Jeff Wolfe · Thursday September 19, 2013
We had plenty of off-the-track drama last week with the whole Michael Waltrip Racing, closing-lap collusion scheme. Then came the radio chatter exchange between the Front Row Motorsports crew, surrendering a spot to Joey Logano in return for a future favor. All of this controversy gave new Chase life to Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. Just how that will affect their performances may well be good news for your fantasy team — especially if you have races left for them or room in your budget.
Of course, right now, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have room for Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch on your team, too, but that’s pretty obvious these days.
So with those things in mind, here is a look at this week’s picks.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Jeff Gordon was added to the Chase in the 11th hour, after the Logano-Gilliland radio conversation became known to NASCAR officials — and the general public. It’s just hard to keep a secret these days, but what was no secret in last Sunday’s day and night race at Chicagoland was that Gordon may have well had the fastest car out there. He was derailed by a tire going down, but still managed to finish sixth.
The recent numbers for Gordon and New Hampshire have also been promising. He’s got four top-10 finishes in the last five races there, and the best average result of any active Sprint Cup driver in those races at 6.8. If Gordon actually wants to be a serious contender for what would be his fifth Sprint Cup title, he likely will have to win at least two of these last nine races. New Hampshire might just be the spot for him to get win No. 1 in the Chase and this year for him.
Matt Kenseth has pretty much been on fire this season, but when you look at his last five races at New Hampshire, he only has two top-10 finishes. However, each of the first four of those starts was in a Roush-Fenway Racing Ford. The way that compares to what he has done for Joe Gibbs Racing this season means he will likely contend for the win again this week. Kenseth finished ninth in the first race at New Hampshire this year.
A non-Chaser who was a factor in last week’s race and could well be a factor again at New Hampshire is Brad Keselowski. He won the pole, then finished fourth in the first race this season at the one-mile oval, back in July and has four top 5s in his last five races there. As we mentioned last week, since the defending champion isn’t in the Chase this year, he can gamble a bit more on pit and fuel strategy late in the races to go for the win. Keep an eye on him.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
There’s a big pack to choose from here this week, but as has been the case for most of the season, Kyle Busch is the leader of it. He easily could have won at Chicagoland only to take second place. And he was second in the first race at New Hampshire this year when he led 53 laps. In his last five races at New Hampshire, that has been Busch’s only top-5 finish, but the fact that he has led 173 laps in those five races and that he is a legitimate title contender makes him impossible to ignore this week.
If Ryan Newman wants to make himself a serious contender, New Hampshire is a place where he must come through based on past history. He has three top 10s in the last five races, including a win. He’s also started on the pole twice in those last five races, so the ever precious track position could work to his favor if he starts up front. Newman and injured teammate Tony Stewart have been very good at this track the past few times, so expect Newman to show up with a strong car this weekend.
You also can’t ignore Brian Vickers, as he won the first race at New Hampshire this season. Given that he was in a part-time ride then in the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, the victory helped ensure him a permanent spot on the grid. Then, after Mark Martin departed for Stewart-Haas Racing, he was chosen to finish the year out in preparation for that full-time deal in 2014. Vickers has two other top-10 finishes in his last five races at New Hampshire, so him running well these days is not a fluke.
And one last driver we have to mention here is Kurt Busch. The Furniture Row Racing driver recovered nicely from a pit row speeding penalty to finish fourth last week at Chicagoland. His finish wasn’t great in the first trip to Loudon this year, at 31st, but he did lead 102 laps in that race. Don’t look for a second sorry finish; he and his team seem to be on a mission to show they really belong in the Chase.
We all know the best pick here now is Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. as he has two top-10 finishes in his last two races. He did not fare well in the first New Hampshire race, with a 34th, but that was after contact from Juan Pablo Montoya after he lost it early on. Besides, it’s almost like he’s on a different team now that seems to be gaining confidence every week. So, if you can squeeze the No. 17 Ford driver into your budget or have races left to use him in, go ahead and put him on your roster.
The other options here are quite slim this week. You do have Danica Patrick, who did finish 20th and stayed on the lead lap at Chicagoland. So if you think she can do that again, and believe the success of Stewart-Haas Racing can rub off on her a bit, then go for it. Two other drivers to keep in mind who might not kill your team this week are David Gilliland and David Ragan. These Front Row Motorsports teammates finished 18th and 19th in the first race at New Hampshire this year, respectively. That’s an overachievement for their underdog organization.
Looking down through the entry list further, well, that’s about all I can recommend here. The one wild-card possibility might be Kevin Swindell in the No. 30, making his Cup Series debut for Swan Energy. But that car hasn’t been competitive all season, by far so it’s hard to count on even a top 20 from him in his first Sprint Cup race.
We are down to nine races remaining in the two Frontstretch Fantasy Leagues on Yahoo! and we are getting down to serious business here (well, as serious as business can be in a fantasy league, anyway).
The top point scorer last week was the Nobody Rides for Free team with an astounding 374 points in this format. The winning picks were race winner Matt Kenseth, second-place Kyle Busch, eighth-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and 11th-place Carl Edwards. That’s tough to beat in any week.
In the overall season standings, the race for the top spot is close with SiLo Sounds Racing leading with 6,992 points, followed by RWO Motoring with 6,989, Nobody Rides for Free with 6,986 and Bomb Squad with 6,934.
If you’re a little more than 100 points back, don’t fret. Remember, it just takes one race to get right back in it.
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