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Steering the Yellow Brick Road

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Greg Biffle won last year's race at Kansas. Photo: Getty Images

Sorry, Dorothy.  We're back in Kansas this weekend!

After several weeks on the East Coast, NASCAR will follow the yellow brick road to Kansas.  For the Midwest, hopefully a weekend at the speedway will provide some much needed normalcy for an area getting blasted by an ugly series of tornadoes.

While Dorothy's house gets swept up in the timeless classic, there's nothing theatrical about the travesty in the Midwest.

This year, in particular, has seemed to be the worst I can remember in terms of the devastation of tornadoes.  They seem to have made it much farther east and south than normal and seem to have been far more destructive.

Stereotypically, places like Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, etc. (the "Midwest"), get hit hard.  However, places like Alabama and Virginia don't usually get pulled into Tornado Alley.  However, they have this year.

Heck, today, here in New Hampshire, an official tornado watch was issued.

In general, a tornado watch isn't a reason to start heading for the basement, but, in general, a tornado watch isn't ever issued in New Hampshire, either.

Tornadoes have already claimed hundreds of lives across several states.  One of the most devastating destroyed Joplin, MO, last week.  The town is the childhood home of Sprint Cup driver Jamie McMurray and lies only a few hours from the Kansas Motor Speedway.  McMurray plans on visiting his hometown tomorrow and his sponsors have been very supportive in trying to help with the relief efforts.

I hope those of us not affected will consider helping how we can.  Without questioning anyone's goodwill, we seem ready to jump at the drop of a hat and send money to Haiti or Japan or elsewhere, but the call to support our fellow Americans seems to lag a very sad distance behind.

Hopefully the weather will let up soon.  Unfortunately, unlike with northeast blizzards where you can stack an extra pile of fire wood and stock up on non-perishables or hurricanes on the southeastern coasts where you can simply evacuate and hope for the best, you can't do that with tornadoes.  Tornadoes are so sudden and truly unavoidable that there's no way to stay safe.

Please use this race in the Midwest as an opportunity to consider the hardships that many people in that area are going through.

--

On a brighter note, hopefully the change in scenery will help me resurrect the fantasy NASCAR season.  Not many of my picks worked out last week, save Regan Smith who took eighth (although I still benched a second-place finishing David Ragan for Smith).

My whole "don't take chances when you're in first" theory backfired when my conservative lineup caved and my closest competitor outscored me 328-197 to take a six-point lead headed into the last week of first segment of the season.  (Your profile gets a prize in Yahoo! when you win a segment, so let's hope I can put together a winner this week.)

*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.

A-List

Start

#16 Greg Biffle - Biffle is tied with Jeff Gordon for the fewest points among all A-List drivers.  That means he hasn't raced well this season, but it also means that the competition doesn't have him on the radar and that he's just crying out for the chance for you to start him.  Biffle led 50 laps last week, so he's racing well and has a fantastic record at Kansas.  In nine races, he has two wins (including last year) and six top-5s with an average finish of 8.1  His 122.6 driver rating is tops among the field.

#29 Kevin Harvick - Harvick doesn't have a particularly strong track record here, but he's now won three of 12 races this season.  He has five top-fives and seven top-10s.  He only has one top-five in ten career starts at Kansas and I'm not usually a guy to jump on someone's bandwagon after a win.  However, there's a difference between expecting Regan Smith or Trevor Bayne to follow up a win with another top-five and expecting that the driver sitting second in points (Harvick) can do so.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Jimmie disappointed me significantly last week.  For a guy I expect to pick up nine top-5s, it hurts using one of the nine starts I'm allocated on a 28th-place finish.  However, he has an average finish of 9.3 here with a win and seven top-10s in nine starts to go along with three poles.

#99 Carl Edwards - As mentioned last week, Edwards gets a token mention every week.  Five top-10s in seven starts at Kansas give no reason to expect a drop off.

Park

#18 Kyle Busch - It's rare to skip over Busch's name when considering who to play, but he has one top-10 in seven starts and an average finish of an abysmal 23.9.  He also has only one DNF, so it's not like that average finish is brought down by sheer bad luck with the car.

B-List

Start

#5 Mark Martin - Just like Johnson, Martin was a huge disappointment last week.  However, you can't hold grudges in this business.  Martin's 97.3 driver rating place him as far and away the top B-List driver.

#33 Clint Bowyer - Two top-10s in five starts doesn't jump out, but it's also a small sample size.  Bowyer has an average finish of 11.8 here, well above a 15.4 career average.  This is one of the weeks when the B-List looks thin in options and a reason why I've told you for several weeks to save your allocations on Bowyer.  Now would be a good time to start him, especially since it's his home track!

#43 A.J. Allmendinger - Ok, so if Bowyer's sample size is small, 'Dinger's is smaller.  He's only raced here three times, but he's put up two top-10s and a 17th for an average finish of 12.0.  He's also performing far better this year (with an average finish of 16.4) than in years past (his career average finish is 22.2).

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Once again the sentimental favorite could be considered.  He doesn't have a whole lot of statistical backing at Kansas with an average finish of 19.1 in ten races, but he's going to win sooner or later, right?  Right!?

Park

#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne isn't a guy I'm comfortable starting every week and seems to fluctuate noticeably from track to track.  In seven starts at Kansas, Kahne has twice started on the pole and both times finished in the 30s.  Perhaps you could place him on the bench and hope for some qualifying points, but I wouldn't start him.

#39 Ryan Newman - Newman actually has four top-10s including a win in ten starts.  However, his 62.5 driver rating stands out like a sore thumb in comparison to the other top-12 drivers (Kyle Busch is 11th at 74.9).  He also hasn't raced well lately with finishes of 21st and 31st, respectively, in the last two races.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - I've always advocated for riding with the hot C-List drivers before they cool off.  Ragan leveraged his All-Star success into a second place last weekend.  At Kansas, he's finished 16th or better in three of four starts and is a good option this week.

#13 Casey Mears - I was going to put this in as a joke, but he actually has three top-10s (two top-fives) in eight starts.  I'm not making a strong campaign, but if you're looking for a secondary option, he's worth considering.

Park

#47 Bobby Labonte - First, let me point out for those that use Yahoo! that contrary to what's stated about the race facts, Labonte did not win last year.  In fact, he finished 41st with a transmission problem.  He hasn't registered a top-10 in ten starts here and he's finished an average of 29.0.  That's flat out bad!

My preliminary roster

A - BIFFLE (9), Johnson (5)

B - ALLMENDINGER (9), BOWYER (7), Kahne (6), Martin (4)

C - RAGAN (5), Mears (9)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS