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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Daytona

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Last week’s victory by Kyle Busch did not alter the makeup of the Chase contenders, but it certainly had an impact.

Kyle Busch sits 37th in the standings, 136 points out of the top 30. That equals more than three full races worth of points with 10 events remaining in the regular season, and it would seem to be an impregnable task.

While steep, the hill is not impossible to climb. The list of drivers he has to beat every week includes Matt DiBenedetto, Josh Wise, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Justin Allgaier, and Cole Whitt, but he has to beat them all by up to 14 positions per race. Most of these drivers claim the mid-20s as their high water mark each week, which means that every top-10 achieved by Busch gets him a step closer to the Chase.

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and others have shown that stringing long lists of top-10s together is achievable, and that means the drivers on the cusp of the top 16 in points are going to have to keep a look over their shoulders.

Jimmie Johnson (4 wins / 546 points)
Chase Ranking: first
Last week: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 15.00
Kentucky: 8.33
New Hampshire: 11.00

Johnson had nothing to lose last week either in regard to his seeding or Chase contention. As the leader of the Toyota / Save Mart 350 with eight laps remaining, he was a sitting duck since most of the field would probably have stayed out if he had pitted. All things considered, a sixth-place finish was not bad and Johnson’s gamble did not cost fantasy players very many points.

Kevin Harvick (2 wins / 616 points)
Chase Ranking: second
Last week: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 20.33
Kentucky: 9.33
New Hampshire: 13.17

Harvick is in the same position as Johnson vis a vis his standing relative to the field. He set himself up as the driver to beat from the start of the season and has not taken his foot off the competition’s throat. His mistakes in the pits are seemingly easy to overcome and his gambles always work. Fantasy owners do not need to understand why; they simply need to capitalize on the trend.

Kurt Busch (2 wins / 469 points)
Chase Outlook: third
Last week: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 18.60
Kentucky: 12.33
New Hampshire: 24.33

For the first time in their careers, Kurt and Kyle Busch finished 1-2 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. For the driver of the No. 41 it was his third straight top-five and he is showing strength to rival Harvick. He has been much less predictable during the season, however, and fantasy owners might still be a little leery of the high number of low teen finishes he has recorded so far this year.

Not Yet Locked in

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 563 points)
Chase Ranking: fourth
Last week: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 24.67
Kentucky: 11.33
New Hampshire: 13.00

Truex started the season with a seven-race streak of top-10s and then he crashed at Bristol Motor Speedway. He scored seven more consecutive top-10s until he crashed last week at Sonoma Raceway. By our calculations, he should be golden until the fall Bristol race—yeah, that sounds about right.

Joey Logano (1 win / 559 points)
Chase Ranking: fifth
Last week: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 15.33
Kentucky: 11.67
New Hampshire: 19.50

After several weeks of struggling, Logano finally seems to have his course righted. With three top-fives to his credit at Pocono Raceway, Michigan International Speedway, and Sonoma he has been one of the best values on a weekly basis. Of course, that strength won’t help him at all if he gets swept into a "Big One" crash at Daytona International Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win / 545 points)
Chase Ranking: sixth
Last week: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 7.17
Kentucky: 7.00
New Hampshire: 9.33

Junior is a delicate mix of consistency and occasional strength. On the right weekends, he has scored a victory and four other top-three finishes in the past 10 weeks. He also has four results of 11th through 16th. When players get him on their lineup at the right time he is a great value, but his salary cap is prohibitive when he is at the low end of his finish scale.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 505 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh
Last week: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 15.83
Kentucky: 11.67
New Hampshire: 5.67

Keselowski’s Auto Club Speedway victory and early-season surge has the No. 2 team safely in the Chase and fairly well insulated from seeding fluctuations, but he has not been a very good fantasy value in recent weeks. In the past nine races this season dating back his crash at Bristol, he has only four top-10s and an average finish of 16th.

