Bank of America 500 Fantasy Preview
EDITOR'S NOTE: Yahoo Fantasy lineups lock early this week due to Thursday qualifying. It's recommended you pick your team before going to bed on Wednesday night.
The fifth race in the Chase will be a defining moment in this year's championship. Now that the scraps are all picked up from what was a wild, and frankly unnecessarily dangerous, wreck at Talladega, it's time to get back to normalcy in terms of racing.
I'm certainly a disappointed fantasy owner as three of my drivers, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip all finished much farther back at 'Dega than where they sat when the pack saw the white flag. However, I'm honestly more just thankful that everyone walked away from that wreck ... or rode on the side of a teammates car, as Jimmie Johnson did with Dale Jr. It's clear that restictor plates aren't making these races safer and I hope that changes are made for the sake of everyone's well-being.
Enough on that, like the Chase drivers this week, it's time to move on from that demolition derby and get back to focusing on racing. The Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is a crucial apex in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With the wild card that is Talladega out of the way, the drivers know their standing and can see the tracks left on which they need to perform. They know where they tend to perform well and where they might struggle, so it's time for them to start figuring out how to take advantage of their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. With six races to go, they have a clear sense of how many points they'll need to earn the title.
Few of the drivers are truly out of Chase contention right now, but if fan favorites like Jeff Gordon (42 points back) or Dale Earnhardt Jr. (51 points back) are going to make a run, the time is right now. Only 15 points separate fourth-place Kasey Kahne (36 points back) and 11th-place Junior, but none of those drivers are in great shape.
For any of those drivers to make a run, they'll need to start stringing together top-fives beginning this Saturday night. It's unlikely Brad Keselowski or Jimmie Johnson slips up too badly now that the most unpredictable race is out of the way, but it's not too late for one in the pack of Chasers to pull forward and challenge them for the lead. But, if a driver doesn't do that this weekend, he might as well wave goodbye to this year's title hopes.
At this point in the Fantasy NASAR season, it's also getting near the end of the line. It's likely that most team owners are running out of allocations on their best drivers, so it's time to be smart and make sure the drivers on your team are those that are most likely to maximize points this weekend. Like the drivers fading from the Chase, you can't afford to waste a precious start on a 25th-place finish, if you plan on making up ground on the leaders.
Strategy: Charlotte Motor Speedway is a very familiar track to an organization that is largely based in the city. There's a lot of stats and information to go on with this facility and its 1.5-mile, "cookie cutter" shape makes it even more predictable. Use the statistics on this one, you'll do far more harm than good by disregarding them.
#18 Kyle Busch - He might not be in the Chase, but "Shrub" has been one of the most consistent drivers recently and is starting to lap the field for the unofficial Also-Ran Trophy for non-Chasers. He has five finishes of seventh or better in the last seven races and his 107.5 driver rating at Charlotte is second to only Jimmie Johnson.
#24 Jeff Gordon - It's very disappointing that Gordon's throttle locked up and he wrecked in the Chase opener at Chicagoland. Outside of that finish, he has an insane six top-threes in the last seven races. He has five career wins at CMS and eight poles, and he should be on your team this weekend.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - If the run at the six-pack of championships is going to happen, it will start this week for Johnson. With six wins in 22 Charlotte races, he wins more than 25 percent of starts at the track and his 111.0 driver rating here is the best in the field.
#29 Kevin Harvick - He finally led a few laps last week, but with just 11 top-10s in 30 races, it's still a little odd that he's even in the Chase. Factor that with just seven top-10s in 23 Charlotte starts and he's clearly not an upside choice this week.
#5 Kasey Kahne - The B-List is shockingly shallow this week with few of the bigger name drivers having a strong history at Charlotte. Kahne is the exception and a clear choice with four wins in 17 CMS starts.
#16 Greg Biffle - He honestly isn't all that strong here, so a recommendation for him should be seen more as a lack of endorsement for anyone else. He finished fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 back in May, and he'll need a repeat of that to reignite the fading hope in what was once a promising season.
#20 Joey Logano - If you thought Jimmie Johnson has the best average finish at Charlotte, think again. Logano's 10.3, the best in the field, dwarfs Johnson's 11.8.
#39 Ryan Newman - It's never too late to chase bonus points in Fantasy NASCAR. Newman has an amazing nine Charlotte poles, but oddly only eight top-10s in 23 starts. He might start up front, just don't expect him to finish there.
#15 Clint Bowyer - If you're like me, you've probably got trigger happy on Bowyer during his recent hot streak. He got wrapped up in the unpredictability of 'Dega last week, and it's unlikely he climbs back into the Chase this week. He has just three top-10s in 13 Charlotte starts.
#56 Martin Truex Jr. - Sure, Truex is much improved in 2012 over his career stats, but there's a limit somewhere. He has just two top-10s in 14 starts at CMS, so all in all, it's not looking good for Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend.
#6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - The next big thing at Roush Fenway Racing ran an impressive 12th place in Dover two weeks ago. He only has three career Cup starts, but in one at Charlotte last year, he finished 11th. He's probably the best bet, and I know you have the allocations.
#43 Aric Almirola - It's not much to go on, but he did get a pole in his only Cup start at CMS back in May. That's enough reason to consider him a C-List favorite this weekend.
#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - He had a nice run of three straight 11th-place finishes coming into the New Hampshire, but in the races since (including the SYLVANIA 300), he has yet to crack the top-20. He's still a weekly option, but he's no longer the hottest thing on the C-List.
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.