The Frontstretch: Fantasy Insider: Can A Trio Of Chase Contenders Tip The Scales In Your Title Race? by Mike Ravesi -- Thursday November 4, 2010

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Well, with Talladega out of the way, some sort of order in predicting NASCAR finishes has been restored as the traveling circus we all follow on a weekly basis moves to Texas this weekend. So for all you Dallas/Fort Worth area fans who obviously aren’t going to get to see any playoff football, I give you… playoff racing. With just three weeks left in your fantasy season, the pressure is on to make the right picks down the stretch with a potential championship of your own on the line. Good thing we have plenty of past history to go on; at the latest stop down in the Lone Star State, we get to look back on several similarly configured tracks, namely Atlanta and Charlotte, to see which drivers have the mile-and-a-half “D”-shaped ovals down and which ones have yet to find the handle on them. So let’s crunch some numbers, shall we, and see who we want and who we don’t this Sunday afternoon.

Studs:

Jimmie Johnson may have the edge in the Chase, but wins at intermediate tracks like Michigan make it impossible to ignore third-place Kevin Harvick as a serious contender to steal the win at Texas.

This weekend, as the NASCAR postseason playoff heats up the real championship contenders should rise to the top. So with that in mind, I am returning to Jimmie Johnson to lead my team followed closely by Kevin Harvick. Johnson’s point lead may be small, and he may not be running like he has in past Chases, but the man is still leading, still the defending champ, and those reasons alone should land him on your roster. If you really need some stats, then how about a win, seven top-5s, and ten top-10s here throughout his career – Sam Hornish, Jr. crash last Fall notwithstanding. In fact, that wreck’s the only blemish on a track record which includes three second-place finishes in his last four starts at TMS. I say Johnson breaks through for the win this time around, expanding his point lead heading to one of his best career tracks in Phoenix next Sunday.

Last week’s Talladega runner-up, regular season points champ Harvick has had a great Chase thus far – and I expect him to continue it this Sunday. He’s never won at TMS, but he does have three top-5s and an average finish of 13th. Running inside the top 8 in all but one of the Chase events, I think we’ll see him solidly inside the top 5 this weekend when all is said and done.

Who will carry you:

I have to admit, I was pleased to find some drivers other than Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger to stomp for this weekend. Instead, you are going to want to add Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to your mix of drivers on Sunday afternoon. Brad Keselowski is the stretch of the group, but not that big of one. He is coming off two straight top-10 runs and posted a 14th at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year. He also ran top 25 in both Atlanta and Charlotte in 2010, those intermediates we talked about earlier, plus had a top-5 taken from him by Carl Edwards at Atlanta in the season’s fourth race. He’ll run no worse than a top 20 at one of his better configurations Sunday.

Some hard work by the NAPA crew over the past month or so has left Truex back in contention to score a handful of top-10 finishes down the stretch. Add in a solid recent history at Texas, and you have yourself this weekend’s darkhorse contender.

As for the pair of Junior’s, the two off-track buddies do have pretty similar numbers here. Both have a career average finish of 14th at TMS, where Dale was 8th followed by Martin in 9th back in April. Dale Jr. has the edge here throughout his career, posting a win and three top-5s to Martin’s lone top-5 and no wins. But keep in mind that momentum always plays a factor in racing, and Truex is coming off a sixth-place effort last Sunday while Dale was 39th. Look for both in the top 15 when the checkered flag flies, with the slight edge going to Truex to run better.

Who will bury you:

While I touted the Lowe’s Home Improvement store driver this weekend, I am going to have to tell you to avoid the Home Depot pilot. Joey Logano has an awful history here, and I am going to advise you not to put him on your roster — which means he’ll probably defy history and finish fourth, considering he’s entering this weekend with a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes. But when it comes to TMS, the numbers don’t lie for the young guy; he’s posted just one top-20 run in the Lone Star state in four starts – a 19th last year. His average finish here is 29th, and being 17th in points makes him too expensive for you to grab so he can beat a couple of start-and-parkers.

So there it is, all laid out for you to sit back, think about, and pick yourself a winning team. Hopefully, you’ve been picking the right drivers all season as there are just three races left in 2010, so if you aren’t right there with the leaders in your league, it’s probably too late to catch them now. At least while you’re here, make sure to check in on our Game of Tomorrow roster to set your lineup for this Sunday before it’s too late to catch your rivals in our league!

Good luck, and we’ll see you back here next Thursday when we break down Phoenix as NASCAR’s top series heads west for the final time in 2010.

Contact Mike Ravesi

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