The Frontstretch: Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Dodging Trouble During The Monster Mile's Playoff Push by Mike Neff -- Thursday September 18, 2008

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The Chase is now officially underway, and the wild position swings that accompany the first few weeks of the sprint to the finish were very evident this past weekend. The biggest mover — in the wrong direction — was Kyle Busch, who went from the dominant driver in the points to eighth place while taking down several fantasy teams in his wake. But the thing gamers have to remember is that what made drivers Chase worthy all season hasn’t been lost in the last week or two. While Busch and Matt Kenseth might have had trouble at Loudon, they’re still among the Top 12 drivers for this season; so, you’d be well served to not bail on some strong performers who had an off week to start the Chase.

In the meantime, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have now climbed atop the rankings. Can they avoid other drivers’ troubles this weekend and stay ahead of the pack? Or will Kyle Busch be able to shake off the horrific luck of Loudon and turn the lemons into lemonade this weekend? Read on for this week’s Picks ‘N’ Pans to see which drivers should be started this week — and which ones would rather be anywhere but the first state.

Bryan’s Race Rewind:

The Fall race at Dover one year ago saw Carl Edwards live up to his nickname as the King of Concrete. Edwards blew by teammate Greg Biffle on Lap 363 and never looked back, scoring his seventh career Sprint Cup victory but first on the Monster Mile. Cousin Carl led three times for 95 laps, carrying the banner on what was a stellar day for Roush Fenway Racing in Delaware. In addition to Edwards’ victory, Greg Biffle finished second, Jamie McMurray eighth, and Matt Kenseth led the most laps with a dominating car before succumbing to mechanical woes. The race also marked a strong showing for DEI, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin, and Martin Truex, Jr. all scoring Top 15 finishes. Penske Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch also ran well all race long before being caught up in a late race melee.

Dover’s concrete surface and high banks make this one of the trickier Cup race tracks to figure out.

Mike’s Keys to the Race:

Dover is a high speed, one-mile concrete race track. The advantage of concrete is the surface does not heat up as much as asphalt, so the changes during the 400-mile event are not as dramatic. That means teams that unload fast will certainly have an advantage, and the drivers who were good there in the recent past will most likely be very successful again.

But figuring out who those organizations will be is somewhat of a challenge. There do not seem to be any specific teams who are more dominant at the track than others. Looking at the Top 10 drivers in average finish at the track, there are five different organizations represented — more than are currently competing in the Chase for the Championship. If gamers are looking for any potential team advantage, four of the Roush Fenway drivers are in the Top 11.

Mike’s Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Kyle Busch is not feeling too good about his Chase so far in 2008. Obviously, it is only one race old, but Busch went from a substantial lead in the point standings to a deficit of 74 in just 300 laps. But Dover gives him a chance to recapture that magic which got him to the top of the charts. Busch’s fourth victory of the season came here in June, and his average finish at the track is 10.3, with five Top 5 finishes in seven career Monster Mile starts. He has also gone five races without a victory in 2008, the longest such streak for him all season. Expect to see Busch right the ship this weekend and begin his march back to the top of the standings.

Carl Edwards is tied for the lead in points, and has arguably been as hot as Busch all season. He’s also got the best average finish at Dover among active drivers. Gamers shouldn’t forget that Edwards was the king of concrete in the Nationwide Series last season, and he always seems to run well on tracks with that kind of surface. While Jimmie Johnson is the driver peaking right now, Edwards is not far behind… and a win at Dover could push him back into the favorite’s spot for the title.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Brian Vickers is once again a Sit ‘Em Down choice for the most obvious of reasons this weekend. His success this year has been on the intermediate tracks … but at places like Dover, the No. 83 team still has a lot of work to do. Vickers’ season overall has been good, but his luck at courses of one mile or less has always been less than stellar. Add to that the fact he’s had one Top 10 finish in nine career starts on the Monster Mile, and it’s best to sit Vickers now — and wait for the five intermediate races in the next nine weekends instead.

Casey Mears is a short timer at Hendrick … and his time is getting shorter and shorter. For the majority of drivers who are scheduled to leave teams, those final few races are always less than stellar, and Mears is no exception — he started off the Chase with a 37th at Loudon. He also does not have a very good history at Dover, with two Top 10 finishes in 11 career races and an average finish of 21.9. And if that’s not enough not to pick him … Mears’ luck just stinks. He seems to be a magnet for other people’s mishaps, and ultimately pays the price whenever he’s swept up. It’s in your best interest not to race the No. 4 driver at Hendrick this weekend.

