NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Insider: Ambrose is the Favorite at Infineon

*Jeff Gordon* and *Tony Stewart* have dominated NASCAR’s road course races for the majority of their Sprint Cup careers. From 1998-2006, the two drivers combined to win 13 of the 18 road course races. Gordon and Stewart were on a different level than their competition, but as the numbers have shown in the last four seasons, the competition has caught up.

Gordon hasn’t won on a road course since 2006 and Stewart has two wins, but both came at Watkins Glen. During that same span, *Juan Pablo Montoya* and *Kyle Busch* each have a pair of road course victories and names like *Jimmie Johnson*, *Kasey Kahne* and *Marcos Ambrose* have crept into the fray of consistent contenders, and have outperformed Gordon and Stewart on numerous occasions in recent years.

Fantasy Insider: Rely on Roush at Michigan

There were some conflicting statistics heading into last Sunday’s race at Pocono when it came down to determining the race winner. The track said that 47 of the previous 66 winners came from a top-10 starting spot. The 2011 season said a top-10 starter had reached victory lane in only four of the first 12 races.

The last five race-winners started outside the top 20.

*Jeff Gordon’s* victory last weekend kept the odds in Pocono’s favor, after Gordon started third. It was the first time since April 17 at Talladega that a top-20 starter won a Sprint Cup race. *Jimmie Johnson* started second on that day. Statistically, more wins have come from starting positions 20-28 (seven) than 1-8 (five) in 2011.

Fantasy Insider: Hamlin, Stewart Seeking 2011 Breakthroughs At Pocono

*Brad Keselowski’s* victory last Sunday at Kansas may have been termed by many as a surprise, but really the win just fit into a new disturbing fantasy trend. Keselowski, who led nine laps on his way to victory, became the sixth driver in the last 13 races to lead under 15 laps and win the race. It has happened in three of the last four races.

In the previous race at Charlotte, *Kevin Harvick* led two laps. Dover is the lone exception in the last three weeks, but in that race *Matt Kenseth* led only 33 of the 400 laps. At Darlington, *Regan Smith* led 11 laps to pick up his first career win.

The fastest driver isn’t winning the majority of these races as of late. Fuel strategy and late-race restarts are really mixing up the results at race end in 2011 and for that reason, Keselowski’s win shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

Fantasy Insider: Roush Teammates Should Be Strong at Kansas

These late-race restarts are killing me, and I know I’m not alone. As a fan, the chaos that ensued in the final laps of the Coca-Cola 600 couldn’t have been much more entertaining, but as a fantasy owner it can’t get much more frustrating than watching one of your drivers run out of gas on the final lap (*Denny Hamlin*, *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.*) or restart sixth and get caught up in somebody else’s mess (*Jeff Burton*). As the series heads to Kansas this weekend, I’m hoping for one thing: no green, white, checkered finish.

Fantasy Insider: All-Star Races Often Tell Tale of “600”

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.

Fantasy Insider: Don’t Expect Another Upset at Dover

While on one hand, *Trevor Bayne’s* Daytona 500 win was shocking, on the other hand it really wasn’t. After all, Bayne pulled off his upset victory on a restrictor-plate track while doing the “two-car tango.” Fantasy owners have come to expect a certain level of unpredictability at Daytona and Talladega.

What came last week at Darlington was truly a shock. *Regan Smith* and Furniture Row Racing aren’t supposed to win a prestigious race like the Showtime Southern 500 at one of the series’ most challenging tracks, yet they did. And fantasy owners, who picked Smith, got the ultimate payoff.

Fantasy Insider: Lady In Black Loves To Gives Owners A Hard Time

There is a lot to like about Darlington.

We are in an age of cookie-cutter race tracks, and for nearly every venue the Sprint Cup series visits, it is easy to draw comparisons to another track on the schedule. This is especially true with intermediate tracks. Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta feature practically the exact same layout. A driver that is strong at Texas will usually be pretty good at Atlanta too, and the series visits these tracks a combined six times.

The series only visits Darlington once a year, and no other track on the schedule rivals what we see there.

Fantasy Insider: Go Gibbs at Richmond

The 2011 season has seen seven different winners in the first eight races, but now the Sprint Cup Series heads back to another short track where things have been much more predictable as of late. Three drivers have flat out been on a different level on NASCAR’s short tracks over the last three-plus years than the rest of the pack.

Fantasy Insider: Surprises and Disappointments of 2011

With an off-weekend approaching for the Sprint Cup Series, it gives us a chance to reflect on the young season. We’re only eight races in, but already we’ve seen more parody than ever before. There have been seven different winners in the first eight races and 20 different drivers have already scored multiple top-10 finishes.

*Trevor Bayne* paved the way for a year of surprises by winning the Daytona 500 in his second career start. Bayne’s victory may top the list, but several other drivers have pulled off unexpected victories starting in week two with *Jeff Gordon*.

Fantasy Insider: Talladega Always a Toss-Up

As a restrictor-plate track, ‘Dega is always a wild card on the schedule. Add in what has happened there in the past two years (wins by *Jamie McMurray* and *Clint Bowyer*, *Brad Keselowski* flipping *Carl Edwards* into the stands to win in a James Finch-owned car in 2009, and a record 88 lead changes in the spring of 2010) and it becomes even more unpredictable. Now, let’s also add in one of the craziest Daytona 500s in recent memory (74 lead changes) resulting in a 20-year-old winning in his second career start to the mix. By the way, *David Gilliland*, *Bobby Labonte* and *Regan Smith* all finished in the top 10.

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