Dan Beaver

Chasing the Cup

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Chasing Texas (Spring)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


NASCAR travels to Texas this week for the fourth race on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway.

Six drivers swept the top 10 in these previous three races, and it will come as no surprise that they are in a currently-eligible position in the playoff hunt. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski swept the top five. They are seeded first and third based on race and segment wins.

Nine of the 16 drivers in playoff contention have earned segment wins and those points will not only be critical once the final 10 races begin, but 16th-place Denny Hamlin can attest to their importance now. He is the highest ranked driver who would fail to make the finale since Kurt Busch, with his Daytona 500 win, has fallen to 19th in the standings.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 20 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 3

Eligible on Wins

Brad Keselowski (2 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 234 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 9.50
Bristol: 18.00
Richmond: 7.50

With his win in the STP 500, Keselowski became the first driver to earn two victories. The significance of that is that he cannot be knocked out of contention so long as he starts the remaining races during the regular season. This team is prone to gambling and the next 20 events could be interesting.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 4 Stage Wins / 236 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 10.50
Bristol: 25.00
Richmond: 14.83

The O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 is important for Truex because it is situated prior to two weeks of short track racing. The No. 78 was been the class of the field on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks several times last year and again this spring at Vegas. He might not win at Texas Motor Speedway, but everyone will certainly know he was there.

Kyle Larson (1 win / 1 Stage Win / 268 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 17.17
Bristol: 21.50
Richmond: 11.33

With only one stage win to his credit, Larson would not hold an advantage if the playoffs started next week, but he showed why it is important to get all the points possible. He was awarded the Martinsville Speedway pole based on his standings and that gave him a chance to lead some laps early on the short track. He will return there in the fall with a greater sense of confidence.

Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 152 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 15.33
Bristol: 13.50
Richmond: 15.67

Newman’s victory at Phoenix is what got him into playoff contention, but his real value to fantasy players lies in his consistency. His other three efforts in the past four weeks landed between eighth and 17th, which is a critical predictability on which players can rely.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 119 points)
Power Ranking: 14
Points’ Standings: 19
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 16.17
Bristol: 18.33
Richmond: 10.67

This is becoming all-too familiar. Busch has spent the last three years putting this team in playoff contention only to fall outside the top 16 in points. Ultimately that has not mattered since there have not been more than 16 unique winners in a season since NASCAR implemented the current scheme, but he has to spend his time worrying about whether this will be the first time a winning driver misses the Big Shows.

Eligible on Points

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 Stage Win / 154 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 10.83
Bristol: 16.33
Richmond: 7.00

Harvick continues to struggle in the middle portions of races. He is often capable of overcoming lost laps due to unforeseen problems or mistakes, but his 38th at Vegas and his 20th last week at Martinsville show how dangerous it is to lose touch with the leaders.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 2 Stage Wins / 264 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 4.50
Bristol: 9.50
Richmond: 15.67

Elliott’s stage win last week in Martinsville goes into the highlight reel. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was determined enough to get back on the lead lap when the caution waved that he nudged Kyle Busch out of the groove, giving Elliott the chance to add one more critical playoff point to his tally.

Joey Logano (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 207 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 10.33
Bristol: 13.67
Richmond: 5.50

As strong as he has been all season, it is difficult to believe Logano does not have a victory yet. That will not last long. The driver of the No. 22 is one of the best-rounded drivers in the field and he has an opportunity to win on any one of the next three tracks.

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 188 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 3.40
Bristol: 30.00
Richmond: 6.00

Busch was extremely disappointed with missing out on the stage win and the overall victory at Martinsville—as well he should be. He lost six valuable playoff bonus points in the process. Still, finishing second should also have been a huge relief for a driver and team that have experienced so much bad luck in 2016.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 163 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 11.67
Bristol: 15.33
Richmond: 9.50

McMurray is the highest-seeded driver without either a race or segment win, but there are two racers below him higher in the points. That suggests he has not run as strong at the end of events as either Ryan Blaney or Clint Bowyer. For now, he has a good enough cushion that he does not need to worry and Chip Ganassi Racing is among the most improved.

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 179 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 31.50
Bristol: 22.67
Richmond: 33.50

Blaney continues to alternate strong and weak finishes, which makes him a difficult driver to place-and-hold. As the pattern stands, he is due to finish well in the O'Reilly 500, but there is an even better reason to regard him highly. The Wood Bros. had strong runs on this track even before they decided to run the full schedule several seasons ago.

Jimmie Johnson (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 141 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 7.17
Bristol: 9.83
Richmond: 11.00

Johnson simply has not looked good this year. Even when he managed to score a top-10 at Phoenix, he did not run with the leaders for much of the race. He has disappointed fantasy owners often enough on tracks he should have dominated that it is going to take more than one or two strong runs to trust him again. One win will propel him into the playoffs, however, and well-placed wins in the final 10 races could give him another championship.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 146 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 15.50
Bristol: 21.00
Richmond: 10.83

One has the sense that Kahne is living on borrowed time. His position in the points as well as much of his strength in the Fantasy Power Rankings comes from early season runs and if he continues to flirt with 20th-place finishes, he is going to fall out of playoff contention before the all-star break.

Erik Jones (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 144 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 12.00
Bristol: NA
Richmond: NA

With each passing week, it is getting easier to trust Jones. Ever since he finished 12th in Matt Kenseth’s car at Texas two seasons ago, fantasy players knew it was only a matter of time before he became a fixture on their roster. He has swept the top 15 since leaving Daytona International Speedway with an average finish of 12.2.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 174 points)
Power Ranking: 16
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 22.67
Bristol: 14.67
Richmond: 20.00

Hopefully this does not jinx the boy, but Bowyer appears to be among the leaders to stay. He made the Chase with a lesser-funded team and carried the No. 15 by sheer force of will in the past. Now that Harvick and Busch are struggling, he has an opportunity to become the highest finishing driver at Stewart-Haas Racing each week. That could have a massively positive impact on his attitude.

Trevor Bayne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 140 points)
Power Ranking: 20
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Texas: 26.67
Bristol: 15.00
Richmond: 19.50

Bayne hold a one-point advantage over Hamlin and for the moment, that puts him in playoff contention. There is still a lot of racing to be run, but it is likely that the margins will be just as close at the end of the regular season. Wins count, but so do points and now is not the time to take a weekend off. 

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tacks

Power

Ranking

Top

16

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Texas

Bristol

Richmond

Eligible on Wins

2

4

Brad Keselowski

2

 

4.51

|

9.50

18.00

7.50

4

3

Martin Truex Jr.

1

4

7.30

|

10.50

25.00

14.83

1

1

Kyle Larson

1

1

3.89

|

17.17

21.50

11.33

13

11

Ryan Newman

1

 

15.27

|

15.33

13.50

15.67

14

19

Kurt Busch

1

 

15.69

|

16.17

18.33

10.67

Eligible on Points

9

10

Kevin Harvick

 

3

10.72

|

10.83

16.33

7.00

3

2

Chase Elliott

 

2

4.53

|

4.50

9.50

15.67

5

5

Joey Logano

 

1

7.94

|

10.33

13.67

5.50

8

6

Kyle Busch

 

1

10.47

|

3.40

30.00

6.00

6

9

Jamie McMurray

 

 

10.11

|

11.67

15.33

9.50

7

7

Ryan Blaney

 

 

10.33

|

31.50

22.67

33.50

10

14

Jimmie Johnson

 

 

12.97

|

7.17

9.83

11.00

11

12

Kasey Kahne

 

 

14.61

|

15.50

21.00

10.83

12

13

Erik Jones

 

 

14.91

|

12.00

NA

NA

16

8

Clint Bowyer

 

 

16.09

|

22.67

14.67

20.00

20

15

Trevor Bayne

 

 

19.24

|

26.67

15.00

19.50

Drivers Outside Playoff Contention

15

16

Denny Hamlin

 

 

15.73

|

15.50

16.33

13.00

17

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

16.39

|

12.00

18.00

10.20

18

 

Austin Dillon

 

 

17.60

|

21.50

15.33

22.33

19

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

 

18.07

|

19.50

8.50

25.33

21

 

Matt Kenseth

 

 

21.48

|

14.60

22.00

16.50

22

 

Paul Menard

 

 

21.93

|

22.33

18.67

24.17

23

 

Aric Almirola

 

 

23.04

|

19.83

20.33

14.83

24

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

23.57

|

20.00

25.00

NA

25

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

24.10

|

19.00

21.17

18.50

26

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

25.00

|

26.33

17.00

29.00

27

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

25.57

|

23.33

21.67

22.17

28

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

25.71

|

29.60

26.00

28.33

29

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

26.82

|

NA

NA

NA

30

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

27.61

|

31.33

29.17

29.83

31

 

David Ragan

 

 

28.28

|

28.17

32.50

26.67

32

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

28.75

|

29.80

31.33

37.20

33

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

30.43

|

34.33

19.25

35.00

34

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

32.91

|

NA

NA

NA

35

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

32.92

|

36.40

33.00

34.50

36

 

Corey LaJoie

 

 

35.43

|

NA

NA

NA

37

 

Derrike Cope

 

 

35.95

|

NA

NA

NA

38

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

36.00

|

34.50

30.50

35.00

39

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

36.18

|

35.00

41.00

45.00

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver



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