The Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 provide something that fantasy owners don’t get in any of the other 34 races on the Sprint Cup schedule: a test race to evaluate who is fast and who is not. A week before the Great American Race, fantasy owners can see who the top cars are going to be at the Bud Shootout. At Charlotte, the All-Star race provided the same advantage to fantasy owners.
Drivers who are successful in the All-Star race aren’t guaranteed to run up front all night in the 600-miler, but often they do. Seven drivers have won both races in the same season, including *Kurt Busch* one season ago.
At Daytona, the duo of *Kurt Busch* and *Regan Smith* showed their speed in the Shootout and both followed the run with great Daytona 500 finishes. If Smith hadn’t been involved in an accident in the closing laps, we could have been talking about a very different finish to the Daytona 500. With that in mind, here are some guys that showed their strength at Charlotte last Saturday night.
I’m not exactly going out on a limb with my top-tier driver selections this week. After all, *Carl Edwards* and *Kyle Busch* have been the class of the field just about everywhere the series has gone this season. However, there is little doubt in Edwards’ case that he was a step ahead of the competition on Saturday. Edwards’ track record at Charlotte isn’t spectacular with one top in his last four starts and only two laps led, but don’t be surprised if the Roush Fenway driver becomes the eighth driver to pull the All-Star/600 sweep.
Kyle Busch’s worst finish in his last four starts at Charlotte is eighth. If you are looking for a safe pick on Sunday night, he is probably your best bet. In that span, Rowdy has led more laps than any other driver (426) and has the best average finish (4.75). Kyle Busch will be hungry for his first Coca-Cola 600 win on Sunday.
*David Reutimann* has had a tough season so far in 2011 (he is yet to record a top 10 finish), but the All-Star race showed a glimmer of hope for the No. 00 team. It wasn’t a fluke either. Reutimann was fifth and ninth in the two Charlotte races last season. He has the third best average finish (7.5) of all drivers in the last four races there. If you’ve noticed, I’ve selected the top-three finishers from the All-Star race in the order they finished so far.
I’m going to end that trend right now.
*Kasey Kahne’s* All-Star race ended with an accident on lap 59, but I’m putting him in the Fantasy Insider lineup because of his past success at Charlotte. In 14 career starts, Kahne has seven top 10s and three wins at the 1.5-mile track. His career average finish of 13.5 is fourth among active drivers. After mechanical issues spoiled a strong run at Dover, look for Kahne to bounce back at Charlotte.
Behind Reutimann and Kahne, I’m going to throw in a mid-level sleeper pick. *Marcos Ambrose* had one of the strongest runs of his Sprint Cup career last race at Dover, resulting in a third-place finish. The No. 9 Ford looked strong again on Saturday. If the All-Star Showdown was two laps longer, Ambrose may have been in victory lane. Keep an eye on him on Sunday.
The guy that beat Ambrose on Saturday was fellow Ford driver *David Ragan*. If there was one thing that could be taken from the All-Star events, it was that Roush Fenway Racing has got Charlotte figured out. After his Showdown victory, Ragan got all the way to eighth in the All-Star race. He was the lowest finishing Roush Fenway driver as *Greg Biffle* was fifth and *Matt Kenseth* sixth.
It’s not often that multiple Hendrick Motorsports cars can be found on the Fantasy Insider bench, but Hendrick’s four teams did little to impress last weekend. *Jeff Gordon* was 15th on Saturday and *Dale Earnhardt Jr.* was 14th. I wouldn’t expect them to perform much better on Sunday. Gordon, who has struggled as of late, was 23rd last fall at Charlotte.
For Earnhardt Jr. the stats have looked much worse. Earnhardt’s best finish in his last four starts at the 1.5-mile track is 22nd and his average finish is 32.25. His goal on Saturday was to race his way into the All-Star race, but he proved to be a non-factor in the All-Star Showdown. Earnhardt’s value as a mid-level selection has skyrocketed this season, but stay away from the No. 88 at Charlotte.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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