Roll The Dice:

David Reutimann has made believers of more and more NASCAR fans these days, compiling two Top 10s and three Top 15s in the last three weeks. A ninth at Bristol and a 15th at Loudon — two short tracks where Reutimann’s done rather poorly in his career — makes gamers have to think that he might have finally figured out the smaller tracks, and will hopefully continue his good run. The other bonus is that he can be had for a low amount in most leagues. Give Reutimann a shot this weekend to free up some cap space for higher priced drivers.

Bryan’s Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Momentum is everything in stock car racing, especially come Chase time. And while Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson both are enjoying stellar runs at this point in the season, the hot hand coming into the weekend at the Monster Mile is none other than Greg Biffle, the darkhorse of the Roush Fenway Racing fleet. After taking the checkers at Loudon and making a statement in the process, Biffle and his No. 16 team have catapulted to contender status in this year’s Chase — and there are few tracks better for Biffle to sustain momentum than Dover. Biffle has an average finish of 3.67 at the track since NASCAR switched to the CoT, and is a previous winner on the high concrete banks. Biffle led 164 laps in the spring race at Dover, and should lead a lot more on Sunday. Carl Edwards may be the “king of concrete,” but look for Biffle to lead the charge for Roush Fenway Racing this weekend.

Martin Truex, Jr. cut his teeth at Dover and the tracks of the Northeast during his days in the Camping World East Series. Dover, like Loudon last week, is Truex’s home turf, giving his performance a major boost. Since the changeover to the CoT, Truex has an average finish of 6.7 at the track, including a dominant win in the June race of 2007. Truex finished a strong sixth here in the Spring, and is coming off a Top 10 run at Loudon this past weekend. The ovals of the Northeast have always been kind to Truex, and with all the focus now centered on the Chasers, the time is ripe for the No. 1 team to steal another win.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Kurt Busch and his No. 2 team have started righting their ship in recent weeks, but the tempest that is racing at Dover may well undo all that progress — as Busch’s record there in recent years has been downright ugly. June 2007, Busch got involved in a wreck with Tony Stewart, hit Stewart’s car on pit road, and was parked, finishing 42nd. September 2007 saw Busch caught in the Big One, wrecking and dropping to 29th. Then, earlier this season, despite qualifying on the outside front row, Busch and his team could never get the handling right, finishing a distant four laps down in 20th. Do the math, and since 2007 the No. 2 car’s average finish at Dover is 30.3. Ugly.

The stage was set for Elliott Sadler to enjoy a stellar performance at Dover in June. With a huge contingent from sponsor Best Buy present, Sadler qualified ninth and was ready to roll. But 16 laps in, Sadler seemingly got lost on the race track, caused a big wreck, and ended up finishing 42nd before the race even got started. The other two CoT races at Dover haven’t been too much kinder to Sadler and his No. 19 team, as they’ve scored an average finish of 21.5 — finishing three laps down in both events. Sadler has not scored a Top 20 since Michigan, and Dover isn’t the best of tracks for him to try to engineer a turnaround.

Roll The Dice:

Ryan Newman’s recent results at Dover might not look good on paper, but the driver who swept both Cup races in 2003 still knows how to get around the Monster Mile. More importantly, since the change to the CoT Newman has had three solid runs at this track — if not the finishes to show for it. He led 135 laps from the pole in June of 2007, finishing second. Then, in the Fall race, Newman raced his way up from 24th to fourth before being wrecked in an incident not of his making. Earlier this season, Newman finished 14th, two laps down, due to a lengthy pit stop to correct a mechanical problem on the car; but before the stop, he was running solidly in the Top 10. Outside of Talladega, this weekend is Newman’s best chance to score a departing win for his Penske Racing team, and it could well happen for the No. 12 crew.

