NASCAR Fantasy Blog


NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Chicago

September 11, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Chicago
What drivers should be at the top of the fantasy wishlist for this weekend's race at Chicago

It pays to get off to a strong start in the playoffs. This is true both for racers and fantasy players and traditionally, the contenders perform best in the opening weeks of the Chase.

Last year, Brad Keselowski won the Geico 400 and kicked off his championship bid in style. He was joined at the front of the pack by Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne who finished second and third, respectively. Five other Chase contenders grabbed one of the seven remaining top-10 positions.

In the first 10 years of NASCAR’s playoff-style championship, Chase contenders have averaged a finish of 13.5 in the final 10 races of the season, and the first three weeks are all above average regardless of which venues have been run as the series makes slight alterations to the schedule. For more Chase stats and how they will relate to fantasy domination, check out the Fantasy Chase Preview, but it is fair to say that the top-12 drivers in points will dominate most rosters in the coming weeks.

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Matt Kenseth 7.42

2.

Jimmie Johnson
7.73

3.

Carl Edwards
9.39

4.

Kevin Harvick
10.27

5.

Greg Biffle
10.40

6.

Kyle Busch
10.63

7.

Jeff Gordon
12.65

8.

Martin Truex Jr.
12.74

9.

Denny Hamlin
12.92

10.

Kasey Kahne
12.94

11.

Brad Keselowski
14.87

12.

Clint Bowyer
15.00

13.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 15.38

14.

Kurt Busch
15.65

15.

Ryan Newman
17.38

16.

Paul Menard
18.00

17.

Mark Martin
18.17

18.

Marcos Ambrose
18.30

19.

Jamie McMurray
18.50

20.

Joey Logano
19.34

21.

AJ Allmendinger
19.79

22.

Juan Pablo Montoya
20.61

23.

Aric Almirola
20.66

24.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
20.67

25.

Brian Vickers
22.18

26.

David Ragan 22.92

27.

Jeff Burton
23.63

28.

David Reutimann
27.58

29.

Danica Patrick
31.99

30.

David Gilliland
33.20

31.

Casey Mears
33.40

32.

Landon Cassill
33.65

33.

Travis Kvapil
34.65

34.

Reed Sorenson
36.51

35.

Dave Blaney
36.70

36.

Timmy Hill
37.10

37.

JJ Yeley
37.37

38.

Mike Bliss
37.43

39.

Michael McDowell
38.93

40.

Josh Wise
39.10

41.

Tony Raines
39.33

42.

Joe Nemechek
40.51
     

The Favorites

Four of the final 10 races will be run on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and this is the week that drivers have to begin showing their dominance on this type of course. Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway are each unique to one another, but the demands on engines and a similar approach to how a team sets up their car means these tracks can be used to predict the others. So far in 2013, six races have been run on this track type and a relatively clear pattern has developed.

Martin Truex Jr. entered the most recent race on this track type with a freshly broken wrist and no one knew how it would affect him in the Atlanta AdvoCare 500. On the strength of his sweep of the top 10 on this track type, he remained one of the favorites to score maximum points and he slipped into third during the final green flag run. Prior to that, he spent much of the race feeling out his car and getting into position, so he scored only the eighth-most points in the game, but with a modest salary cap that only recently topped the $25 mark, he is still a good value.

It is much too soon to crown Joey Logano as the king of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but his coronation could take place by the time the series reaches Texas. He has run strong in every race on this track type and recently he has had the results to back up his claim for supremacy. Logano earned top-fives at Texas, Charlotte, and Kentucky Speedway, but there was a little question mark about odds at Atlanta Motor Speedway since he struggled there in the past. He had the dominant car for most of the evening that week and would have challenged for the lead if he had not been shuffled backwards on a late-race restart. He finished second, but even then earned the most points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.

Kyle Busch won the Atlanta AdvoCare 500 and staked his claim as one of the favorites on the remaining similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Dating back to this race last year, he has been an all or nothing driver on this course type with top-fives in seven of 10 races including a fourth in the 2012 Geico 400. His other three results were in the 30s, but mostly occasioned by crash damage. If he stays out of trouble, another top-five is in the offing. His raw numbers during the past eight years at this track are not overly exciting according to NASCAR Statistical Services since he hovers around seventh or eighth in most of the categories that produce points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, but he has improved in the past three years to score the fifth-most points on average.

 

Dark Horses

Marcos Ambrose was a pleasant surprise at Atlanta. He ran among the top five for nearly 50 laps and was with the leaders on the final restart. He got pushed back to 13th in the official rundown, but that was his third consecutive top-15 on this track type. His best effort on the 1.5-milers came at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 and he is capable of repeating that feat especially when one considers that the Richard Petty Motorsports teams tested at Chicagoland in late August. Ambrose’s teammate Aric Almirola was strong on this track type at the beginning of the season with top-10s at Texas and Kansas, so he should also be watched closely in practice and qualification.

Brian Vickers took a wild spin through the infield in the Atlanta AdvoCare 500 and that could have easily ended his day. The team made repairs, Vickers kept his emotions under control, and slipped into the top 10 in the final laps of that race to solidify his choice as a dark horse contender on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. This week, he should post comparable numbers because Chicagoland has been kind to him. In the past eight races, his average finish is 8.6 and he records an average of 25.6 quality passes according to NASCAR Statistical Services. That places him 11th on that chart and in shouting distance of the leader Jeff Gordon’s 33.9 average.

 

Underdogs

The tide has turned on Brad Keselowski in regard to similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and fantasy owners will want to wait for it to shift again before risking nearly $25.00 on this driver. His victory at Chicagoland last year was impressive and a big part of the reason why he won the championship, but his inability to advance into the Chase this year was largely because of his record on this track type in recent events. He got off to a strong start with top-10s at Vegas, Texas, and Kansas, but his latest three efforts at Charlotte, Kentucky, and Atlanta have all been star-crossed. He suffered crash damage in the Coke 600 and Quaker State 400; he blew an engine in the AdvoCare 500, and those misfortunes have to factor into his odds for this week. One other matter to consider is that Keselowski has finished worse than he started in more than 75 percent of his most recent 17 attempts and that has cost fantasy owners points in the place differential column.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. stopped his downward slide with strong runs at Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta in recent weeks, but there still seems to be a lot of work left to do before this team contends for top-fives on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. On the 1.5-mile versions, he suffered through a terrible spring and summer with four consecutive results outside the top 10 at Texas, Kansas, Charlotte, and Kentucky, which counterbalances moderately strong runs at Vegas and Atlanta. Since the best-case scenario is a finish on the high side of the single digits, there are other drivers more worthy of the gamble and less costly for fantasy players.