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Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on March 4, 2013
Fantasy racers in allocation leagues should get a little bit of help this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as both Trevor Bayne and Austin Dillon will try to qualify their way into the Kobalt Tools 400 on Friday. Bayne will be running his normal #21 Ford for the Wood Brothers while Dillon will take the wheel for Phoenix Racing in the #51 Chevrolet, which just finished 11th last weekend in Phoenix with A.J. Allmendinger piloting it.
Full entry list:
|1||Jamie McMurray||Chevy||Felix Sabates|
|2||Brad Keselowski||Ford||Roger Penske|
|5||Kasey Kahne||Chevy||Linda Hendrick|
|7||Dave Blaney||Chevy||Tommy Baldwin|
|9||Marcos Ambrose||Ford||Richard Petty|
|10||Danica Patrick||Chevy||Gene Haas|
|11||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||J D Gibbs|
|13||Casey Mears||Ford||Bob Germain|
|14||Tony Stewart||Chevy||Margaret Haas|
|15||Clint Bowyer||Toyota||Rob Kauffman|
|16||Greg Biffle||Ford||Jack Roush|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||John Henry|
|18||Kyle Busch||Toyota||Joe Gibbs|
|19||Mike Bliss||Toyota||Randy Humphrey|
|20||Matt Kenseth||Toyota||Joe Gibbs|
|21||Trevor Bayne||Ford||Glen Wood|
|22||Joey Logano||Ford||Walter Czarnecki|
|24||Jeff Gordon||Chevy||Rick Hendrick|
|27||Paul Menard||Chevy||Richard Childress|
|29||Kevin Harvick||Chevy||Richard Childress|
|30||David Stremme||Toyota||Brandon Davis|
|31||Jeff Burton||Chevy||Richard Childress|
|32||Ken Schrader||Ford||Frank Stoddard|
|33||Landon Cassill||Chevy||Joe Falk|
|34||David Ragan||Ford||Bob Jenkins|
|35||Josh Wise||Ford||Jerry Freeze|
|36||J.J. Yeley||Chevy||Allan Heinke|
|38||David Gilliland||Ford||Brad Jenkins|
|39||Ryan Newman||Chevy||Tony Stewart|
|42||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevy||Chip Ganassi|
|43||Aric Almirola||Ford||Richard Petty|
|47||Bobby Labonte||Toyota||Tad Geschickter|
|48||Jimmie Johnson||Chevy||Jeff Gordon|
|51||Austin Dillon||Chevy||James Finch|
|55||Mark Martin||Toyota||Michael Waltrip|
|56||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||Michael Waltrip|
|78||Kurt Busch||Chevy||Barney Vissar|
|83||David Reutimann||Toyota||Ron Devine|
|87||Joe Nemechek||Toyota||Andrea Nemechek|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevy||Rick Hendrick|
|93||Travis Kvapil||Toyota||Ron Devine|
|95||Scott Speed||Ford||Bob Leavine|
|98||Michael McDowell||Ford||Mike Curb|
|99||Carl Edwards||Ford||Jack Roush|
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on February 25, 2013
Who Should Be Strong This Week?
Now that we’re past the first unpredictable plate race of the season, it’s time for fantasy racers to buckle down and get series. Last week at Daytona, the Toyotas–specifically those in the Joe Gibbs camp–had various problems that has to make you wonder whether or not they will carry into Phoenix this weekend. Remember that, to the dismay of fantasy owners, Kyle Busch continually had engine problems in 2012.
Phoenix International Raceway was repaved and reconfigured during the 2011 season, and the changes were so drastic that I don’t think that it is worth really looking at race results here before then. The Cup Series has now had three races on this “new” track, with Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick being the drivers who have visited victory lane in those events.
Weekend Schedule: Practice on Friday starting at 2:00 pm and lasting until 3:25 pm followed by qualifying on at 6:00 pm. On Saturday, there is an hour-long practice set to begin at noon followed by final practice going from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm. All times are in Eastern. The Subway Fresh Fit 500 is set to go green around 3:00 pm on Sunday.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin is arguably the best in the series on this “new” Phoenix race track. In the three races here since the repavement/reconfiguration, Denny has led 107 laps and posted a 2nd-place finish last fall to go with his win here last spring–the first of his career at this track. Hamlin was unstoppable on the flat tracks in 2012 (there was only one race he finished worse than 6th) and that should carry into this season as well. The #11 Toyota should be a threat for the win come Sunday, assuming the engine can hold on long enough.