Trash Talk:

Mike: Hey Bryan, another strong week for you — and for both of us, for that matter. You picked Johnson who finished second, Hamlin who finished ninth, and rolled the dice with Kurt Busch, who wound up sixth. Pretty hard for our readers to feel like they were gipped with that advice. My crank drivers were also in the Top 10… so we can toot our own horn. Let’s hope we can continue to guide our fans down the right path.
Bryan: After some of the advice I’ve given this season, I for one certainly owe our fans some good weekends. So here’s to taming the Monster Mile. Carl Edwards is the king of concrete and goes without saying, but you’re jumping back on the Kyle Busch bandwagon after his worst run since Pocono in June? With Busch’s momentum gone and frustration flaring, is he really worth the risk to start at a track that’s Bristol on steroids?
Mike: Last weekend was a complete fluke. Breaking a heim joint, especially that early in a race with no contact, is simply a rarity. Yes, he’s had back-to-back poor outings, but you can’t discount his overall season, and he’s still running strong when he’s not having bad luck. He’ll be in contention this weekend and will jump up several spots. But how about your picks: I respect you going out on a limb taking Truex, but do you think he can recapture the magic at Dover?
Bryan: Truex has, since his rookie season, run very well on the Cup tracks that he also contested earlier in his career on the Camping World circuit. Since a 22nd place finish in Truex’s Cup debut at Dover, he’s never finished outside the Top 15 — including a sixth in June. The No. 1 team was a fixture up front all weekend at Loudon, and Dover is just as much a home game for them as NHMS was last week. Let’s not forget that sans their Daytona penalty, this No. 1 team would have been knocking on the Chase’s door. Now, for your Sit ‘Em Down picks: Brian Vickers certainly has been struggling in recent weeks, but Casey Mears’ No. 5 team has run better, and they’re coming to a track that Mears has one of his best average finishes at. Dover has been one of Mears’ more bright spots, but you’re not buying it this weekend?
Mike: No, I still can’t drink the Kool-Aid. It may be one of his better average finish tracks, but that average is still 21.9. Mears is a short timer at Hendrick and, unlike Kyle Busch last year, most drivers on their way out the door tend to see their results fall off. Mears is a great guy and his team wants him to do well, but his luck is not very good this season and Dover is notorious for people getting sucked into someone else’s issues and ultimately ending a driver’s day. He will more than likely end up in the lower half of the field this weekend. Hey, I find it hard to believe you’re turning you back on Kurt Busch after he did so well for you last week — and he finishes in the Top 15 at Dover almost half of the times he starts there. What gives?
Bryan:Since the change to the CoT, KB’s average finish of 30.3 is what gives (and for the record, Mears’ avg finish in the CoT at Dover is 12.0). Despite being of the lonely breed that doesn’t despise Kurt Busch, there is absolutely no way I’m starting a driver on my team with a showing like that in recent races, especially considering how lost they were in terms of handling in June. But hey, you could roll the dice on him, just like you could on David Reutimann… whom you saw fit to bench last weekend. Drinking the UPS Kool-Aid now, eh?
Mike: I felt as though I owed it to the Reut after dissing him so badly and being proven wrong. He’s on a roll, and he seems to be figuring out short tracks. Waltrip Racing has been fielding their own cars for the last couple months, and it seems to be turning things around for Reutimann. I may regret this decision just like I did my choice to sit him last week, but it may be a good gamble. I see you’re thinking that Newman can recapture some past glory at the Monster; he’s only got one Top 10 in the last five starts at the track. Why are you feeling love for Newman knowing how far off they’ve been all year sans Daytona?
Bryan:They haven’t been far off the last few weeks, as Martin Truex, Jr.‘s front bumper and an engine failure derailed solid showings for the No. 12 team at Richmond and Loudon, respectively. Newman’s team has had Top 5 cars at every Dover CoT race, they just haven’t had the luck to get the finishes in the last two. Newman is just too good at Dover to have his bad luck continue indefinitely on DIS’ high banks.
Mike: For your sake, I hope you’re right. Hey, neither of us took Jimmie Johnson. How silly do we look not picking the hottest driver in the series after three straight Top 2 finishes? We could very well be regretting that choice Sunday.
Bryan:We could very well regret it, but Greg Biffle took the predictions of every motorsports writer in the country last week and threw a monkey wrench in them. Who knows who it could be this weekend? We’ll just have to see how it all pans out.

Scorecard

The following are the guidelines that Bryan and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current Top 25 of the driver standings and Roll the Dice drivers can not be in the Top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.

Season Averages:

Bryan:

Crank – 13.1
Sit – 21.3
Roll – 21.2

Mike:

Crank – 10.1
Sit – 20.7
Roll – 19.1

Contact Bryan Davis Keith
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