With the tight quarters of the Monster Mile behind them, the Chasers enter their third week of competition at Kansas Speedway Sunday. After last week’s race at Dover, there was plenty of movement in the points standings thanks to ill-timed cautions, poorly calculated fuel mileage, and some plain, good ol’ fashion bad luck. All was not all doom and gloom at Dover though… especially if your name was Jeff. (Jeff) Burton finally earned his first win of the year, and (Jeff) Gordon moved up to second in the standings on the strength of his second straight third-place finish. So, who will follow the yellow brick road to glory this weekend, and who will get caught up in a tornado of disaster? Let’s figure out the right picks for your fantasy team.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Kansas is a typical cookie-cutter track, but one that has been getting better as the track has aged. There is now at least a semblance of a second groove, so it’s possible for anyone starting at the back to work their way up. Still, look for teams who are normally good on intermediate tracks to excel at Kansas. Roush and Hendrick will probably run well, and Evernham will most likely make a good showing since Kasey Kahne has been on fire at 1.5-milers this season. Don’t forget that Elliott Sadler is adapting well to Kahne’s setup, so all of Evernham’s teams should perform at a high level. Despite a past history of underdog winners, the track also proves a safe bet to pick the teams that have shown strength all year long.
Cami’s Instant Replay
Martin scored his first win of the season, leading an all-Roush Racing podium in last year’s race at Kansas. Martin led 139 of 267 laps and dominated the second half of the race, taking the lead for good on lap 220 and leading the rest of the way unchallenged. Greg Biffle, who led 47 laps, finished the day in second place ahead of Carl Edwards. Tony Stewart regained the point lead he lost briefly at Dover with his fourth-place finish, while polesitter Kenseth rounded out the top five.
Crank ‘Em Up
Biffle has to get back on track sometime before the year is out. Biffle was on fire at the beginning of the season, but bad luck cost him several quality finishes. The No. 16 started to get back their momentum during the middle of the season, but fell apart when they got close to the Chase. Biffle’s last two races at Kansas have resulted in top fives, so look for the No. 16 Roush Racing team to get off of the schneid and have a good run on Sunday.
Going against a personal principle of not picking two teams from the same stable, I’m going with Edwards as my other Crank ‘Em Up driver. Edwards had a good run last weekend at a track that normally doesn’t treat him well, and he has always excelled on the intermediate tracks. His last effort at Kansas was a third-place finish; I look for the No. 99 Roush team to repeat that type of performance this week.
Sit ‘Em Down
Kurt Busch has been on a rough ride this season. Last week, the team tried some new setup ideas for next year, and they were successful on a 1-mile track. However, the Penske organization has been out to lunch on the intermediate tracks this year. Busch was truly junk at Michigan, running mediocre all day before spinning out and finishing 40th, ruining any chance he had at the Chase. This is a weekend to see if the team has made any strides in this department; I’m betting against it.
Casey Mears has had some decent runs on shorter tracks as of late. The Ganassi organization has done some R&D on their short-track program, and it has paid off on the final results sheet. However, they are still struggling on the intermediate tracks, so don’t expect much from the No. 42 team this weekend.
Roll the Dice
Brian Vickers has looked rather racy the last couple of weekends. He had an 11th-place finish last year at Kansas, and he is pushing hard to have a race win before he leaves Hendrick. If the No. 25 car can simply steer clear from Gordon, it’ll have a real chance to finish up front at Kansas. With Vickers’s average finish of 15th at the Speedway, though, this is truly a “Roll the Dice” pick.
Crank ‘Em Up
No driver has been more consistent in the Chase than Gordon. With back-to-back third-place finishes, Gordon has moved his way up to second in the standings, just six points behind Burton. Looking at the stats at Kansas, only bad luck can keep him from another good run this weekend. Gordon is a two-time Kansas winner, and has finished outside the top 10 just once in six starts here (13th – 2004). With that stellar past and current momentum, Gordon is a solid pick for this week.
Another driver who should be in for a good run is Stewart. Coming off his early exit at Dover last week, Stewart and Co. should be hungry for a top 10 or better this time around. Tony has been impressive at Kansas in the five races run there; he has an average finish of 7.6, although Smoke is still looking for his first win. His poor finish at Dover let Biffle and Edwards close the gap slightly in the battle for 11th, so you know Tony wants to get back on top to keep them far behind him.
Sit ‘Em Down
This one is a tough call and could come back to bite me later, but I’m not seeing a good finish in Kevin Harvick‘s future this weekend. The team is coming off a tough week at Dover where engine problems and a 32nd-place finish dropped him to fifth in the standings. I’m not saying Dover was the race that will put them out of the hunt, but Kansas hasn’t been a good track for Harvick. He scored his only top 10 there in 2003, and in the two races since, has finished 35th and 24th. He could do better this year, but I just don’t see him putting in a top-10 performance.
Bobby Labonte has definitely shown improvement in his first year at Petty Enterprises, but good finishes have been few and far between. He ran well at Dover, finishing seventh, but prior to that he hadn’t been in the top 10 since Pocono in July. In 2006, Labonte hasn’t been able to keep any momentum going and looking at his record at Kansas, I don’t see him keeping it here this weekend. In five races, his average finish is 24.6, and his best result was a 16th-place finish in 2004. Keep Labonte on the shelf this weekend and wait to gamble with him at a track he traditionally runs better at.
Roll the Dice
Biffle gained ground on Stewart last week at Dover, but still remains 217 points behind Smoke in the quest for 11th. If the Biff wants to catch him, he needs to start racking up top fives and top 10s, and Kansas is a place he can do that. With a third and second-place finish in his last two races there, Biffle’s proven he knows how to get results here. Roush led the way at Kansas last year, and we could be in for a repeat performance, with Biffle being a major benefactor.
Cami: So I see you went non-Chaser this week.
Mike: Yeah. I think Biffle is due. They have to have a good week eventually. And Edwards is riding momentum from Dover.
Cami: I hope you’re right on Biffle. I’m looking to get some good Roll the Dice points with him this week. That saved your butt last week!
Mike: I can’t believe I beat you. I had a horrible week.
Cami: Biffle helped you out big time. My guys did decent, but not enough to rack me up any big points. At least I’m out of the negative now.
Mike: I see you went my route and took the highest average finishers for your crankers.
Cami: Using the best isn’t a bad idea, and I really need the points. Plus, Gordon is hot lately in the Chase. I just hope I’m not jinxing him.
Mike: Yeah, I have seen your jinx in action. You’ll be getting a lot of hate mail from Gordon Nation if he doesn’t do well.
Cami: It’s not like I do it on purpose! I also noticed we both stayed away from Jimmie and Kyle Busch this week.
Mike: Yeah, I avoided those two like the plague. Hey, I’ll be curious if your Harvick pick works for you though. I think last week was their mulligan.
Cami: That was a tough one. I didn’t want to wuss out and just use guys hanging in the top 25 just barely, and Harvick’s record at Kansas isn’t that great. He’ll probably be OK, but the day won’t be a big points maker. At least that’s my hope.
Mike: I think he’ll be up front again… RCR is hitting on all cylinders. Well, I guess we’ll see how it pans out.
Standings after Week 2
|Crank Em Up||Stewart-33rd||-3||Martin- 14th||3|
|Ky. Busch- 40th||-5||Johnson- 13th||3|
|Sit Em Down||Riggs- 34th||3||R. Gordon- 41st||5|
|Kahne- 38th||5||Mears- 22nd||0|
|Roll the Dice||Biffle- 5th||15||Newman-24th||0|