Kyle Busch - If Hamlin is the best driver at Phoenix right now, then Kyle Busch is a close second. In the first race on the new track, Rowdy had an engine problem that left him in the garage early and in 36th place. It’s worth noting, however, that Kyle started 34th that day and drove up through the field into the top 5 by about lap 170. In this race last season, Busch led 52 laps and ended up 6th, and followed that up with a dominating race last November, leading 237 of the 319 laps. If there wasn’t a late caution that day, I firmly believe that Rowdy would have cruised to victory. However, he ended up 3rd. Again, the engine problems with the Gibbs cars last week are a bit concerning, but mechanical failures are something you just can’t predict in fantasy racing.
Jimmie Johnson - To put it simply, the “old” Phoenix International Raceway was Jimmie Johnson’s playground. The stats he put up from 2006 to 2011 were borderline ridiculous: over those ten races, “Five Time” never finished worse than 5th (seriously) and ended up in victory lane on four separate occasions. Once this track was reconfigured and repaved, however, the field caught up. The entire Hendrick organization struggled in the first race on the “new” track, and Johnson ended up 14th that day. He followed that with a solid 4th-place effort in this event last season (after leading 55 laps), and then regressed last fall with his 32nd-place finish. As you probably recall, however, that bad finish was due to a tire problem that sent the #48 Chevrolet into the wall. Johnson was running in 7th place at the time. Assuming that that doesn’t happen again, however, you could see this #48 team start off 2-for-2 on Sunday.
Kasey Kahne - Kasey Kahne was the first driver to get a victory on the reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway back in 2011, and that win came during his awesome season-ending run with Red Bull Racing. In my opinion, Hendrick got off to a slow start on the “new” Phoenix, but they should be caught up by now. In this event last season, Kasey ended up 34th, but you have to remember that that was right in the middle of this team’s early season slump/bad luck streak. He was solidly inside the top 5 during that race before saying hello to the wall around lap 20. Kahne rebounded last November with a solid 4th-place outing, which is also where he qualified.
Kevin Harvick - Harvick was about as good as you can get at Phoenix in 2012. After having arguably the best car in the spring race–he led 88 laps and had a race-high driver rating of 134.7–and finished 2nd, “Happy” came back in the fall and led the last 15 laps in the desert to get his only win of the season. In terms of overall history, Harvick is a three-time winner at Phoenix and has finished 6th or better in four of the last five races here. I see no reason why he wouldn’t be able to make it five of the last six on Sunday.
Should Be Solid
Brad Keselowski - The 2012 champion had one of the best cars here last time around and should be solid once again this weekend. Keselowski led 10 laps in last November’s Phoenix race and ended up 6th. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as soon as Jimmie Johnson went to the garage, the Blue Deuce started falling back (read: Brad was playing it conservative). Click here to see the Yahoo! chart of these two drivers in that race. Look closely around lap 230 onward. Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe are the best in the business at strategy, and one thing has been clear since the reconfiguration of Phoenix: track position is vital. Brad was 5th in the spring race here last season and should be a great pick once again on Sunday.
Ryan Newman - “The Rocketman” used to be one of the best flat track racers in the series (in my opinion), but he has regressed a little bit. Still, in the last three Phoenix races, Newman has recorded two top 5s, and has finished solidly inside the top 5 in five of the last six events here. For whatever reason, the Stewart-Haas Chevrolets are generally really strong here. It’s going to take a couple really good practice sessions out of this #39 team for me to strongly recommend picking Newman this weekend, but I think a top 10 finish (at least) should be expected out of him on Sunday.
Greg Biffle - The Biff isn’t someone that immediately comes to your mind when the series stops at Phoenix, but he’s been one of only a few drivers that have been solid in every race at this track since it was reconfigured. Biffle ended up 13th in the fall race here back in 2011 and followed that up with 3rd- and 7th-place efforts here last season. He hasn’t led a lap at this track since 2008 but it’s hard to look away from solid finishes.
