NASCAR Fantasy Friday Preview: Kentucky

June 26, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

NASCAR Fantasy Friday Preview: Kentucky
Previous races on 1.5-mile tracks provide clues for Kentucky

Related: NASCAR Fantasy Live | Streak to the Finish

Kentucky Speedway has hosted only two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, but in many ways drivers return to familiar ground this week.

Ten of the season’s 36 races are held on the similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks of Kentucky, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway -- and while these tracks vary slightly in their degree of banking, length of their straightaways, and the age of the asphalt, drivers who run well on one tend to run well on the others.

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

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Jimmie Johnson

7.14

2.

Matt Kenseth

7.55

3.

Carl Edwards

9.12

4.

Greg Biffle

9.99

5.

Kevin Harvick

10.98

6.

Kyle Busch

11.29

7.

Denny Hamlin

11.94

8.

Kasey Kahne

12.06

9.

Tony Stewart

12.52

10.

Jeff Gordon

12.55

11.

Martin Truex Jr.

12.65

12.

Clint Bowyer

14.73

13.

Brad Keselowski

15.18

14.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

15.98

15.

Kurt Busch

16.30

16.

Paul Menard

17.21

17.

Ryan Newman

18.23

18.

Jamie McMurray

18.34

19.

Marcos Ambrose

19.04

20.

AJ Allmendinger

20.10

21.

Joey Logano

20.18

22.

Aric Almirola

20.27

23.

Juan Pablo Montoya

20.39

24.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20.40

25.

David Ragan

22.83

26.

Brian Vickers

23.09

27.

Jeff Burton

23.12

28.

David Reutimann

25.84

29.

Austin Dillon

26.24

30.

Danica Patrick

31.26

So far in 2013, four races have been held on this track type and a dozen racers have scored top-10s in at least two events. That shows parity among the teams, but it also provides fantasy players with a wide variety of salary cap combinations that will allow this week’s roster to be radically different from the competition’s selection.

This week, players should anchor their roster with two of several drivers who have three or more top-10s on the similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks and fill the remaining slots with teams that have shown promise, but not quite the same dominant form. The drivers with three or more top-10s at Vegas, Texas, Kansas, and Charlotte in 2013 are Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski.

The favorites

When a driver is forced to wait more than 200 starts between his first Cup victory and his second, it can be easy to get frustrated. That Truex did not succumb to that emotion is a great indication of how mentally balanced he is. Truex has been a great value in the intervening 218 races with 24 top-fives (which equals 11 percent of his starts) and 71 top-10s (33 percent). In that span of races, he finished second on six occasions, including once this spring at Texas. Truex is the only driver to sweep the top 10 in four races on this track type this season and with the pressure of winning momentarily off his shoulders, he is almost certain to run strong again this week. 

Kahne has not swept the top 10 on this track type, but he has come close and in many ways has been much stronger than Truex. He came up one position shy of the victory three times with runner-up finishes at Vegas, Kansas, and Charlotte and the only time he failed to finish that well, he narrowly missed the top 10 at Texas. Better still, he earned maximum points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game at Vegas and Charlotte. After the Coca-Cola 600, he struggled for a couple of weeks, but a sixth-place finish on the road course of Sonoma should return this team to the right path.

Johnson as one of this week’s favorites is not going to surprise anyone. He has earned top-five points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game in nearly half of his starts in 2013 and when he misses that mark it is not by much. The No. 48 team has been among the top 10 in points’ earned in 71 percent of his starts this year and if there were ever a place-and-hold driver, he is one. Last week’s effort on the road course of Sonoma might seem to have been a relatively poor showing with a finish just inside the top 10, but Johnson still earned 63 points, which was bettered by only three drivers.

Dark horses

Matt Kenseth has had a difficult few weeks with finishes outside the top 15 in three of his last four attempts, but Kentucky should give this team a chance to rebound. Statistically, Kenseth has been uneven in 2013 with three victories offset by four results of 25th or worse. He has shown more consistency on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but even there his victories at Vegas and Kansas are countered by a 12th at Texas and a 15th at Charlotte. While finishing in the top five virtually guarantees a great day in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, it is not the only way to earn points. Even with a 15th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, Kenseth led enough laps and had enough quality passes to earn the second-most points.

Kevin Harvick is one of the most difficult drivers to predict in the Sprint Cup series. He consistently runs in the top 20 from the drop of green flag until the checkers, and as the No. 29 surges and wans he accumulates a lot of quality passing points. He won the most recent race on this course type in Charlotte and scored a fifth last fall in Atlanta, but those are his only two top-fives in his last 14 attempts on the similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks. The good news is that when he misses the top spot, it is typically not by much and he has not finished worse than 16th on a course like Kentucky since April 2011.

Underdogs

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had such a great start to his season that some experts were willing to give him the Sprint Cup trophy before week six was even in the books. In the first five races, he swept the top 10 and nearly won both the Daytona 500 and the Auto Club 400, but the wheels soon fell off his bandwagon. A 24th at Martinsville Speedway triggered a downward spiral that has produced only one more top-five and four more top-10s in the past 11 races. The similarly-configured 1.5-mile tracks have not been any kinder to Junior, and his seventh-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 400 at Vegas were followed by three results outside the top 15 at Texas, Kansas, and Charlotte.

Kyle Busch has the ability to make his pick as an underdog seem foolish, but fantasy players may want to wait a couple of weeks to see if he can return to a consistent form on the similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks. Last year, he scored six consecutive top-10s on this track type before crashing twice in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas. That was followed by three incredibly strong finishes of third last fall at Texas, a fourth this spring in Vegas and a victory at Texas this spring. It seemed like a safe proposition to put him on the fantasy roster in Kansas this spring, but he crashed again. The No. 18 blew an engine at Charlotte, and he enters this weekend with a huge question mark over his head.