Everyone said that Talladega would be the wildcard race in the Chase, and it certainly lived up to its billing. Several Chase drivers found more than their share of trouble last weekend which not only wrecked havoc in the championship standings, but on many fantasy teams as well. Pre-race favorites like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson all took big hits, while drivers like Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth caught people off guard with their strong runs. So, who are the drivers most likely to help you rebound from a tough week in your fantasy league as the racing moves back to “normal” racing at Charlotte? Let’s find out in this week’s edition of Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Bank of America 500
Lowe’s Motor Speedway
Saturday October 14, 2006 7 p.m. ET
2005 Polesitter: Elliott Sadler
2005 Race Winner: Johnson
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Charlotte will once again be a race filled with question marks. NASCAR is still mandating the smaller fuel cells which caused so many pit stops this May, and Goodyear is bringing a softer compound than the Flintstone Mobile treads that they supplied for the 600 in May. At its heart, though, this race has been and will always be about adaptability. The teams will have very few reliable notes to fall back on because of the uncertainty of the tires and the new surface, so look for teams that are notorious for making effective in-race adjustments to move to the front this week.
Cami’s Instant Replay
Crazy. Disgusting and embarrassing. Biggest joke in racing. This sucks. Those were just some of the comments that came from drivers following last year’s fall race at Charlotte. A new racing surface caused plenty of problems, with tires blowing out and causing drivers to hit the wall to the point where the race was nearly shortened in the interests of safety. Several big names were among the victims, but one familiar name was able to overcome the problems and take his familiar position in victory lane. Johnson scored his fourth straight win at Charlotte, but even he didn’t make it through the night unscathed. A blown motor in practice forced him to the back of the field, and alternator problems and a cut tire plagued him in the race. But that wasn’t enough to deny the Lowe’s team at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Johnson pulled away from Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle in a green-white-checkered finish to take the crash-marred win that night, with Joe Nemechek and Mark Martin rounding out the top-five finishers.
Crank ‘Em Up
Johnson drives the Lowe’s-sponsored car, and the race is held at the Lowe’s-sponsored speedway. ‘Nuff said. OK, here’s a little more: Five wins, one second and one third. That is the record in the last seven races at Charlotte for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. Until they go on a serious losing streak at the track, they should always be on your team when the series rolls to Lowe’s.
Tony Stewart scored his only Lowe’s victory in the fall race. His average finish in the October race there has been 9.1. Once again, he has nothing else to run for but wins. Look for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team to be up front this week.
Sit ‘Em Down
Gordon has written off his team’s chances in the Chase after Talladega, and there is a possibility that the No. 24 squad will start experimenting for next year. There’s also potential that the Hendrick infighting could have an adverse effect on all of the teams, not to mention the media is going to be all over Gordon this week after his post-race comments at Talladega. Whatever the case may be, it is probably a good week to sit Gordon.
Kyle Busch stinks at Charlotte. Plain and simple. His average finish is 33.6, and in five races, he’s never finished above 25th. Look for that stretch to continue with the No. 5 bunch eliminated from playoff contention, and trying new stuff for next year or helping their teammates try and succeed.
Roll the Dice
Nemechek should have won at Charlotte just a few years ago, but a late-race flat ruined his sure victory. Nemechek’s average finishing position here is 17.9, and he is going to be pushing extra hard to get one more win in the No. 01 Ginn Motorsports car before Martin and Regan Smith take it over next year.
Crank ‘Em Up
Denny Hamlin may not have much experience at Charlotte, but the results he’s put up are impressive. In two starts, he has pulled in two top-10 finishes, including a ninth-place finish here in May. While some of the biggest names in the Chase are struggling in the first four races, Hamlin has remained consistent, and is only 51 points behind Jeff Burton. After two straight finishes outside the top 10, Hamlin is due to deliver another top finish.
Biffle was one of the many casualties at Talladega last weekend and it cost him his 12th-place position in the standings. He may have a tough time getting it back this weekend going up against Carl Edwards who is also strong here, but I see Biffle giving it a good shot. He’s scored top 10s in last three starts at LMS; with the Chase going on without him, wins are the thing that Biffle and Co. are gunning for.
Sit ‘Em Down
Vickers. I’m sure you’ve heard that name quite a few times this week and I’m sure we’ll hear about him plenty on Saturday night as well. The constant reminders of what happened last weekend and the extra security guards assigned to him. But I don’t think we’ll hear much about his on-track performance. In six starts at Charlotte, he has failed to finish in the top 10 and has four finishes of 30th or worse. I don’t think we’ll see him up front battling his teammate for the win this weekend.
Kevin Harvick started the Chase on a roll, then struggled at Dover before rebounding the last two races. He came back from contact at Talladega to finish the day sixth and moved to within 33 points of Burton. But this week, he might run into some more problems. Charlotte hasn’t been one of Harvick’s better tracks in his career: With an average finish of 20.4 in 11 races, it’s been five races since Harvick has posted a top 10 there. This might be a week to stay away from Harvick before he regroups for the final push to Homestead.
Roll the Dice
It may be a long shot, but Edwards is doing all he can to catch Stewart for 11th place in the standings. With three straight top-10 finishes, Edwards is riding a high and comes to a track where he has run very well. He only has three starts at Charlotte, but he’s made the most of them finishing third twice and 10th in this race last year. Look for Edwards to continue his quest for 11th.
Cami: So, have you mailed in your membership to the Vickers fan club yet?
Mike: Yeah man. Can’t wait for that first autograph session. I’m going to have him sign my butt. Then he can kiss it.
Cami: Junior getting knocked out last lap really hurt you in our game since you already had Gordon out. Not that I’m complaining, I’m right on your tail now.
Mike: I was not too happy. Oh well. There’s always this week.
Cami: I could have passed you in points if Stewart wouldn’t have got knocked around by his teammates. Funny nobody is mentioning that.
Mike: Let’s see if J.J. can get dumped by Vickers two weeks in a row.
Cami: I think you’re safe there… at least for the win. Like I said when I sat him, Vickers shouldn’t be near the front of this one unless he’s a lap car. Maybe he’ll help you out and go after Gordon and Shrub this week.
Mike: Yeah, I’m on the all Hendrick bandwagon this week. Nemechek’s engines come from Hendrick, too.
Cami: Yeah, but which is it? You’re sitting two Hendrick guys and using two. Which end of the bandwagon are you on?
Mike: The one that will score the most points this week.
Cami: Well with me sitting Vickers, I guess we have all of HMS covered.
Mike: Yup! I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
Standings after Week 4
|Crank Em Up||Earnhardt Jr-23rd||0||Stewart- 22nd||0|
|J. Gordon- 36th||-5||Harvick- 6th||5|
|Sit Em Down||Kahne- 2nd||-10||Martin- 8th||-5|
|Edwards- 9th||-5||Biffle- 41st||5|
|Roll the Dice||Vickers- 8th||0||Jarrett- 12th||5|