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FANTASY: Gambling at Kansas

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Clint Bowyer (left), Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon chat during Wednesday's test session at Kansas. Photo: Getty Images

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Kansas Speedway looks like just another 1.5-mile tri-oval.  As a "cookie cutter," it's usually a place where you can predict the results based on the history of intermediate tracks of similar build.

However, the history books got wiped clean this summer when Kansas repaved the track and created variable banking.  Sure, it might still look the same from the outside, but on the actual track, drivers are saying that old notes might as well be used to spark campfires in the brisk Kansas evening.

"It's basically like going to a whole new race track," said two-time Kansas winner Jeff Gordon.  "This track went from being abrasive and wearing the tires out, to smooth and super-fast."

Drivers have already noticed a change in the preferred race grooves and say that those grooves still seem to be evolving as rubber gets laid down on the surface. “I think it will be a good race and I think as the weekend goes the groove will start widening out and moving up,” said Joey Logano. “You can see it now it’s moving up little bit by little.”

The difficult decision for fantasy owners is how to go about prognosticating the best drivers at this track.  Do we just go by the old statistics at Kansas and hope they hold true?  Do ignore them and look at intermediate track types and hope this Sunday races to the mean?

I have a statistical mind, so I need something to fall back on.  I'll be using a little of both those techniques and, as always, a little intuition and instinct if I feel one way or another about a driver this weekend.

Strategy: With an absence of post-repave statistics, it's best to consider the 1.5-mile tri-ovals as one and figure out which driver tends to produce the best results at these tracks.  Also, don't forget to use common sense; thirty-one races into the season, it shouldn't be much of a secret about who can race everywhere and who can't race anywhere.

A-List

Start

#2 Brad Keselowski - The points leader put up a Chase-worst 11th-place finish at Charlotte.  If you told me I could start a guy five weeks in a row and never do worse than 11th, I'd take him!  He also has a win at Kansas in five starts, so he's not hurting for confidence, to say the least.

#24 Jeff Gordon - It's tough to wonder whether Gordon's ho-hum day at Charlotte is a sign of things to come or if it was just a bad day in what had previously been a string of six top-threes in seven races.  The No. 24 might be about out of the championship, but I'm not ready to extinguish his hot streak yet.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Johnson is a clear choice.  His 109.6 average driver rating at intermediate tri-ovals since 2010 is the best in NASCAR.  His 7.9 average career finish at Kansas is also the best.  No matter which poison you pick, you're still looking at No. 48 in the bottle.

Park

#11 Denny Hamlin - He wrecked during practice today and while he sounded okay, he was headed back to the care center for re-evaluation.  Based on Dale Jr.'s practice-session concussion in a (coincidental) previous test at this track, I'm apprehensive sticking a driver on my roster with suspect health.

B-List

Start

#5 Kasey Kahne - It's about the end of the line for Kahne.  If he plans on making a Chase run, he has five races to close a 35-point gap, and that's going to involve winning a few races.  He's the farthest guy back that I still hold hope could win the championship, but it's go-time.  With 12 of his career 14 wins on intermediate tracks, this is his chance.

#15 Clint Bowyer - Fresh off a race win and a resurgence in the Chase, the Emporia native is headed back to his home state hoping to make a title statement.  He's historically right about average at Kansas, but I always hate to bet against home-track mojo.

#16 Greg Biffle - If there's anyone that should complain about the repave, it's Biffle.  He had seven top-fives in 12 Kansas races, including two wins.  That said, he's got a 102.6 driver rating on intermediates since 2010, which is third best in the field.  He should hold up just fine this weekend.

#56 Martin Truex. Jr - If there's someone that shouldn't complain about the repave, it's the guy that had a 23.3 average finish at Kansas.  Of course, his only top-10, a second-place finish, came this spring, so perhaps he'd figured it out.  Truex is one of the stronger intermediate track drivers on the B-List since 2010, so he's worth considering with the strong season he's put up this year.

Park

#39 Ryan Newman - Among the B-List drivers you might consider, Newman's 77.9 driver rating on intermediate tracks (since 2010) places him right near the bottom of it.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - For the 33 percent that own him at the time of this post, um, hello!?  He's not racing this weekend!  Duh.

C-List

Start

#21 Trevor Bayne - With a lack of great options this week on the C-List, Bayne will help if you've taxed allocations on Hornish or Almirola.

#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - He gets the nod over the No. 43 of Aric Almirola due to a better driver rating and average finish on the intermediate tracks (again, stats since 2010).

Park

#47 Bobby Labonte - I wrote off Labonte halfway through the year and haven't considered him since.  Considering he has just one top-20 in the 27 intermediate track races from 2010-2012, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's not the highest producing C-lister 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.