The Chase is on! With one week officially in the books, there wasn’t much movement at the top of the Nextel Cup standings; Chasers actually took home seven of the top 10 spots at the 1-mile oval up in New Hampshire. While there was one notable exception – Kurt Busch‘s bad carburetor cost him a lot of ground to the rest of the Chasers – the experience of previous years held true once again as the playoffs began. As the old saying goes, the cream always rises to the top, and the Chase contenders proved to be the ones most capable of running up front with the pressure of a title on the line. More than ever before, cars that are running for the championship increasingly become your best bet for fantasy teams when it comes to picking cars that will finish up front; if you have any extra money under your salary cap or points in your pocket, now’s the time to spend it on as many Chase drivers as you possibly can.
With the playoffs moving full steam ahead towards round 2 this weekend, the strategy for your team shouldn’t change all that much. While the Monster Mile has been known to cause damage to its fair share of racecars, it usually doesn’t take too much of a toll on Chase contenders. One or two will most likely take a hit, but the majority will be near the front and finish in the top 15 or better. Which ones have that extra leg up on the rest of their playoff competition, though? Find out in this week’s edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Cami’s Race Rewind
After going 175 races without a win, Jeff Burton finally made his way back to Victory Lane with a win in last year’s fall race at Dover. Burton raced with former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth over the final 20 laps of the race before taking the lead for good with six laps to go. The pass proved to be a moot point when Kenseth ran out of gas just two laps later; he sputtered home as the first car off the lead lap in 10th. Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five finishers. On the Chase front, it was a rough weekend for Kevin Harvick; the points leader was looking for his third straight win, but saw his hopes dashed when his engine let go with a handful of laps remaining. He wound up 32nd in the final running order, losing the top spot in the standings to RCR teammate Burton. Chasers Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch had their share of problems, as well. Kahne was involved in a lap 11 wreck with Tony Stewart and slumped to 38th, while Busch’s blown motor and 40th-place finish forced him to proclaim, “we’re done.”
Mike’s Keys to the Race
The Monster Mile at Dover is a self-cleaning concrete racetrack with 24 degrees of banking in the corners and nine degrees of banking on the straightaways. When a crash occurs, the carnage slides quickly from the top of the track; this makes multi-car wrecks a frequent occurrence, as cars often collect unsuspecting victims on their way down. The fact that the surface is concrete also makes the difference between the haves and have nots more noticeable. The track surface is more consistent and less temperature sensitive, so if a team hits on the setup at the beginning of the race, they are more likely to hold that advantage throughout no matter what adjustments other teams make. With teams already struggling to make tweaks on the Car of Tomorrow as is, keep an eye on qualifying Friday if you have that extra time to pick your team; starting up front could prove critical for a car that’s been tough to pass with in recent weeks. Also, expect the teams that were strong in the spring to pull a repeat performance; DEI and Penske should be up near the front, with CoT juggernauts Gibbs and Hendrick not too far behind.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Martin Truex Jr. is a former winner at the Monster Mile, the only track on the schedule where he can make that claim for Nextel Cup. Dominating the race there this spring, there shouldn’t be too many obstacles in play to keep DEI’s lone Chase participant from pulling a repeat performance. With its concrete surface, Dover doesn’t change too much from the spring to the fall; so, it’s a good bet that he’ll be running near the front again this weekend. With the momentum that Truex is carrying from last week in Loudon, it’s a safe bet he’ll have a very real shot at sweeping the season series at Dover.
Ryan Newman was better than 41 cars in the spring race at Dover, but that 42nd car proved too tough to handle; Truex was simply in another zip code when it came to the performance of his car. But Newman has always run well at Dover, sweeping the season series at the track back in 2003. With his impressive run during the spring race, expect Newman to once again be near the front of the pack this time around.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Elliott Sadler is once again the GEM driver to sit this Sunday. With an average finish of 19.8 at Dover – including three straight runs outside the top 15 – don’t expect the No. 19 to fare any better this weekend. GEM and Sadler have simply not had it together all year long, and it’s once again a safe bet they’ll finish in the middle to the back of the pack.
Kurt Busch had a pretty rough start to his 2007 Chase last weekend at Loudon, where he finished 25th and lost nearly 100 points to the rest of the title contenders. But that pales in comparison to Kurt’s luck at Dover this spring, where his ill-handling car got together with Stewart’s ill-handling attitude to cost him 100 points and nearly his spot in the Chase. Now, Busch comes back here looking to build some momentum, but this is clearly not the track in which to do it; he has an average finish of just 20.1 at Dover, with only one top-15 finish there in his last four races. While the Chasers tend to finish at or near the front, this is probably a good weekend to look elsewhere in the top 12 to pick your cars to start.
Roll the Dice:
Biffle has to break out of this slump at some point in time, doesn’t he? If that’s finally going to happen, Dover is a very good choice for him to pull it off. The Biff ran sixth there in the spring and has three straight top-10 finishes at the track. In fact, his last six starts in Delaware have all been top-15 finishes, including a victory in 2005 that validated him as a true title contender. If you’re looking to find some value this weekend, this is a great cheap driver who could very well score a top 10, if not a top-five finish.
Crank ‘Em Up:
While a 15th-place finish wasn’t exactly the way Denny Hamlin wanted to start the Chase, it was a solid start to build a run on. This weekend at Dover, Hamlin should be poised to make a bigger move up the standings. With a career average of eighth at the Monster Mile, Hamlin has shown he can get it done on concrete – and we all know how well he runs in the CoT. Look for him to perform better than 15th this weekend.
