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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Kansas

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

Ten races have been run of the 26 that make up the regular season and already half of the field is made up of race winners. The pressure is building for drivers ranked at the bottom of the top 16.

Some very consistent drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, and Jeff Gordon keep knocking down top-10s but can’t quite find the perfect handling conditions to win. Meanwhile drivers with somewhat more erratic results are doing what NASCAR intended and going for broke aiming for wins. This two-pronged approach makes certain that victories count, but the sanctioning body’s agenda does not always match that of a fantasy player. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have trophies on their mantel, but their average finishes this season have not made them place-and-hold drivers.

Now the series tackles back-to-back races on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks for the next two points’ paying events. Given the emphasis that teams place on the unrestricted, intermediate speedways, NASCAR could easily add two more first time winners. Gordon, Kasey Kahne, and Truex each have run well enough that the right call late in the day could get them into the Chase. If not, the situation is still subject to change if a driver gets a second win that will lock him into the playoffs.

Fantasy players need to stay abreast of everything when handicapping races and the top 16 each have something to recommend them on NASCAR’s most prevalent track type.

Kevin Harvick (2 wins / 394 points)
Chase Ranking: first
Last week: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 7.60
Charlotte: 5.67
Dover: 9.83

Harvick has been close to perfect on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks since he won last year’s Bank of America 500. After that, he finished first or second in the next three races on this stack type and could easily get a third trophy for the season. Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway are both in the Chase, however, and the desire to experiment might be too tempting to avoid.

Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 299 points)
Chase Ranking: second
Last week: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 13.40
Charlotte: 9.67
Dover: 4.50

Johnson has not only been the most productive driver on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year with victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, but he also has the most current momentum. His Duck Commander 500 victory kicked of a current four-race, top-three streak and that is going to make him a great fantasy value.

Not Yet Locked in

Joey Logano (1 win / 335 points)
Chase Ranking: third
Last week: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 13.40
Charlotte: 11.83
Dover: 6.67

Results on plate tracks do not typically change the handicap on other course types, but the "Big One" at Talladega SuperSpeedway could have an impact on Logano. That was his second accident in three weeks, which could rob the team of momentum. Every other result this season has been a top-10, however, so there is no reason to panic just yet.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win / 319 points)
Chase Ranking: fourth
Last week: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 17.00
Charlotte: 19.80
Dover: 8.83

Earnhardt was once the Pied Piper of the plate tracks, but his prowess lessened through the years. One would not know that from his performance in the Geico 500 last week. The other drivers were reluctant to pull out of line and attempt a pass for most of the final 25 laps. Of course part of the reason for that was another Hendrick Motorsports teammate acting as his wing man.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 305 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth
Last week: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 16.00
Charlotte: 13.17
Dover: 9.83

The top of the points’ order is typically filled with drivers who have the ability to win on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. Keselowski loaded up on victories in 2014 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, and Chicagoland Speedway. He is still looking for his first win on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year, but he came close with a fifth in the most recent race at Texas.

Matt Kenseth (1 win / 292 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth
Last week: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 7.20
Charlotte: 10.67
Dover: 15.50

Kenseth was once the king of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but his results began to falter at the end of 2014. In the final three events of last year at Kansas, Charlotte, and Texas he failed to crack the top 10. He finished with the leaders at Atlanta and Vegas, but struggled again in the Lone Star state and that questions his setup for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas this week given last year’s results.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 281 points)
Chase Ranking: seventh
Last week: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 15.25
Charlotte: 8.00
Dover: 16.17

Hamlin won the 2012 STP 400 at Kansas, but that was the last race before the track was reconfigured. Since then, he has an average finish of 15.3 in four races; Hamlin missed the 2013 spring event to injury. The No. 11 team has been a little hit or miss this season and there are more consistent and safer picks at his level.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 255 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth
Last week: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 22.60
Charlotte: 19.33
Dover: 19.33

