Strategy has always played a role in the outcome of Sprint Cup races, but in 2011, it’s more important than ever. The first two races of The Chase have both been won on strategy. And while *Tony Stewart* had one of the fastest cars, at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, the rest of the finishing order behind him was jumbled to say the least.
This phenomenon has been increasingly frustrating for fantasy owners who are selecting the fastest drivers but losing fantasy points on late-race strategy moves. For example, *Matt Kenseth*, *David Ragan* and *Carl Edwards* finished sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively on Sunday, but they ran around 20th position most of the day. None of these drivers have solid track records at New Hampshire and picking them would seem like a regrettable move, but owners that made that mistake reaped the reward. Meanwhile, with two laps to go, *Clint Bowyer* ran out of fuel while leading the race. Bowyer, a smart fantasy pick at New Hampshire, came home 26th.
My advice is don’t get discouraged, and above all, don’t start selecting drivers based on the strategy you think they _might_ take. The best strategy will always be to select the fastest cars, and maybe in one of these races sometime soon, their speed will actually allow them to finish at the front.
Since The Chase system was instituted in 2004, *Jimmie Johnson* has finished outside the top-10 only 17 times in Chase races. It’s an astounding number that no other driver has even come close to matching, but one J.J. added to after winding up 18th last Sunday at New Hampshire. Johnson’s struggles in the first two races of the 2011 Chase have been well documented, but don’t count him out of championship contention yet.
Johnson has won six races overall at Dover, including three of the last five. During that five-race stretch, Johnson has been nothing short of spectacular. He has led more than 190 laps in each of those 400-lap races. He also led a race-high 207 laps in the spring, collecting a ninth-place finish – not indicative at all of the run Johnson had.
For those of you not interested in picking Johnson this weekend, keep in mind that the No. 48 has sat on the pole in three of the last four races at the one-mile track. In most fantasy leagues, that equates to bonus points before the race even begins.
*Carl Edwards* has the best average finish (7.64) of all active drivers at Dover. He has top-10s in 10 of his 14 starts at the track and maybe even more importantly, he has led laps in nine of those starts, meaning fantasy bonus points in most leagues. Edwards led 117 laps in the spring before getting caught on the wrong end of some late-race strategy and finishing seventh.
*Mark Martin* used a strategy move late in the race this spring to steal a second-place finish. Without that move, Martin wasn’t going to run in the top-five. While his finishing position may have been a bit deceiving, Martin has had other recent success at The Monster Mile. He has an average finish of 8.1 since the start of the 2009 season and has three top 5s in his last six starts at Dover.
Martin finished 24th one week ago at New Hampshire, but ran well most of the day, leading 46 laps. In his two starts before that, Martin was ninth and 10th, respectively. The No. 5 team is quietly building some momentum late in the season.
Richard Petty Motorsports had its strongest showing of the year at Dover in the spring. Unfortunately, *A.J. Allmendinger* lost an engine (finished 37th) while running in the top 5, costing him any chance at the win. His teammate, *Marcos Ambrose*, was even more impressive. Ambrose battled for the lead with Edwards and Johnson throughout the race and finished third. These teams clearly hit on something in the spring and it should carry over this fall to a pair of strong runs.
Dover is a demanding race track on drivers, and none of the bottom-tier fantasy options this season have met the demands. In fact, getting a top 20 out of a bottom-tier selection this weekend would be an accomplishment. The best bet to score that top 20 is *Bobby Labonte*, who was 18th in the spring. It has been a long time since Labonte won (1999) at the Monster Mile, but he showed in the No. 43 car, and then in the No. 47 that he can still get around the track pretty well.
It’s difficult to put the hottest driver in the Sprint Cup garage on the bench, but that is where Smoke belongs this week. *Tony Stewart* finished six laps down in 29th in the spring race in what was a disaster of a weekend for the No. 14 team. In the fall of 2010, he wasn’t much better, finishing two laps down in 21st. Stewart has led six laps at Dover since 2005, and doesn’t seem like a wise choice with drivers like Johnson and Edwards available at the same value.
*David Ragan* is a hot commodity in fantasy NASCAR this season, showing that he can perform well on a variety of track types. He recorded his eighth top-10 finish of the season at New Hampshire thanks to a number of drivers running out of fuel. But if he is going to get another top 10 at Dover, Ragan may have to hope for the same thing to happen again. He hasn’t finished better than 24th in his last five starts in Delaware.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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