it’s something I like to call consistent mediocrity. Matt ended up 6th in this race last season, and I like to contribute out-of-the-ordinary finishes to “the Chase effect”–a theory that those involved the Chase step it up a notch in the final ten races. A top 15 is likely out of this team on Sunday but that’s not what you want out of a fantasy stud like this. Personally, I would stay away from all of the Roush-Fenway Fords this weekend.
15. Greg Biffle – The Biff has a slightly worse career record at this track compared to Kenseth (twenty career starts, 16.3 average finish), but he’s picked it up here lately. In addition to running 3rd in this event last season, Greg ended up 9th here back in the July race. Still, this team has struggled since their win at Michigan, and this is not the place for them to turn it around. I would feel much more confident in picking the #16 this weekend if they had more than one top 10 in the last four Sprint Cup races. When it comes to Yahoo! Auto Racing, the only way that I would recommend putting Greg Biffle on your roster this weekend would be if you had five or more starts left (which I’m assuming you do not).
SLEEPER! Jeff Burton - The #31 was my sleeper the last time around as well, but Burton disappointed and ended up 21st. That’s why it’s called a sleeper pick, though–they’re not guaranteed. What I like out of this old veteran at a track like Loudon is his consistency; in the last six events here in New Hampshire, Burton has finished 16th or better in five of them, including 13th in this race last year. His career average finish of 13.8 puts him 7th among active drivers. Watch the #31 Chevrolet in practice, and if he looks fast and qualifies inside the top 15, I’d take a shot with Burton this week.
Those To Avoid Entering The Sylvania 300:
Sam Hornish, Jr. - In Yahoo!, you are probably going to be picking two of the following: Sam Hornish, Jr., Brian Vickers, and Aric Almirola. You should really go with the latter two. I already stated my thoughts on Vickers above, and there’s one major reason why you should choose the #43 over the #22 this weekend: Hornish won’t be in Loudon. The Nationwide series race is in Kentucky this weekend and seeing as Sam is running for the championship in that series, he will be focused on that car. Another driver will practice and qualify the Double Deuce this weekend, which means Hornish will start from the back of the field on Sunday. A top 20 is still possible, but I’ll give Sam a break this week.
Kyle Busch - One top 5 in the last nine races at this track is nothing to get excited about, and not worth the risk in an allocation league like Yahoo!. Any other league, make sure he looks good in practice and has a good qualifying effort. Busch’s average finish here in fifteen career starts is 15.9.
September 11, 2012
This week the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off at Chicagoland Speedway, a race that replaced the event at Loudon that began the playoffs until 2011. The track is located in Joliet, Illinois and is a 1.5-mile tri-oval with 18-degree banking in the turns. The crew chief’s take in Athlon Sports’ 2012 NASCAR Preview issue says that Chicago is like no other 1.5-mile track on the circuit, although you could make a case that it compares nicely to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and somewhat nicely to the speedways in Kansas and Kentucky.
During The Last Race At Chicago…Tony Stewart started his 2011 winning campaign in this event last year, where he led 35 of the 267 laps ran en route to his first of five victories in the Chase. Smoke was followed to the line by Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top 5. The lap leader for last year’s event was Kurt Busch, who started 3rd and led 64 laps before ending up 6th. He also had the highest driver rating in that race (124.5).
