Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 Fantasy Preview
The final off week in NASCAR's 2012 schedule should have provided drivers with the opportunity to assess their stock and figure out how to save their seasons. The beauty of the new Wild Card format is that a driver is only a few great weeks away from recovering a season and making a Chase run.
Denny Hamlin said last week of Kasey Kahne's win that he never counted out anyone from Hendrick Motorsports, and made special note that he wouldn't write off Jeff Gordon until it was no longer mathematically possible for him to win enough races to claim a Wild Card spot. Gordon is probably two wins away from being a Chaser with seven races to go.
Carl Edwards, who switched crew chiefs during the off week, is desperately in need of a single win to have a good shot at making the Chase. Kyle Busch's lone victory narrowly holds off Ryan Newman and Joey Logano for the final Wild Card spot. While Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are both comfortably locked in the top-10, but, with winless seasons, are only a few bad days away from being in jeopardy of making a postseason appearance.
Of course, one driver that won't be contending is AJ Allmendinger. His indefinite suspension became more indefinite as a B-test came back to confirm that he indeed had failed a drug test. The driver of the No. 22 never seemed to get it on track, despite high expectations from many including myself. He was another driver that had a reasonable shot at laying down a few wins, but that opportunity is gone now. Only time will tell if his opportunity with Penske Racing is gone as well.
The Wild Card format makes it much more exciting as a fan, but when it comes to managing a fantasy NASCAR team, it gets flat out nerve-wracking. Drivers in need of a win are going to become more and more likely to push the limits, which might increase the odds of a victory lane visit, but also increases the odds of an early trip to the garage.
The key for fantasy owners through the end of the regular season is to stick with what works. Unless you, yourself, are a country mile behind the competition, there's no need to start trying to get cute with your picks. Imagine yourself as Harvick or Truex Jr., so long as you stick with what has consistently works, you'll be there to compete during the final stage of the season.
Strategy: Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a rare combination of driver and car. Some tracks, like ours at NHMS, are about driver ability, while others put much more emphasis on the machine under the driver. Indy is both. The 2.5-mile oval requires a lot of raw speed. However, the flat straights and minimally banked turns require strong driver ability. To put it simply, this is a great week to start on the mantra of consistency and avoid the drivers that don't seem like favorites here.
#14 Tony Stewart - Driver? Check. Car? Check. There's a reason why Smoke has the highest driver rating at IMS and it's because he brings the combination required to win here.
#29 Kevin Harvick - His average finish of 10.0 ranks third in the field and he's shown the ability to be consistent all season.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - Don't like my suggestion of playing it safe? Jimmie Johnson is your guy this week! He's won three races in 10 starts at IMS, yet he averages a finish of 18.4 because he's finished 36th or worse in three other starts. Go big or go home, eh?
#11 Denny Hamlin - As great as he looked at NHMS, he's never looked very good at Indianapolis. His 18.5 average finish is worse than Johnson's and he doesn't have any wins and just a single top-five to show for his six starts.
#5 Kasey Kahne - With the way Kahne has been racing, it's hard to go against him. He has four top-10s in eight Indy starts and suffered accidents in two of the other four. He's qualified in the top-12 in all but one Indianapolis race, so he knows how to get around this track with speed.
#15 Clint Bowyer - Bowyer's 11.8 average IMS finish ranks first on the B-List. He seems to have an affinity for flat tracks, as he was successful at "The Magic Mile" here in NH with a third place finish last week.
#16 Greg Biffle - The No. 16 has finished in the top-10 in four of the last five races at Indianapolis. Based on how well Biffle has raced this season, it's easy to see that going to five out of six.
#55 Mark Martin - His Indianapolis Motor Speedway rating of 104.5 leads the B-List, and with Martin's part time status, he's almost always worth considering.
#27 Paul Menard - Last year's race winner had never finished in the top-10 before that and has an average Indy finish of 21.0. It's likely that 2011 was an anomaly, not a budding trend.
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - With two top-10s in 12 IMS starts, not even the die hard Junior fans can make much of a case to start him this week.
#21 Trevor Bayne - At this point, it's best to think of Bayne as a part-time driver with allocation upside. He's far removed from his Daytona 500 win, and while he's not awful, he's just better than an average choice on the C-List. When he enters, he's worth starting.
#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - With Allmendinger out, it appears Hornish might be the relief needed for those running out of Aric Almirola starts, so it's best to start using him liberally. In three Indy starts, he has an abysmal 29.3 average finish, but he did win INDYCAR's Indy 500 in 2006, so he's no stranger to a milk shower.
#34 David Ragan - Statistically, he's the best C-List driver at Indy, but all those stats were compiled with Roush Fenway Racing. He hasn't been better than a typical Front Row Motorsports driver at any point this season, and he's probably not going to start at a track like this.
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.