Matt Kenseth - Phoenix has been one of Kenseth’s worst tracks on the circuit throughout his career, but I think his move to Joe Gibbs Racing should bump his performance up a little bit. He ended up 14th here last fall after finishing 13th in the spring race, which are both better than Matt’s career average finish at this track (17.7). It’s worth noting that in the first race on the “new” Phoenix, Kenseth led 49 laps after starting on the pole but wound up finishing 34th after Brian Vickers wrecked him. It’s safe to say that the #17 would have challenged for the win that day if Vickers wouldn’t have retaliated.
Clint Bowyer - Clint is slowly becoming on the better flat track racers (and just racer in general) in the series. He ended up 28th here last time around, but remember that was only because Jeff Gordon decided to wreck him. Bowyer was running 5th at the time and well on his way to a solid finish in that race. He has only one top 10 finish in the last five Phoenix races, but sometimes history needs to be overlooked. The #15 Toyota should be challenging for at least a top 10 come Sunday.
Juan Montoya - Montoya hasn’t been great since Phoenix has been reconfigured, but he’s been solidly above average and a threat for a top 10 in all three races thus far. Last fall he ended up 12th after qualifying 21st and he was 11th in the spring race. In 12 career starts here, Montoya has finished inside the top 20 in all but two of them. If he puts down a fast qualifying lap on Friday, JPM is definitely one driver to consider as a sleeper for a top 10.
Kurt Busch - Whether it has been the new configuration or the old one, Kurt Busch has had success at Phoenix. He has recorded one victory here (back in 2005) and boasts an impressive 13.3 average finish–good enough for 9th-best in the series. Last fall, Kurt was able to drive the #78 Chevrolet to a solid 8th-place finish after qualifying 6th. The only thing you have to worry about when picking the elder Busch brother is his pit crew, as they could cost him valuable track position throughout the day.
Danica Patrick - Now that Danica has recorded her first top 10 in the Sprint Cup Series, will she be able to make it two in a row at Phoenix? Probably not. Still, she could be a nice sleeper pick this weekend for a couple of reasons. Last time we were here, Patrick was pretty impressive, staying on the lead lap for most of the day and getting all the way up to 13th in the closing laps before the wreck happened. She ended up 17th. Also, Danica’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, knows flat tracks pretty well, and he won a race here in 2010 while on the pit box for Ryan Newman.
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on February 21, 2013
The first Budweiser Duel on Thursday wasn’t very eventful until there were about 6 laps left, when Denny Hamlin got loose and tagged Carl Edwards into the wall, collecting Trevor Bayne as well. The final four laps were a little dicey, as the field was bunched back together, but it was once again Kevin Harvick who charged ahead and took the checkered flag, similar to the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night. Danica Patrick, who started on the pole, failed to lead a lap. Full results:
- Kevin Harvick
- Greg Biffle
- Juan Montoya
- Jimmie Johnson
- Kurt Busch
- Tony Stewart
- Brad Keselowski
- Casey Mears
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
- Joey Logano
- Bobby Labonte
- David Gilliland
- Joe Nemechek
- Michael Waltrip
- Scott Speed
- David Reutimann
- Danica Patrick
- Regan Smith
- Martin Truex, Jr.
- Denny Hamlin
- Brian Keselowski
- Carl Edwards
- Trevor Bayne
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on February 16, 2013
Only One Toyota In The Top 10
Stewart-Haas Racing flexed their muscles in the second qualifying practice of the day on Saturday, with Danica Patrick beating car owner Tony Stewart by two-tenths of a second in a 1-2 session for the organization. Four of the top five-fastest times during this practice were set by Chevrolet cars. Joey Logano, who won Saturday’s first practice, ended up 9th.