Practice Schedule…We’re getting down to crunch time in Yahoo! Auto Racing, and chances are you are running low on starts in the B Group among the strongest drivers. Thankfully, we get to see the cars on track before locking down this week, so that opens up the opportunity to use sleepers this week (or “start savers”). There are two practice sessions scheduled for Friday afternoon (the first starting at 1:00 pm and the second at 4:00 pm) followed by qualifying on Saturday at 1:30 pm. Once the starting lineup is set, the drivers won’t get any more track time until the Geico 400 on Sunday, with the green flag set for around 1:45 pm.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Geico 400:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson – Five Time has had trouble in the last couple intermediate races (wreck at Atlanta, blown engine at Michigan), but it’s the Chase now and chances are slim that those will happen again, especially the latter. Johnson has never won at Chicagoland but has been been close: he finished 2nd here in both the 2008 and 2004 events and wound up 3rd in the 2005 and 2003 races. Last year he ended up 10th and that is also his career average finish here, which is third-best in the series among active drivers. What’s most impressive with Jimmie’s record at this track is that he leads laps here. In his ten starts at Chicagoland, Johnson has led at least 15 laps in eight of the events, and has led a total of 365 over that span. He’s never had a driver rating under 100.0 since they started keeping track of that statistic in 2005. One of these times he’s going to get the finish he deserves in Chicago, and I’m betting that it’s going to be this weekend as Johnson starts his 2012 campaign for the title.
2. Denny Hamlin – This team is still the best in the garage right now and I honestly think this is Hamlin’s championship to lose. I would have him ranked 1st this week, but Denny’s history at this track is inconsistent to say the least. In six career starts here, Hamlin has just one top 5 (in 2009) and has compiled an average finish of 19.2. However, as I said before, similar tracks to Chicago are Kansas and Kentucky, and the #11 Toyota ended up 1st and 3rd in those races this year, respectively. The only thing concerning with picking Hamlin this weekend is how subpar the entire Joe Gibbs organization has been at this track over the years, although Kyle Busch did have a dominating win here in 2008. Denny has had the best car in the series over the last three weeks and should be a contender once again on Sunday. If he looks a little off in practice, however, you may want to think about someone else.
3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior had a total of four top 5 finishes during the 2011 season and one of them came right here at Chicagoland. This team has been a top 10 machine on the intermediate tracks this season and I think NASCAR’s golden boy could challenge for the win on Sunday if they play their cards right. Earnhardt was 4th at Kentucky, 7th at Kansas, and was real strong at Las Vegas earlier this year, leading 70 laps. He finished a somewhat disappointing 10th despite having the third-best driver rating in that race. Focusing strictly on Chicagoland, Junior has one victory here (back in 2005) and has an average finish of 14.8 in eleven career starts. Despite a bit of a bad luck bug, this team has been running up front often as of late, as Earnhardt has led at least 13 laps in four of the last six Sprint Cup races.
4. Brad Keselowski – Although the Chase last year was the time when Keselowski started cooling down from his hot streak, he still ran well in pretty much all of the races, and Chicago was no exception. He even got the finish (5th, like I mentioned before). It’s becoming increasingly harder not to rank Bad Brad high every week simply because he’s running that well. In fact, over the last ten Sprint Cup races, no one has scored more points than BK (he has nine finishes of 9th or better over that span). Keselowski won at Kentucky a few weeks ago and won the Nationwide race here at Chicago a year ago. Like it or not, the Blue Deuce should once again finish up front on Sunday, and could better his career-best 5th that he posted here last year. And if he’s going to back up my Chase ranking of 3rd, he’s going to need a good run to start the playoffs.
5. Clint Bowyer – The Sprint Cup series’ most recent winner actually has a very good record here at Chicagoland, and has the momentum to go along with it as well (that win in Richmond makes is six top 10s in the last eight races for Clint). This is Bowyer’s third-best track on the circuit, believe it or not. In six career starts here, Clint has just one finish outside of the top 10 and has completed every single lap ran in those events. He ran 6th at Las Vegas earlier this year, and like I said before that is the track that compares the most to Chicago (in my mind anyway). Don’t forget, Bowyer’s teammate at MWR, Martin Truex, Jr., has been great on the 1.5-mile tracks this year, including a near win at Kansas. I think this will be a week that could be a proving point as to whether or not these two drivers are serious about contending for a championship in 2012.
