Fantasy owners who stuck with the strategy of selecting the fastest drivers got rewarded last Sunday (Oct. 2) at Dover. The wheelmen who were supposed to finish at the front, both in top-level and mid-level categories followed through: Jimmie Johnson was second, Carl Edwards was third, AJ Allmendinger was seventh and Marcos Ambrose was ninth. The Johnson/Edwards combo led over half the race, enjoying success while second-tier RPM backed up their Monster Mile performances from this spring.
Sure, picking the fastest cars each week sounds simple enough, but it is easy to overthink decisions when the majority of races in 2011 have been won by a pit strategy call in the final 50 laps. This week, those worries pop up once more, as the series is again headed to a track where fuel strategy determined the victor this spring.
So after a Kansas race like what we saw in June, just remember who the fast cars were and don’t take too much time studying the finishing order. It’s the time out front (leading laps) that may be more important than the final result considering the circumstances.
With seven races left in the Chase, Kansas marks a critical spot in the battle for the season championship. It is the first of four 1.5-mile tracks left on the schedule, the type of “cookie-cutter” intermediate oval that makes up the majority of NASCAR’s playoff run. Even though each 1.5-mile track has its own characteristics, the same drivers (see Edwards below) tend to find their way to the front. Make sure you stock up on drivers like Edwards over the next seven weeks; you’ll need them for your roster’s stretch run.
Brad Keselowski led the final nine laps in the spring race to score the victory, but his Penske Racing teammate dominated the event. Kurt Busch led 152 laps and lost out on fuel strategy, dropping to ninth at the finish. Chances are, though, that won’t happen twice, and the No. 22 team with crew chief Steve Addington will likely bring that same car which dominated in the spring back this week. Busch very well may become the second driver to win back-to-back races in this Chase.
No driver has been more consistent at 1.5-mile tracks this season than Edwards. He has finished in the top-five in six of seven races in 2011 at the 1.5-mile speedways and has an average finish of 5.6. In the spring race at Kansas, Cousin Carl was consistent, leading 29 laps and winding up fifth.
Much of the talk during the Chase has been about Busch, Tony Stewart and Johnson, but Edwards is tied for the points lead with Kevin Harvick because he is hitting his stride at the right time. The No. 99 has top-five finishes in four of the last six races and top 10s in all six. He should easily be the safest fantasy pick on Sunday in any category, regardless of format.
Keselowski won the spring race on fuel mileage, but beat the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin to the finish line because of how strong his Dodge was all day. He ran on the outer edges of the top 10 for most of the race, capitalizing on others’ fuel-mileage misfortune. Using that victory as a turning point to their season, this team has only gotten stronger since. Sure, Keselowski suffered a hiccup at Dover, power steering problems leaving him 20th, but expect him to rebound nicely in the Midwest.
Earnhardt’s run wasn’t overly impressive in June, but thanks to solid strategy from Steve Letarte and fuel consumption the No. 88 team grabbed a second-place finish. Before that pit call played out during the race’s final stint, Earnhardt appeared to have a 10th-to-15th-place car at best. However, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver held a fantasy edge, as his biggest mid-level competition in most leagues just wasn’t running any better.
That means behind Keselowski, Earnhardt looks like a solid pick on Sunday for two reasons: The No. 88 team has to be confident after finishing second in June and a top-15 finish out of a “B” type of driver could be a rare find this weekend.
I have been stuck on my last David Ragan pick in my fantasy league since midseason. I’ve been waiting for that right week to get the most value out of the selection. Well, it appears that week has finally arrived. Don’t expect too much from Ragan, but he should contend for a top-15 finish at an oval that caters to his style. He finished 13th in the spring and has been 16th or better in four of his five career races out in Kansas.
As mentioned above, the Richard Petty Motorsports cars performed up to expectations at Dover. Allmendinger and Ambrose, both with top-10 results showed that speed from the spring can carry over to the fall. But on Sunday, I expect them to show the opposite; if you are slow in the spring, chances are you will be slow in the fall. These two teams had a miserable weekend in June, with Ambrose 26th and Allmendinger 27th out in Kansas. Stay away.
In 11 races at this intermediate track, Bobby Labonte has finished on the lead lap only twice. In fact, the last time he completed all 267 circuits was in 2004, while he still drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. The equipment’s nowhere near as good this year, which means even as a low-level fantasy pick, Labonte is a risk this weekend. He was 28th in June and averages a 29th-place finish at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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