Busch joined the Cup series in progress and got off to an extremely strong start. He has not been infallible, however, with results outside the top 10 in four of his last five races. Kansas is going to provide yet another obstacle since his best result on this track last year was a 29th in the spring and he has only two top-10s in his last 14 attempts there.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 354 points)
Chase Ranking: ninth
Last week: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 10.00
Charlotte: 15.33
Dover: 13.17

With a fifth at Talladega, Truex has now earned nine top-10s in the first 10 races. Eventually fantasy owners will stop thinking about how incredible it seems that this team is a weekly contender and just roll with the flow. Truex’s surge is such that players need to stop thinking about his historical records and pay attention to 2015 instead. The No. 78 came within one spot of winning the Kobalt 400 at Vegas.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 297 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Last week: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 20.40
Charlotte: 14.00
Dover: 20.33

McMurray has a 48-point cushion over the driver currently 17th in the standings. He has more than a full race on Danica Patrick as well, so he is not in any immediate danger of falling out of the top 16. If the next two events produce brand new winners, however, and he is not one of them. The pressure could start to build.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 286 points)
Chase Ranking: 11th
Last week: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 9.20
Charlotte: 6.17
Dover: 16.50

Kahne has run well enough all season to have one of the best Fantasy Power Rankings’ ratings—which is a combination of finishing result and strength-based intangibles. Two of his last three races were marred by crash damage, however, and that can stall momentum. Kahne does not have to win this week, but he has to stay out of trouble and get a top-15 to restore the team’s confidence.

Paul Menard (0 wins / 280 points)
Chase Ranking: 12th
Last week: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 9.20
Charlotte: 21.50
Dover: 17.17

The plate tracks giveth and the plate tracks taketh away. Fortunately for Menard, it gave him a third-place finish this week and pushed him up the grid and out of harm’s way. It is only his second top-10 of the year though, and that makes him a situational pick. If he fits a niche on one’s roster, he is likely to finish somewhere in the teens.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 279 points)
Chase Ranking: 13th
Last week: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 17.20
Charlotte: 19.50
Dover: 17.50

Almirola continues to do his best Tortoise routine. Finishing 15th in the Geico 500, he improved his average slightly to 16.1 for the season. He sits 12th in the standings, 30 points ahead of the 17th position and is a conditionally strong pick in most games.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 277 points)
Chase Outlook: 14th
Last week: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 8.20
Charlotte: 12.67
Dover: 6.33

Another late-race crash for Gordon at Talladega is an example of just why it is so important to win. In one event, he lost most of the progress six consecutive top-10s gave the No. 24. Worse still, with only one top-five to his credit this season, he is not knocking on the door of a victory and this team needs to reverse their fortune soon.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 271 points)
Chase Outlook: 15th
Last week: 16th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 19.20
Charlotte: 11.67
Dover: 19.83

The marathon appeal process for tire doctoring at Auto Club is finally over and the No. 31 team can move on. The good news is that Brian Moss, the final appeals’ officer for NASCAR, left the points’ penalty at 50 instead of increasing it back to the pre-appeal level of 75. Newman is on the cusp of falling out of the top 16, but is he continues to finish in the top 10 more than 50 percent of the time, that will take care of itself.

Danica Patrick (0 wins / 253 points)
Chase Outlook: 16th
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 24.60
Charlotte: 28.80
Dover: 25.80

Patrick has been in and out of Chase contention during the past several races. Occasionally her strong run is trumped by someone who runs even better, and sometimes a modest showing is good enough to advance her when the competition wanes. To really become established with the leaders, she is going to have to score consistent top-15s and it is hard to know if or when that will happen.

Notables Outside the Top 16

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 235 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase contention
Last week: 15th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 13.20
Charlotte: 15.50
Dover: 7.17

Bowyer entered Talladega with the best recent record of all drivers on that course and he was running in the top 10 with two laps remaining. To prove that the multi-car draft does not care one bit for a driver’s record, the No. 15 was caught up in an incident and fell to 30th at the checkers, which also dropped him out of current Chase contention.