6. Kevin Harvick – Make that two top 10s in a row for Harvick with his new crew chief, and don’t be surprised if he gets another this weekend in Chicago. This is actually his third-best track on the circuit, but I have to warn you: there really is no middle ground for Harvick–he’s either on or off when the series stops here. In eleven career starts here, Happy has notched two victories (in 2001 and 2002) and six total top 5 finishes, the most recent coming in this race last season when he ended up 2nd. However, Harvick does have four finishes of 17th or worse at this 1.5-mile race track. Looking back at Las Vegas, he had the sixth-best driver rating in that race but finished 11th after a late-race restart. Also, the #29 was one of the best cars at Atlanta a couple weeks ago. I’m expecting a top 10 out of this team on Sunday.
7. Jeff Gordon – With his runner-up finish in Richmond last weekend, Jeff Gordon now has three straight finishes of 3rd or better in Sprint Cup action and has finished worse than 6th just three times in the last twelve. To say that this team is firing on all cylinders is an understatement. However, I do have my worries. It seems to me that drivers that pull all their effort in to making the Chase end up disappointing when the races actually count (the final ten). Now I’m not saying this is going to happen this weekend, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Gordon is outside the top 10 when the 2012 season is overwith (I actually have him ranked 11th). Looking past all of that, however, it is reasonable to assume that the #24 should be good this weekend. In eleven career starts at Chicagoland, Gordon has amassed seven top 10s (six of which were also top 5s) and one victory, which came in 2006. He finished 5th at Kentucky in June.
8. Matt Kenseth – This is going to be the real test (in my mind) to see whether or not the #17 team is out of their slump. He finished 21st in this event last season, but you really need to look further into that race to see how good Kenseth really was. He won the pole, led 46 laps, and had a driver rating of 114.2. Doesn’t sound like a 21st-place effort, does it? The #17 ran out of gas on the last lap and ended up 9th, but David Gilliland gave him a push to make that happen so Kenseth was handed down the penalty of being the last car on the lead lap officially. He’s never won here, but Matt has two runner-up finishes at Chicago (in 2005 and 2007) and a career average finish of 12.3.
9. Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex has been solid all year on the intermediate tracks and has been decent here at Chicagoland over his career despite an average finish of 18.2. In his one really bad finish at this track (39th in 2007), Truex blew an engine. However, he started 2nd that day and led 12 laps. Last season, he finished 18th but led 14 laps and he ended up 11th in 2010. At Atlanta a couple weeks ago, the #56 Toyota was great all day (despite starting 28th) and came home inside the top 5, and Truex nearly won back in Kansas. I don’t think he’ll be that strong this weekend, but then again it wouldn’t surprise me. Expect a top 10 out of Martin this weekend and look past his history at this track (like you’ve been doing all season, really).
10. Greg Biffle – This track ranks right down there with Talladega and Daytona on The Biff’s resume in terms of average finish. In nine career starts here, Biffle has averaged around a 19th-place finish, and has just one (!) top 10. That was a 4th-place effort here back in 2008. However, Greg’s bad finishes aren’t solely his fault. Last year he was pretty good before an unscheduled pit stop (ended up 26th) and two years ago he blew an engine (finished 35th). Still, the 11.1% top 10 rate at this track is still a little alarming to me. Another thing to mention is that Biffle was uncompetitive and finished 21st at Kentucky, but he had top 5 runs at both Las Vegas and Kansas. We’ll just have to see how the #16 looks in practice on Friday. Most likely, The Biff will jump in my final rankings on Saturday.
11. Tony Stewart – In all reality, this ranking is quite low for Smoke. However, it all depends on which #14 shows up this weekend. Their inconsistency this weekend is frustrating to say the least. One thing I really like is how good Stewart’s new crew chief, Steve Addington, was with Kurt Busch here one year ago. It also doesn’t hurt that Smoke won, either. Statistically, this is his third-best track on the circuit, with an average finish of 8.7 in eleven starts. He’s won here three separate times and has finished inside the top 5 in eight of the last ten Chicago races. If he looks good in practice on Friday, expect Tony to make a huge jump in my final Predictions post on Saturday, which you can find at www.ifantasyrace.com.