|Position||Driver||Laps Ran||Top Speed|
|4.||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||2||195.101|
|15.||Martin Truex, Jr.||11||194.426|
|24.||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||2||193.890|
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on February 16, 2013
Two Rookies Post Real Fast Times
In the first “official” practice session of the 2013 NASCAR season, it was a trio of young guns who topped the charts at Daytona International Speedway for the first Daytona 500 qualifying practice. Danica Patrick led the way for much of the session but it was Joey Logano who ended up as the top dog when it was all said and done. Austin Dillon, driving the #33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, ended up 2nd-fastest. Full results:
|Position||Driver||Laps Ran||Top Speed|
|9.||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||5||194.755|
|15.||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||8||194.217|
|35.||Martin Truex, Jr.||8||193.058|
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on November 13, 2012
To the delight and/or relief of fantasy racers everywhere, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will come to an end on Sunday after the checkered flag waves on the Ford EcoBoost 400. The events at Homestead-Miami Speedway have always been wild-cards, in my opinion, and for that reason alone, I’m not the biggest fan of this particular venue. Some teams use this race as a test session of sorts, preparing for the upcoming season. When this happens, engine failures and other mechanical issues can occur–none of which are predictable. Furthermore, statistics tend to be skewed; Jimmie Johnson‘s average finish here is 13.5, but how much of that is because he wasn’t running at full speed and being conservative to not lose the championship? Also, you can add the fact that we only visit this track once a year to the list of things that make this race unpredictable. To put it simply, Homestead is on the bottom of my list of favorite tracks, but that may just be me.
On a side note: I would like to thank everyone for following along on my Fantasy NASCAR Previews this season, and I hope they helped you in your leagues. Until next year…
During the Last Race at Homestead…This was “The Battle,” with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards fighting for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. We all know how that ended. Martin Truex, Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 5 behind the #14 and the #99.
Practice Schedule…Same as what we’ve had as of late, for the most part. There will be a practice session on Friday starting at 1:30 pm, followed by qualifying at 6:00 pm. The on Saturday, the first practice will start around 1:00 pm with Happy Hour set to begin at 3:00 pm. The Ford EcoBoost 400 should go green around 3:15 pm. All times are in Eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Ford EcoBoost 400:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson – The only thing that Jimmie Johnson will be worried about this weekend is dominating the Ford EcoBoost 400, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t do just that. To put it simply, Five Time is going to make Brad Keselowski earn this championship. This team has been at the top of their game all season long on the intermediate race tracks to say the least, and you can go back and watch the tape of Texas a couple weeks ago to remind yourself. Pure domination. Jimmie Johnson has never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he’s never really had anything to race for when the series got here. Many times he was able to take his foot off the gas and just ride to collect the championship. This time around, Johnson will be out for blood, and he’s my pick to win the Ford EcoBoost 500. He has led at least one lap in each of the last six races at Homestead and should lead a bunch more on Sunday afternoon. Johnson’s best finish here is 2nd, and he accomplished that in both 2004 and 2010.
2. Martin Truex, Jr. – As we arrive at Homestead-Miami Speedway, be prepared to hear a lot about Martin Truex, Jr. Even before this breakout season, he was consistently good at this track, and he actually has the fourth-best average finish among active drivers here. Looking back at the season, it’s even less surprising that Truex has been so good at the 1.5-mile race tracks all year when you think about it. In the last six Homestead races, he has finished 11th or better in all of them, and that includes his 2nd-place effort in 2006 and his 3rd-place finish one season ago. Over the last two years, only one driver has a better average driver rating than Truex (121.6) at this track, and that is Carl Edwards (145.7). A victory has eluded this team all season long, but they should be in the mix for the trophy come Sunday, and it would definitely give them a boost heading into the 2013 season. I’d consider Truex a lock for a top 5, believe it or not.
3. Kyle Busch – Rowdy’s record at Homestead-Miami Speedway is downright atrocious. That’s really the only way to put it. In seven career starts here, Kyle has just one finish better than 19th (seriously), and that was his 8th-place effort back in 2009. For reasons unknown, Busch just hasn’t been able to take to this track. So why, you may be asking, do I have him ranked 3rd? One simple answer: look at what this team has done in the Chase this year. If Kyle Busch would have made it, his name would be coming up just as often as Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. This team is cranking out top 5 after top 5 and there’s no reason to think that they won’t do it again. At this track (and pretty much this track only) momentum means a lot more than history, and Kyle Busch has as much momentum as anyone else in the garage. This team let a win slip away from them last week in Phoenix but a win here at Homestead would be an even bigger momentum boost for them heading into 2013.
