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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Insider: Is Now Time to Think Outside the Fantasy Pit Box?

As we inch closer toward the finish line in this NASCAR season and the races become more important for drivers in real life, they also become more important for your fantasy team. If you are in a tight battle to win your league, or finish in the money, then every decision by a real life crew chief and driver will likely have a direct effect on your fantasy team.

So, if you are in or near the lead, you can still play things a bit conservative by saving your best drivers for the final couple of races if you are on pick limits, or keeping your budget intact by picking drivers who have traditionally done well. However, if you are on the fringe of contending and need to take a big swing at your fantasy set up, now is the time to get your thinking out of the traditional pit box. You can’t be afraid to go for it because really, you don’t have anything to lose. You may need to realize that if an upset winner does come through, it could put you right back in the thick of the race.

So, those are just a few of the things to keep in mind when making this week’s picks for Sunday afternoon’s race in Kansas.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

2014 Chicago CUP Jeff Gordon vertical CIA
Is Jeff Gordon ready to springboard towards a fifth Sprint Cup championship after Sunday’s win at Dover? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Maybe now it’s time for Jeff Gordon to get on a roll. He won his fourth race of the season at Dover Sunday, which maybe was a bit of a surprise. Now, he’s returning to a track where he has already won this year in Kansas, so two in a row is not out of the question for the four-time champion. In recent races at Kansas, Gordon has another top five and another top 10 to go with the win for an average finish of 9.5. However, even though Gordon did win at Kansas earlier this year, he led just nine laps in that race and has led just 11 laps overall in the last five races there. So, he hasn’t been dominant there, but you don’t have to be dominant to win.

That’s a lesson that Kevin Harvick is learning this year, but in the opposite and more difficult direction. Harvick led 119 laps in the first race at Kansas this year, but had to settle for a second place finish. Harvick also ran very well at Dover last week, only to have a tire go down and cost him any shot at a win after he had led 223 laps. At Kansas, Harvick does have one win in the last five races there and has 257 laps in those races. So, it would certainly be no surprise to see him in Victory Lane Sunday, but it would also be no surprise if something goes just wrong enough to keep him from winning.

A driver who hasn’t visited Victory Lane this year, to the surprise of many is Matt Kenseth. However, Kansas is a track where his winless streak could end, as he has won two of the last five races there and has led a series high (among active drivers) 265 laps in those races. Kenseth has finished between first and 11th, producing an average finish of 5.4 in those events. Maybe, just maybe it’s his week…

The fact that Jimmie Johnson did not dominate at Dover, where he has nine career wins, might not be the best sign for the No. 48 team as Johnson pursues what would be a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup title. However, he is always just one race away from being dominant and Kansas could be that place. For his career, he has two wins there and has finished in the top 10 in 14 of his 16 races there. He has also led an active-driver high of 586 laps in those 16 races, so you know, he could be right back up front again for a lot of Sunday’s race.

MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS

The two obvious choices here right now on the B List in the Yahoo! Leagues are Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. They are in a situation where they have run so well for most of this season that you can almost throw out past history at some of these tracks.

For example, Logano has an average finish of 21.7 at Kansas in 10 career races. However, in the spring event there this year he finished fourth and led 63 laps. So in this breakout season for the driver of the No. 22 Ford, again, it would be a surprise if he is not at least somewhere in the top 10.

Then for Keselowski, he finished 13th in the first Kansas race, so maybe there isn’t as much excitement to pick him here. However, Keselowski does have two top 10 finishes in his last five trips to Kansas with a top finish of sixth. And with Keselowski winning a series-high five times this year, it’s no longer a surprise to see him up front at any track.

Two drivers who are teammates (at least for the rest of this season) who would like to be regulars up front, but haven’t been lately are Roush-Fenway drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. First, I have to give Edwards’ some kudos for making the song “You Can’t Stop me” by Andy Mineo his walkout song. However, part of the lyrics of that song go “not even I can stop me.” Well, Edwards, who will be moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, can only hope that is true with his team. He does have three top 10 finishes in his last five races at Kansas and for his career has had 10 top 10s in 14 races and five top five finishes. Yet, the Missouri native still has not won at Kansas.

As for Biffle, who flirted with not making it into final 12 and next round of the Chase, did make it and Kansas is a place where he has been a threat in the past. In his 16 career races there, Biffle has two victories and nine top 10 finishes. In those races, he has led 346 laps, so he does know what it takes to get to the front. So, maybe in what has been a mediocre season for his and his team’s standards, this is a race where they can turn things around.

DARK HORSES

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
With three straight top-6 finishes, Kyle Larson is a “must have” on your fantasy roster. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

The plan for this category, Yahoo’s C list drivers can be pretty simple or it can be a head scratcher. The simple part is if you have any races left or room in your budget for Kyle Larson, then pick him. He has an average finish of 3.7 in the Chase races, so it’s a shame he is not actually in the Chase. He did finish 12th in the first Kansas race this year, so it would be a surprise if he is at least not in the top 10 again this week, given this is his second time around on that track.

However, if you are out of races for Larson (welcome to the club if that’s the case), then there is no other choice but to look at other options.

The other regular option in this spot besides Larson this year has been Austin Dillon. He did run respectable in the first Kansas race with a 19th-place finish. So, if he can improve just a little there this time around, Dillon is certainly a legitimate pick.

But there’s one driver on this list who finished better than either Larson or Dillon in the earlier Kansas race this year. That was Danica Patrick, who finished seventh. That is Patrick’s only top 10 finish in her four career races at Kansas, so who knows if it was a fluke or not. Whatever the case, if you’re out of picks for Larson, it just might be the best chance for a good finish from this spot this week.

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

The leaders in the Frontstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo! remained the same with NoBarNASCAR leading with 7,691 points, followed by Mojothemonkey at 7,635 and LeftTurnOnly at 7,586. The biggest mover of the week was the C Elliott 2014 Champ!!! team moving up eight spots into 14th overall.

The top score of the week was PayneRacing at 363 points with the picks of race winner Jeff Gordon, second-place Brad Keselowski, fourth-place Joey Logano and sixth-place Kyle Larson.

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