12. Kasey Kahne – His weak performance still has me concerned about the #5 team, but this ranking could easily change with a good practice session or two on Friday. Kahne has never really ran exceptional here at Chicagoland (only 12 total laps led in eight career starts) but finished 3rd and 6th here in 2009 and 2010 while with Petty and ran a solid 12th with Red Bull in this event last year. When you look at the tracks similar to Chicago, Kasey won the pole in Las Vegas and then ended up 8th at Kansas and 2nd at Kentucky. He really could go either way in my mind this early in the week. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on Kasey during Friday’s practices.
13. Mark Martin – Okay, I’ll admit that I’m starting to trust Mark Martin again. He didn’t run practice like he normally does last weekend, and hopefully he doesn’t this weekend as well because he could be a valuable pick. With his 3rd-place finish at Richmond on Saturday, Mark now has four finishes of 12th or better in his last five Sprint Cup starts, and his record at Chicagoland isn’t too shabby. He has made eleven career starts here and owns an average finish of 12.5. Martin led 195 of the 267 laps in the 2009 event (he won the race) and finished 9th here last season while driving for Hendrick. In the most recent intermediate track race–which was Atlanta–Mark ended up 10th.
14. Jamie McMurray – Sleeper alert! Jamie McMurray has made two starts here at Chicago since joining Earnhardt-Ganassi in 2010. In his first race with them (in 2010), he won the pole and led 72 laps before ending up 5th. Last year, Jamie Mac qualified 14th and was running there or better all race until his engine gave up around lap 160 (Yahoo! chart here). Want some more data to consider McMurray this week? He finished 8th at Las Vegas earlier this year and ended up 14th and 15th at Kansas and Kentucky, respectively. I’m not saying he’s going to win, but I think Jamie could end up in the top 15 on Sunday, and could be a valuable “start saver” in Yahoo!. Pay attention to the #1 car in practice this weekend.
15. Sam Hornish, Jr. – Penske Racing ran really well here last year (Keselowski in 5th and Kurt Busch in 6th), and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to go against Hornish–especially in the Yahoo! format. He has now finished 12th or better in three of the last four Sprint Cup races, and two of those three were at Michigan and Atlanta (other intermediate tracks). Assuming he doesn’t wreck or anything, Hornish should challenge for another top 15 on Sunday. He started 5th and finished 24th here at Chicago in 2010 while driving Penske’s second-class #77 car.
Those To Avoid Entering The Geico 400:
Carl Edwards - It’s feast or famine here at Chicago for Cousin Carl, and with the way his season is going I think it’s going to be the latter this weekend. Don’t get me wrong, he could still get a top 10, but he’s a bit too risky for me to pick. In seven career starts here, Edwards has three top 5 finishes to go along with three finishes of 20th or worse. With his 17th-place finish at Richmond last weekend, Carl now has just three top 10s in the last fourteen (!) Sprint Cup races.
Kyle Busch – I’m still convinced that Rowdy threw in the towel for the season last month in Michigan when he decided to run the Nationwide race in Montreal as opposed to practicing in his Cup car. As I mentioned earlier, Kyle had a dominating win here in 2008, but hasn’t done much at Chicago since. He started 9th and led two laps but ended up 22nd here last season and finished 17th and 33rd in the previous two years here.
September 5, 2012
Well, this is it–in a way. We’re at the final race in the 2012 regular season, and it will be decided on Saturday night who will be the second wildcard entrant, either Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch. I consider Kasey Kahne locked in to the first wildcard spot because of his two wins, and although it is mathematically possible that he won’t make it, it would take a lot of crazy things to happen. Both Busch and Gordon are capable of winning at this track, and it should be an awesome race to watch this weekend.
During The Last Race At Richmond…Kyle Busch had just a “decent” race despite winning, as he only led 32 laps. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. followed the #18 to the line with Tony Stewart–who led 118 laps that night–coming home in 3rd. Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 5. Carl Edwards, who led a race-high 206 laps, ended up 10th after a mid-race penalty that put him a lap down.
