The Frontstretch: Fantasy Insider: Picks To Bank On At The Brickyard by Jeff Wolfe -- Thursday July 25, 2013

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Fantasy Insider: Picks To Bank On At The Brickyard

Jeff Wolfe · Thursday July 25, 2013

 

If recent history gives us any indication about what will happen at Indianapolis there are a couple of things we will have to look forward to, or not, when it comes to the Sprint Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon on ESPN.

First, let’s face it, the races there in the past few years have been largely snoozefests. It’s not to blame the drivers or crew cheifs, for surely they are trying, or even the track itself which has been in business for over 100 years. Sometimes it’s just that the car and the track (or as in 2008, the tire) don’t match. The only hope is that the racing, and by racing I mean regular passing for the top 10 spots, will be better with the Gen-6 car’s first foray onto the storied 2.5-mile oval, which is the only track on the circuit that has four distinct turns.

Here are some other things to keep in mind, too: of the 19 previous seasons since NASCAR has been at Indy, history tells us the eventual Sprint Cup champion will likely have a good finish there, even if it’s not a win. In those 19 races, the Sprint Cup winner has finished 12th or better 17 times. The only exception to the rule has been Jimmie Johnson, who was 22nd in 2010 and 39th in 2007.

And here’s one more item to think about: The eventual Sprint Cup champion has finished sixth or better 15 times.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

When looking at Indy, you can’t help but see what Hoosier native Tony Stewart and Hoosier-raised Jeff Gordon (he was born in California) have done at Indy.

Gordon has four wins, 11 top five finishes, and 15 top 10 finishes in 19 races at Indy. His average finish is 8.84, and since he’s just two points out of the top 10, but has yet to win this season, Gordon is going to go into this race highly motivated and also a bit desperate to find a victory. With the log-jam just outside of the top 10 in points that he currently finds himself in, it would help his wild-card chances immensely.

This front row trophy for the Daytona 500 is about all Jeff Gordon has to hang his hat on so far this year. If he hopes to make The Chase, he needs to get into the Top 10 from 11th, or rekindle the magic that saw him win here in 1994, 1998, 2001, and 2004 and snag a win. Or two…

As for Stewart, he does have his one win at Dover this season, but sits 13th in the point standings, five behind 10th-place Kasey Kahne. Stewart has the best average finish among active drivers for Indy at 8.21 in 14 races there. Stewart has two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s to reach that mark. Stewart also has had a habit in the past of putting a lot of pressure on himself and his team to win at Indy. He may be a bit past those days now, but you know he’d like to drive the No. 14 into Victory Lane just like his hero, A.J. Foyt did at Indianapolis four times.

Tony Stewart hasn’t been a factor at The Brickyard since his Home Depot days — is he primed to make a return to his hometown track?

And since we’ve mentioned Kahne, and if you’re looking for a bit of a sleeper pick in this category, he could be your guy. Even though he has yet to win at Indy, he does have a second-place finish there and has been inside the top 10 in four of his 10 races there. In addition to having led 88 laps here, the other thing to look at is that his average starting position at Indy is 8.7. And while a lot can happen in 400 miles, with the all-important clean air needed for these cars to perform well, a good starting position can’t be ignored.

And just so you don’t think I’m ignoring him, Jimmie Johnson, yes, him again, has four wins at Indy in 11 races and as usual is an option, too.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Just who you pick from this category may well depend on if you are on race pick limits for a driver or just who best fits into your budget.

He has yet to win on an oval in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but if there’s one track where Juan Pablo Montoya is capable of doing that is has be Indianapolis. If Montoya does pull off a victory at the Brickyard he would become the first driver to win in the Sprint Cup and IndyCar series on the track. And while Montoya is buried at 23rd in the points standings, meaning he would most likely need two wins to crack the top 20 and put himself in wild-card contention, he has led 202 laps there but his only top 10 finish at Indy is a second place.

I’ll be the first to admit I had all but written off Jeff Burton as a pick possibility at any track, in any week, but he has shown some signs of life recently. The last track, New Hampshire has always been one of his best places and he did finish third there two weeks ago for his second top-five finish of the season. When it comes to Indy, Burton has a decent history there, too. He has five top 10s there in 19 races and has led 123 laps, which means he may still remember what it’s like to run up front there.

Hey remember this guy? Jeff Burton suddenly sprang to life at New Hampshire with a third place finish. He was 10th at Michigan and 11th at Pocono, both relatively low-banked/high speed tracks. Might he put them all together this weekend for another Top 5 run?

Another driver who has yet to win at Indy, but is a victory waiting to happen is Kyle Busch. He has six top 10 finishes in eight races there with a top finish of second. Greg Biffle also has similar numbers with six top 10s in eight races.

DARK HORSES

There are some interesting drivers to pick from this week.

You’ve got a driver with a lot of experience at Indy in an IndyCar with Danica Patrick. You’ve got the best rookie in the field in Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. You’ve also got the cowboy hat wearin’ Austin Dillon, the No. 21 driven by Trevor Bayne and the No. 51, still in action these days in the midst of an owner change, being driven by A.J. Allmendinger.

Allmendinger does have some Sprint Cup history at Indy with an average finish of 17th and one top 10 finish. Also, his worst finish in four races is 22nd. Allmendinger also finished seventh in this year’s Indy 500. The question here with Allmendinger will be how many more Sprint Cup races he will drive this year. The former sort-of owner of the No. 51, but still in the picture, James Finch, said the new owner will bring in his own driver, but didn’t indicate if that would be Allmendinger or not. So maybe use Allmendinger while you still can unless you hear different before Sunday.

Dillon is on a limited schedule this season, so he’s not available for a lot of races. So, usually it’s prudent to pick him when he’s entered. And Dillon did finish fifth in his only Nationwide Series start at the Brickyard last year.

REARVIEW MIRROR

There were a lot of us that wished Tony Stewart would have had enough gas to keep what looked to be a top five finish at New Hampshire, but we all know that’s how it goes sometimes.

The top point-scorer in the two Frontstretch Fantasy Leagues on Yahoo! last week was Underbird, which did not have Stewart in its lineup, with 306 points. That team’s winning picks at New Hampshire were race winner Brian Vickers, third-place finisher Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon in 10th and AJ Allmendinger in 22nd.

The overall leader in the two leagues remains Bomb Squad with 4,803 points, followed by RWO Motoring at 4,761 points, Underbird at 4,742 points and KwaK racing at 4,702 points.

Bomb Squad is also leading the Summer Segment with 1,510 points, followed closely by Mark Martin MotorSports at 1,498.

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Bill B
07/25/2013 01:30 PM
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LOL,,, those “dark horses” really are dark horses.