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FANTASY: Chasing in Chicago

Friday, September 14, 2012
Stewart is hardly a stranger to Victory Lane at Chicagoland. Photo: Getty Images

GEICO 400 Fantasy Preview

It's crunch time!  The Chase field is all set and the 10-race shootout for a championship kicks off this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

For a driver like Jimmie Johnson, he's known for the better part of the summer that a Chase berth was assured.  For his teammate (and car owner) Jeff Gordon, he was looking in the rearview mirror at the Richmond finish line to see how many cars back Kyle Busch was running ... just enough, to put it simply.

However, for us Fantasy Auto Racing owners, there is no Chase.  There's no reset button.  Whether you ran with the consistency of Greg Biffle or faced the frustrations of Carl Edwards, you're in the system by which NASCAR operated before the institution of the Chase in 2004.  You can win the Chase segment on Yahoo, but you'll ultimately be graded on a full, 36-race season.

Sure, if you're running up front, like our Exec. VP/General Manager at NHMS, Jerry Gappens, you're as happy as a clam in a tide pool.  If you're way off the pace, however, then you might feel like a lukewarm, deep-fried clam that's been left on the appetizer plate too long at Makris (home of Loudon the Lobster).

That said, I really like the Chase format for NASCAR, yet I wouldn't want Yahoo to change its system either.  In the case of real life, the Chase makes a lot of sense.  This is a sport that bases its outcome on the final lap of a race.  I find it ironic that traditionalists still want the outcomes in March and April to help determine the fastest car in the sport as much as the winners in October and November.

In terms of Yahoo, a Chase wouldn't make much sense.  If there were a set number of teams in the league and the best were selected for the Chase, that could work, but that's not how the system runs, nor should it.

Let's just accept there's a valid difference in the two systems.  But ... let's understand that with some of the overachieving managers running out of allocations on top drivers, there's still a chance to make up plenty of ground in the next 10 races.

Strategy: Drivers only race at Chicago once a year and there have only been 11 Cup races at the facility in its history, so it's not exactly the most statistically rich.  That said, it is pretty much a D-shaped, "cookie cutter" oval, so there's plenty of ways to make educated guesses.  Intermediate track stats should be helpful.

A-List

Start

#14 Tony Stewart - I don't believe that bad momentum exists in Stewart's world.  After last year's unexpected Chase run, he proved he's not someone you could write off in any race just because he'd had a few bad finishes.  He's won three of Chicagoland's 11 races, so he's a sure bet on fantasy rosters.

#24 Jeff Gordon - With six top-fives in 11 starts at Chicago, the No. 24 is strong contender.  He's raced very well lately and this team should be dangerous now that he's made it in to the dance.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - This is one of the few tracks where Johnson has yet to record a win.  However, he has a few things going in his favor.  First, his series-leading 112.2 driver rating at Chicago suggests he should have won here by now.  Second, he's always been dominant on intermediate tracks, especially come Chase time.

Park

#18 Kyle Busch - The driver of the No. 18 has a reputation of fading in the Chase.  He's not even in this year after just barely missing, and I think that will spawn a difficult end to the year for the younger Busch brother.  He's won here, but he only has one other top-10 in seven total starts.  With so many A-Listers chasing a championship, I can't see there being much reason to start Kyle the rest of the way.

B-List

Start

#5 Kasey Kahne - His history here doesn't give him much credibility, but it's a little misleading.  He's made a total of eight starts at Chicagoland: the first two ended as DNFs, but the last three have ended in finishes of 12th or better.

#15 Clint Bowyer - One of the most unheralded drivers in the race, Bowyer proved just how strong he can be in running away at Richmond last week.  He has five top-10s in six Chicago starts.

#55 Mark Martin - Did know if Mark Martin ran a full schedule at the average amount of points he accrued per race, he would have finished just outside the Chase between Kyle Busch (13th) and Carl Edwards (14th)?  There's a reason why I keep suggesting people start this part-timer.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Was it just me or did it seem like Junior just kind of put it in cruise control the last month when it was clear he was going to the Chase?  This is by far the best season he's ever had, as his 9.9 average finish blows away his previous best in 2004 (12.1), and I expect that he'll be a contender throughout the Chase.  That could start at Chicagoland Speedway, where he has three top-fives in 11 starts.

Park

#16 Greg Biffle - The Biff has just one top-10 in nine Chicagoland starts.  This a tough track to open up the Chase for him.

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - There are dark horses and then there's JPM.  Statistically, he's right in the mix at this track, but don't let yourself get talked into being the goon that starts him to be different.  You'll end up with a car that averaged a 20.8 finish this year and a whopping two top-10s.

C-List

Start

#21 Trevor Bayne - I'm not a big fan of Bayne's this year, but he has picked up two top-10s in 10 starts.  If you didn't bother thinking this whole allocation thing through and are just now realizing you're going to run short on the C-List fuel of Almirola/Hornish, it might be time to pit for a splash of gas and a couple tires.  Bayne is one of your best options should you ned to do that.

#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - He might as well be playing Easton Corbin's country hit "Roll With It."  Week in and week out, Hornish seems to be the crop of the C-List and you might as well keep rolling him off the C-List hauler.

Park

#10 Danica Patrick - I'm not totally out on Danica one day being a competitive Cup driver, but she's really just a name at this point.  She's finished no better than 29th in five Cup starts this year.  Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland each average at least 10 more fantasy points per race than she does.  You aren't thinking of starting either one of them, are you!?

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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.