Practice Schedule…Well we have another schedule this weekend that I severely dislike, as NASCAR is cramming all practices and qualifying into one day–Friday. The first session is set to begin at noon followed by Happy Hour at 2:30 pm. Then, the starting lineup will be set at 5:30 pm. The green flag for the Federated Auto Parts 400 should wave around 7:45 pm. All times are Eastern. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, that means rosters will lock before we see the cars on the track (early Friday morning).
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Federated Auto Parts 400:
1. Denny Hamlin – Denny made a statement (both literally and figuratively) after his win in Atlanta last weekend: this is the team to beat. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see this team head into the Chase on a three-race win streak and 15 bonus points in their pocket. This is one of Hamlin’s best tracks on the circuit, with an average finish of 7.3 in thirteen career starts and two trips to victory lane. He’s led 1,188 laps at Richmond, which is second only to Jeff Gordon’s 1,413–in 26 more starts, I might add. Hamlin has won two of the last six overall races here and in the last five September events he has finished 6th, 3rd, 1st, 1st, and 9th. In short, the #11 should be on many, many rosters this weekend.
2. Kyle Busch – It’s Richmond and it’s Kyle Busch, that’s really all I have to say. Even when he doesn’t have the strongest, dominating car, he still gets the finish (like back in April when he won). Rowdy has fifteen career starts at this track and has just two finishes outside of the top 6. Yes, he’s that good. He’s completed every single lap ran in those races and has led 891 pf then, which is 6th-best among active drivers. It’s worth noting that four of those drivers with more laps led than Kyle have also had at least eight more starts. Over the last five events here, Busch has an average driver rating of 125.4 and an average finish of 2.2. There’s no doubt in my mind that the #18 Toyota will be in the hunt for the win on Saturday night, no matter where it starts: Busch has finished 1st or 2nd after starting 20th or worse three separate times at this track.
3. Jeff Gordon – Gordon’s track record at this track was great from 2007 to 2009–as in he never finished worse than 9th in six races–but since then there have been a few stumbles for the four-time champion. He started 6th in the spring race here this season but had trouble early in the race and ended up 23rd. That was during the time that anything and everything was going wrong for this team, though, so you could just throw that finish out. In this race last year, Jeff had one of the best long-run cars at the end of the race, but a late race caution assisted him in ending up a disappointing 3rd. He could have won the race if that yellow didn’t wave. Gordon is on the outside looking in for the wildcard spot after failing to win at Atlanta last weekend. He’ll need to grab the checkered flag on Saturday night to get in the Chase (in my opinion), and he’s going against Kyle Busch at Kyle’s best track. Personally, this Saturday I’d love to see a situation similar to Tony Stewart vs. Carl Edwards at Homestead in 2011, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that happened.
4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Richmond is actually Junior’s fifth-best track on the circuit. In twenty-six career starts here, Junebug has collected three wins among nine top 5s and has averaged a finish of 13.9. He ran 2nd here back in April and I’m fulling expecting this team to run in the top 5 again on Saturday night. It says a lot about a team if you can struggle as much as the #88 crew did last weekend in Atlanta and still get a solid top 10 finish. Over the last seven Richmond events, Earnhardt’s only top 10 was his 2nd-place effort that I mentioned earlier, but don’t let that keep you from picking him: this team is better than ever and does better-than-expected pretty much every week. I’d consider Junior a lock for a top 10 this weekend.
5. Carl Edwards – Really the only Roush driver to figure this place out is Carl Edwards. He hasn’t finished worse than 10th in the last five races at Richmond and owns an average finish of 14.8 in sixteen career starts. His best finish came at this event last season where he led 113 laps before ending up 2nd to Kevin Harvick. As I said earlier, Edwards had one of the best cars here back in April, but on a restart he went too soon and had to make a pass-through penalty under green. This put Carl a lap down but he eventually rebounded with a 10th-place finish. Still, he had the second-best driver rating during that race (126.4), right behind Kyle Busch. Edwards knows that he must win this weekend to get in the Chase, and something must happen to one of the other drivers on the bubble. Personally, I think it’s a little too late for the #99 team, but we shall see.
