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This is Sparta!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
No, not this kind of Sparta! Photo: LATimes.com

Sparta!

Not so much the one in all the ancient epics, like 300 or Troy, to name a few overly majestic and under-acted films that probably missed the point.

In this case, Sparta, Kentucky, which will host its first ever Sprint Cup Series race this coming weekend.

The Quaker State 400 might be misnamed, as it's nearly 300 miles from the actual "Quaker State" of Pennsylvania.  However, by all other measurements, this race should be a huge success.

The Cup's inaugural trip to Sparta should speed into Kentucky in style.  The green flag will drop in the exciting twilight of Saturday night and will be fully under the lights by the time the Series is finished with its 267 laps around the 1.5-mile oval.

It's reported that the race has sold out and, while the Kentucky Speedway isn't too far out of NASCAR's main drag, it will still be a great opportunity to populate the sport in a new area.

The one thing that is relatively unsure is who will win the race. With no history to go on, the only thing we can really do is look at similar tracks and try to make some educated guesses.  Luckily for you, and unfortunately for me, I'll serve as the fall boy that takes a dive in hopes of guessing properly when it comes to setting the fantasy roster this week.

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

Strategy: As I just said, there's no history to go on, but an intermediate size is the most common track type (roughly 60% of tracks qualify as such), so I'll look at past data for that kind of track and hope it translates.

A-List

Start

#17 Matt Kenseth - Kenseth has won 14 races on an intermediate track out of a total of 20 career trips to Victory Lane.  That's not too out of proportion to what you'd expect, but his average finish of 13.5 on the track type is better than a career average of 14.7.  Consider that he's stronger on these than anywhere else and he's a pretty good driver to begin with...cool!

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Johnson averages a finish of 9.8 on intermediate tracks.  That's his best average on any track type and an average top-10 finish is always reason to consider a driver.

#99 Carl Edwards - Seventeen of Edwards' 19 career wins have come on intermediate tracks.  Two finishes of 37 in the last four races might be causes for concern but two top-fives sandwiched in the middle suggest simple bad luck.

Park

#18 Kyle Busch - To be honest, there's no sore thumb in the A-List.  The best drivers do well on intermediates since they're the most common.  In Busch's case, his average finish on intermediates of 16.3 is a little less than his career average of 15.6, so he's probably the least appealing.  But, I'm really just throwing a competitive caution for the heck of it.

B-List

Start

#4 Kasey Kahne - Sure, Kasey Kahne's average finishes are better on intermediate tracks than elsewhere, but more importantly, nine of his 11 wins have come on them.  If he has a fast car, you're going to want him on your team.

#20 Joey Logano - There actually is some history here!  Logano's won the pole and taken the checkered flag in all three Nationwide races he's started at this track.  Even at the Nationwide level, that's a pretty impressive feat.  He also put together a great third-place showing at Daytona last week, his second top-10 finish in as many weeks, so he's racing well in general.

#39 Ryan Newman - In his career, he averages a finish of 16.8.  At intermediate tracks, he average a finish of...16.8.  This season, he's averaging a finish 15.4.  Thus, If you assume that he races to his average on intermediate tracks, 15.4 is probably one of the more attractive numbers on the B-List.

#56 Martin Truex Jr. - A rare selection for a driver that just kind of cruises along in the middle of the B-List.  His only win, 10 of 14 top-fives and 38 of 49 top-10s have come on intermediate tracks.  His average finish is 17.8 compared to 23.3 on superspeedways and 23.4 on short tracks.  I'm personally down to two allocations on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and three on both Ryan Newman and Mark Martin.  If you're in a similar boat, Truex Jr. might be a wise play this week.

Park

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - While most drivers seem to put up lopsided aggregate stats on intermediates since it's the most common track type, Montoya does not.  His 24 intermediate top-10s is just over half of his career 47 is a sign he doesn't race this well on tracks like these.  Not surprisingly, his average intermediate finish of 20.8 is far worse than on any other track type

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Considering, as I said, I only have two starts left on Junior, I'm certainly looking for any reason not to play him.  As I said in the A-List, most contenders tend to make their living on intermediates, Junior's 17.2 average intermediate finish is below his career average of 16.8  He's definitely stronger on short tracks (13.1 average finish), so I'll be saving him for those.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - Fact: If the Chase started today, Ragan would be the 12 chaser thanks to his win at Daytona last week.  Admittedly, Paul Menard is still pacing him in fantasy points and leads him by nine in the Cup standings (not that that matters thanks to the wild card system that would put Ragan in the Chase).  Yet, Ragan has the hype right now and the intermediates are usually the safest starts for your top drivers.

#78 Regan Smith - Kentucky is relatively similar to Darlington, where Smith picked up his only career Cup race earlier this year.  Now, as I said with Trevor Bayne last week, lightning doesn't usually strike the same place twice (but, I suppose I could argue this isn't the same place).  He's not a poor choice here.

Park

#47 Bobby Labonte - It's getting to the point where I'm just not sure how much I want to start Labonte anymore.  As I've explained in the past, I'll have to start him some because I'll run out of starts if I don't  Luckily, I've farmed off three starts to the dredges of the C-List (when it made sense), so I might not have to find too many more times to make sense out of starting Labonte.  This week isn't a good time to take a risk, especially since, despite the amount of Cup races he's started, he's never raced at Kentucky.

My preliminary roster

A - EDWARDS (5), Kenseth (9)

B - KAHNE (6), LOGANO (8), Bowyer (5), Truex Jr. (9)

C - RAGAN (4), Menard (6)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS