Caps After Las VegasTuesday, March 14, 2017
Last week featured the most predictable race of the season. The result of this was that NASCAR.com’s salary cap manager could make significant changes as patterns begin to emerge.
While three weeks is not a lot of data from which to work, the totality of the previous three races have pointed us in a direction. The most notable of these is that Young Guns are increasingly nipping at the heels of the veterans.
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have been the greatest values on a weekly basis. Both of them experienced heartbreak at Daytona International Speedway in the 500 when they had a chance to win the biggest race of the year. Both contained their emotion and swept the top five in their next two starts.
Larson has been stronger, longer. He has four top-three finishes in his past five races stretching back to last fall’s Phoenix event. Occasionally drivers get on runs like this and then cool off, but that often means they fall back into the high-side of the top 10 or in the low-teens. Larson is becoming one of the more expensive drivers in the game with a 50 cent increase to $26.75, but he is putting up the points to justify it.
Elliott also took a 50 increase to $27.25. He had a legitimate shot at winning two of the first three races. Last week’s third showed that he can also take what the car will give him and make the most of it. With each passing week, it seems inevitable that he is going to win early this year as NASCAR enters two tracks that were kind to him in 2016.
If Phoenix were not the next track on the schedule, Kevin Harvick might have taken a decrease last week. Trouble at Daytona and Las Vegas Motor Speedway has kept him from putting up the same kind of points as Joey Logano, Elliott, and Larson. But Phoenix is the next track to host a race and the driver of the No. 4 is such a prohibitive favorite that he received a one-race bump of 50 cents to $28.50. If he does not live up to expectations, he is liable to be much cheaper at Auto Club Speedway.
It is too soon to panic about Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). They had all three of their veteran drivers near the front of the pack in the closing laps and all would have finished there as well if not for the contact between Logano and Kyle Busch. Fantasy players should remember that the caps are not set for single instances or usually even specific races; they reflect drivers’ strength over the recent past. JGR doesn’t look quite the same in 2017 as they did in 2016.
Busch’s 25 cent drop to $27 and Denny Hamlin’s $25.25 are as much a reflection of the competition catching up as it is of their slowing down.
Jimmie Johnson finally came close to cracking the top 10 last week. He finished 11th and helped control the points’ damage, but has not been a sufficiently strong driver to anchor one’s roster so far this season. It will take more than the occasional top-15 to make him worthy of a cap greater than $26 and unless he turns his fortune around quickly, he has not reached his natural bottom.