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The final 10 races of the season are comprised of four events on similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks. One of these is in the books as Matt Kenseth got off to a great start with his victory in the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Drivers cannot win the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup without an excellent record on that track type, but this week will prove to be just as pivotal.
Last week, fantasy players were told to concentrate on Chase contenders and that was the right strategy as they took the top six spots as well as 10 of the top 12 positions. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is equally kind to Chase drivers.
The Sylvania 300 is the first of three races that will be held on short, flat tracks measuring a mile or less in length, and drivers have to show patience and back the corners up by braking early and then accelerating hard at the apex of the turns. If they sweep the top-10 on similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks and finish well in New Hampshire, Martinsville and Phoenix, they can afford to take a mulligan in one of the remaining three races.
If last year is an indication, fantasy players can look to this July's Camping World RV Sales 301 as a strong indicator of who will run well on Sunday. In 2012, three drivers swept the top five at New Hampshire, seven drivers swept the top 10, and 13 of a possible 15 drivers swept the top 15. If a driver did not finish 15th or better in New Hampshire's first race this year, he should probably not be on a fantasy roster unless the selection is for the final, bargain-basement slot.
Jimmie Johnson was among those who swept the top 10 last year, and he is one of only three drivers to enter the weekend with at least three consecutive strong runs there. He finished sixth this summer, and if the pattern holds, he is due another strong run. He is capable of piling top-10s upon each other at New Hampshire and he had a seven-race top-10 streak going as recently as 2007 through 2010. That streak culminated in a victory in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, so fantasy players can reasonably expect him to score maximum points. His salary cap took a hit in recent weeks with a string of bad luck and missed setups at the end of the regular season, but that only means that he is more affordable.
If Jeff Gordon had not made the Chase, he probably would not be listed as one of the favorites, but contenders will continue to dominate the top 10 in 2013 just as they have during the past nine years. A top-10 is quite likely since he has six of those in the past seven New Hampshire races and a worst result of 11th. He has also been consistent on the other short, flat tracks this year with a worst effort of 11th in the spring at Richmond. He will not earn maximum points since he has only one top-five in five races on this track type this season, but he should be a good value nevertheless. Even if he misses the top five, he will be one of this week's best bargains, because he has scored nearly 10 percent of the fastest laps run during the past 17 races and leads the league in that category.
Brad Keselowski made his debut at New Hampshire in 2009 while racing part-time for James Finch. He scored his third career top-10 after starting deep in the field in 36th with just a little help from the rain. His next three attempts on this track were not quite as impressive until he entered the 2011 Sylvania 300. That afternoon, he crossed under the checkers second to Tony Stewart. He has been practically perfect since with finishes of sixth or better in four consecutive races. This spring, he earned the sixth-most points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game; he will be an equally good value this week.
Gordon, Johnson, and Tony Stewart are in their own league in regard to fastest laps run during the past eight years at New Hampshire, but Kasey Kahne leads the next pack. In that same span of time, he has logged 300 fastest laps, which equates to seven percent of the available green-flag circuits. Denny Hamlin is in that same range, and then the numbers begin to dwindle quickly. Last year, Kahne won the summer Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and finished fifth in the fall, but he slipped to 11th this July. That could put him under the radar screen and make him an attractive pick for fantasy rosters.
Carl Edwards' salary cap continues to struggle to catch up to his current level of success, and that makes him a great value most weeks. It has not always been that way in 2013, but both of his victories this season came on this track type at Phoenix International Raceway in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 and in the final race of the regular season at Richmond International Raceway in the Federated Auto Parts 400. He also finished in the top 10 at Richmond in the spring and New Hampshire this summer, which is in stark contrast to his record on short, flat tracks last year. With the exception of Martinsville Speedway, he could sweep the top 10 on this track type in 2013. He is a good differentiator since he is not the first driver who comes to mind on short courses.
On the heels of six consecutive top-10s, Joey Logano entered the final regular-season race with his destiny in his own hands. He nearly squandered the opportunity by playing safe at Richmond. He made a bold statement last week at Chicagoland with a record-setting pole run, but a blown engine has him in a deep hole where the Chase is concerned. This Young Gun exudes confidence, but his Achilles' heel in 2013 has been short, flat tracks. In five previous starts, he has finished outside the top 20 four times, including the 22nd-place result in the Federated Auto Parts 400 that nearly dropped him out of the top 10 in points.
Greg Biffle did just enough in the last short, flat track race to qualify for the Chase. He ran a conservative race, finished 12th, and his berth in the playoffs was never in question. He did not earn a lot of points and was only the 15th-best value, however. That has been a consistent pattern on short, flat tracks with a best result of ninth at Martinsville and the majority of his results in the teens. He should be watched in practice and qualification for signs of strength, because last year he scored four top-10s in the final five races on this track type. He could reverse his fortunes once more, but that is difficult to predict before the weekend begins.