Despite posting a 42nd-place finish at Richmond, Edwards has been strong over the last four races, heading to Dover looking to get back into the top 10 after a 12th at New Hampshire. He dropped four places in the standings because of that, but he’s still in the thick of the title hunt. Another strong showing at Dover would go a long way to keeping him there; Edwards was second in this race last year and third in the CoT event at Dover back in June.
Sit ‘Em Down:
JJ Yeley may be riding high from scoring two straight top-10 finishes, but his record this year has shown he hasn’t been able to keep up that momentum for long. Dover will likely be the concrete wall that puts an end to that streak. It seems like no one has a lower average finish at Dover than Yeley, who hasn’t finished higher than 25th there in four career starts. He may have been running well the last two weeks… but please, jump off the bandwagon before it crashes.
Another driver who can’t keep any positive momentum going is rookie Juan Pablo Montoya. After he scored a second-place finish at the Brickyard, he went back to his typical mid-pack results and hasn’t been close to a top 10 since. The CoT hasn’t been this team’s Cup of Tea this year, either, which should cause Montoya fits in only his second Dover appearance. He could only muster a 31st-place finish here in June, and that’s not giving me a lot of confidence things will change this time around.
Roll the Dice:
Mark Martin took another race off at Loudon, but the four-time Dover winner should come back with a good run this weekend. In his last seven starts at the track, he’s piled up five top-10 finishes, never winding up lower than 14th place. He even has a seventh-place finish in the CoT event held this June. I know he’s been idle, but don’t let the off week scare you; Martin is batting .500 when it comes to scoring top 10s this season, and he still has both the drive and desire to do well. Look for him to grab another good finish from the clutches of the Monster Mile this weekend.
Mike: Hey, I just wanted to start off by congratulating you on picking last week’s winner. Unfortunately, you chose to sit him, so you can’t revel in the glory too much. I don’t have too much room to talk with my guys coming home eighth and 11th, but my average finish on my Sit ‘Em guys was still two spots behind yours.
Cami: Yeah, that was a tough blow… but I’m not the first one between us to do that. I seem to recall you sitting the winner once before, too. Honestly, I don’t feel that bad about my decision; Clint Bowyer‘s record there at NHIS was awful before Sunday.
Mike: Oh, I know. At least I don’t think you’ll have to worry about making that mistake this week. It will be some pretty big news if Juan Pablo or J.J. is able to bring it home first… although Montoya did run pretty well at Bristol, so you just never know.
Cami: Yeah, anything can happen. I would give up my fantasy crown for sure if I sat the winner two weeks in a row… especially if they turn out to be dominant like Bowyer was. Although, I would laugh if continuing to sit a GEM driver each week came back to haunt you in a big way if Sadler wins.
Mike: Oh yeah, I’m not one to make statements like I’d walk to Emporia just to feed his 150 coon dogs, but it would almost be worth something like that if Sadler is able to come home first. The GEM boys just don’t seem to have it together this year, even if Kahne is starting to turn it around. Do you think Cousin Carl is going to continue his freakish good luck on concrete again this weekend?
Cami: Definitely. He’s been running really well lately, and he was third here back in June. He’s a solid choice for a top five or top 10. I am a bit surprised you think Kurt is going to tank two weeks in a row, though. He was running fairly well at Dover earlier this year before he had that run-in with Smoke.
Mike: It is a bit of a stretch, but Dover is not a good track for Busch. He’s had as many finishes of 38th or worse there in his career as top-10 finishes, and I think he’s going to push too hard to try and make up for last week. Meanwhile, you don’t think Hamlin is due for a fall at Dover? I know he’s got the best average finish, but I have seen that come back to bite both of us this year.
Cami: True, you can’t always play the numbers game… and I know he wasn’t brilliant last week for me. But JGR has a good CoT program. If not for that, I might have passed… but since he has both of those things going for him, I’m gonna gamble. Speaking of gambles, you’re taking my standard Roll the Dice pick of Biffle. Are you off the Dale Earnhardt Jr. bandwagon now, or just giving it a rest?
Mike: You know, I am never off of the Junior bandwagon, but Dover is not a good track for him. While Junior has won there, he’s only got five top-10 finishes in 15 career races. In comparison, the Biff has not only won there in the past, but it’s one of the few tracks that he has actually run well at in 2007. I’m thinking he is going to put in a solid top 10 this week, if not shock the world and win one. Unlike your pick of Martin “the fossil;” you can’t believe he can dust off the rust and really run up front, can you?
Cami: Hey, that’s not nice to call Mr. Martin a fossil. I don’t make fun of your age, do I? Well, that’s besides the point. But I see your past Biffle win and raise you four past wins from Martin. He’s still in shape, and he can take on the Monster no problem.
Mike: I may not be much younger than Mark, but he sure looks like he can vote for George Washington in his first term. I just don’t think you can jump in a car after that many weeks off and be that competitive. He may prove me wrong… Lord knows the man can wheel it. But I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
Crank ‘Em Up – 13.9
Sit ‘Em Down – 22.6
Roll The Dice – 19.3
Crank ‘Em Up – 12.1
Sit ‘Em Down – 22.1
Roll The Dice – 16.5