Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Kentucky – Quaker State 400
The Sprint Cup Series will be making its second visit to Kentucky Speedway for some good old fashioned Saturday night racing this weekend. Fantasy racers will be a little bit behind the 8-ball because of the limited history we have to go off of at this track, but if you pick the guys that have been good on similar tracks this year you should be fine. Kentucky is a 1.5-mile tri-oval most similar (in my eyes) to Chicagoland, Kansas, and Las Vegas. Seeing as we’ve already had races at two of those three, I’ll be going off of those races a bit in my preview this week. I have also put together these charts for you guys:
During The Last Race At Kentucky…I was at this race and after fighting through the traffic I was able to watch Kyle Busch thoroughly dominate the 2011 Quaker State 400, leading 125 of the 267 laps and taking the checkered flag in the inaugural event. David Reutimann finished 2nd that night followed by Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. Carl Edwards, who started 7th, rounded out the top 5. There wasn’t much room to pass that race and those who started up front pretty much stayed there all night.
Practice Schedule…As if not having much history to go off of this week wasn’t enough, those who play Yahoo! Auto Racing will also have to set their rosters before ever seeing the cars on track this weekend. Rosters will lock early Friday morning and then the weekend will kick off at 11:30 am later that day with practice. Happy Hour is set to start at 1:30 pm on Friday followed by qualifying at 5:00 pm. All times are in eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Quaker State 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me not to rank Five Time number one week in and week out with this team rattling off top 5 after top 5 (now five in the last six Sprint Cup races). At this point, I’d almost consider it a lock for the #48 to be inside the top 5 once the checkered flag waves on Saturday night, if not in victory lane. Johnson’s average finish of 4.9 on all of the intermediate tracks this season is simply incredible, and the fact that he finished 3rd in the Kentucky race last year is just icing on the cake. It’d take something major to happen this weekend for Jimmie not to be a force in the Quaker State 400. There’s a reason he’s been #1 on the Total Driver Power Rankings for the last month or so.
2. Greg Biffle – The Biff had a top 10 finish coming for him at Kentucky (Yahoo! chart here) until the last leg of the race when he had some issue and fell back, ultimately finishing 21st. Story of his season last year, right? Well good thing this is 2012. Biffle’s average driver rating on the intermediate tracks is an insane 121.0 (chart here), which is better than even Jimmie Johnson, and the #16 has ended up 6th or better in every single intermediate track in 2012 except for one. I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday. He’s also a driver that has had experience at this track in the Nationwide Series with three runner-up finishes to his name. Biffle has also been a qualifying machine on the intermediates this season so he should be on your Yahoo! roster for those potential bonus points, if nothing else.
3. Tony Stewart – This team is streaky so make sure the #14 looks fast in practice on Friday before going all-in with Stewart. Three straight finishes of 3rd or better is hard to ignore right now, and remember that Smoke was the best on the intermediate tracks earlier this season (like Las Vegas). He finished 12th in the Kentucky race last year but I’m expecting something much better out of Stewart on Saturday. His teammate, Ryan Newman, finished 4th in that race if that means anything to you. Stewart has the 7th-best average driver rating on the intermediate tracks this season despite the fact that he really struggled at some of them (chart here). I’m penciling him in for a top 5 right now, but that could easily change after practice and qualifying. Be sure to check out ifantasyrace.com after qualifying on Friday for my final predictions for the Quaker State 400.
4. Matt Kenseth – In case you haven’t heard, this is the last season that Matt Kenseth with race for Roush-Fenway Racing in the #17 Ford. Surprised? Me too. Now the question is this: where the heck is this guy going to end up in 2013? Here’s a poll question asking where you think he should go–please vote. As of this writing, Joe Gibbs Racing was the favorite by a pretty large margin. Anyway, it’s an intermediate track this week so of course Matt Kenseth should be on your radar. He finished 6th in the Kentucky race last season and has recorded an average finish of 9.4 on the intermediates thus far in 2012 (chart here). As I said before, Kentucky is similar to Kansas, and Kenseth finished 4th there earlier this year with a driver rating of 110.2.
5. Kyle Busch – The only real concern I have about Rowdy Busch this week is whether or not his engine will hold up. Momentum is not exactly on his side, to say the least. With his late-race wreck in Sonoma last weekend, Kyle has now finished 17th or worse in every single Sprint Cup race over the last month of action. Not good. What is good, though, is that he pretty much dominated this race last season from the pole and has been solid on the intermediate tracks this year, posting the 6th-best average driver rating (chart here) and an average finish of 12.1 (chart here). I see why most people would stay away from Kyle Busch this weekend, but he’s going to be one of the favorites on Saturday even with the recent bad luck, and the engine failures won’t continue happening. A win this weekend could pretty much guarantee Busch a Chase spot this year, because believe it or not he’s almost on the verge of being out right now (yes, I hate mentioning points this early in a season but I thought it was surprising).
6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior’s performance here at Kentucky was extremely hard to watch last season, and since I don’t have a video of it on hand I’ll just throw these statistics at you really quick: started 29th, finished 30th, driver rating of 64.1, and was really never better than a 20th-place car all race. With that being said, you really can’t go against this team on the intermediate tracks yet considering Earnhardt has finished just one of the seven outside of the top 10 (chart here). His average driver rating of 104.1 on them is also 4th-best in the series (chart here). At the two comparable tracks to Kentucky–Las Vegas and Kansas–the #88 ended up 10th and 7th, respectively. I’m expecting a solid top 10 out of this team on Saturday night.