Matt Kenseth (1 win / 479 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth
Last week: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 22.33
Kentucky: 4.00
New Hampshire: 10.33

Kenseth has settled into an interesting pattern. His last nine races have alternated two top-10 finishes with a result outside the top 20. If the pattern holds he is due to finish well this week, but Daytona has a way of breaking streaks and he has the same chance of crashing as anyone in the field.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 438 points)
Chase Ranking: ninth
Last week: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 14.50
Kentucky: 26.67
New Hampshire: 13.50

Fantasy owners keep waiting for Hamlin to score another top-five. His last taste of success came 11 races ago and three top-10s in that span of events is insufficient to raise his average finish to better than 17th. None of his top-10s have come in consecutive weeks, which makes it difficult to place-and-hold him on the roster.

Carl Edwards (1 win / 405 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Last week: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 24.17
Kentucky: 19.33
New Hampshire: 14.00

Edwards’ 40th-place finish last week at Sonoma was bad enough to drop him outside the top 16 in points. That moves the cutoff for eligibility and—coupled with the possibility of Kyle Busch climbing into the top 30—makes the bubble a scary place to be. Earning few enough points to rank 17th in the standings also means Edwards has been an uncertain value.

Currently Eligible on Points

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 464 points)
Chase Outlook: 11th
Last week: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 20.50
Kentucky: 18.00
New Hampshire: 13.83

McMurray’s three-race, seventh-place streak of finishes was broken at Sonoma. He did not miss the top 10 by much, however, with an 11th-place finish and that made him a solid value in most games because of a modest salary cap. He will need several top-fives before he gets prohibitively expensive, so owners should keep him on their radar screen.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 483 points)
Chase Ranking: 12th
Last week: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 23.67
Kentucky: 7.00
New Hampshire: 14.67

Kahne’s eighth-place finish last week at Sonoma was important because it was part of a sixth-seventh-and-eighth-place lineup for Hendrick Motorsports in the Toyota / Save Mart 350. Fantasy players need to look at a driver’s individual strength as well as that of his organization, and consistency like that adds data to the statistical pool.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 462 points)
Chase Outlook: 13th
Last week: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 19.17
Kentucky: 6.33
New Hampshire: 14.33

So much more was expected from Gordon last week that fantasy owners are well within their rights to be disappointed by his finish outside the top 15. He gambled on old tires late in the race, but his true undoing was a Hail Mary setup in the final third of the event. This is a team that seems to zig when the rest of the field zags and that costs players a lot of points.

Paul Menard (0 wins / 452 points)
Chase Ranking: 14th
Last week: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Sonoma: 13.00
Kentucky: 19.00
New Hampshire: 17.00

Less was expected of Menard at the beginning of the season and that means top-15 finishes in 69 percent of his starts has made him a good fantasy value. His salary cap is manageable in most games and a handful of top-10s contributed to a few victories for players with the No. 27 on their roster. He finished outside the top 20 only four times this year, which gives him a manageable downside.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 435 points)
Chase Outlook: 15th
Last week: 16th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 17.33
Kentucky: 17.00
New Hampshire: 16.33

Newman is the only driver who improved his Chase ranking this week on the strength of a top-10 finish at Sonoma. This team needs a lot of consistency to pull the No. 31 off the bubble, but a solid top-five or wild card victory at Daytona would be much more impactful.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 431 points)
Chase Ranking: 16th
Last week: 15th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 20.83
Kentucky: 26.67
New Hampshire: 17.67

With Edwards outside the top 16 in points and Busch lurking in the shadows, Almirola can ill-afford a bad finish at Daytona. At this level, the standings are so close that the slightest bobble by anyone causes a shift if status, so the No. 43’s 14th-place finish in the Toyota / Save Mart 350 did not make them a bad value even though they slipped a spot in the rankings.  

Notables Outside the Top 16

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 329 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 17.00
Kentucky: 14.00
New Hampshire: 9.50

The good news is that Bowyer climbed into 16th in the points last week on the heels of a third-place Sonoma finish. The bad news is that the driver he passed in the standings was one who had a victory under his belt and if the Chase started next week, Bowyer would still be on the outside looking in.

