The “Monster Mile” was effective last weekend at shuffling the standings in the Chase for the Cup and NASCAR’s five-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, made claim that he is a threat to win his sixth consecutive championship.
Kurt Busch, with his win at Dover, now seems like a legitimate contender for the championship. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards both had solid performances at Dover and remain at the top of the standings. Tony Stewart fell victim to the “Monster Mile” with a 25th place finish after his surprise start to the Chase with back-to-back wins.
This weekend fantasy owners continue the challenge of managing remaining starts for the Chase contenders, but an even greater challenge with their Group B and C drivers. Like most owners, I am running low on starts for David Ragan and Paul Menard but those with several could be in great shape as the season winds down.
As always, feel free to share your picks for this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon dug a huge hole for himself and the team last week at Dover when he qualified 34th on the grid. Despite starting toward the back of the field, Gordon fought for a 12th place finish. Entering this weekend’s race at Kansas, Gordon has a string of five consecutive top-five finishes here and a total of eight in 11 career starts.
Alternate pick: Carl Edwards – Edwards had the car to beat last week at Dover, but settled for a third place finish behind Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Edwards does not have a win at Kansas, but does have six top-10 finishes in eight starts. He may be considered the only Chase driver with any momentum with his six consecutive top-10 finishes heading to Kansas. While a win may be a slight gamble, a top-five is something more likely.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Earnhardt’s hope of a championship are not completely gone, but back-to-back finishes outside the top-15 have definitely put a damper on his chances. He finished second here in June for his first top-five at the track to add to his five top-10 finishes. A top-five finish for Earnhardt is not likely this weekend, but he does have five top-10 finishes in seven starts on the “cookie cutter” tracks this season.
Brian Vickers – Vickers may not seem to be a fantasy favorite this weekend, but the team has run well of late and should be a driver to consider from Group B. He has run as well as anyone in Group B over the last six races with one top-five and four top-15 finishes. Despite his average finish of 17th on “cookie cutter” tracks, Vickers could provide fantasy owners with a unexpected top-10 finish this weekend.
Alternate pick: Brad Keselowski – Keselowski showed us last weekend that he is human with his 20th place finish at Dover last weekend. Prior to last week he had eight top-10 finishes and a 12th place in his previous nine starts. Keselowksi will probably not sweep the season at Kansas, but expect him to be competitive this weekend and get back on track with a top-10.
Regan Smith – Smith scored a solid finish at Dover last weekend with a 17th place with Paul Menard being the only Group C driver to finish ahead of him. The team has improved throughout the season and definitely worth a look along with David Ragan and Paul Menard. Smith has just three starts at Kansas, so not a lot of trends to consider, but if he finishes with a top-20 most owners will be satisfied with the results.
Alternate pick: Bobby Labonte – With the recent news that Labonte will return to the No. 47 for the 2012 season, perhaps he can relax and focus on getting the most out of his car. He hasn’t finished well in his last two starts in Kansas with results in the upper 30’s, but maybe his performance and luck will change this weekend.