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FANTASY: Putting the "Long" in Weekend

Thursday, May 24, 2012
Jimmie Johnson has made a habit of visiting Charlotte's Victory Lane. Photo: Getty Images

Coca-Cola 600 Fantasy Preview

I'd like to apologize for not getting out a Fantasy Auto Racing preview earlier.  (I know there's probably at least four or five people that were planning on reading it thoroughly.)  I always release this on Thursdays, but Yahoo cuts off the time to change your roster in the wee hours of qualifying morning, and that's today, so the "Fans of NHMS" players will only be able to swap their Starters and Bench.

If it makes you feel better, I'd really only pieced together my preliminary roster and had planned to fine tune it as I wrote this preview.  In my defense, there's never qualifying on Thursday, but then again, I should have known that the race with latest start time of any NASCAR weekend (Sunday night) and the longest distance (600 miles) would be different when it came to qualifying as well.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races can never be considered brief.  The shortest one is the 219-miler run on Sonoma's road course, which is roughly the distance from Boston to New York City.  However, if you're looking to break races down into 5Ks, 10Ks and 26.2-mile (42.2 K) marathons, Charlotte Motor Speedway's Coca-Cola 600 gets the "Marathoner Award."

It's a solid 100 miles longer than any other race, and considering it runs on a standard 1.5-mile cookie cutter, it doesn't race as quickly as superspeedways like Daytona or Talladega.  Luckily, it's the perfect time of year to hold the season's longest race.

The Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend presents an opportune time for race fans to relax, fire up the grill and turn on the TV to enjoy an evening of racing.  Seriously, where else do you have to go!? There's no work on Monday, there's no big event happening on Sunday nights that you're missing and you'd hope the kids are commitment-less for just a few hours at that time of the week.

The frustrating part to this race, especially from a Fantasy standpoint, is just how little will be decided in the early going.  With 400 laps being run, it's preemptive to get excited about your driver early in the race.  Sure, he could lead 300 laps (à la Jeff Burton in the only NHMS restrictor plate race), but if he blows a tire on Lap 301, loses a cylinder on Lap 315 or runs out of gas on Lap 399 (Dale Jr.), he's not going to be a whole lot better off than if he'd started and parked it.

Yes, that scenario exemplifies the phrase: "That's racing!"  However, it becomes more noticeable in such a marathon because it's far more painful to watch your driver lead at a time most other races might be ending and still finish nowhere near the top of the crop.

With this in mind, let's take a look at how to best implement a plan that minimizes the overall heartbreak of a late-race failure.

Strategy: First of all, remember that at this point you can only swap Starters with Bench, so you'll have to do the best with what you got.  Underneath the surface of 600 miles, this is still a cookie cutter track with which most drivers are very familiar, so driver trends are likely to hold up here, even with the extended distance.

A-List

Start

#17 Matt Kenseth - Kenseth's 95.2 driver rating is third in the field at Charlotte.  With six top-fives in 11 races on the season, he's rarely ever a poor choice.

#18 Kyle Busch - Love him or hate him, Shrub is back!  He has top-five finishes in each of the last three races on the year and a second-best 106.6 driver rating at this track, which suggests he could make it four in a row.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Not only has he been on fire of late in winning the most recent points race and then the All-Star Race, but his 111.0 driver rating is the best in the field at CMS and that comes with six wins.

Park

#29 Kevin Harvick - He has just two top-fives in 22 starts at Charlotte.  Combine that with the fact he seems a little off, as I said in my Midseason Flags blog, and you'll want to skip him this weekend.

B-List

Start

#5 Kasey Kahne - In my midseason report, I pointed out how Kahne had five straight top-10s after failing to register one in the first six races.  He also has three wins and six top-fives at CMS, so it's a good bet he'll keep the momentum train rolling.

#20 Joey Logano - It's times like this I wish qualifying were tomorrow and I could change my roster!  Logano has four top-10s in six races at Charlotte and provides an excellent chance to save allocations on the group's top drivers, if you can get him in your starting lineup.

#39 Ryan Newman - It's too late to chase qualifying bonus points with bench selections, but if you have him on your roster, you have someone that's won four of the last 10 Charlotte poles.  Newman's also third in points among B-Listers in that time, but he's at the top of a narrow, five-point band of drivers between third and ninth, so take that with a grain of salt.

#56 Martin Truex Jr. - Last year, I saved my allocations on top B-List performer Dale Earnhardt Jr., only to watch him fade down the stretch.  My advice would be to not worry too much about how much you're using Truex.  He could keep this up all season, but if he doesn't, you'd rather have gotten points from him when they were there to be had.

Park

#51 Kurt Busch - The only argument to starting him is that he might not end up starting 36 Cup races this season, although if you'd planned on using him nine times, your strategy needs some revision.  While he has consecutive top-fives (including a win) in the last two 600s, he's not statistically strong here and he's a mess right now.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Everyone will get excited in remembering last year when he ran out of gas on the last lap while leading.  But, he only has 10 top-10s in 25 CMS starts and a 77.7 driver rating.  He's probably best kept in the garage.

C-List

Start

#21 Trevor Bayne - He's one of the few appealing options on the C-List when he races.  There's no reason you shouldn't use him when you get the chance and save drivers like Aric Almirola and Bobby Labonte.

#43 Aric Almirola - He's the ace of the C-List.  If you missed the chance to get Bayne in there, this is your guy this week.

Park

#47 Bobby Labonte - He doesn't have a single top-20 in the last five Charlotte races, so it's unlikely you'll find some hidden points with him this week.

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The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.

You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com.  If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.