Greg Biffle (0 wins / 368 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 15.17
Kentucky: 23.00
New Hampshire: 12.67

Biffle has batted 0.500 in regard to plate tracks during the past two years. He scored two top-10s in the first two races of 2014 at Daytona and Talladega and then finished 25th or worse in the second races on each track. This year he finished 10th in the Daytona 500 and was 37th in the Geico 500, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what he’ll do this week.  

Sam Hornish Jr.
(0 wins / 307 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 22.50
Kentucky: NA
New Hampshire: 21.50

Hornish could have been forgiven for being a little rusty on the restrictor-plate, superspeedways this year after such a long hiatus from regular competition at the Cup level. He stayed calm in the Daytona 500 draft to finish 12th and was sixth at Talladega SuperSpeedway. That bodes well for his Coke Zero 400 effort and this track has been known to favor dark horses in Victory Lane.

Kyle Busch (1 win / 125 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Average positions per race to pass 30th: 13.6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Daytona: 23.40
Kentucky: 5.67
New Hampshire: 9.67

Busch is liable to be driving on eggshells this week. He cannot afford another bad finish, but he cannot control his fate on the restrictor-plate Daytona International Speedway. He could potentially pass DiBenedetto for 36th in the standings with a solid run this week and then he will have to slowly collect the next six drivers in line. 

 

Next Three Weeks

Driver

2015 Power Avg.

Daytona 3-yr Avg.

Kentucky 3-yr Avg.

New Hampshire 3-yr Avg.

Kevin Harvick

4.73

20.33

9.33

13.17

Kurt Busch

6.56

18.60

12.33

24.33

Martin Truex Jr.

8.78

24.67

11.33

13.00

Brad Keselowski

10.53

15.83

11.67

5.67

Kasey Kahne

10.53

23.67

7.00

14.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

10.56

7.17

7.00

9.33

Joey Logano

10.57

15.33

11.67

19.50

Jimmie Johnson

11.07

15.00

8.33

11.00

Jeff Gordon

11.26

19.17

6.33

14.33

Matt Kenseth

11.36

22.33

4.00

10.33

Denny Hamlin

12.79

14.50

26.67

13.50

Carl Edwards

13.35

24.17

19.33

14.00

Jamie McMurray

15.76

20.50

18.00

13.83

Paul Menard

16.67

25.17

19.00

17.00

Ryan Newman

17.65

17.33

17.00

16.33

Aric Almirola

21.66

20.83

26.67

17.67

Outside of Chase Contention

Kyle Busch

13.46

23.40

5.67

9.67

Kyle Larson

14.72

36.00

40.00

2.50

Clint Bowyer

18.89

17.00

14.00

9.50

Austin Dillon

22.65

14.75

20.00

12.50

Tony Stewart

23.61

26.83

21.00

16.40

Danica Patrick

24.08

18.20

22.00

26.25

Greg Biffle

24.51

15.17

23.00

12.67

David Ragan

24.79

26.00

28.67

29.67

AJ Allmendinger

24.91

31.00

17.67

17.67

Casey Mears

25.83

12.67

18.67

32.17

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

26.34

20.00

21.00

26.50

Justin Allgaier

26.94

29.67

24.00

28.50

Sam Hornish Jr.

28.83

22.50

NA

21.50

David Gilliland

32.22

27.67

28.67

27.83

Landon Cassill

32.90

28.40

31.00

30.17

Michael Annett

33.77

23.67

18.00

30.50

Cole Whitt

34.19

28.00

28.00

33.00

Michael McDowell

34.35

29.50

38.00

37.25

Alex Bowman

34.68

28.00

36.00

29.50

Josh Wise

36.27

33.17

35.00

35.50

JJ Yeley

38.14

25.75

38.00

36.50

Mike Bliss

38.32

45.00

41.33

43.33

Travis Kvapil

42.67

19.67

31.00

31.80

 

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 sometimes 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
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.