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Last week was a difficult one for fantasy owners as several of the most popular and most expensive drivers were slowed or sidelined by incidents. Kyle Busch blew an engine, while Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski crashed. Fantasy owners watched with increasing frustration as the Coca-Cola 600 was slowed by two red flags and a rash of yellows in the final laps.
Dover International Speedway is not going to be any easier on man or machine. The one-mile, concrete oval earned its nickname as the Monster Mile by tearing up a lot of equipment. Narrow straightaways bordered by walls on both side do not leave any escape routes and lap times of 22 seconds mean that a driver is not safe regardless of where an incident occurs. Johnson, Kenseth, and Busch all have strong records on this track and should rebound, but to win this week’s contest, players are going to need a little luck on their side as well.
Johnson rarely has back-to-back results outside the top 20. Last fall, he posted consecutive 30-something finishes at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he also hit a couple of rough patches in 2011, but his career is lightly peppered with disappointment and heavily salted with success. The No. 48 will rebound this week and a victory is not out of the question. Johnson has won half of the races run at Dover in the past four years and failed to finish in the top five only twice; one of these modest results was a ninth in 2011 on a hard-compound tire that had teams struggling to determine the winning strategy. In terms of average finishes, Dover is one of Johnson’s five best tracks, so now is not the time to bench him.
Kenseth has only one victory in the past five years at Dover, but he has been nearly as strong as Johnson otherwise. In the last 10 races, he has scored eight top-five finishes, which makes his fans believe he is a monster slayer. Factor in his newfound strength with Joe Gibbs Racing and a recent win on the rough-surfaced Darlington Raceway and players have a recipe for success. An accident in last week’s Coke 600 snapped a four-race top-10 streak and Kenseth wants to get back into the single digits.
Last year, Carl Edwards was slowed by crash damage and spent more than 75 laps behind the wall making repairs. In a race of high attrition, he still managed to finish 26th. Better still, that was only the second time since his rookie season he failed to crack the top 15. In fact, nearly all of his efforts at Dover have ended in top-10s with 12 such finishes in 17 races. Equally important, he has finished better than he started 14 times and can be counted on to earn place differential points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.
It is taking a while for Kurt Busch’s salary cap to catch up to his new-found potential in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet and that is good news for fantasy players. The team has fielded top-five capable cars in the past few weeks and might have a four- or five-race streak of top-10s if not for some slightly missed setups or slower-than-average pit stops. Instead, they have earned four top-15s in the past five races; the only time they failed to finish that well was on the restrictor-plate superspeedway of Talladega. Busch won the fall AAA 400 at Dover and he is capable of repeating this week.
It is too soon to call Tony Stewart a favorite, but last week’s top-10 finish in the Coke 600 could revitalize this team. Smoke typically heats up in the summer months and peaks in the fall -- and a single strong run is often a catalyst for change. The No. 14 can only be viewed as a dark horse and not a favorite this week because Stewart was less than dominant for most of last week’s race. He spent only a third of the event in the top 15 and only about 17 percent of his time in the top 10, so even with his strong finish he did not earn a lot of fantasy points.
Denny Hamlin has already proven his fortitude with back-to-back top-five finishes at Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway. He survived the toughest track on the circuit and NASCAR’s longest race, so the heavy loads in the corners of Dover are not the reason why he is not one of this week’s favorites. This is not one of his better tracks overall and momentum can make up for only so much. Hamlin has only two top-five finishes in 14 starts and an average result of nearly 20th, which makes this his fourth-worst venue.
Stewart-Haas Racing placed two of their drivers in the top 10 last week, and for Ryan Newman it was his second consecutive strong run. He has not yet earned three straight top-10s in 2013, however, and if the recent past is an indication, that will not happen this week either. In the last two seasons, the best Newman has been able to realize at Dover was a 15th in the 2012 FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks, but all of his other results ended in the 20s. With confidence on his side, he may earn another top-15 and that could make him a decent value if he qualifies poorly and earns some pass differential points, but he is far from a sure thing.
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