Fantasy Preview: Charlotte

May 22, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson

Stick with well-known veterans for Coca-Cola 600

Related: Fantasy Showdown video

The new Generation-6 cars were fast out of the gate, and teams are methodically learning how to make them even faster. The similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway are critically important to making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and dominating the final 10 races of the year, and that means this week’s Coca-Cola 600 is one of the most important contests in the middle stage of the season.

Fantasy power rankings at similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks over the past three years

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Jimmie Johnson

7.22

2.

Matt Kenseth

7.63

3.

Carl Edwards

9.67

4.

Greg Biffle

9.76

5.

Kyle Busch

10.96

6.

Kevin Harvick

11.22

7.

Denny Hamlin

12.25

8.

Tony Stewart

12.56

9.

Jeff Gordon

12.57

10.

Kasey Kahne

12.61

11.

Martin Truex Jr.

12.98

12.

Clint Bowyer

14.73

13.

Brad Keselowski

15.01

14.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

15.69

15.

Kurt Busch

16.21

16.

Paul Menard

17.11

17.

Mark Martin

17.14

18.

Jamie McMurray

18.00

19.

Ryan Newman

18.33

20.

Aric Almirola

19.41

21.

Marcos Ambrose

19.48

22.

Joey Logano

20.08

23.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20.11

24.

Juan Pablo Montoya

20.74

25.

David Ragan

22.35

26.

Jeff Burton

22.65

27.

Trevor Bayne

24.51

28.

David Reutimann

24.72

29.

Regan Smith

26.65

30.

Danica Patrick

31.30

The favorites

During portions of his career, Jimmie Johnson has been the undisputed master of Charlotte and remains a top pick this week. While he seems like a safe choice, a look at his recent record reveals that he has struggled there since his sponsor gave up its naming rights. Johnson won the final race when this track was known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway. In the six races that followed, he finished outside the top 25 three times. Last year, he won the 2012 Sprint All-Star Race but could muster only an 11th in the big show, so his victory Saturday night does not provide the critical component to his handicap. However, Johnson has been amazing on similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks in the past two years overall. His 11th in the Coca-Cola 600 is one of only two times in his last 13 attempts on this track type that he failed to crack the top 10, and the majority of his efforts have been top-fives.

Matt Kenseth made an emphatic statement last week after winning his appeal of NASCAR’s penalties following a rule’s infraction at Kansas. He not only got to keep the points from his victory and the bonus that will go along with it once the Chase begins, he added another trophy to his mantle at Darlington Raceway, which gives him three in the first 11 races. Two of his victories came on similarly-configured 1.5-mile tracks and no driver has more momentum on his side.

For much of his career, Kyle Busch has been erratic on the similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks, but that changed in 2012. Last year, he finished 11th or better in eight of 10 races on this track type. Just as important, he picked up where he left off in 2013 with a fourth at Vegas and a win at Texas. Even when he was struggling on other tracks, Busch has always been at his best in front of the hometown crowd. Since fall 2007, he has been practically perfect with eight top-fives and 10 top-10s in 11 starts, which includes a third in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 and a fifth in the Bank of America 500.

Dark horses

Rivalries are not only good for ticket sales, they are often good for the drivers as well. Joey Logano has the best opportunity of his life. The pressure to perform at Penske Racing South this year is less intense than it was at Joe Gibbs Racing last year because he is at the beginning of a contract instead of the end, but he still need to elevate his results. He has run strong nearly every week, but mistakes or bad luck have played a critical role and kept him from stinging top-10s together -- that also has made his salary cap in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game affordable. Charlotte is his best track in terms of average finishes and he has finished outside the top 15 only one time in eight starts.

Some fantasy owners were skeptical that Denny Hamlin would immediately rebound after missing five weeks to an injury, but he finished second in last week’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 on one of the toughest tracks around. Charlotte will not be as physically demanding , even with the extra 100 miles. Furthermore, Hamlin is coming off a stellar season on this track in 2012. He finished second in both races there and has a five-race top-10 streak at Charlotte.

Underdogs

Brad Keselowski is a victim of his own success. Even if he manages to finish in the top 10, he is unlikely to be a good value with a salary cap of $27.25 that makes him the fourth-most expensive driver in the game. A top-10 might even be a stretch without crew chief Paul Wolfe on top of the pit box and a loss of momentum in recent weeks. Keselowski started the season strong with four consecutive top-fives, but he has not earned another since Bristol. In fact, he has struggled to crack the top 15 in his last three races.

Trevor Bayne is a popular pick on weekends when the Wood Brothers Racing enters him in a race, but the NASCAR Fantasy Live rules often make him a questionable value. He typically qualifies well, but falls back once the green flag waves and he has a negative place differential in nearly two-thirds of his starts. He has fallen far enough through the grid that he earns fewer than 20 points in half of his attempts, and it is difficult to commit more than $13 for a driver with that kind of record.

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