The Frontstretch: Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Autism Speaks 400 Edition by Cami Starr and Mike Neff -- Wednesday May 30, 2007

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Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Autism Speaks 400 Edition

Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday May 30, 2007


After tackling the longest race of the season last week at the Coca-Cola 600, the Nextel Cup Series heads north this weekend to take on the Monster Mile at Dover. After leaving the mecca of stock car racing after a two week stay, it’s natural for Charlotte to feel a little abandoned…but for fantasy owners, it’s their drivers who abandoned them at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in their time of need. If you didn't find your fantasy team scoring big points last weekend, you weren't alone: with the Top 5 positions going to drivers that weren't even on the radar of pre-race favorites, that led to a lot of low scores and embarrassing performances to talk about over the Memorial Day BBQ. For those in recovery, don’t panic; Dover will give you a chance to battle back and put up some big numbers this week.

With the race fast approaching, which drivers are likely to slay the concrete beast and help you conquer your fantasy team, and which ones will likely fall victim to the monster and leave your team in ruins? Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:

Cami's Race Rewind:

Jamie McMurray was close to getting Cup win number two last year at Dover, but that was before teammate Matt Kenseth made a late race surge to steal the win away. McMurray led the most laps in the event with 92, but in the end it was Kenseth who led the most important – lap 400 – reaping the rewards that come with taking that checkered flag first. After a hard fought battle with Kevin Harvick for second place, Kenseth took the top spot from his Roush teammate with just three laps to go en route to what would become his second victory of the 2006 season. Another pair of teammates finished right behind the Ford duo, as Harvick held onto third and was followed to the line by fellow RCR teammate Jeff Burton. Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Busch rounded out the Top 5 finishers.

Meanwhile, point leader Jimmie Johnson battled back from a 42nd place starting position and going a lap down at one point to finish sixth. Tony Stewart, who was injured in the Coca-Cola 600 the week prior, gave way to Ricky Rudd on lap 39 during the day's first caution. Rudd ran in the Top 10 for part of the race until being hit with a pit road speeding penalty under green; when all was said and done, he finished the day 25th in relief of the Home Depot driver.

Mike's Keys to the Race:

Dover is known as the Monster Mile for a reason; it is a concrete bullring that is a true self-cleaning race track. 24 degrees of banking in the turns means that any accident that happens on the track is going to end up coming down into the racing groove; that inevitability often leads to collecting anyone who tries to cut underneath a spinning car in order to get by. The track surface is also concrete, which historically has been harder for teams to get a handle on. On the plus side, if a team does get the setup working, it tends to hold for longer because the surface doesn't change temperature as severely as asphalt does. Due to the fact that this is a Car of Tomorrow race, your teams should be laden with the drivers who have done well already this year in those events. As long as your team drives for Hendrick or Gibbs, you'll do just fine; Haas and RCR will also probably give you decent results this week. Whomever you choose, just hope they don't get caught up in the big one that Dover can surprisingly be well known for.

Mike's Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Jimmie Johnson has been very strong in the Car of Tomorrow races this year, with two wins, a third, and a fourth place finish already to his credit. Hendrick Motorsports has owned the CoT races as well, scoring victories in all five races to date. With a career average finish at Dover of 11.4, Johnson clearly knows how to get the job done around this track; look for the No. 48 team to be at or near the front again this week.

Kyle Busch has been the object of quite a bit of criticism this year for his aggressiveness on the track. However, part of that aggression comes from the fact that he is a very good driver put in equipment capable of winning most weeks. Like Johnson, Busch has also done very well in the CoT races with Hendrick equipment, scoring a win, three top 5s and four Top 10s in the five CoT races. He also has a career average finish at Dover of 12.3, with two second place finishes to his credit. Expect him to continue riding the wave of Hendrick dominance this weekend.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Greg Biffle is doing his best with a house of Roush that seems to be in disarray. He lost his longtime crew chief before the season started, and he’s seen his new crew chief get canned less than a third of the way through the season. There are rumors running rampant that Biffle will not be back with Roush-Fenway next year, with a possible new destination of D.E.I. up ahead. Combine that with bad luck at almost every turn of the wheel and you have a recipe for disaster with the No. 16 team. While Biffle has won at Dover in the past and his career average there is a respectable 14.9, it would be a good idea to stay away from him this weekend while the crew chief transition takes center stage.

Tony Raines has been having a very respectable season for Hall of Fame racing this year. However, his results have not been that impressive in the CoT. While he is driving Joe Gibbs equipment, the No. 96 team has not looked as impressive as the other Gibbs cars, so don't count on much more than a 20th place finish out of him this week; in fact, he has yet to score a Top 20 in nine career Dover starts, so even that would be an improvement.

Roll The Dice:

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still battling back from the results of his team's misdeeds at Darlington. The 100-point penalty could have been a death knell for the team, but their strong run at Charlotte has them poised to climb into the Top 12 with a strong run at Dover. While Tony Eury, Jr. may still be sitting out his suspension for the Darlington violations, he is certainly involved in car preparation at the shop and in constant contact with the team throughout the race weekend. Earnhardt has won at Dover in the past and seems to be running respectably in the CoT this year, so there is a decent chance that Earnhardt could come away from Dover with a Top 10 finish.

