This weekend marks the start of October on the calendar and for all you loonies out there that decorate more for Halloween than for the Holidays, the month of Halloween has started.
For the rest of us, we'll just be subjected to feverishly flipping through radio stations trying to find one that isn't playing yet another rendition of "Monster Mash."
At least we can agree on one thing, however, this weekend's at "The Monster Mile" will feature a lot of championships getting mashed.
Here at NHMS, we're used to hosting the first race of the Chase. Chase qualifies showed up at "The Magic Mile" with a clean slate and fresh optimism. That changed this year, as we were slotted into the second race and it added a whole new dynamic.
Whereas in past year's, Tony Stewart would have left NHMS as a possible contender that won a race, he leaves having won both Chase races as a top contender with a lot of momentum.
On the flip side, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team were submerged by another bad finish. The team that fought Jimmie Johnson to the bitter end at Homestead last year has quickly become the Chase's first afterthought. After the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway this weekend, he certainly won't be the only one.
The old adage says that you can't win the Chase in a week, but you can definitely lose it.
With some drivers gaining momentum and some tailing off, this weekend will be a reckoning for the Chase field. Jeff Gordon sits 23 points out of the lead in fifth, Ryan Newman sits 34 back in 11th. That's a small band with a lot of drivers, but it should begin to separate out in Dover.
By the time the haulers pull away from "The Monster Mile" Sunday night, we should have a clear picture of which drivers will be sticking around for the long haul and which ones we might as well send straight to Daytona for the start of the 2012 season next February.
Here's a look at who will prove their case this weekend and which drivers you should tab for your fantasy team.
*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.
Strategy: An whopping five drivers have driver ratings over 100, which means that some are very good and, intrinsically, means some must be very bad. Stick with who's best and don't get cute.
#17 Matt Kenseth - Quick! Tell me where Kenseth finished the SYLVANIA 300!?...Sixth. He doesn't garner all the hype but he's Mr. Consistency. His 110.0 driver rating at Dover is the second best in the field.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - There are few tracks that could be renamed Jimmie Johnson's Motor Speedway and this is one of them. Six wins in 19 starts and a series best 117.4 driver rating make him the obvious choice. That, and the fact that he's too good come Chase time to struggle any longer.
#99 Carl Edwards - Edwards has earned the nickname "Concrete Carl," because he dominates concrete tracks like Dover's. His 7.6 average finish at "The Monster Mile" dwarfs Johnson's 9.6. He's probably the safest choice out there and he looks good right now, especially after coming home eighth at NHMS, where he often struggles.
#14 Tony Stewart - At face value, Stewart's stat line of 2 wins, 10 top-fives and 15 top-10s with an average finish of 12.4 look exactly like Kenseth's (2, 11, 15, 12.4), but beware. He's a hot choice right now, but his 71.4 driver rating (which has been calculated since 2005) is terrible and suggests he hasn't done well here lately.
#2 Brad Keselowski - His small sample size doesn't bode well, but we can say that about any track he's been to recently. At this point, there's not much reason to avoid Keselowski. He's third in the points and only time will tell if he'll still be running as strong at the end of the year as he is now.
#5 Mark Martin - I put Martin on the scrap heap a long time ago, but after a good run near the front for much of the SYLVANIA 300 and headed to a track where he's posted four top-fives and seven top-10s in his last 11 starts.
#39 Ryan Newman - Newman has three wins here in 19 starts. If he's going to vault back into the Chase picture, the time is now.
#56 Martin Truex Jr. - Truex continues to be of value to those that have taxed starts on their top drivers. With the 10th-best driver rating at Dover, he's worth rostering if you need him.
#43 AJ Allmendinger - Dinger has the worst average fantasy wise at this track and an average finish of 25.1 (his career is 21.6) suggests he's not good here.
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior has a win here. (It's weird, he seems to have won everywhere despite the fact he hasn't won in so long.) But, that's the extent of the highlight. Seven top-10s in 23 starts suggest you should search elsewhere this week.
#27 Paul Menard - Menard has a top-10 at Dover and an average finish of 20.9 is above his career of 23.7. This is probably a Menard week on the C-List.
#47 Bobby Labonte - Labonte's never going to be the best option, but if you need him, he's there. He's been slightly better here than his career average, so if you need to salvage a start from him, it's a good week to do so.
#78 Regan Smith - The best finish of his seven starts was a 21st in 2008. He doesn't show much promise this week.
My Preliminary Roster
A - JOHNSON (3), Edwards (4)
B - KESELOWSKI (7), NEWMAN (2), Truex Jr. (7), Martin (3)
C - MENARD (4), Ragan (2)
*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.