Tension proved its existence at Dover, as a Kyle Petty – Denny Hamlin crash resulted in an off-track altercation, a special run by Roush Fenway Racing’s “forgotten man” nearly resulted in a win, and an old legend of the sport, Mark Martin, came up with his best finish since Daytona. So, as the series moves on to the Midwest for this weekend, which drivers are best suited to make the most noise on the Kansas prairies? Read on to find out who in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not, outside the Chase. One note before we begin, unlike our regular edition, we only highlight six drivers in this edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not, which means to make the list, you need to really be on fire (or ice cold, for that matter).
With the playoffs moving full steam ahead towards round 2 this weekend, the strategy for your team shouldn’t change all that much. While the Monster Mile has been known to cause damage to its fair share of racecars, it usually doesn’t take too much of a toll on Chase contenders. One or two will most likely take a hit, but the majority will be near the front and finish in the top 15 or better. Which ones have that extra leg up on the rest of their playoff competition, though? Find out in this week’s edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans.
One race down… nine races to go. After his dominating performance on Sunday, Clint Bowyer has to be asking himself what the big deal is about all this Chase pressure everyone kept talking to him about. The only winless driver in the playoffs, he threw that status right out the window Sunday, coming out of the gates strong to score the first victory of his Cup career and climbing to fourth in points in the process. But Bowyer didn’t stand alone in his success. In fact, the top seven finishing positions on Sunday went to drivers within the Chase field; only three ended the day outside the top 15, leaving the 12-car lineup more tightly bunched at this juncture than ever before.
Come Sunday, it’s playoff time in the world of NASCAR… and what would playoffs be without predictions? All of us here at Frontstretch got together this week, stared into the crystal ball, and each came up with our own special theory as to how this year’s Chase for the Championship is going to play out. Each writer has picked the finishing order of first through 12th, their “Darkhorse” championship pick, and the best driver not in the Chase who’s threatening to spoil the party altogether – diverting the most attention away from the battle for this year’s title.
And then… there were 12. Now that the field for the Chase has been decided, all the questions of who will make it in and who will fall out have been answered. But plenty of questions still remain ahead, especially for fantasy team owners. Normally, there are a few drivers who make the Chase that fall on hard times early, while other drivers left behind realize they have nothing to lose… laying it all on the line. Well, to take your Fantasy team to the next level in the next 10 races, you need to be able to separate the contenders from the pretenders… luckily for you, that’s what we’re here for!
Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. watch is over, the focus over the last 10 races of the year will be on the 12 drivers making a run for the Nextel Cup championship. With his second straight victory, Jimmie Johnson put the competition on notice that they will have to take on the No. 48 team in order to take the trophy that they earned last season. But with six of the Chase drivers finishing in the top 10 at Richmond, many others are proving to be up to the challenge of trying to take down the top seed. So, who left Richmond riding high and ready for battle, and which drivers walked away wishing they had a little more time to prepare? Read this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Chase for the Championship to find out.
For 12 drivers, it all comes down to this. OK, that’s overstating the drama heading into this Saturday’s race at Richmond; but by the end of the night, the remaining positions in the Chase will be filled before the points are reset for the top 12. Unfortunately, for most fantasy owners, there isn’t a redo button that you can hit after week 26; you have to gut it out for the entire 36-race schedule. Obviously, different drivers will have various goals heading into Richmond: some are looking to win bonus points for the Chase, some are looking to run well enough to maintain their positions, and some are just looking to survive. Hopefully, you can emphasize with position number one rather than number three… otherwise, your team may be in serious trouble!
Three things easily sum up this weekend’s race at California Speedway: hot, hot and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Countless Earnhardt fans were on the edge of their seats just waiting to see if one of the drivers at the bottom of the top 12 would slip up, giving their man a chance at making the Chase and the rest of us were forced to go along for the ride as the entire race seemed to be a case of “Where in the World is Dale Jr. Now?” At the end of the night, Earnhardt finished a solid fifth, but still is a long shot to make it into the post season Chase. But as the summer sun baked the drivers, crew members and the scarce number of fans in the stands; Jimmie Johnson came out on top to score his fifth win of the season and looking like he barely broke a sweat. So what other drivers thrived in the sweltering heat and which ones shriveled up under the pressure? Read this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not to find out.
After the bullring that was Bristol, the series heads out to the west coast for another race on the wide open California Speedway. Your fantasy team could be taxed, as the race to the Chase winds down to its inevitable conclusion. No question about it, the pressure’s on. Drivers on the bubble will be running conservatively but intelligently, while the drivers on the outside looking in will simply be going for broke. Then, there’s that strange category of drivers already locked in – they’ll be going for the win to try and garner those extra bonus points for the Chase. As the racing community heads straight for the desert heat, can Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards continue their own current hot streaks? Will Kevin Harvick be able to finish solidly enough to ensure a place in the Chase? This week’s edition of Picks ‘n’ Pans offers our insights into which drivers offer the best and worst for your fantasy team this weekend.
For some, the racing at Bristol Saturday night was the best it has been in years. For others, it was a Bristol race in name only, with no fireworks and little excitement. But no matter which side of the fence you are on, there were plenty of winners and losers coming out of the annual madhouse that is Thunder Valley in late summer. Carl Edwards added another 10 bonus points to his Chase count, and should get extra points for sticking the backflip on Bristol’s high banks after his second win of the season. On the flip side, Denny Hamlin’s fried engine left him with just his second career DNF. In between, what could have been a big night for a points shakeup amongst the Chasers instead never materialized, with no driver falling out of, or moving into, the playoffs.
After a marathon weekend at Michigan, it’s time for a sprint-like turnaround and a trip to everyone’s favorite bullring, Bristol Motor Speedway. Michigan had its share of surprises for fantasy teams, with drivers like Dave Blaney, Bobby Labonte and Brian Vickers making appearances in the top 10. But not to be outdone, old reliables like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards were there, too, continuing to cruise along towards the Chase – and hopefully helping the chances for a season-ending trophy of your own. But this weekend at Bristol, no pick is truly a “safe bet;” you can expect both anything and everything to happen. Just one nudge on the bumper and your team’s best driver could be spinning down the standings… taking your team with him. Still, there are certainly drivers you want to make sure to have in your arsenal, along with ones to avoid.
10. Tony Stewart: “Hey, anyone want to build a raft? We could race…”