Jeff Wolfe · Thursday September 12, 2013
If the Chase for the Championship is half as interesting as the last few laps at Richmond Saturday night, then it should be a fun next 10 weeks for NASCAR fans.
Sure, some of us in fantasy land were hurt or helped by Clint Bowyer’s spin. If you had Ryan Newman on your team, and get bonus points for a victory, then for sure you’re not happy with Mr. Bowyer. However, if you had eventual race winner Carl Edwards, then maybe not quite so much. Then again if you had Bowyer, who was running a respectable 15th when he spun due to the so-called team orders and ended up finishing 25th, and not-so-coincidentally two laps off the lead, then maybe you’re not too happy either.
But as the smoke continues to billow from that mess, here are a couple of things to remember when it comes to picking drivers for your fantasy team for the Chase. First, the top 12 drivers have pretty much been the best in class all season and there’s no reason to think that will suddenly change. However, you can’t forget about the non-Chasers either. They really have the ability to gamble and go for wins here, especially in fuel-mileage races, and they have been successful in the past in two or three of these Chase races.
So, with all those things in mind, here’s a look at this week’s picks:
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Sure, he’s been in a slump lately, and it’s a bit disturbing, or entertaining (depending on your point of view), but Jimmie Johnson is still one of the favorites to win the title. And Chicago is one of the places where Johnson has yet to win, but the numbers tell us he’s about ready to win there. Johnson has a top five and top 10 finish in the last two races at Chicagoland, but he also has led 211 laps in those races, by far the most of any other driver. So, if you are one who has enjoyed his slump in the last four races, the party may well be over.
Another Chase driver who has won twice at Chicagoland and is looking to win his first title is Kevin Harvick. The two victories at Chicagoland are included in his seven top 10 finishes there in 12 races. Harvick has also led 282 laps in those races and has an average finish of 10.5, so he’s someone you have to look at here.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
If there is one driver looking to get off to a good start in the Chase, after almost not being in the Chase, it has to be Ryan Newman. Maybe his pit crew will take Newman’s harsh post-race words to heart and help make him a real championship contender. Newman has finished fifth and eighth in the last two races at Chicagoland, so the recent history is pretty good. Overall, in his 11 races there he has a win and six other top 10 finishes for an average finish of 14.91, which is skewed by one 36th place finish. So, yes, Newman is a real option here.
A driver who really wants to have a good start in the Chase is Kyle Busch. He’s got four wins this year and is certainly one of the favorites to win the title. However, he’s been one of those favorites before and things just didn’t work out for him. So, you know Busch wants to come out of Chicagoland with the positive vibes rather than the blues. The good news for Busch is that he does have one win at Chicagoland and in his eight races there he has two other top five finishes.
And in this case, you can’t mention one Busch without mentioning the other. Yes, Kurt Busch and the one-car team he is on making the Chase is quite a feat. He easily could have won Saturday night at Richmond, too, but you got the sense late in the race that as long as he was secure and in the Chase, he wasn’t going to do anything stupid, a good sign for Kurt Busch. There are also some good signs from the past for Kurt Busch as he has six top 10s in the last 12 races at Chicagoland, including a top 10 in the last two races. He’s also led 64 laps in the last two races and it will be interesting to see if he can stay close to the front this Sunday.
And yes, you might want to give a look to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. too. He has one win in 12 races at Chicagoland and four other top 10 finishes. He also has finished third and eighth in the last two races there. The one red flag though is Junior has not led a lap in the last two races. But a Junior victory to start the Chase would be the kind of positive publicity boost NASCAR is looking for right about now.
The one Ford driver who has had at least some past success at Chicago is Carl Edwards. He had a fourth-place finish in one of the last two races and also led 39 laps, so maybe he has a chance. He also has an average starting position of fifth in the last two races and we all know how valuable track position can be, so that’s in Edwards’ favor, too.
It’s the Chase now, so if you’re on driver pick limits and have been trying to get to this point of the season with races left for key people, then there’s no point in saving them now.
The top two names in this category are Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and AJ Allmendinger. Stenhouse ended up with his first top 10 of the season last week and the certain Rookie of the Year for 2013 may be ready to deliver more of the same in these last 10 races. Though it is important to note that this will be Stenhouse’s first Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland, so that’s a bit of concern.
Allmendinger hasn’t had a tremendous amount of success at Chicagoland, but he’s probably the next best option. In his four races there, he’s been in the top 20 three times, with a top finish of 13th. However, Allmendinger’s average finish is 16.75, so if he can match that, it would be a solid placing for a low budget type of pick.
There are two new faces to this group this week, but it’s really difficult to say how they will do, especially in their first Sprint Cup races. First, you’ve got Justin Allgaier in the No. 51 car, which has had some decent finishes, especially when Allmendinger has been behind the wheel. Also, you’ve got Cole Whitt driving the No. 30 car, taking over for David Stremme. Just how these guys will do is impossible to predict, so for now, I would avoid them unless you’re really desperate for a low budget option.
The other two drivers to you may want to consider here are Danica Patrick and Casey Mears. Patrick does have one Sprint Cup start at Chicagoland and finished 25th. Mears has 10 starts there and has one top five and one top 10 on his record, but he’s been 29th and 36th in each of his last two races there.
We’re down to the final 10 races now and the overall standings in the two Frontstretch Fantasy Leagues on Yahoo! are going to take precedence here. The leader going into these final 10 races is RWO Motoring with 6,707 points, followed by SiLo Sounds Racing with 6,705, Bomb Squad at 6,625, Nobody Rides for Free at 6,612 and Underbird at 6,600.
Last week’s top score was Anthony’s Team with 339 points. The winning combination was race winner Carl Edwards, then Jeff Gordon in eighth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 10th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 13th.
The winner of the 13-race Summer Segment was Mark Martin MotorSports with 3,469 points followed by Tony’s Guys at 3,418.
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