4. Matt Kenseth – This will be Matt Kenseth’s final race at Roush-Fenway Racing, and you can view this two ways: one, they might give him experimental equipment just to test something for next year, he blows up (like Greg Biffle did last season), and fantasy owners everywhere are pissed. Or two, Kenseth gets his normal stuff and this team comes together to try and win one more race before going their separate ways. I think the latter is much more likely to happen, as I doubt Roush wants Kenseth to learn any of the “secrets” he may have. Matt has one win here at Homestead, and that came back in 2007 when he absolutely dominated the race, leading 214 of the 267 laps. As I said before, he finished 4th in this event one season ago, and has finished 13th or better in six of the last seven (five of which were also top 10s). I expect the #17 Ford to be a top 5 car come Sunday, but I’ll have to confirm that through Kenseth’s practice speeds.
5. Kasey Kahne – It’s hard to get past Kasey Kahne’s disappointing finish at Texas a couple weeks ago, but as a fantasy racer you have to put that stuff out of your mind. The fact of the matter is this team has three top 5s in the last four Sprint Cup races and should be challenging for a fourth on Sunday. At Homestead specifically, Kahne tends to qualify very well but then race a little worse. For example, in six of his eight starts at this track, he has qualified inside the top 5. Can you guess how many top 5 finishes he has? One, and that came back in 2006. However, I like the Hendrick power under the hood for KK and he has shown that he can race well at this track (top 10s in three of his last four starts). Believe it or not this is Kasey’s fourth-best track on the circuit.
6. Kevin Harvick – I still don’t understand how Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix last Sunday after being off the chart for most of the weekend, but you know what that gives this #29 team? Momentum. And as I said before, I value that highly at Homestead. Another good thing going for Harvick is his consistent success at this race track. In eleven starts here, “Happy” has recorded just two finishes outside of the top 10 and has an average finish of 7.9, second-best behind Carl Edwards. In fact, three of the last four Homestead races have ended with the #29 inside the top 5. Will that happen again on Sunday? We shall see, but first I want to see practice. I think Harvick would be a great pick in Yahoo! Auto Racing, but that’s just me.
7. Denny Hamlin – Well, this team got things back on track at Phoenix last weekend, but will they be able to continue it? Homestead-Miami Speedway has been pretty kind over the years to Denny Hamlin, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Since 2006, Denny has never finished worse than 14th at this track, and over that time span he has recorded one win. That came in 2009 after Hamlin drove through the field from his 38th-place qualifying spot. Speaking of that–there’s one thing to consider this weekend: the #11 probably won’t be very fast in qualifying. For whatever reason, Hamlin is, to the tune of a career average start of 31st. That may turn some fantasy owners away, but Hamlin has shown time and time again that starting position doesn’t matter much to him at this track (click here for the complete chart of Denny Hamlin’s races at Homestead).
8. Jeff Gordon – Just to clear one thing up: I don’t think there will be any payback given to Jeff Gordon this weekend, but it’s certainly possible so I consider the #24 a pretty risky pick for Homestead. That being said, if my gut reaction is correct and there is no retaliation, Gordon should be able to have a solid run in Florida on Sunday. In thirteen career starts at this track, Jeff has never collected a win, but he does have ten top 10 finishes to his name, and six of those have also been top 5s. Gordon had an engine problem here in 2010 when he finished 37th, but other than that he has been very consistent and strong at this 1.5-mile race track. This team has taken a step back speed-wise as of late, however, so make sure the #24 looks sporty in practice on Saturday before locking down with Gordon. Unless he looks like he could win, I would probably avoid him, but that’s just me.
