The good news for NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors is that defending and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson hasn’t done much lately. The bad news for those same competitors is that Johnson still sits fourth in points and the even more bad news for them is that the race this week is at Dover.
It’s a track where Johnson has been dominant over his career and it’s one of those places where if he doesn’t at least contend for the win, then all of the “what’s wrong with Jimmie” talk starts up. And for your fantasy team, if you are in a Yahoo! league or a league where you get to make weekly choices, this is one of the tracks where you should absolutely pick Johnson, or make room in your budget for him.
This is a key race for Johnson, because if does win, as is almost expected when he comes to the Monster Mile these days, then it could very well catapult him into making NASCAR’s version of the final four at Homestead. If for some reason Johnson struggles and even finishes outside the top 10, then it’s probably not a sign of good things to come for him.
There will be plenty to keep track of during this race with nine drivers basically going for five spots to make the top 12. The first seven spots, barring a disastrous finish by seventh-place Jeff Gordon, at least have some security.
So those final laps, especially if there is a late restart, could ruin your fantasy team’s day or make your fantasy team’s day. Just don’t count on anything until the checkered flag drops.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Johnson’s numbers at Dover are basically off the charts. In recent races, he has won on three of his last five trips to the one-mile concrete oval with an average finish of 4.8, the best among active drivers. Also in those races, he has led a remarkable 990 laps, 10 laps short of 50 percent of the laps run there. That’s easily the most of any active driver in that stretch. And for his career, Johnson has won nine times at Dover and he has 18 career top 10 finishes in 25 races there. So, it seems, no matter how he has run anywhere else in recent races, he still has to be the favorite there.
So, if we just want to assume that Johnson is going to win, then who else is there to look at for a top finish?
Kyle Busch hasn’t won in the last five races, but he is the only other driver besides Johnson to lead more than 100 laps in those races, with 563 laps led. He has two top five finishes and another top 10 in those races with a best finish of fourth. So Busch is certainly one option here.
A driver who will be racing for a spot to advance to the next round of the Chase will be Matt Kenseth. After winning seven times last year, he has yet to win this year, which is quite unexpected. Also, if he doesn’t make it into the final 12, this would have to be considered a pretty disappointing season for Kenseth, who finished second to Johnson in the points last year. Kenseth did finish third in the June race at Dover and has three top 10 finishes there in the last five races, so there is reason for some optimism for Kenseth.
A non-Chaser who would love to win his first race of the year is Clint Bowyer. He also has some realistic hopes as he finished fourth in the June race at Dover. Bowyer also has finished in the top 10 in five straight races at Dover. However, he has led just seven laps in those races, so while he has been consistent, he’s not been close to dominant.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
There’s no better team to be on right now than the two-car tandem at Penske Racing. Brad Keselowski won at Chicagoland two weeks ago and then teammate Joey Logano won last week at New Hampshire. So, they are both locked into the second round of the Chase, but don’t let that lead you into thinking they won’t be out to win again this week.
Recent history tells us that if anyone has a chance to beat Johnson Sunday afternoon it will be Keselowski, who finished second to Johnson in the spring race. Keselowski does have one win there in the last five trips and two other top 10 finishes. However, he has only led 17 laps in those races, so he’s by no means been dominant, but he has been pretty good.
Much like Bowyer, Logano has been consistent at Dover with five top 10s in the last five races. His best finish in those races has been third and his average finish of 7.2 is tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for third best among active drivers. One thing to note though, here too, is that Logano has not led a lap in the last five races. That could very well change Sunday.
Much like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin will also come into Dover looking for at least a top 10 finish. He sits right outside the last transfer position at the moment at 13th in points, but being just six points back, a good run would more than likely get him there. Hamlin finished seventh in the June race at Dover and he’ll likely need a similar finish to reach the top 12 and make the next round. Hamlin has two top 10 finishes in the last five races and he also has started on the pole twice there, so he is capable of finding speed at the Monster Mile.
And also note that Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger are all within 12 points of each other. They each may try some desperate moves or desperate pit calls late in the race if it means helping their chance to make the Chase. So, those are the types of gambles that could be very good or very bad for their real-life teams and your fantasy teams.
Well, the obvious choice here is that if you have any races left if you are on pick limits, or room in your budget, then you have to pick eventual rookie of the year Kyle Larson. He’s been second and third in the last two races and he wasn’t too bad in the first race at Dover this year with an 11th.
The other regular in this category, the C list of drivers in Yahoo! leagues, has been Austin Dillon. He was just OK in the June race at Dover with a 20th place finish. He does have one other start at Dover where he was 27th. So you could hope for some improvement here, but I wouldn’t be counting on it either.
Lately, Danica Patrick has been a legitimate choice in this spot with three straight top 20 finishes. It would be a bit of a bench mark for her if she could do that at Dover as her best finish in four races there has been 23rd.
Another option here could be Justin Allgaier, who was 26th in the June race, but that is pretty much it for this group this week.
The leader of the Frontstretch League on Yahoo! remained the same this week as NoBarNASCAR is ahead with 7,395 points, followed by Mojothemonkey at 7,321 and LeftTurnOnly at 7,318. The biggest mover of the week was the Ralph The Wonder Llama team, jumping 11 spots into 16th overall.
The top point scorer was also Ralph The Wonder Llama with race winner Joey Logano, Kyle Larson in second, Kevin Harvick in third and Jamie McMurray in fourth. That’s a pretty tough score to beat.
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