Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday May 23, 2007
For race fans, Memorial Day weekend is like the Super Bowl and the World Series all rolled up into one. With the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, the IRL's Indianapolis 500, and NASCAR'S Coca-Cola 600 all in one day, a dedicated fan can watch racing from the early hours of dawn to well into the evening. But for fantasy players, the sheer length of 600 miles can be a grueling challenge. Of course, there is the obvious pick that Mike sold out with this week, Jimmie Johnson. But you're not going to gain any ground in your fantasy league by picking the guy everyone else is. You need to decide which drivers and teams have the stamina, the setup, and most importantly the motor to go the distance for 600 miles Sunday night in the grand finale of one of motorsports’ most important days. A little nervous? Don’t worry; that’s why we’re here to help!
So, which drivers will help you end your racing holiday feeling like a kid who got a new bike for Christmas, and which ones might leave you feeling like the kid who got underwear? Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:
Cami's Race Rewind:
Kasey Kahne continued his 1.5-mile track domination while ending Jimmie Johnson's little dominating streak of his own at Lowe's Motor Speedway. When the race was restarted for the final time with 33 laps to go, it took Kahne just three laps to muscle past Johnson and Carl Edwards to take a lead he would never relinquish. Equally as newsworthy as Kahne's defeat of Johnson was the impressive showing by Roush Racing. Edwards ended the night in third, just ahead of teammates Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth to claim three of the Top 5 positions for the Cat in the Hat. But 600 miles didn't come without pain and frustration for some. Following a wreck in the Busch Series the night before, Tony Stewart went to the hospital for the second straight night following a wreck on lap 34. Kyle Busch and Casey Mears may be teammates now, but they weren't too friendly in last year's race; while running for a position in the Top 5 the pair made contact, ending the night for Busch. To thank him, Busch attempted to throw his HANS Device at the No. 42 Dodge as it passed by under caution.
Mike's Keys to the Race:
Charlotte is the home track for most teams on the Cup circuit, meaning there will have more employees in the stands this week than any other week of the year. As such, the pressure to perform is higher than almost any other week of the season. With the track’s racing surface barely over a year old, the grip is at its highest and the racing should be outstanding. Unfortunately, Goodyear is bringing back the same rock hard tires that they had last year, which has resulted in extreme difficulty in passing for the lead; as a result, track position is more important than any other aspect of the race strategy when it comes to being up front. Because it’s the same tire, it’s also a safe bet that teams that ran well last year will be near the front again. Obviously Hendrick Motorsports, and Jimmie Johnson in particular, will be very strong. Also, look for Childress teams to be up front considering their success during the All-Star race. Finally, never count out Roush Racing, and Matt Kenseth in particular, when it comes to mile and a half race tracks.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
Jimmie Johnson owns Charlotte, and his performance Saturday night left no doubt that the team is still on top of its game. While they didn't win the race, they were right at the front for the end, and 600 miles will give them a lot more time to make their car right than the 80 laps of the All-Star Challenge. Five wins since 2003 and no finishes lower than third during that time certainly makes picking the No. 48 an easy choice.
Jeff Burton has a win and an average finish of 12.9 since 1998 at Charlotte. He also had a very strong run during the All-Star race; as Childress has resurrected their operation over the last year or two, so has Burton resurrected his career. If Burton can avoid trouble during the 600, he should be someone to be reckoned with during the race’s final segment.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
Elliott Sadler is struggling right along with the rest of the Evernham organization. He has just one Top 5 finish this year, and that was in the Daytona 500. Since then, he has not finished higher than 14th. Very slow at Charlotte during the All-Star weekend, he ended the evening with a damaged race car. He's also had a very poor record at the track his entire career, with an average finish of 25.1 and only one Top 5 finish. Don't look for Sadler to improve on his season this weekend at Charlotte.
Jeff Green has been very strong during the Car of Tomorrow races this season. Unfortunately for Green, the CoT won't run at Charlotte this Sunday. Green has been less than stellar on the other 1.5-mile tracks on the circuit, and the No. 66 doesn't look ready to improve on those results this weekend after their subpar performance in the Nextel Open. Green's average finish at Charlotte is a measly 21.5, and he will most likely end up falling below that number by the end of the race this Sunday.
Roll the Dice:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been at best hit or miss at Charlotte his entire career. Everyone remembers his victory in the Winston in 2000; however, they also remember him taking out his teammate, Michael Waltrip, during the 600 just a few short years later. Earnhardt has four Top 5 finishes and seven Top 10 finishes in 15 career races at the track, but also has finishes of 35th, 41st and 42nd to go along with it. After his disappointing run in the All-Star Challenge, many people will probably write him off for the 600, but the No. 8 car was quite fast during the last segment, and if the team can stay on top of that setup, they'll be a contender this weekend.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
While Carl Edwards hasn't had any occasion to do any backflips in the Cup Series this year, he has been making a climb up the standings in recent weeks. As the series heads to Charlotte this weekend, I look for that progression to continue. In four races at LMS, Edwards has yet to finish outside the Top 10, and put himself in position to win last year's 600-miler late in the race. With Top 10 finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas earlier this year, look for Edwards to be running up front Sunday night.