9. Clint Bowyer – It is worth noting that Clint Bowyer is not on probation, so if he were to wreck Jeff Gordon on Sunday, he essentially can do so without any major consequences (in my opinion). I just don’t think it will happen, though. Bowyer is still in the race for 3rd-place in the points standings, and the prize amounts vary greatly with each lower place. We shall see, however. One thing that seems to happen whenever situations like this between Bowyer and Gordon arise, however, is that they are always next to each other. For example, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the #15 and the #24 to qualify side by side on Friday. It just always seems to happen. This #15 team is still putting out solid top 10 cars for Clint to run and that shouldn’t change this weekend. In six career starts here, Bowyer has finished outside of the top 12 just once and his best finish has been 5th (back in 2008).
10. Brad Keselowski – Now that Bad Brad pretty much has the 2012 championship wrapped up, he’s going to take his foot off of the gas. All he has to do to win it all is not make any mistakes and finish in the mid-teens. This team hasn’t finished worse than 11th in the Chase thus far and I just don’t see that changing on Sunday. Keselowski won’t run as hard as usual but he’s still going to try and be competitive–it’s just the racer in him. Overall his statistics at Homestead aren’t very pretty to look at (20.3 average finish in four career starts) but you have to throw them out the window, as I’ve said numerous times this season. Barring something unpredictable happening on Sunday you’re looking at the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. Congratulations, BK.
11. Tony Stewart - This will probably end up being too low of a ranking for Smoke this weekend but it’s come to the point where I simply need to see speed out of the #14 Chevrolet in practice before even considering the 2011 Sprint Cup champion. He won this race last season but I think we can all agree that some (if not all) of that effort was due to the run that this team went on to end the season. That was, however, Stewart’s third career victory at Homestead. He’s finished inside the top 10 in three of the last four events here and should challenge for another one on Sunday as well. Smoke has 5th-place finishes at each of the last two intermediate track races this season (Texas and Kansas).
12. Carl Edwards – Homestead-Miami Speedway is by far Carl Edwards’ best track on the circuit, but this team is still struggling. He has a 5.3 average finish here in eight career starts but you’ve got to look past the stats on this one. If you’re going on record alone this season, Edwards should have way more than three top 5 finishes this season. This team may be able to make a last-second surge to get a momentum boost heading into the 2013 season, but I just don’t see that happening. Carl has finished 1st or 2nd in three of the last four Homestead races but it would surprise me if he finished anywhere near there on Sunday.
13. Kurt Busch – SLEEPER ALERT! I can’t believe it either. Kurt Busch has now strung together back-to-back top 10 finishes for the first time this season and just may be able to get a third-straight on Sunday, ironically at the track which put him in the situation that he is in now. Busch won from the pole here back in 2002 and has top 5 finishes to his credit in four of the last nine Homestead events. However, what I like even more out of Kurt Busch this weekend is the car that he is in; Regan Smith has averaged a finish of 15th over the last two races at Homestead in this #78 Chevrolet. Kurt qualified 4th here last season and we all know what happened during the race.
14. Mark Martin – Surprisingly, Mark Martin hasn’t been very good at Homestead-Miami Speedway as of late. He finished 9th here during the 2007 season but that is his only top 10 at this track in his last five attempts. That could certainly change this weekend, but Martin seems to have lost a step here as of late. What’s good is that in the last two intermediate track races, the #55 has been pretty sporty with Mark behind the wheel, especially at Kansas back in October. He tends to qualify well here at Homestead and if that happens on Friday, I could see this team ending the season with a solid top 10 finish on Sunday.
15. Aric Almirola – Almirola has been in the back of my mind for Homestead since the beginning of the season. In this event two years ago, Aric took over for Kasey Kahne in the #9 Ford at Richard Petty Motorsports and qualified 24th. I remember this weekend well. Almirola went out in practice and looked very solid, posting fast lap times and putting him at the top of my sleeper list for the weekend. To my joy (it helped me win some money), Aric went out and finished 4th in that race. I’m not saying that he’ll do that again this weekend, but hopefully Almirola remembers how to get around this place. This #43 team has been giving him fast race cars lately, and hopefully he’ll be able to give fantasy owners another nice finish this weekend, something Almirola has been doing for the last month or two it seems like.
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on November 10, 2012
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on November 7, 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:
*Chase participants marked in red*
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.
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on 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.
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on 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.