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The countdown continues. Only three races remain and for some fantasy players it may be time to change their strategy.
Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth continued to earn the most points in recent weeks, but looking a little further down the chart and there are some other racers with strong records who are not quite as expensive. Discounting the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway because of the number of quality passes that skewed that week’s points, Jeff Gordon earned the third-most points on average in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. His salary cap has risen in recent weeks to reflect his surge, but it is still nearly three dollars less than the points leaders, which could free up a lot of room to upgrade a player’s mid-prized or bargain basement player.
When Brad Keselowski began to stumble in the middle stages of the season, his salary cap plummeted in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game and currently he is only the 14th-most expensive driver in the game at $24.50, but he has earned the sixth-most points in that same timeframe.
Ryan Newman is another great value as is Denny Hamlin with a mini-surge at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway in recent weeks. They may or may not have the raw numbers to handicap them as favorites or even dark horses during the next three weeks, but for players who need to differentiate their roster from the competition, these racers could become vital members of their fantasy team.
Hamlin snapped a 17-race streak without a top-10 two weeks ago at Charlotte. That was not necessarily the track everyone assumed would showcase his best race. His average finish of 13.2 in 17 previous event there ranks it 10th on his personal list. He should have run better at New Hampshire Motor Speedway or Richmond International Raceway earlier in the season. Texas Motor Speedway, on the other hand, has been kind to him in the past and his average finish of 10.9 in 15 starts ranks it sixth. Hamlin is still at his best on short, flat tracks, but he has an affinity for this 1.5-miler and he showcased that by earning the most quality passes on average in the last eight years with nearly 43 per race.
Greg Biffle will be of greatest value to players in the fastest laps run column. In the past 17 races at Texas, he has grabbed more than nine percent of the available laps, which on a given week should be good for an extra 15 points to a player's total. By itself, that would not be enough to recommend Biffle, but he is almost certain to add a great finish to the mix as well. The driver of the No. 16 Ford enters the weekend with a 10-race, top-10 streak on this track and seven of those have been top-fives. Better still, the won the 2012 Samsung Mobile 500 when that race finished with 234 consecutive green flag laps.
Roush Fenway Racing has been exceptional at Texas and with 21 races in the books for that organization before his move to Joe Gibbs Racing for this season, Kenseth learned the fastest way around this 1.5-mile oval. From fall 2005 through the end of last year, Kenseth put 11 top-fives and 13 top-10s in his personal record book in the 15 races he ran. He won the 2011 Samsung Mobile 500 and finished second or third on six occasions, but this was one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks on which he struggled slightly during his first attempt in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Even so, he finished 12th and any result in that range could make him a good value if he records a significant number of fastest laps run or quality passes. He is ranked fifth and sixth respectively on those two charts, according to NASCAR Statistical Services.
Marcos Ambrose has recorded some strong runs on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year. He backs that up with the second-most average quality passes at Texas. With just shy of 42 quality passes per race, he will add 21 points to the total if he can back that up, which could be the difference between winning and losing one's league, especially if he frees up enough salary to upgrade another mid-cap pick. Ambrose's last three Texas attempts have not ended the way he wanted with results of 19th or worse, but he does have four top-15s there. Equally important, he scored top-10s on the similarly-configured tracks of Charlotte and Kansas Speedway earlier in the year.
Ambrose's Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Aric Almirola, makes another compelling dark horse this week. He has three top-10s on this track type and one of those came in the NRA 500 this spring. His other two top-10s came at Kansas, so he has a brief history of doubling-down on courses this season. When he has missed the single digits, it has not been by much and Almirola has six results of 16th or better in nine races on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year.
For all of last year and the beginning of this season, Martin Truex Jr. was the driver to beat on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. With the exception of a 17th at Vegas in March 2012, he swept the top-15 on this track type in 15 consecutive races and scored an average finish of 6.6. He rapidly became a fixture on fantasy rosters with that streak, but once he missed the Chase, the wind seemed to leave the No. 56 team’s sails. In its latest three attempts at Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas, and Charlotte, the team's best result has been an 18th, leaving fantasy owners unsatisfied in the points column.
Kasey Kahne could easily defy his status as an underdog and score a top-five, but he has been inconsistent in 2013 on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. When he finds the right rhythm, he has scored four runner-up finishes, including one in the most recent event at Charlotte. When he misses, he has failed to crack the top 10. He has not been terrible in those other events, with four top-15s and one poor finish that was attributable to crash damage, but it is difficult to imagine him taking the place of Johnson, Kenseth, or any of the other drivers in the $25 and higher range in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.