Jeff Wolfe · Thursday August 29, 2013
It happens in every sport. It’s that time of the season when a key play may make or break a team’s season and determine whether it makes the playoffs or not. The same is true in NASCAR as we head into the final two races of the sport’s regular season, this Sunday in Atlanta, and then next Saturday at Richmond.
The list of drivers who are near the Chase bubble in either points, or for needing a win are Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, defending champion Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex, Jr., and Ryan Newman. That’s seven drivers for basically four spots as Biffle and Logano are ninth and 10th in points, and then the two wild-card openings. Where Kasey Kahne ends up in the points could also influence the race to make the Chase; he has two wins, so he’ll make it at least as a wild-card, but he’s also just 20 points ahead of 11th place Keselowski.
So, we’ll keep all of those guys and some of the possible scenarios in mind when we make picks for these last two weeks.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
When looking at the last two races in Atlanta and who has the best average finish, low and behold, there’s Jeff Gordon at that top of the list. Part of the dilemma in picking Gordon at some of these places is that he had great records at many tracks during his championship-winning years in the mid-to-late 1990s, but his recent finishes have been less than impressive.
That’s not the case however for Atlanta where he has finished first and second the past two years. And since he’s 13th in the standings, 11 points out of 10th and has yet to win this year, Atlanta seems to pop up on the schedule at the just right time for him. Gordon rallied in the final two races last year to make the Chase, so you could say he still knows how to perform under pressure. The recent history and the urgency his team has, make him a solid pick for this week.
Another driver who’s under pressure in these last two races is Brad Keselowski. He sits in 11th place, just four points behind Logano, but like Gordon, Keselowski also does not have a win this year. The good news for him is that he has finished third and sixth in his last two races at Atlanta.
The bad news is he was driving a Dodge at that time and now is in a Ford. The highest finishing Ford driver at Atlanta in each of the past two years has been Matt Kenseth, who finished ninth in both races. So, not just Keselowski and his team, but Ford in general needs to be on its game this weekend if the defending champion wants a chance to actually defend his title in the final 10 races of the season. And based on that, I can’t recommend Keselowski as a top pick this week.
There is one driver who definitely will not make the Chase, has had just one of those forgettable type of seasons, but shouldn’t be forgotten about this week. That’s Denny Hamlin. His luck has been almost all bad this year, starting with an early season incident with Logano that led to Hamlin crashing and missing four races with a back injury. But no matter the circumstance, Hamlin and his team could get well this weekend. Hamlin won this race last year, leading 101 laps, and was eighth two years ago. This may be a good spot to give Hamlin a shot.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
If you are looking for mid-level options for your team, Greg Biffle has been a pretty good one for most of the season. When it comes to Chase pressure, he’s got some, as he sits ninth in the points, but he’s also got one win to fall back on to make the wild-card. He’s not high on the recommendation list for Atlanta though, finishing 12th and 15th the last two years there. So keep that in mind when making your picks this week.
A mid-level driver who does have a solid record and at Atlanta and surely would like to help his Chase chances is Martin Truex, Jr. He’s in the Chase at the moment with a win earlier this year, but he could be in better position after Atlanta. That’s because he’s finished fourth and 14th in his last two trips to Atlanta. He contended for the win last year, leading 40 laps so he’s hoping for a similar, or better, finish this week.
Another one of those “under pressure” drivers who wants to make the Chase and has fared well at Atlanta is Kurt Busch. The pressure seems to be off of him in one sense, in that he secured a deal to be the fourth driver for Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season. And when it comes to pressure, Busch hasn’t always reacted to well to it in the past. But we’ve seen none of that this year and with him being 12th in points, just six behind Logano for 10th, we’ll see if this new-found attitude is for real or not. Busch has finished 13th and fourth in the last two races at Atlanta, so he’s certainly capable of a strong finish Sunday night.
A driver who wasn’t available to pick for most races earlier this year, but now will be for the rest of the season, is Brian Vickers. And since he will be in a Toyota, that will help him, too. Vickers finished 11th in his last appearance at Atlanta two years ago and in 15 career races there, he has seven top 10 finishes. He’s certainly someone worth looking at this week.
And just in case you are wondering about Logano, Atlanta may not be the best place for him to help his Chase chances. He finished 18th and 24th in the last two years there and he was driving a Toyota then and is in a Ford now. So, I wouldn’t pick him this week, but the last couple of times I’ve listed a don’t pick choice, that driver went on to win, so take it for what’s it worth.
When looking at the underdog options this week, there are a couple of names that stick out. First, you’ve got A.J. Allmendinger driving the No. 47. He does have a bit of good history at Atlanta, with two top 10 finishes in seven career races there, including a high finish of sixth. The questions here are how often have you used Allmendinger this year, or how does he affect your budget? Also, too, if you’re struggling in the standings and you pretty much need a solid choice here, then maybe you have to fit Allmendinger in your lineup. If you’re doing well, or leading your league, then maybe you can save him for some Chase races. A lot goes into this choice.
The other name that popped up on the entry list is Austin Dillon, who will be in the No. 33 Chevrolet this weekend. Dillon is also on a partial schedule and is certainly capable of turning in a top 15 finish. So, this may be one of those chances to use him while you can.
And if you’re really not sure what to do here, Danica Patrick does seem to do a bit better on the bigger faster tracks. She did race at Atlanta last year and finished 29th.
Also, there’s always the top rookie, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. He’s yet to finish in the top 10 in a race this season, but that’s going to happen sometime. It’s just a matter if you want to fit him into your lineup now, or if you are on pick limits, want to save him for at least some of the Chase races.
The top point scorer last week in the two Frontstretch Fantasy Leagues on Yahoo! was Nobody Rides for Free with 305 points. The top combination was race winner Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano in fifth, David Ragan in 12th and Kurt Busch in 31st.
In the overall season standings, RWO Motoring continues to lead with 6,147 points, just ahead of team cdakost at 6,145. They are followed by SiLo Sounds Racing at 6,075, Underbird at 6,061, emits97 at 6,036 and Nobody Rides For Free at 6,030.
The Summer Segment points leader is Mark Martin Motorsports at 2,934 followed by djarum racing at 2,835.
©2000 - 2008 Jeff Wolfe and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!