FANTASY: The Real Chase Wild Card
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013
NASCAR's rules state there are two Wild Cards in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. That's supposed to imply that the drivers ranked 11-20 with the most wins make it into the Chase. (It also doesn't account for the unique situation that saw Jeff Gordon make it in as a third Wild Card [or was he the 11th automatic qualifier?].)
That's the Wild Card talk for the first 26 races of the season, but truthfully, once the Chase begins, nobody cares about which drivers made it as Wild Cards. They only care about the wild card track on the schedule: Talladega Superspeedway.
As last fall's 25-car pileup on the final lap proved, it really doesn't matter how you do over the course of the first 187 laps of the 188-lap race. You can lead every lap or you can bumble along in the back of the pack, there's no guarantee where you'll be when the checkered flag flies nor whether your car will even be in good enough shape to cross that start/finish line.
With five races to go, this race will determine the rest of the Chase. The champion at the end of the season will need the good fortune of avoiding the Big One (of which there might be multiple) in order to stay afloat in the standings.
Here's a look at who might do that at Talladega for the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing rosters, although the key word is "might":
Talladega Superspeedway is the largest in NASCAR at 2.66 miles around. It's one of two restrictor plate tracks in NASCAR. Those lead to pack racing, as no car is faster than another, due to all of them being held below maximum speed.
It's pretty obvious, the Big One will take some cars out. There's no way to predict where in the field it will hit, nor who will be taken out. I suppose the only real strategy is to be running first and hope the second place car doesn't spin you, although that's exactly what set off the 25-car pileup last year, as race leader Tony Stewart attempted to block (unsuccessfully).
With only five races left, fantasy managers can really start counting down allocations. If there's a driver you plan to use up at other tracks, don't, in any way, consider starting him this week. Other than that, you can roll the dice on whomever and hope those dice don't come up snake eyes.
- #2 Brad Keselowski - Fresh off a slump-busting win at Charlotte, Keselowski heads to a track where he's won twice in nine starts.
- #24 Jeff Gordon - Within striking distance of the Cup with five races to go, Gordon needs a win. He has six of them in his career at Talladega.
- #29 Kevin Harvick - Chances are that you're not going to use all nine starts on Harvick this season, but he still has a realistic shot at the winning the championship. That possibility would become a lot more real is he wins this race.
- #5 Kasey Kahne - He's never any good at Talladega, and, with the exception of last week at Charlotte, he's really been in a slump for much of the Chase.
- #16 Greg Biffle - It took The Biff 13 races to earn his first top-10 at Talladega, but he has five in his last the nine starts at the track.
- #31 Jeff Burton - If the B-list is growing thin, Burton comes into consideration as he has six top-10s in the last 11 starts at 'Dega. There's no real way to assume he'll do any better or worse than the list's top names, which makes it a rare week that he's on level footing.
- #78 Kurt Busch - With 13 top-10s in 25 starts, Busch is one of the few drivers that turns out a top-10 more than 50% of the time at Talladega.
- #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He's a diamond in the rough with five wins in 27 starts at Talladega. It's hard to predict success at that track, but Junior is one of the few for whom expectations can be heightened.
- #18 Kyle Busch - Despite some history of success at Talladega, Busch is too valuable on the B-list to garner a start at such a wild card.
- #99 Carl Edwards - The spring race at 'Dega was just the second time in 18 races that Edwards scored a top-five at the track. He should be saved.
- #34 David Ragan - The win in May shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as it was. Ragan has actually finished in the top-10 in six of 13 starts at Talladega, which is a better percentage than many of this year's Cup contenders.
- #55 Michael Waltrip - He digs himself out of retirement just to race the restrictor plate tracks and finished fourth at Talladega earlier this year.
- #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - There's no need to consider the C-list's top driver at a track like this one.
Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.
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