After enjoying the final week off of the season, it's back to work for both the teams and for us. Other than Robert Yates Racing doing everything but bulldozing their race shop in an effort to rebuild their team, it was a fairly quiet off week, which leaves the madness of Pocono fresh in many people's minds. The Stewart/Bowyer/Edwards escapade hurt a lot of fantasy players that were hoping for a strong performance from Edwards, but people who stuck with Stewart were rewarded with a seventh place finish after the fiasco. Dale, Jr. fans once again had to live with a disappointing 43rd place result, which doesn't bode well for Junior Nation with the Championship Chase quickly approaching. This week, the crown jewel at the Brickyard is up for grabs, and a handful of drivers have emerged as favorites to kiss the bricks this Sunday for your fantasy team. Who should you keep an eye on at Indy? Let's find out:
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
2:00pm on NBC
2005 Pole Sitter: Elliott Sadler
2005 Race Winner: Tony Stewart
Mike's Keys to the Race
Indy is a long, flat race track. It is extremely temperature sensitive. so the teams that run well are the teams that set up their cars with adjustability. Indy will also put a heavy premium on strategy, as track position is pretty important at a track that’s notoriously hard to pass. Teams that are known for good pit strategy calls, like Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, are a good choice for the 400. Finally, don't forget fuel mileage. Indy has a lot of long green flag runs, and teams that get good gas mileage will have an advantage. That will work against the Roush drivers, who are notorious for average fuel mileage at best.
Cami's Instant Replay
Home state favorite Tony Stewart sent the crowd into a frenzy with his first win at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway last August. The victory was his fourth in six races, giving him the point lead for the first time since he won the title in 2002. However ,Kasey Kahne didn't make things easy for him. After the Home Depot driver took the top spot from Brian Vickers with 60 laps to go, Kahne claimed the lead from Stewart with 27 laps remaining. A late race caution for Jimmie Johnson then set up a 10 lap shootout, allowing Stewart to pass Kahne in the closing laps and beat him to the checkers by five car lengths. Vickers, Jeremy Mayfield, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the Top 5.
Crank â€˜Em Up
Kasey Kahne has been a force at Indy in both of his starts there. With an average finish of third after two races at the Speedway, the young driver seems to adapt well to the difficult handling challenges of the Brickyard. Evernham Motorsports has also been known for some good gas mileage in the past, which could also come into play here; so, look for Kahne to have another good weekend this week.
Kevin Harvick has been on a roll lately, with three straight Top 5 finishes and four straight Top 10s. He is also a previous winner of the Brickyard, and his average finish of 8.8 in five starts there isn't too shabby, either. Look for Harvick to continue his momentum with another Top 10 at Indy.
Sit â€˜Em Down
Mark Martin has not had much success in Indianapolis. He has four Top 10 finishes in eight races, but the other four races have been 22nd or worse. Add to that the fact that the No. 6 team has one top 10 finish in the last seven races, and the signs are not positive out of this Roush camp. The week off may have helped Martin's efforts, but it is probably best to sit him down this week.
Bobby Labonte is a previous winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, he has not posted a Top 10 finish in the last five trips to the Brickyard. While the No. 43 Petty Enterprises team has looked better as the season has progressed, they still are not a consistent front runner. With all of the variables that come into play at Indy, Labonte should probably be on the sidelines for your fantasy squad this week.
Roll The Dice
Bill Elliott is a strong runner at Indy, with five Top 10s in the last eight races at the track, including a victory in 2002. Elliott is guaranteed to make the race with the Past Champion's provisional, so there is no risk in him missing the show. While he will be in inferior equipment, he'll soldier it home here and will very likely come home with a Top 15 finish.
Crank ‘Em Up
Picking Jeff Gordon is a no brainer. When a driver leads every statistical category at a track, including four wins and ten Top 10s in twelve races, you use him. Throw in the fact that he has two wins in the last six races of the season, and it makes the choice even easier. That being said, Gordon may be too good to be true for this week; but you have to go with the odds.
Meanwhile, here’s to hoping Matt Kenseth has someone on his team looking at the stat sheet and pointing out to him this could be a big points weekend for the 17 bunch. While Jimmie Johnson has a less than stellar record at Indy, Kenseth has three Top 5s in the last four races there. He's been off his game a bit lately, but Indy should be a good place for him to turn that around.
Sit ‘Em Down
Speaking of Jimmie Johnson, this would probably be a good week to put him on the shelf. In four races at the Brickyard, his only finish in the Top 10 came in his first appearance in 2002. In the past two years, he hasn't been able to muster a finish over 36th. Right now, it seems like he can't finish outside the Top 10…but Indy might be a place he won't be able to work his magic at.
Normally when a team is running poorly or just having bad luck, a trip to a track where they run well will provide a dose of good medicine. Indianapolis is not that track for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He's posted only one Top 10 in six Indy starts, and has finished 27th and 43rd the last two years. I'm not predicting another disastrous run for Junior, because I think he's due for a turnaround and I really don't need the hate mail, but in fantasy racing, you're looking for Top 10s and 15s, and this week I don't see him getting there.
Roll The Dice
No, I haven't lost my mind, but at times I think Tony Stewart has, and that's why I'm not more confident in using him this weekend. Looking at his record at Indy, he's an easy pick: the defending race winner with an 8.4 average finish and four Top 10s at his hometown track. The X-factor is Tony’s mindset. Did the off weekend give him time to step back and take a deep breath, or will he go off on someone again the first time somebody cuts him off? Until it seems that "nice" Tony is in control, I'd be leery of putting the 20 on my team.
Mike: Way to go out on a limb with your Roll the Dice pick. Lord knows Tony isn’t going to be focused for Indy after Pocono.
Cami: He may have calmed down on the off weekend. I was really leaning towards saying to use him, but he’s been too much of hot head lately to bet the farm on him.
Mike: If it wasn’t Indy, I’d agree with you. Indy still means way too much for him to put a good finish at risk.
Cami: Your Roll The Dice pick was way out there, though! Bill Elliott? Saying he'll get a Top 15 in MWR equipment is daring.
Mike: That is why it is a Roll The Dice pick. Indy is so much about the driver that I think Elliott can overcome the inferior equipment.
Cami: Well, for his sake, I hope your luck has turned around.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do give you credit though; sitting Johnson is a bold pick. They are due for a bad run, but they never seem to get it. Junior, on the other hand, is a curious selection. They were fastest in testing.
Cami: He might be my downfall this week, who knows. On your side, taking Kasey is a big chance considering how they’ve run lately.
Mike: They have been strong at Indy. And knowing that Evernham has the setup that Elliott won with in the past, I think they can continue to do well.
Cami: Well, Ray did put two cars in the Top 5 last year, so you’re right, he knows how to set up a car for Indy.
Mike: I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out. Your results will depend on whether Jeff can recapture his Indy magic, and whether Kenseth can get the gas mileage to put him in position at the end.
Cami: And you need to hope that Kasey doesn’t continue his recent string of poor finishes. We all know you need all the help you can get to catch up to me and make up for that awful start you got at Loudon!
|Crank Em Up||Sit Em Down||Roll the Dice|
|Mike||Vickers- 4th||Harvick- 5th||B. Labonte- 8th|
|Martin- 19th||Riggs- 22nd|
|Cami||Johnson- 6th||Earnhardt Jr- 43rd||Hamlin- 1st|
|Stewart- 7th||Mayfield- 37th|
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