Welcome, one and all, to this week’s edition of Frontstretch’s Fantasy Insider. The game has completely changed starting this week, as NASCAR’s version of the playoffs begins in New Hampshire. The top 12 drivers will shoot it out amongst themselves, as no one in the field wants to knock out a playoff participant and end his title shot. That leaves the racing to two groups: those competing for the championship, and those busy getting out of the way. So to learn which Chasers you want and which three non-Chasers will try to make their mark this weekend, just scroll on down the page to set your fantasy roster for Sunday.
Last time at New Hampshire, I expounded on how well Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart are at this track using numerous figures and stats… and then they went out and finished first and second, making me look like a genius. This time, I am going to pick them both again, not because of their past numbers, but because Sunday marks the debut of the 10-race Chase for the Cup. Johnson and Chad Knaus have mastered the playoff format, and until someone knocks them off the top of the mountain, I say put him on your team for the last 10 races. He’s going to win at least three times, have seven top fives, and if he survives Talladega, he’ll win the championship for a fifth straight time. But in my humble opinion, if anyone is going to challenge Johnson, it’s Stewart.
Stewart starts just 40 points behind Johnson, which he is more than capable of making up in 10 races. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will both have some sort of mechanical problem, and Kurt Busch will never get through ‘Dega without getting wrecked. That leaves Kevin Harvick, who I just don’t think will seriously challenge for the title despite having a better-than-expected regular season. Stewart is a past champion himself who knows how to win races, compete under this format, and put the bumper to you if he has to. Look for seven top 10s and a few wins for him over the next two and a half months.
Who Will Carry You
Well, one of these picks last time went to David Reutimann, and he certainly didn’t sour me with a 15th-place run, so we’ll go with him again. He now has five straight top-20 runs here and, sitting 17th in points, could make a push for the big payday awaiting whomever finishes 13th in the final standings. You will also want to take a look at Marcos Ambrose this Sunday. The chipper little Aussie has run 23rd, 20th and 13th here and does well at the flat tracks in general. 11th-place finishes this season at Martinsville and Phoenix, plus a fifth at Richmond last Saturday shows that he’s a pretty good bet for a top-15, if not a top-10 finish.
AJ Allmendinger also looks good this weekend. The ‘Dinger ran 10th here back in June and also looked good at the flat track in Arizona, posting a 15th-place run back in March. With a dozen top-15 finishes so far in 2010 and an eighth last weekend at Richmond, he also looks like a sure bet to run top 15 Sunday.
Who Will Bury You
Stay away from Kyle Busch this weekend. In 2006, he kicked off his Chase run with a 38th-place effort and in 2008 he finished 34th. With that pattern in mind, Kyle’s looking down the barrel of a 30th spot in the running order when the checkered flag flies, and that’s going to end his Chase hopes and bury your fantasy team for the week.
So there you have it, week one of the Chase and week 27 of your season is covered. Check back next Thursday as we break down past stats and see who has got it together at the Monster Mile and who never seems to quite figure it out. And don’t forget to fill out your Frontstretch fantasy racing roster this week.
Hopefully, you weren’t like me last week and got caught with your pants down because the race was Saturday night and not Sunday, thus missing the roster lock time (I still wound up doing OK, luckily). Speaking of luck… hope you have it with your teams this weekend, and we’ll see you back here next Thursday!
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