If controversy is galvanizing, do not look for rust on any of the competitors this Sunday.
This has been an unprecedented week of penalties, controversies and reversals of fortune. And fantasy owners who have been around the sport for any length of time know that intangibles like those spur some drivers on to greatness.
At the beginning of the week, NASCAR issued penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing that dropped Martin Truex Jr. out of the playoffs. Before qualification was run, a 13th driver -- Jeff Gordon -- was added to the Chase field because of events that created an unfair disadvantage against the past champion. The garage was abuzz, and every driver seems to have something to prove, which is going to contribute to a dramatic Geico 400.
$25 or greater
Truex took the brunt of the penalties arising from last week’s Federated Auto Parts 400, when the points deduction resulting from Clint Bowyer's spin dropped him out of Chase consideration. He was equally unhappy when NASCAR installed Gordon in the Chase, and he channeled that frustration into speed. He posted the fastest single lap in Saturday’s first practice, only to look up at the leaderboard and see that Gordon was following close behind in second. Truex’s perfect record of top-10s on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks made him one of the favorites at the start of the week and he confirmed his status on Saturday.
Kasey Kahne has been uneven on 1.5-milers this year, but he has been one of the best in the field on occasion. His second-place finishes in three races on this track type earned major points for players at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he has occasionally had difficulty in finding that extra little burst of speed to put him in Victory Lane on this track type. An accordion-style accident at Atlanta Motor Speedway dropped him down in the points and a modest run at Richmond International Raceway forced him to take a wild card spot in the Chase, which denied him six bonus points for his two regular season wins. He posted the fastest 10-lap average in Happy Hour, and is determined to get credit for winning on Sunday.
$15 to $24.99
Gordon will be known as the 13th-man for the remainder of the season, and he is aware that NASCAR’s intervention got him into the Chase. He wants to make the most of his opportunity and prove they were right to do so by posting consistently strong runs. This team has most of their bad luck in the rearview mirror for the moment and they have been one of the strongest in the field lately with consecutive top-10s in the last three races, but they have not scored a top-five since the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway. Gordon’s second-fastest lap in the first session recommends him, but this team also had solid 10-lap numbers and is set up for long runs.
Penske Racing was placed on probation for the remainder of the season for inappropriate communication with Front Row Motorsports in the closing laps of the Federated Auto Parts 400 that resulted in a late-race pass for position. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski responded by sweeping the front row in qualification. Logano maintained that speed throughout Saturday’s practices and posted the eighth-fastest time in the first session and the third-fastest time in final practice.
Less than $15
As a new addition to the Cup field, Justin Allgaier can be had for the bargain-basement price of $5. Even before practice began, it was apparent that he would score points in the pass differential column because he qualified only 36th. It takes a little while to get comfortable in the heavier Cup cars after driving in the Nationwide Series, and Allgaier improved as the weekend progressed. He posted the 26th-fastest time in both of Saturday’s sessions and can reasonably expect to score a top-30 on Sunday. He is unlikely to score any points for quality passes or fastest laps run, but what he earns for his finishing position and place differential separate him from others at his cap level.