Dan Beaver

Chasing the Cup

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Chasing Charlotte (Spring)

Friday, May 19, 2017


The all-star break has arrived.

In many sports, that signals the mid-point of a season, or at least falls fairly close. For NASCAR, the year still has 25 races remaining. In fact, it is still three races from the halfway mark of the regular season and there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

The playoff picture is coming into focus, however. Last week at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. became the third driver to lock into the playoffs. With his second win, he would also have the most bonus points.

Kasey Kahne slipped into 16th and since Ryan Newman is below him with a victory to his credit, the No. 5 driver is not currently in playoff contention. There are still changes on the horizon, however, and several others below him have the opportunity of winning and changing the competitive makeup even more.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 15 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 8

Locked into the Playoffs

Martin Truex Jr. (2 wins / 5 stage wins / 431 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 10.17
Dover: 6.67
Pocono: 19.67

The GoBowling.com 400 was one of the events that eluded Truex last year. The No. 78 had a variety of problems that spoiled several runs and it has to feel good to recapture one that got away. In order to become a favorite, he is going to have to do that again—multiple times—between now and the regular-season ender.

Brad Keselowski (2 wins / 2 stage wins / 408 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 9.00
Dover: 7.00
Pocono: 8.17

Keselowski earned his ninth top-seven result last week in the past 10 races. The only time his has stumbled was because of a mechanical failure at Bristol Motor Speedway. If that does not make him a place-and-hold pick, nothing is going to sway fantasy owners.

Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 0 stage wins / 323 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 16.83
Dover: 13.00
Pocono: 17.50

Just when it seemed safe to trust Johnson again, he finished 24th at Kansas. The question immediately gets asked about his ability to string strong runs together. Back-to-back wins at Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol were great, but those are still his only top-fives of the year.  

Eligible on Wins

Kyle Larson (1 win / 2 stage wins / 475 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 14.67
Dover: 9.33
Pocono: 8.83

Larson holds onto a 44-point advantage over the field—and while that is not as important as it was in the past in evaluating a driver’s chances of winning the championship, it is still revealing for fantasy owners. He remains a solid value, but one needs to see another top-five before he becomes a “must-have.” His last such finish came in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 five weeks ago.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 stage wins / 246 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 13.33
Dover: 17.33
Pocono: 11.50

Busch remains in the top 15 in points, but not by a wide margin. His last couple of seasons have been frustrating for fantasy owners and his fans alike. Last week’s 19th-place finish gives him an average of 19.1 since he won at Daytona International Speedway.

Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 stage wins / 238 points)
Power Ranking: 15
Points’ Standings: 17
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 9.50
Dover: 18.17
Pocono: 16.83

Newman is this week’s illustration of how important wins are. He suffered an oil pump failure at Kansas and finished last—garnering a single point in the process. On the heels of a crash-induced 25th at Talladega SuperSpeedway, he is outside the top 16 in points, but knows he will be part of the playoffs because of his Phoenix International Raceway victory.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1 win / 0 stage wins / 276 points)
Power Ranking: 16
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 22.50
Dover: 21.67
Pocono: 24.83

Stenhouse is included in the playoff picture because of his Talladega win, but he is inside the top 16 because of consistently strong runs. Teammate Trevor Bayne is also running well and that means Roush-Fenway Racing has finally turned their program around.

Eligible on Points

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 stage wins / 347 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 9.00
Dover: 14.17
Pocono: 12.17

Harvick finished third in the GoBowling.com 400 at Kansas last week. His single bad run at Talladega did not derail his effort and he now has four consecutive top-fives in the past four unrestricted races. One would have preferred that he spent more time with the leaders recently, but that is nitpicking.

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 3 stage wins / 291 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 26.75
Dover: 23.00
Pocono: 10.50

Blaney had one of his best-ever performances last week. We expected him to fall back through the field. In fact, we predicted as much in the Weekend Update, but he proved us wrong. Now that he has shown the ability to run with the leaders from green to checkers, his performance has to be evaluated in a different light.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 361 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 19.67
Dover: 3.00
Pocono: 18.50

A pit road accident at Kansas sent Elliott home 29th. That is one of the first times we have seen him frustrated on the track, but that probably has more to do with the accumulation of three weeks of dismal performances. He can rebound at Charlotte Motor Speedway next week, but cautious fantasy owners might want to wait until Dover International Speedway or Pocono Raceway to risk starting him.

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 325 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 14.00
Dover: 20.33
Pocono: 20.67

Busch had two reasons to be happy last week. He finally won a stage for the first time since Daytona and he got back-to-back top-fives for the first time this season. He needs to develop more consistency than that to make him worth his salary cap in most games, but he took a step in the right direction.