Greg Biffle (0 wins / 240 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 18.00
Charlotte: 15.67
Dover: 18.33

Biffle’s bad season is getting even worse with 30-something finishes in two of the last three races. He had a lot of success on this track before it was re-configured in 2012 with two wins, seven top-fives, and a total of 11 top-12s in 12 races. Since the reconfiguration, his average finish dropped 10 positions to 18th.

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 207 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 7.00
Charlotte: 20.33
Dover: 8.50

There might actually be some validity to the sophomore slump. Larson ended 2014 with incredibly strong runs for most of the Chase, but he has been plagued by misfortune all of 2015. Accidents at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega, a missed race at Martinsville Speedway, and three other results of 25th or worse have almost put him in a must-win situation and that can be difficult on second-year drivers.

Tony Stewart (0 wins / 174 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 15.75
Charlotte: 15.80
Dover: 13.40

Stewart’s taste of success at Bristol failed to advance him much in the points and has not created any momentum since, but he has been one of the stronger drivers on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks in the past two years. His results do not always reflect his effort, but if he can steal a little positive mojo from teammates Harvick and Busch, he could eke out a top-15.

 

Next Three Weeks

Driver

2015 Power Avg.

Kansas 3-yr Avg.

Charlotte 3-yr Avg.

Dover 3-yr Avg.

Kevin Harvick

4.61

7.60

5.67

9.83

Kurt Busch

6.90

22.60

19.33

19.33

Martin Truex Jr.

9.53

10.00

15.33

13.17

Jeff Gordon

10.57

8.20

12.67

6.33

Joey Logano

10.69

13.40

11.83

6.67

Kasey Kahne

10.87

9.20

6.17

16.50

Brad Keselowski

11.36

16.00

13.17

9.83

Jimmie Johnson

                   11.38

13.40

9.67

4.50

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11.54

17.00

19.80

8.83

Matt Kenseth

11.59

7.20

10.67

15.50

Denny Hamlin

12.60

15.25

8.00

16.17

Jamie McMurray

14.55

20.40

14.00

20.33

Paul Menard

17.21

9.20

21.50

17.17

Ryan Newman

17.39

19.20

11.67

19.83

Aric Almirola

20.74

17.20

19.50

17.50

Danica Patrick

24.12

24.60

28.80

25.80

Outside of Chase Contention

Carl Edwards

13.21

9.40

8.17

17.50

Kyle Larson

16.84

7.00

20.33

8.50

Clint Bowyer

18.54

13.20

15.50

7.17

Tony Stewart

22.11

15.75

15.80

13.40

Austin Dillon

23.54

13.50

14.50

23.67

David Ragan

23.85

30.20

31.50

27.50

AJ Allmendinger

23.89

24.00

23.00

21.50

Justin Allgaier

24.45

38.67

26.00

27.50

Greg Biffle

24.76

18.00

15.67

18.33

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

25.16

20.50

22.40

20.40

Casey Mears

25.91

29.20

26.67

27.33

Bobby Labonte

29.50

28.50

28.00

18.33

Trevor Bayne

29.75

21.00

25.20

NA

David Gilliland

30.16

27.40

28.83

33.50

Sam Hornish Jr.

30.44

31.50

15.00

NA

Michael McDowell

33.14

39.50

34.67

41.25

Landon Cassill

33.46

28.60

28.83

35.50

Cole Whitt

33.66

31.50

35.60

35.20

Michael Annett

33.75

24.50

30.50

38.00

Reed Sorenson

33.78

35.25

36.67

34.00

Alex Bowman

33.79

33.50

31.50

37.00

Josh Wise

36.76

36.60

39.50

36.33

JJ Yeley

37.50

34.80

40.17

34.33

Mike Bliss

37.90

40.00

42.33

39.50

 

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.

 

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.