With Kansas being run as a night race for the first time Saturday evening, it will be interesting to see which teams make the best adjustments and how the track will react to the transitional weather and light changes. Traditionally the bigger (read richer) teams such as Hendrick, Roush Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing are a bit ahead of the curve when such adjustments take place.
That doesn’t mean you should forget about the other teams, either when it comes to making your picks this week. After ten races, there are still several drivers likely to win this season who have yet to see Victory Lane. 2014 is turning into one of the most wide open years NASCAR’s seen in recent memory – parity that should translate to your fantasy roster.
So, you’ve got the cooler track temperature and that somewhat heightened desire to win playing factors on who to pick this week. How do we separate pretenders from contenders? Read below…
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Two of the top drivers who remain on the winless list this season but have also had plenty of success at Kansas are Jimmie Johnson (yep, that guy) and Matt Kenseth(yeah, him too).
Johnson hasn’t won in the last four races at Kansas, but he has been in the top 10 each time, finishing between fourth and tenth. Johnson also has two career wins in 15 starts at Kansas with an average finish of 7.53. In those 15 races, he’s been in the top 10 a staggering 13 times, so it’s hard to ignore him here, despite a season that hasn’t quite been championship form. The dilemma with picking Johnson, and especially for those of us in leagues with pick limits, is when you actually do pick the six-time champ, you need him to win. It’s tough to pick J.J. in a race where he doesn’t finish in the top five every week, as we’ve become accustomed, so it’s almost a wasted pick. So if you think Johnson is ready to break through this season… then pick him for Kansas.
Another driver trying to break through in 2014, as mentioned is Matt Kenseth. He has won two of the last four races at Kansas, including being the defending race and pole winner, leading a series-high 264 laps in those events. Kenseth has an average finish of 4.25 during that span with his worst result being 11th place. He seems like a safe pick here, but again, you hate to pick a guy like Kenseth and have him not finish inside the top 5.
That said, given his recent performance, there’s a very good chance of Kenseth getting a top 5 Saturday night — if not backing up his last-lap win over Kasey Kahne from last year.
Of the top drivers here, another one to look at is Kevin Harvick. He’s already got two wins this year so you know he won’t be afraid to go for more. Harvick also has a win in these last four races at Kansas and an average finish of 7.50. Also, his worst performance in the last four races there is 12th and he has led 138 laps in those events. Those factors, along with seeing Harvick run at or near the front in every race this season, mean it would be no surprise to see “Happy” back up front again Saturday night.
Of the top echelon drivers, another one that is winless this year is Jeff Gordon. The fact he has been close to winning this year and that he has had plenty of success in the past at Kansas makes him a decent pick. Gordon has two wins and 11 top 10 finishes in 16 career races there for an average finish of 10.6.
Gordon’s been a threat to win every week this year, so this Saturday night should be no different.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
There are a few guys to look at here, but I’m going to start with one of those single-car teams in Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex, Jr. Sure, he’s with a different team this year than in the past, but the fact that Truex knows how it feels to be fast at Kansas makes him at least worth a look. The New Jersey native does not have a win here but he has led 219 laps in the last four races here and finished in the top 10 three times. That’s helped him to an average finish of 6.75, third best behind Johnson and Kenseth.
Now that Denny Hamlin has a win, you wonder if he might be ready for more. Hamlin does have a victory in his last three trips to Kansas, having missed this race last year due to his back injury. However, that win is Hamlin’s only top-10 finish in those three races, and he has a worst result of 23rd in those three events. Hamlin’s a true toss-up here, given teammate Kyle Busch’s woes and Matt Kenseth’s success.
Don’t forget about the home track guys here either in Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. When teams know they are at their driver’s home track, they sometimes turn up the intensity a bit because they want to do well in front of the home fans. Bowyer is a popular figure at Kansas, but it hasn’t been the best place for him in recent years. He has two top-10 finishes in the last four races, with his best finish being a fifth and worst being 36th. He’s coming off a wedding and the announcement of the impending birth of his first child (Coincidence? Nahhh…), as well as contract and sponsor extension confirmations, so it’s hard to pick against the hometown hero this weekend.
One driver to certainly not forget about here, too, is Greg Biffle. He has two wins among his nine top-10 finishes in 15 career races at Kansas. Biffle has also led 346 career laps at the track, third best among active drivers behind Johnson and Kenseth. And Biffle’s average finish of 10.3 is fourth best among Sprint Cup full-timers. Maybe Biffle’s immediate post-race activity will come in Victory Lane this week, coming off a strong second-place showing at Talladega last Sunday.
Well, after having at least some options at Talladega last week, we are mostly back to the same choices here this week for the cheaper, or lesser-picked drivers.
Kyle Busch has notoriously awful luck here, to the point that he pretty much threw up his hands and gave up back in October, as well as getting the nose sawed off by Joey Logano back in April last spring. Coming off a speeding ticket in Charlotte this past week (Hey, he kept it under 130 mph this time at least) Kyle has to be due for a stroke of luck here… right?
The other usual two options are available in Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon. And as always, if you are on pick limits, you have to decide if you want to use one of them for this race or not. Larson has five top-10 finishes in the 10 races so far, showing flashes of brilliance, which include two top-5 results and a second at another intermediate track, Fontana. He sits 13th in points and is quickly becoming a rising star in the series. Dillon is right behind him, five points back at 14th by way of being steady, just not spectacular. He’s earned just one top-10 finish, at the Daytona 500 while avoiding some of the trouble that Larson has found himself the victim of.
One option not available most weeks is Ryan Blaney, who will be driving the No. 12 Ford for Penske Racing. Blaney certainly has showed talent at other levels, having won at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series a year ago, which is similar in layout to Kansas — save for the “whoops” sections on the front and backstretch — so it will be interesting to see if he can make some positive waves at the Sprint Cup level. If you think Blaney can get you a top-20 finish, driving the machines that have won three times this season, then he would be the steal of the century here.
Lastly, Justin Allgaier has become a respectable option in this slot as well. He does have one top-20 finish this season, a 17th at Bristol, so maybe he can pull off another one at Kansas if all goes well.
LeftTurnOnly not only remained in the lead in the Frontstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo! but put some distance between itself and second place. LeftTurnOnly has 2,799 points, ahead of Mojothemonkey’s 2,710. Next are Ace Racin’ at 2,698, Shadows PT at 2,687 and NASCAR Forever at 2,676. The biggest mover of the week was RCT Racing, which jumped 14 spots in the standings. The bad news is that only got RCT into 44th place out of the 70 teams in the league.
That big jump happened because RCT also had the top weekly performance with 310 points. RCT’s winning combination was winner Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer in third, Ryan Newman in 18th and Danica Patrick in 22nd.