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FANTASY: Labor, All Work and No Play

Thursday, August 30, 2012
If Jeff Gordon doesn't do a victory burnout, he'll just be spinning his wheels. Photo: Getty Images

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Most of NASCAR's fans might have a three-day weekend, but there's no rest for drivers on the track.  Bristol did very little to decide much of anything other than that Tony Stewart can throw a good fastball; so, it's on to Atlanta to try to determine who's going to be dancing and who's going to be watching when the NASCAR Chase starts in two weeks.

Theoretically, there are about 22 drivers that could make it into the postseason.  (It's not impossible for Aric Almirola to win the next two races and claim a Chase spot.)  Realistically, there are six drivers that are a win away from taking the Chase's final Wild Card.

However, while all those drivers will be vying for a win to keep their seasons alive, there are plenty of drivers locked into the Chase that could use a win simply to garner three bonus points for the Chase.  (Imagine if Carl Edwards had won one more race at any point last season, he would have won the championship.)  These drivers can afford to push the limits and risk falling back in the pack, because their fate is already decided for the better.

For a conservative-minded Fantasy NASCAR player like me, this is a nightmare.  I prefer to pick the drivers that I know will put up a consistently strong finish, as opposed to taking a chance on someone that might win or wreck out.

It's likely that I'm overanalyzing just how hard a guy will push for a win and his likelihood to end up wrecking as result.  However, Bristol lived up to its "lightning in a bottle" mantra last weekend; "The Fastest Half Mile" is always a little crazy, but if it's a sign of what's to come, this weekend's race should be one to watch.

Strategy: Atlanta Motor Speedway is a cookie-cutter track, but the time of the season doesn't guarantee the "cookie-cutter" finishes that I usually guarantee early in the year.  That said, those stats are the best indication we have for who should be able to get up front easily and who will be driving like a mad man to get there.  There's enough data on these track types that you can still play this one by the numbers.

A-List

Start

#24 Jeff Gordon - As one of the drivers on the outside looking in, Gordon has pulled himself up and registered seven top-10s in the last 10 races.  In 38 Atlanta starts, he has five wins and 15 top-fives, so he's a strong candidate to win his way into the Chase this weekend.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - The No. 48 is one of three teams to have mathematically clinched a Chase spot, which means that Johnson is really just racing for bonus points right now.  Considering he has three top-threes in the last five races this season, that's a dangerous prospect at a track where he has three career wins.

#99 Carl Edwards - I have to assume that he's almost excited to see a miserable season end.  Last week at Bristol, Edwards led late, but, true to the season, his car fell off and was nowhere to be found when the checkered flag came out.  Still, he's just a win away from the Chase and has won at Atlanta three times in 14 starts.

Park

#29 Kevin Harvick - Remember him?  Yes, believe or not, Harvick's appearance in the Chase is all but a formality.  Something would have to go drastically wrong for him to miss the postseason, but he only has seven top-10s at Atlanta in 21 starts.  If something is going to ruin his season, it would likely be here.

B-List

Start

#5 Kasey Kahne - With a string of nine straight finishes inside the top-15, Kahne has been a model of consistency over the past few months.  He has two wins and six top-fives in 15 AMS starts, so there's a good possibility he keeps the streak alive.

#15 Clint Bowyer - In 11 Atlanta races, Bowyer has been feast or famine, he has four finishes of sixth place and one of seventh.  Everything else has been 20th or worse.  Considering he's finished between fourth and eighth in four straight races this year, he's likely to feast this weekend.

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - The Hail Mary of the Week has three top-fives in nine Atlanta starts.  That doesn't guarantee he'll come anywhere near that finish this week, but the possibility is out there and some people are bigger risk-takers than others.  If you're looking for someone no one is starting that could do well, JPM is your guy.

#56 Martin Truex Jr. - With neither Junior nor Biffle seeming like sure-things this week, Truex comes into play.  Okay, so he's averaged a finish of 22.0 at Atlanta in his career, but we learned a long time ago that his career stats mean nothing in the scope of 2012.

Park

#55 Mark Martin - Most weeks I tout him as an option, but with just two top-10s in his last nine Atlanta starts, he doesn't seem like a good choice this week.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Despite being listed as having the most average points on the B-List in the last nine Atlanta races, Junior has just one top-10 in that time.  That means he has a lot of finishes in the teens, and based on his 2012 success, he could easily translate that into a top-10.  However, Dale Jr. starts are at a premium this season, and there will be other weeks where he's a better bet.

C-List

Start

#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - It's hard to fault him for ending up in a heap at Bristol, as many others did the same.  Before last week's 34th, Hornish had four straight finishes in the top-20, which is as consistent as it gets on the C-List.  That said, his best career finish at AMS is 24th, so his ceiling is low.

#43 Aric Almirola - With a lack of many options, it might be an Almirola Week.  He finished 21st here in his only career start and he'd moved up from 37th, so he projects to have a respectable finish.

Park

#21 Trevor Bayne - Any press is good press, so I figured I'd at least mention Bayne is in the race this weekend.  He hasn't raced particularly well lately in Cup and ranks well below Bobby Labonte in terms of average points per start.  He has no record at Atlanta, so it's tough to figure how he'll do.  He's an option, but team owners should temper their expectations should they choose to start him.

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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.