7. Brad Keselowski – This is exactly where BK finished in the Kentucky race last season, and right now I’m penciling him in for another top 10 finish in the Bluegrass State on Saturday night. He’s been really good here in the Nationwide Series and I guess that experience translated over to Cup as well last year. Although he had some disappointments on the intermediates earlier this year (fuel pump issues at a couple races), Keselowski hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 in the last four and has also been very consistent over the last two months of Sprint Cup action as a whole. Since Kansas on April 22, BK has finished 15th or better in eight of the nine Sprint Cup races and his worst finish has been 18th. I’m not sure many people will take the Blue Deuce on Saturday so this may be your chance to get off-sequence with the rest of the fantasy racers out there. Right now he’s penciled in as one of my A drivers in Yahoo! alongside Tony Stewart.
8. Martin Truex, Jr. – Only four drivers have been better that Truex on the intermediates this season average finish-wise (chart here) and now that his crew chief, Chad Johnston, is back, the #56 team should be on top of their game once again this weekend. I know I’m not scared of picking Truex right now despite his lackluster performance over the last month. In the Kentucky race last season, Martin was nothing special–starting 16th and finishing 18th–but a lot has changed with this team (and organization) strength-wise since then. Truex had the Kansas race won earlier this year but lost his car in the end and finished 2nd.
9. Denny Hamlin – The #11 team has had their ups and downs on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here), so it will be interesting to see how Hamlin looks in practice and where he qualifies. In last year’s inaugural race at Kentucky, Denny started 26th but ended up leading five laps and finishing a respectable 11th. He now has three finishes 18th or worse in the last four Sprint Cup races, though, so he may be a little hard to trust this weekend. What I really like about Hamlin this week, though, is how strong he was at Kansas earlier this year, which was where he grabbed one of his two wins this season after driving past the guy ranked above him.
10. Carl Edwards – Cousin Carl finished 5th here last season but that was 2011 and this is 2012. It’s hard to believe that we are almost halfway through this 2012 season and I’m still waiting for the #99 team to really break out and get back into a form similar to that of 2011. Still, I can almost guarantee you that Edwards will grab a top 10 on Saturday night, but probably not much more. In case you haven’t been keeping track, check out this chart–Carl’s finishes on all of the intermediate tracks thus far in 2012 have yet to be below 11th. That’s impressive, but fantasy owners want top 5s, not top 10s. He’s a safe pick but I think there may be some other picks that will be better than Edwards this weekend. We’ll have to see how this team practices and qualifies, though.
11. Kasey Kahne – The #5 is sort of a wildcard this weekend. He went on that real hot streak a while back–even grabbing a victory at Charlotte–but fast-forward to now and Kahne hasn’t finished better than 14th in the last three Sprint Cup races. He started 4th in the 2011 Kentucky race and finished 13th while leading one lap. That was in Red Bull equipment, though, which isn’t exactly the same caliber as Hendrick. Kasey finished 8th at Kansas earlier this year and is always a threat on these type of tracks no matter his history. If he can keep the car in one piece for the entire 400 miles on Saturday night, Kahne should be top 10 material when it’s all said and done.
12. Clint Bowyer – I never like going against the most recent race winner, you know that. Bowyer was really the only “exciting” thing to happen all race last year, as he blew a tire late and hit the wall. You can tell from his Yahoo! chart (here), though, that Clint was really junk all night. However, I really like what Michael Waltrip Racing has going on now and Clint hasn’t finished worse than 13th in the last three intermediate races. At Kansas earlier this year, Bowyer was having a real good race early (Yahoo! chart here) but ended up finishing 36th after blowing an engine. Barring any mechanical issue, I think the #15 should challenge for a top 10 on Saturday night.
13. Joey Logano – Sliced Bread finished 14th in the Kentucky race last year and I remember picking him based solely on his experience with the track in the Nationwide series. I think we’ll see a finish similar to that out of Logano this year, maybe a little better. Joey hasn’t been great at all on the intermediate tracks in 2012 (chart here) but he did finish 16th and 15th at Las Vegas and Kansas, respectively. Also, with his 10th-place finish at Sonoma last week, Logano has four top 10s in the last six Sprint Cup races. With the news of Matt Kenseth leaving Roush breaking today, I think Logano will have even more to drive for here soon to hopefully keep his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing.
14. Kevin Harvick – Happy has been flying under my radar for the last month or two, and I think it has something to do with him disappointing me so much in Martinsville earlier this year. I will be keeping my eye on him this weekend in Kentucky, though. Believe it or not, the #29 has been pretty good on the intermediate tracks this season, posting the 6th-best average finish (9.1) with just one result worse than 11th. Harvick also has the 9th-best average driver rating on them this season thus far (chart here). At Kentucky last year, Harvick really was nothing great, starting 19th and finishing the night in 16th. I think the difficulty of passing really hurt him last year because this team never seemed to qualify up front. Harvick qualified 3rd and 2nd at Las Vegas and Kansas this year, and if that happens this weekend in Kentucky, expect him to jump up a lot in my final predictions on Saturday.
15. Marcos Ambrose – Here’s my sleeper of the week. With two poles in a row, it’s hard to not take a long look at Marcos Ambrose this week. When you throw in the fact that he has just one finish worse than 14th in the last seven Sprint Cup races, and it’s nearly impossible. That one finish worse than 14th was in the Coca-Cola 600, and when you look at the #9′s Yahoo! chart from that race, you can tell that Marcos was running really good up until the mid-point of the race (it’s slipping my mind as to what happened). Marcos finished 13th at Las Vegas earlier this year and 16th at Kansas. He started 11th and finished 20th in the 2011 race at Kentucky. I wouldn’t overlook Ambrose if I were you.