6. Jimmie Johnson – One top 5 finish in the last seven races is the reason I didn’t rank the five time champion there going into the weekend. If he continues this little streak he’s on this season, though, he may deserve to be up there. For the last six races, Johnson has finished inside the top 3 in every other race, and if that continues, he will finish there on Saturday night as well. Overall, however, this isn’t really that great of a track for Jimmie (like a kind of mentioned in the first sentence). In twenty-one career starts here, he does have three victories, but an average finish of only 16.7 and just five top 5s. Johnson finished 6th here back in April and I think a top 10 should be expected out of him this weekend as well, but I’m not going to say whether or not he has a shot at the top 5 until after practice. It is worth noting, however, that Jimmie has completed just 94.0% of the laps ran here.
7. Clint Bowyer – This is one of Bowyer’s best tracks and he actually has third-best average finish here in the series (10.2) right behind Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Clint won here in 2008 but that has been his only top 5 in thirteen career starts at this 0.75-mile race track. He does have eleven finishes of 12th or better, though, so he’s a pretty safe pick. Bowyer had a bad qualifying effort here back in April and started 23rd. Still, the #15 was good and he rebounded to finish 7th by the end of the night. He had a rough weekend in Atlanta last week but Bowyer does have five top 10s in the last seven Sprint Cup series races and should get another one this weekend in Richmond.
8. Brad Keselowski – Well, BK notched another top 5 last weekend in Atlanta, and that now makes four of them in the last five Sprint Cup races. I don’t think he’ll get up there this weekend in Richmond, but he’s proven me wrong before so we’ll have to see how the Blue Deuce looks in practice on Friday. In six career starts here, Keselowski has an average finish of just 20.7 and one top 10, which was a 9th-place effort in this race last season. However, you should know by now that you can really throw Brad’s history out the window. He should be good on Saturday night, and he doesn’t qualify too bad here either (10.8 average start), which hasn’t been this team’s strong suit thus far in 2012.
9. Kevin Harvick – Has the crew chief change helped Kevin Harvick? He had an awesome car last weekend in Atlanta, and this is actually one of his best tracks on the circuit, so it will be interesting to see how the #29 looks on Friday. He could really go either way this weekend, in my opinion. In twenty-three career starts here at Richmond, Harvick has an average finish of 11.8 and has collected two victories, the most recent coming in this race last season. He started 3rd here back in April but finished a disappointing 19th after the team couldn’t quite get a grip on the car’s setup as the race went on. Happy has finished 12th or better in fourteen of the last sixteen Richmond races if that makes you feel better about picking him this week.
10. Kasey Kahne – I’m still a little bitter about Kasey Kahne’s performance last weekend in Atlanta, so I’m approaching him a little cautiously this weekend for Richmond. As I said before, Kasey brought home a solid 5th-place finish here back in April, but that is only his second top 5 in the last four-and-a-half years at this track (nine races). His career average finish of 18.4 is nothing to ride home about, either. However, Kahne did win from the pole here back in 2005 and should be good for a top 10 finish on Saturday night. Still, I’d watch the #5 closely in practice on Friday before going “all in” with him.
11. Tony Stewart – Well, Atlanta is over, and that now makes four straight finishes of 19th or worse for Smoke. I don’t know what–if anything–is going on with this team, and it makes it a little hard ranking him this weekend. Stewart has a pretty good record here at Richmond (twenty-seven starts, 10.6 average finish, eighteen top 10s, and three wins). As I said earlier, the #14 ended up 3rd here back in April and could very easily do that again on Saturday night. On the other hand, Stewart could also run like he did back in 2010, where he finished 23rd and 16th in the two Richmond races. In Yahoo!, I think there are too many other options in the A group to take Stewart this week, especially considering we don’t get to see any practice before locking down our rosters. In other leagues, however, it may be worth picking Smoke, but we’ll have to see how the car looks first.
