NASCAR Fantasy Blog


NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Pocono

July 31, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

fantasy gordon pocono

Gordon's need to play defense makes him a reliable fantasy option

The GoBowling.com 400 marks the third straight week NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series has visited a flat track. New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway are distinct from one another, but they all have minimal banking that requires drivers to ease into the corners before rocketing down the straightaways. Indy and Pocono feature some of the longest straights in the sport, and entering turn one on either course is not for the weak at heart.

Driver power averages; flat tracks over last three years

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Jimmie Johnson

7.27

2.

Jeff Gordon

8.74

3.

Denny Hamlin

8.95

4.

Kyle Busch

10.85

5.

Tony Stewart

11.93

6.

Kevin Harvick

12.11

7.

Matt Kenseth

12.89

8.

Kasey Kahne

13.39

9.

Brad Keselowski

13.40

10.

Carl Edwards

13.40

11.

Clint Bowyer

13.48

12.

Ryan Newman

13.65

13.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

13.79

14.

Greg Biffle

15.39

15.

Kurt Busch

15.41

16.

Mark Martin

15.50

17.

Juan Pablo Montoya

16.45

18.

Jeff Burton

16.49

19.

AJ Allmendinger

18.59

20.

Jamie McMurray

18.83

21.

Martin Truex Jr.

19.38

22.

Joey Logano

19.57

23.

Paul Menard

21.43

24.

Aric Almirola

21.62

25.

Marcos Ambrose

23.63

26.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

25.33

27.

David Ragan

27.10

28.

David Reutimann

27.86

29.

Bobby Labonte

28.56

30.

Danica Patrick

31.31

31.

Casey Mears

31.38

32.

Travis Kvapil

33.48

33.

Landon Cassill

33.50

34.

David Gilliland

33.50

35.

Dave Blaney

34.90

36.

David Stremme

37.51

37.

Mike Bliss

38.18

38.

JJ Yeley

38.23

39.

Michael McDowell

38.39

40.

Tony Raines

38.94

41.

Josh Wise

39.24

42.

Joe Nemechek

39.61

43.

Timmy Hill

39.83

44.

Brian Keselowski

43.00

After this week’s race, the schedule showcases parity once more. A road course event will be followed by a two-mile track, a short course, and then one of the similarly-configured 1.5-mile tracks, so fantasy owners should be grateful for this mini-streak that has allowed them to place-and-hold drivers on their roster.

At New Hampshire and Indy, four drivers posted back-to-back top-10s and a total of eight scored consecutive top-15s. Those drivers will continue to be a good value at Pocono and headline this week’s fantasy preview.

The Favorites

Occasionally, fantasy players are given a gift. Jimmie Johnson may not catch anyone by surprise, but it is unlikely that any winning roster is going to leave him off of it. He has been absolutely perfect in recent weeks by earning the most or second-most points in six of the past eight races and he was nearly as strong in the two events when he missed that mark. NASCAR Statistical Services data show he has earned the third-most fastest laps run during the past 17 races, and he is second-best in regard to quality passes. He has been even stronger in recent seasons, and leads the league in both categories during the past three years at Pocono.

Jeff Gordon climbed into the top 10 in points by the narrowest of margins last week. He sits 10th in the standings with only a single marker separating him from Tony Stewart. If he falls out of the top 10, he does not have a victory to rely on to claim a wild card slot, so he must have two agendas in mind at Pocono. Winning the GoBowling.com 400 will earn maximum points, but he cannot afford to take too many risks and finish behind Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski -- all of whom are within easy striking distance. Gordon has been solid on flat tracks all year with a worst result of 12th and an average of 8.7. The bad news is that his most modest result came at Pocono, but Gordon is coming off back-to-back top-10s for only the second time in 2013, and that momentum should be enough to allow him to claim another single-digit result.

Kyle Busch is another driver with momentum on his side. He enters the weekend with a seven-race streak of top-12 finishes on oval tracks, and the only time he failed to score a top-10 came on the restrictor-plate superspeedway of Daytona International Speedway. His box score of statistics at Pocono does not do him justice and is in stark contrast to how he has run in recent weeks, but that could play into the hands of fantasy owners against competitiors who rely solely on data. One key factor in his favor is that he is capable of leading laps on this track and, along with Johnson, could rack up a lot of points in that category.

Dark Horses

Matt Kenseth has never been known as a particularly strong flat track racer, but there is nothing typical about his season to date. He entered last week’s race at Indy with four top-10s in five races on minimally-banked courses and a 25th at Pocono in June, but he failed to score a single top-five on this track type. Considering his salary cap, that might have placed him in the underdog category this week if not for the performance he recorded at the Brickyard. Even though he had been shut out of the top-five, he recorded enough fastest laps and quality passes to earn top-five points at New Hampshire two weeks ago and his fifth-place finish at Indy was matched by a fifth-place position in the NASCAR Fantasy Live points. 

Jamie McMurray is a purer dark horse than Kenseth because he is much cheaper in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. And he is well worth his $21.00 price tag. The No. 1 team has only one top-10 on flat tracks this year, and that came on the short track of Martinsville Speedway, but they have flown just under the radar in their last three attempts. McMurray finished 13th at Pocono this June, was 12th at New Hampshire and 15th at Indy. In those races, he scored either the 11th- or 13th-most points, but his consistency makes him a safe pick this week, which allows players to roll the dice on a flashier driver.

Underdogs

It borders on fantasy sacrilege to call Denny Hamlin an underdog on a flat track. He has been so strong on minimally-banked courses throughout his career that most players place him on their roster without a second thought. There is a word that pops up in the Bible, "selah," which means pause and consider, and fantasy owners want to take a moment this week and reflect on the tribulation Hamlin has had since returning to the No. 11 seat full time. This team has experienced a mix of misfortune and bad calls in recent weeks, so that they failed to score a top-15 at either New Hampshire or Indy. Hamlin finished eighth at Pocono in June, but considering his record there, he should have challenged for the victory.

Kevin Harvick has been a consistent value at Pocono just as he has been nearly everywhere else. In the last three years, he has three top-fives, four top-10s, and a sweep of the top-15 in seven races, but his success has not always translated to points in NASCAR Fantasy Live’s scoring system. His average quality passes are just that: average. He also rarely scores any fastest laps. Since NASCAR Statistical Services began compiling that data, he has consistently failed to log very many quick circuits with only 33 in the past 17 races compared to Hamlin’s 434.

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