Cami's Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Tony Stewart has had his share of problems in recent years at Dover… but don't let that scare you. Remember, this is a Car of Tomorrow race and other than Bristol, a race Smoke should have won, he has finished in the Top 10 in each CoT event. Early in his career, Stewart was money at Dover, earning two wins and twelve straight finishes of 11th or better; even with his recent troubles there, he still has an average finish of 8.9. Look for Smoke to light up the field this weekend.

Along with Stewart, Denny Hamlin has been a contender at every CoT race this year. His late race misfortunes are well documented, and you have to believe that at some point that bad luck will finally end. Like Stewart, Bristol is his only CoT black mark, having finished second or third in the other four races to date. While Hamlin doesn't have a lot of history at Dover, he did manage to score an 11th and ninth place finish here last year as a rookie. Don't be surprised if Hamlin exorcises his demons this weekend at the Monster Mile.

Sit ‘Em Down:

David Stremme has definitely shown improvement this year, but the CoT races have been an Achilles Heel for the No. 40 team. In his last four CoT starts, he has finished no higher than 34th, and his record at Dover isn't much better. Granted, he only has two starts, but an average finish of 28.9 doesn't help you overlook his troubles with the new car. Your best bet with Stremme is to wait until the current / old car is back out on the track and look at using Stremme then.

Since I seem to have a thing for teammates this week, Juan Pablo Montoya is another driver you should consider staying away from this weekend. Montoya has been doing his best to tick off a lot of drivers lately, and Dover is the perfect place for “one of the racing deals” between Montoya and someone he's crossed in recent weeks to come to furition. With no finish higher than 23rd in the last five races, those recent performances are another one of many reasons to keep Montoya off your team this weekend.

Roll The Dice:

While the CoT hasn't been Mark Martin's cup of tea, he still is someone I would consider using at Dover. When I say Martin has been struggling in the CoT, "struggling" for Martin this year has been a finish of 17th place. Plenty of drivers would love to have a bad week be a 17th place finish, and when you look at Martin's past record at Dover, he becomes an even more attractive pick. He has four wins at the Monster Mile, and has wracked up Top 5 finishes in almost half his starts at the facility. New car or not, Martin knows how to get it done at Dover.

Trash Talk:

Mike: Hey, thanks a lot for taking both of the Joe Gibbs studs this week. I realize I took Jimmie last week, but you didn’t have to pile it on. We all know that Hendrick is going to lose a CoT race at some point, and this is probably the week.
Cami: Well like you said, it’s a bit of a payback. When I made my picks, I didn’t think you’d make a fuss because you were going to go with the Hendrick boys anyway. I was a bit surprised it was Kyle you took instead of Jeff, though.
Mike: Yeah, I am just feeling like Kyle is due for some good runs, and I didn’t want to pile on the Jeff Gordon bandwagon too much. Kyle has run well at Dover in the past, and I think he’ll do well again. Hamlin is also due for a win; I think he’s going to be really close this weekend.
Cami: He (Kyle) does have a good record there. But I’m worried that all those finishes of 37th are still haunting him and he may be trying a bit too hard. Hamlin, on the other hand, is way overdue for a win!! I’m just hoping that if he doesn’t pull it off this week, he doesn’t hand it to one of your guys on a silver platter.
Mike: I think Stewart has a real shot, too. He’s been strong at Dover in the past and Gibbs is tough with the CoT. However, I think Johnson is going to make a serious run coming off the disappointment of not owning Charlotte this time around.
Cami: Yeah, his 10th place finish helped me get over you picking him. Meanwhile, I see you’re picking Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as your roll the dice pick. Guess you have to thank Brian France for that one. Without that 100-point fine, he wouldn’t have fallen within the Roll The Dice rules for you to use for that. I’m curious if the crew chief change will hurt him this week, though.
Mike: That is why I chose to use him one more time this week before he gets into the Top 12. I thought the 100 points was going to be hard to overcome, but another good week and he’ll have it erased. I don’t think the crew chief thing is really that big of a deal. With all of the telemetry and technology available lately, Eury is just racking up the NEXTEL minutes…but he’s still making the calls.
Cami: It didn’t seem to bother them last week. But something is nagging at me that it might at Dover… not sure why, though.
Mike: I am sure there will be plenty of media coverage about it. And speaking of giving drivers coverage, I was a little surprised you are bragging so hard on the Ganassi boys this week. I feel like their short track / CoT program isn’t that bad and I think they might have a decent run. I do understand the Montoya pick; he’s making enemies faster than a driver with the last name of Busch.
Cami: I did go with the team method this week, didn’t I? I totally agree with Montoya, someone is gonna get him at some point, and Dover is a prime place for it to happen. Meanwhile, Stremme’s record at Dover is less than encouraging.
Mike: Well, I guess we’ll have to see how it pans out.


Season Averages:

Crank ‘Em Up – 13.6
Sit ‘Em Down – 22.4
Roll The Dice – 18.7

Crank ‘Em Up – 11.5
Sit ‘Em Down – 25.3
Roll The Dice – 19.4

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