How Denny Hamlin has any hair left, I don't know. I know I'd be pulling my hair out after seeing so many near wins slip through my hands. But Hamlin heads into the 600 with a new pit crew and plenty of momentum thanks to five Top 10s in the last six races. Other than a 28th place finish in last year's Fall event due to being involved in a crash on lap one, Hamlin's record at LMS is strong. He finished in the Top 10 in his first two races there. This team is so overdue for a win it's not funny: maybe he will finally breakthrough this Sunday night under the lights.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
After a pretty decent start to his rookie campaign, things have taken a downturn for Juan Pablo Montoya. In the last five races, he has finished 23rd or worse and his aggressive style of driving isn't winning him any friends. His most recent incident came in the Nextel Open where he kicked off a six car accident. That move prompted Joe Nemechek to hint that Montoya's payback may be on the horizon. With 600 miles to run Sunday night, that is more than enough time for Montoya to get himself in trouble again or for trouble to find him. Combine that with no race experience at Charlotte (other than one turn of one lap last weekend), and Montoya is a good choice to ride the pine this week.
Another driver who found himself knee deep in controversy last weekend was Kyle Busch after he and his brother made contact in the All-Star race. However, the fact that he may receive a little extra brotherly "love" this weekend isn't the reason I'm sitting him. In six LMS starts, Busch has an average finish of 29th and just one Top 10 finish. Add to the mix he three finishes of 37th or worse in the last five races, and that's a combination for a potential disaster for the No. 5 team this weekend. Wait until the next Car of 2008 race to put Shrub back on your roster.
Roll the Dice:
Before Jimmie Johnson was crowned King of LMS, Bobby Labonte was the King at Charlotte. With two career wins at the track and an average finish of 8.9 at one point, there was a time that Labonte was considered a threat to win at almost anytime at this track. Things have changed somewhat since Labonte's move to Petty Enterprises, but he still managed to finish 17th in the 600 and scored a Top 5 in the October event. Over the past four races, the No. 43 team has shown signs of improvement, so I'm rolling the dice that this weekend is when it will all come together and pay off.
Mike:I see you are actually not taking a Hendrick car this weekend. Are you not feeling well?
Cami: Well, you took the no brainer with Johnson. Gordon has been iffy at Charlotte lately, so I figured it’s best to steer clear of him for right now. Gordon used up a ton of good luck at Darlington when that motor didn’t blow.
Mike:That is very true, but he looked pretty good during the All-Star Challenge. I had to take Johnson at Lowe’s; his worst finish in the last seven races has been third I believe.
Cami: Yeah, yeah rub it in. The only reason you got him was because you snuck in and did your picks early. I was going to suggest we just concede the fact that Johnson is the race favorite and make other picks, but you beat me to it.
Mike:In the meantime, I’m just wondering when Denny Hamlin is ever going to catch a break and win one of these things again.
Cami: He’s bound to sooner or later. The only doubt I have about him is that new pit crew, but you can bet they will get a good talking to before the race about not screwing up again.
Mike:I am sure they will.
Cami: You’ve been pretty pro-Jeff Green lately; I see you had a change of heart.
Mike: Yeah, he is strong in the CoT races, but in the regular car he has not exactly been a house on fire. Burton, on the other hand, just might put that AT&T logo in the Winner’s Circle.
Cami: Wouldn’t that really piss off Nextel and NASCAR!
Mike:Oh yeah, I would love to see the PR stuff after the race with the big globe thing blurred out. Are you really thinking Kyle Busch is going to have a rough night?
Cami: A little brotherly payback may be in store. Plus, he’s only had one Top 10 there; the rest of his finishes have been in the crapper. Heck, Travis Kvapil has a better average finish at this track than Kyle.
Mike: Wow, that is rough. I still think he’s going to finish in the Top 15 at least. I suppose we’ll see. Are you thinking that a Petty car can actually have a decent result this year with Labonte in your dice pick?
Cami: Charlotte has been a great track for Bobby. He was fifth in a Petty car here last Fall and a decent 17th in the 600. He hasn’t run too badly lately, even in the CoT races. So I think he’s a good RTD pick. Junior is just as risky for you. He’s been feast or famine here, and he is running with a new crew chief. Aren’t you worried about that?
Mike:It's a roll the dice pick. The way they were running at the end of the All-Star Challenge, I think they actually found something, so we’ll see. It's definitely a 50-50 shot.
Cami: I guess we’ll have to see how it all pans out.
Crank â€˜Em Up – 13.8
Sit ‘Em Down – 21.8
Roll The Dice – 19.2
Crank â€˜Em Up – 11.0
Sit â€˜Em Down – 24.1
Roll the Dice – 20.5
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