NASCAR Fantasy preview: The Chase
September 07, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com
Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live
The Chase is about to begin, but rather than having had to endure the stress of attempting to climb into the top 12, players in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game knew they would be part of the playoffs. Now, they have an opportunity to win their league, as NASCAR Fantasy Live points reset.
Winning one's league each week was not only for bragging rights in 2013, but it also earned three points each time. Therefore, players who outscored their competition in 10 regular-season races now have 30 points to carry with them into the Chase. Players who failed to win a single race this season are starting at zero and are at a disadvantage.
But beginning with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland, points begin accumulating once more like they did earlier in the season. Players' leagues stay intact so they are still racing against the same competition, and just as it took some time for Matt Kenseth to learn how to race with Joey Logano, fantasy owners now know the strengths and weaknesses of their colleagues.
NASCAR enters the 10th season of the playoff-style format, and the final 10 races of the season are beginning to show a clear pattern. Chase contenders earned their way into the top 12 by dominating the top-fives and top-10s. That will continue until the end of the season. In the first 10 years of the Chase, 83 percent of the races were won by playoff contenders. In the last seven years since NASCAR expanded the Chase to 12 drivers, 92 percent of the winners came from the elite group.
When drivers missed the top spot, it was not by much; 70 percent of the top-fives in Chase races were earned by Chase contenders. That leaves 30 percent of the slots available for drivers outside the top 12 -- and that is where bargains will be obtained.
It pays to get off to a strong start in the Chase, and the two tracks that have been the kindest to contenders are those that historically kicked off the final 10 races. Chicagoland Speedway has hosted a Chase race for only two years, but early indications are that Chase drivers will perform best on this course with an average finish of 11.3 compared to the overall Chase driver average of 13.5. In 2011, contenders swept the top five and grabbed eight of the top-10 spots there; last year, they scored three top-fives and earned seven top-10s.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the second-best track for Chase drivers with an average of 11.7. As players look through the record books, there have been equally remarkable sweeps of the top spots there. Most recently, Chase drivers grabbed all of the top-five spots last year and took seven of the top-10s.
As players approach the remaining tracks, most of them have been kind to Chase contenders and fall within a narrow range from Dover International Speedway where they scored an average finish of 12.6 to Phoenix International Raceway with an average of 12.9.
That leaves three tracks that fall outside the 13th-place average mark. The worst track for Chase contenders has always been Talladega Superspeedway. In 10 years, drivers earned an average finish of only 17.7, and a typical race witnesses four drivers finishing 25th or worse. Players should plan to spend their salary cap on mid-level and bargain-basement drivers that weekend.
Drivers to Watch
Jimmie Johnson has a reputation for coming on strong in the final 10 races, especially since NASCAR employed the current playoff-style format. He is also the only driver who has qualified for all nine of the previous Chases, and the worst he has ever finished in the standings was sixth in 2011. His five consecutive championships from 2006 through 2010 are a testimony to his dominance, but even in years when he missed the top spot, he has been one of the best at this stage of the season. He finished second in the standings behind Kurt Busch in 2004 and was third last year.
Johnson easily has the best average finish of all Chase contenders. The record book will take a long time to catch up to his dominance because in the first nine years, he won 22 races in the Chase, which equates to 2.4 victories per year. To put that into perspective, the next closest driver is Carl Edwards with 1.3 victories per Chase in six appearances. Johnson's average finish of 9.2 is also substantially greater than Edwards' 11.0, which is tied for second-best among this year's contenders.
Edwards' average finish of 11.0 makes him a driver to watch this week, but Kevin Harvick is equally appealing. He also has an average finish of 11th as a Chase contender in six appearances. He has only three victories to Johnson's 22 and Edwards' eight, so he should be saved for occasions when he has practiced and qualified particularly well.
Drivers With Long Odds
Racing is a zero sum game and for every driver who excels, there are some who struggle. Kyle Busch has made five previous Chase appearances and he has managed to record an average finish of only 18.6. He finished fifth in the 2007 standings, but his other efforts ended in an average result of 10th. Ironically, he runs much faster in the final 10 races of the season when he is not in Chase contention, and last year he scored eight results of seventh or better in these events.
Kasey Kahne has an average finish of 15.6 in three previous Chase appearances, and he has been somewhat unpredictable throughout the 2013 season. It only takes one or two bad runs to drop a driver from championship contention, and erratic results also make it difficult for fantasy players to place-and-hold a driver in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.