|12/03/15||The Champion By NHMS Numbers|
|11/20/15||The Championship Four Preview|
|11/13/15||Phoenix: Three To Watch|
|10/30/15||Martinsville: Three To Watch|
|10/18/15||Kansas: Three To Watch|
|10/05/15||Charlotte: Three To Watch|
The big story: Boston won the Stanley Cup last night against Vancouver.
My job: to write a fantasy NASCAR column about a race in Michigan.
Connect the two? Easy!
The only American-born player dressed for Boston was goaltender and Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) winner Tim Thomas. Thomas hails from Michigan.
Boom! There you go!
I think the best comparison of the Bruins in racing terms is to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Now, if you're a fan of both, you're probably nodding your head. If you're not in Junior's camp, then hopefully I can grab your attention back quickly before you tune out.
In the shadow of every other Boston championship in the last decade, the Bruins seemed to fall short of the city's expectations. Like a family's underachieving C-student that is every bit as smart as their A-getting siblings, the B's were the odd one out. They were a disappointment and left you shaking your head about why they couldn't be better.
Earnhardt Jr. has played a similar role. Like the Bruins, he has a passionate and committed fan base that desperately clings to the hope of living up to expectation. And, like the Bruins, those expectations are heightened by the linage from which he descends.
In Junior's case, it's the shadow cast by his father, one of the greatest drivers ever to race a stock car. In the Bruins' case, it's the dynasties of the Patriots and Celtics and the reward of the Red Sox breaking The Curse in 2004.
Last night, the Bruins aced their final exam!
Having left us heartbroken in an epic collapse last season, most of us hadn't expected the Bruins to be a top contender this year, save a handful of playoff wins. Even as the playoffs started, a team like Washington and, in the West, Vancouver, San Jose or Detroit seemed to boast a far stronger team.
Yet, as the postseason rolled on, most of those teams fell by the wayside as the Bruins marched on (often through Game 7 dramas).
The Stanley Cup Final was no different. Vancouver had been by far the best team in the regular season and appeared to be hitting its stride when Boston arrived on June 1st. It soon became apparent, however, that Boston was not outmatched. In fact, when it was all said and done, there was no question about it: the Bruins were the best team in hockey. All four of their wins were decisive by three goals or more and all three of their losses were one-goal, split-decision-type finishes.
Another area where Boston had a unanimous decision was for the Conn Smythe. Thomas, whose Flint, Mich., home is only about 90 miles from this weekend's race in Brooklyn, gave up only eight goals in seven Cup Final games and finished the playoffs with a stellar 2.06 goals against (per game) average.
Ironically, as the Bruins revel in their championship, Earnhardt Jr., marred in a triple-digit winless slump, returns to the track where he last won a race in 2008. Perhaps this weekend's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 will be a chance for Junior to follow the Bruins lead and reward his loyal fan base.
Here's a look at some of the other contenders you might consider for your fantasy team.
*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.
Roush Fenway Racing's Fords - It's fitting that the Michigan race is one of Ford's strongest. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the three A-Listers from Roush. #99 Carl Edwards has been dominant with a ridiculous average finish of 6.3 with two wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s in 13 starts. #17 Matt Kenseth and #16 Greg Biffle have also each won twice; Kenseth averages a 9.8 finish, while Biffle averages a 12.3.
#14 Tony Stewart - Stewart has also been very strong on this track as he's picked up a win and 16 top-10s in 24 starts.
The Busch Brothers - Kyle has only three top-10s in 12 starts and, while Kurt has eight in 20 starts, he also has six DNFs and an average finish of 20.5.
#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne tends to be inconsistent here but has a win and a pair of second place finishes in 14 starts. When he finishes strong, he does really well as all six of his top-10s have been top-fives, but contrast that with four finishes outside the top-25 and you can see that comes with a risk.
#5 Mark Martin - Martin has hit a cold streak lately with three straight finishes of 18th or worse. However, he tends to run strong at Michigan and there are a lot of B-list drivers that don't fare well here, so he's worth considering.
#83 Brian Vickers - Vickers has five consecutive top-10s, three consecutive poles and won his last Michigan start in 2009. This year, he's the worst, the worst, B-list driver on a long list of choices, so let's not sell the farm on him. However, my B-list starts are getting zapped quickly and this would be a creative start to put it vaguely.
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He didn't reward my bold prediction last week that he'd win, but I can't argue with a sixth place finish either He's by far the best B-lister right now, has three consecutive top-10s and his last win came at Michigan. It's another good week to support Junior Nation.
#33 Clint Bowyer - It seems like he's on the Park list every week, but I'd hate to throw starts to the wind and hope for the best. He has a poor driver rating of 76.1 here with an average finish of 20.4 and just two top-10s in 10 starts.
#39 Ryan Newman - Newman is even worse than Bowyer with a 71.2 driver rating at Michigan. He has two wins, but they came in a small window in 2003 and 2004 and he hasn't registered so much as a top-10 in the 13 races since.
#6 David Ragan - Ragan has a 17.5 average finish here, well up from his career of 21.3. That makes sense, as I said before, Roush Fenway really seems to set the Fords up properly on this track. He's a good bet to follow suit with the team.
#78 Regan Smith - As I'll address below, C-Listers don't tend to stay consistent for the whole year, so it's best to use them while they're hot. Smith hasn't been fiery hot, but he's racing well above average for the C-List right now, so I'd suggest using him frequently until he cools off.
#27 Paul Menard - As hinted, C-List drivers cool off. Menard started the year with three top-10s in seven races, but hasn't picked up another in the past seven. He does have three finishes in the top-20 in that time, which is good enough for the C-List. But, you can no longer roll him out with wreckless abandon and assume he's going to provide a return on investment.
My preliminary roster
A - EDWARDS (6), Kenseth (9)
B - EARNHARDT JR. (4), VICKERS (9), Kahne (6), Montoya (7)
C - RAGAN (4), Smith (6)
*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.