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Chicagoland Entertainment

Friday, September 16, 2011
Despite hanging outside the Chase, Bowyer has a lot to prove down the stretch. Photo: Getty Images

Is it just me or does Chicagoland sound like some sort of absurdly oversized amusement park in the midwest?  It strikes me as the kind of place that would have about two dozen roller coasters and a water park about the size of Rhode Island.

In truth, it doesn't have that, but it will be a giant amusement park through eyes of any NASCAR fans this Sunday.  And, it will certainly have plenty of metaphorical roller coasters with the Chase kicking off this weekend in the GECIO 400.

GEICO 400, huh?  What's the 400 stand for?  The amount of different marketing campaigns they've tried to launch over the last several years!

Let's see:

- There's the gecko with the older business CEO.

- There's the stupid, long-ago, worn-out-welcome, never-was-funny caveman.

- There are the people eating their children's fish or teaching their parrot to sign 80's music.

- And, then there's the omni-present James Bond knock-off asking criptic questions like, "Was Abe Lincoln honest?"  In recent months, those ads have fallen off to a bunch of 9-5 goons playing trumpet on their smartphones.

You know what? Scratch that, all the ads have fallen off.  They should have just stuck with the gecko that seemed synonymous with the name of the company and seemed to portray a business-like attitude that I would want from someone dealing with my insurance and well-being.

While we're on the topic of GEICO going downhill, let's also address Casey Mears.  He hasn't been any good with them as their sponsor this year.  I don't care about the money aspect.  I just want to see the No. 07 Jack Daniels car out there and Mears behind the wheel.  I'm sure he feels the same way as he had much more success and contended for a Chase spot five or six years ago in that car.

GEICO bashing aside, one thing I'll give them credit for is stepping up to sponsor a Chase race and to coin their phrase, 15 minutes (or less) of reading this blog could increase your fantasy team's performance by 15 percent or more.  (I should mention more publicly than GEICO's smaller disclaimers you can't read that this is not a guarantee!)

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

Strategy: The Chase drivers should all be a good bet.  They'll all be looking for a solid top-10 finish this weekend to set the tone.  You'll still need to be smart with the non-Chase drivers, however, as you'll still need to get some starts out of several of them and you can't just go Chase happy and run out of allocations on tracks where drivers don't race well.

A-List

Start

#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon's average finish of 8.6 in ten races at Chicagoland tops the Chase field and he's been driving well in general.

#29 Kevin Harvick - Harvick is streaky and after failing to record a top-five in eleven straight starts, he won last week, so he's due for a hot streak.  Combine that with two wins and five top-fives in ten starts at this track and we're in business!

#48 Jimmie Johnson - The five-time winner should start off well this weekend.  He's never won at Chicagoland, but he has seven top-10s in nine starts and a series-best driver rating of 112.0 on this track..

Park

#22 Kurt Busch - Kurt hasn't recorded any top-fives in 10 starts, so there are much better options.

B-List

Start

#33 Clint Bowyer - Bowyer has four top-10s in five starts.  He might not be in the Chase but, with questions about his future, I expect to see him finish strong as it's basically what others sports would refer to as a contract year.

#39 Ryan Newman - Newman's had some bad finishes here, but he has five top-10s in nine starts.  At this point, the well of allocations is drying up for Newman, so I recommend seeing how he does leading up to the race and slotting him in only if it's clear he should get a top-10.

#43 AJ Allmendinger - The Dinger finshed 13th at Chicago in 2008, 13th in 2009 and started 13th in 2010 before slipping to a 14th-place finish.  He also finished the regular season 13th in points this year.  Betting on a guy to finish is a specific position in a specific race is downright dumb, but, when it comes to AJ, a 13th-place finish is about the surest thing you can guarantee.  That finish is a solid return for the B-List.

#83 Brian Vickers - Vickers hasn't had a good year but he's been very good at Chicagoland with the third-best driver rating (best on the B-List).  He's also qualified in the top-four in three out of five races on this track, so he would be a good guy to at least have on the team for some bonus points.

Park

#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne has had mixed results at this track and mixed results recently in general.  He's a risk this week and not one worth taking.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He has just three top-10s in 10 starts at Chicagoland and, more relevant to this year, he finished outside the top-10 last week, his 11th such performance in 12 races.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - Ragan battled until the end last week but fell just a little short of winning his second race of the season and stealing a wild card spot.  He'll still need to drive well, however, to hold onto his seat with Roush Fenway Racing.

#78 Regan Smith - Smith's still plugging along with a solid number of top-20s this season.  He doesn't have much of a track record here, but that's the case everywhere, so it's safe to think he could offer some good return.

Park

#27 Paul Menard - Menard hasn't been good at Chicagoland and has finished outside the top-25 in four of the last five races.  He should be avoided until he gets some mojo back.

My Preliminary Roster

A - JOHNSON (4), Gordon (7)

B - ALLMENDINGER (7), BOWYER (3), Keselowski (7), Newman (3)

C - RAGAN (2), Smith (4)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS