Fantasy NASCAR is all about picking the right drivers at the right times. It has been harder than ever to that this year. *Tony Stewart* not only became the 16th different winner in 27 races at Chicagoland Monday, but he also has cemented as the newest fantasy stud. This was a driver who couldn’t buy consecutive top-10 finishes in the first two-thirds of the season. Over the last three weeks, he put together three straight top-10s for the first time in 2011.
Every driver hits their stride at a different point in the season. *Brad Keselowski* was mired around 25th in the standings after the first one-third of 2011. Over the last eight races, Keselowski’s average finish is 4.8.
When drivers hit on something, take notice. The fantasy owners who notice momentum changing directions will have a leg up on the competition in the final nine races.
Until his win last week, Stewart didn’t look like a championship contender. He has been one of the weaker top-tier fantasy drivers this season, but it’s hard to keep these top guys down. Stewart was solid for three consecutive weeks and finally broke through in the win column at Chicagoland. More wins may be around the corner.
This week, Stewart heads to a track where he has narrowly missed out on victories in the last two races. In the fall of 2010 at New Hampshire, Stewart ran out of gas while leading on the final lap, only to see the victory go to *Clint Bowyer*. In the July race at New Hampshire, Stewart led seven laps, but finished second to teammate *Ryan Newman*. Don’t be surprised if Stewart does one better this weekend and takes the first two playoff races after being shutout in the regular season. The last driver to win the first two Chase races was Greg Biffle in 2008 at Loudon and Dover.
*Jimmie Johnson* didn’t leave Chicagoland with the finish he deserved after leading 39 laps, but he proved that the No. 48 team as strong as ever. The 10th-place finish was Johnson’s 55th top-10 in 71 Chase races. If you want consistency, this is the guy. Johnson has three wins and 13 top-10s in Loudon in 19 starts with an average finish of 9.6. Johnson has also led laps in six consecutive races, which in many fantasy league’s equates to bonus points. This makes him an even smarter pick.
*Ryan Newman* is quietly putting together a string of strong performances late in the summer. Newman has four top-10s in his last five races and is coming off of an eighth-place showing last week at Chicagoland. At New Hampshire, Newman’s numbers mirror that of Johnson’s with three wins and 13 top-10s. Newman is first, sixth, eighth and seventh in his last four starts in Loudon. I’d be surprised if Newman swept the New Hampshire races in 2011, but I’d be even more surprised to find him outside of the top-10.
Bowyer finally broke a string of inconsistent finishes with a seventh-place run at Chicagoland. He was the highest-finishing non-Chase driver. The same could be true at New Hampshire, which is statistically one of his best tracks. He was 17th in the spring, but he has two of his four career victories in New Hampshire.
The sleeper mid-tier pick of the weekend is *Joey Logano*. Logano was fourth in the spring. He was involved in accident in the fall race of 2010, but was ninth in the summer. New Hampshire has proven to be a strong-suit for the No. 20 team.
*Bobby Labonte* had the best finish of the bottom-tier drivers in the spring race at New Hampshire with a seventh-place effort. However, the finish came on fuel strategy. None of the bottom tier drivers ran in the top-15 much in the first race of 2011. *David Ragan*, who finished 14th in the spring, is probably your safest bet this weekend out of an unreliable group of drivers.
*Carl Edwards* has six top-five finishes in seven starts at 1.5-mile tracks this season. Unfortunately for Edwards, the series is headed to a 1-mile track this weekend where he has not been good. Edwards has only a pair of top-10s in 14 career starts at New Hampshire, the fewest number of top-10s for the Roush Fenway driver at any track he has attempted multiple starts at.
Another Chase contender, *Matt Kenseth*, has been even worse in Loudon. Kenseth has finished 20th or worse in five of his last six starts at New Hampshire. At Richmond, this team proved that they still haven’t figured out how to setup cars to Kenseth’s liking at these short, flat tracks.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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