Joey Logano (1 encumbered win / 1 stage win / 320 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 12.50
Dover: 10.17
Pocono: 18.17

Logano had trouble from the very start of the GoBowling.com 400. Eventually, the vibration he felt in his brake rotor caused a catastrophic failure and led to the fiery crash that sidelined Aric Almirola. The No. 22 finished in the 30s for the second straight time and that will leave players with a bad taste in their mouths.  

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 1 stage win / 289 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 12.83
Dover: 12.00
Pocono: 11.00

Several of the drivers in the top 16 in points had trouble last week. Hamlin’s 23rd-place finish shows just how difficult it can be to predict who will run best on a given week, but it is also what makes this sport so entertaining.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 354 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 11.33
Dover: 17.83
Pocono: 12.67

McMurray is one of the reasons we go through the exercise of running the Fantasy Power Rankings script. He would not be seeded very highly if the playoffs started next week, but with a sixth in those rankings it is apparent that he is one of the stronger drivers. He needs to get some stage wins to be more fantasy relevant.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 317 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 21.83
Dover: 12.00
Pocono: 14.83

Bowyer is one of only three drivers currently in playoff contention without bonus points. While that does not matter very much right now, it is going to become important in the coming weeks. This team is much improved, but they need to take the next step and start leading races.

Trevor Bayne (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 250 points)
Power Ranking: 19
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 26.00
Dover: 26.00
Pocono: 24.00

Bayne sits 14th in the standings, but he is the driver most at risk if one of the racers below him on the grid get a win in the coming weeks. With NASCAR’s new points’ structure, the standings are more volatile than ever and there are going to be some surprising names among the playoff contenders when the checkers wave over Richmond in week 26. 

 

Power
Rankings

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Charlotte

Dover

Pocono

Locked into the Playoffs

4

2

Martin Truex Jr.

2

5

7.29

|

10.17

6.67

19.67

2

3

Brad Keselowski

2

2

5.06

|

9.00

7.00

8.17

10

8

Jimmie Johnson

2

 

11.83

|

16.83

13.00

17.50

Eligible on Wins

1

1

Kyle Larson

1

2

4.44

|

14.67

9.33

8.83

13

15

Kurt Busch

1

 

15.14

|

13.33

17.33

11.50

15

17

Ryan Newman

1

 

15.81

|

9.50

18.17

16.83

16

13

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

1

 

15.95

|

22.50

21.67

24.83

Eligible on Points

7

6

Kevin Harvick

 

3

9.20

|

9.00

14.17

12.17

9

11

Ryan Blaney

 

3

11.53

|

26.75

23.00

10.50

3

4

Chase Elliott

 

2

6.60

|

19.67

3.00

18.50

8

7

Kyle Busch

 

2

11.00

|

14.00

20.33

20.67

5

9

Joey Logano

1

1

8.56

|

12.50

10.17

18.17

12

12

Denny Hamlin

 

1

14.64

|

12.83

12.00

11.00

6

5

Jamie McMurray

 

 

9.15

|

11.33

17.83

12.67

11

10

Clint Bowyer

 

 

14.42

|

21.83

12.00

14.83

19

14

Trevor Bayne

 

 

18.57

|

26.00

26.00

24.00

Drivers Outside Playoff Contention

14

16

Kasey Kahne

 

 

15.74

|

17.33

10.83

21.50

17

 

Erik Jones

 

 

16.57

|

NA

NA

NA

18

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

16.90

|

16.80

15.00

3.80

20

 

Austin Dillon

 

 

19.05

|

16.00

23.50

19.00

21

 

Matt Kenseth

 

1

19.51

|

12.83

10.00

15.67

22

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

21.83

|

NA

32.00

19.50

23

 

Aric Almirola

 

 

22.03

|

16.83

16.17

29.50

24

 

Paul Menard

 

 

22.74

|

25.17

15.33

28.17

25

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

24.37

|

26.50

20.50

13.00

26

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

24.57

|

22.17

23.17

21.67

27

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

25.06

|

NA

NA

NA

28

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

25.77

|

28.00

20.00

23.00

29

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

26.14

|

23.00

20.83

29.00

30

 

David Ragan

 

 

27.03

|

32.83

24.83

22.00

31

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

27.37

|

27.83

30.00

29.83

32

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

28.11

|

30.50

27.60

27.83

33

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

29.77

|

30.00

33.25

32.25

34

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

32.40

|

NA

NA

NA

35

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

32.94

|

34.40

32.40

32.60

36

 

Corey LaJoie

 

 

34.31

|

35.00

NA

NA

37

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

35.53

|

32.50

35.50

NA

38

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

36.00

|

40.50

38.67

36.00

 

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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