12. Mark Martin – Well, this race is only 400 miles so I’m a little less concerned about Mark Martin blowing his engine. He’ll still run the hell out of his car in practice, though, so I guess it’s a good thing that there are only two sessions. Richmond has actually been Mark’s fifth-best track on the circuit throughout his very long career. In fifty-three career starts (you read that right), he averages a finish of 12.1 and has recorded twenty-nine top 10s. Martin started on the pole back in April and should challenge for it again this weekend. He ended up 8th that night, by the way, and has three straight finishes of 14th or better at this track. The MWR organization should have a very good night on Saturday if Truex can get things going right here this weekend.
13. Juan Montoya – This is a super risky pick this weekend, but if you’re in a league like Yahoo! sometimes you need to reach deep and hope for the best. Richmond actually hasn’t been too bad of a track for JPM over the last couple years. In the last five events here, he has an average driver rating of 96.0, which is eighth-best in the series. He also has an average finish of 13.8 over that span and just one result lower than 15th. Montoya ended up 12th here in April and could be valuable for some qualifying bonus points (he’s started in the top 10 in three of the last four Richmond races). Like I said, it’s a risky pick, but sometimes you need to do that in fantasy racing.
14. Ryan Newman – The Rocketman has finished 15th or better in six of the last seven races at Richmond, but I wouldn’t expect much better out of him this weekend. This team had a really nice run going into Bristol but after mid-30s finishes in both Thunder Valley and Atlanta, they are on the outside looking in on the Chase and I’m back to being “down” on them. The #39 has just seemed off all year, and even Newman’s good runs in July and August weren’t exactly strong. Statistically, however, this is Ryan’s second-best track on the circuit. He has an average finish of 11.8 in twenty-one career starts and finishes inside the top 10 more often than not.
15. Paul Menard – The date is set for the appeal of Slugger Labbe’s suspension, and that is next Monday (September 10th). That means he will be on top of the pit box this weekend at Richmond, and that should be a good thing for the #27 team. This team rattled off another quietly good finish at Atlanta last Sunday, and this could be a great week to use Menard once again–and he probably won’t be a popular pick. Richmond has never been good to the RCR driver to say the least; in eleven career starts here, Menard has an average finish of 27.5, and that will shy people away from picking him. However, Paul ended up 13th here in April and now has three straight top 10s and only one finish worse than 14th in the last nine Sprint Cup races. Momentum-wise, he’s good to go, so we’ll have to see how the #27 looks in practice on Friday.
Those To Avoid Entering The Federated Auto Parts 400:
Martin Truex, Jr. - It’s hard to go against the #56 team this season, but if there’s one place that you need to do so, it is Richmond. For whatever reason, Martin simply hasn’t figured this place out yet. He has a couple good finishes (5th in 2008 and 7th in 2010), but when you only have two out of thirteen starts, that’s not good. In the first race at Richmond earlier this year, Truex finished 25th despite starting 8th. It was one of those few races in 2012 that he simply ran bad at, and it would honestly be a surprise if he ended up in the top 10 this weekend. When it comes to those in the top 12, Truex is the one to stay away from.
Greg Biffle - The Biff isn’t quite as bad as Truex at Richmond, but if you’re in an allocation league (such as Yahoo!), there’s really no reason for the #16 to be anywhere near your roster this weekend. Biffle had five straight top 10s at Richmond from 2004 to 2006, but since the Car of Tomorrow was introduced in 2007, he hasn’t finished better than 13th in eleven races. He consistently puts up teens finishes (like his 18th-place effort earlier this year), but that’s not what you need out of someone like Biffle. His career average finish at this track is 16.7.
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.