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Chasing the Cup

Chasing 2015 Atlanta

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

One race is in the books and the race to the Chase for the Championship has already begun. Officially no one is locked into the playoffs just yet because there is still the possibility that more than 16 drivers could win a regular season event and Joey Logano could get knocked down the points far enough to be excluded, but practically drivers and teams know that is not going to happen. Logano has a lot of breathing room.

After winning the Daytona 500, Logano is in a different position than the other 42 drivers each week for the next 26 and that will impact the way he races.

While the Chase is still 26 races away, fantasy owners should constantly have it in the back of their minds because of the impact it has on a driver’s odds. Week by week, this scenario will change as drivers add their names to the list of playoff contenders. Winning is the best way to get an invitation, but it is usually preceded by several top-fives as drivers gain momentum.

NASCAR’s new format has teams concentrating on two spots in the points. Finishing the second Richmond International Raceway contest with a victory is the easiest way, but drivers high enough in the points’ standings will also get an invitation. Last year that mark was 10th. Greg Biffle finished nine points ahead of Clint Bowyer and nine in front of Kyle Larson and it was a late surge that propelled him above those two.

Momentum matters, and watching the standings for which drivers are surging and waning can be one of the best tools at a fantasy player’s disposal.

Joey Logano (1 win / 47 points)
Chase Ranking: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 11.33
Vegas: 10.67
Phoenix: 13.67

Logano is in the same situation now as Dale Earnhardt Jr.was last year. He has 25 races to gamble for more victories and that can be a blessing and a curse for a driver. In 2014, the No. 88 gambled on fuel in the second race and ran out just shy of the finish line; Earnhardt still finished second. Look for the same kind of risky behavior several times this year from Logano.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 42 points)
Chase Outlook: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 11.00
Vegas: 20.33
Phoenix: 3.17

Harvick is strong on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks that make up two of the next three races, but his first real opportunity to score a victory and qualify for the Chase will come at Phoenix where he was perfect last year and has been almost perfect for the past three. He will stay in the hunt with top-10s at Atlanta and Vegas.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 42 points)
Chase Outlook: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 8.67
Vegas: 6.33
Phoenix: 9.00

Earnhardt is a well-balanced driver on the tracks that make up the next three weeks of the schedule. In the past three years, he has finished outside the top 10 only three times on these courses and worse than 15th once. He should be considered a place-and-hold driver for the time being.

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 41 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 14.00
Vegas: 15.67
Phoenix: 9.67

Hamlin’s status as a short, flat track master has taken a hit in the last few years, but fantasy owners should continue to watch him closely on minimally-banked tracks one-mile or less in length. Phoenix is on the horizon, but so is Martinsville so there will be a couple of opportunities to start him before long.

Jimmie Johnson (0 wins / 40 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 22.00
Vegas: 4.67
Phoenix: 14.33

Johnson was once the master of similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and while he does not have a victory at either Atlanta or Las Vegas in the past three years, he has come close. A second in Sin City during the 2012 season and last year’s fourth in the Peach Tree state give fantasy owners hope that he will be one of the better values in the next two weeks.

Casey Mears (0 wins / 39 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 25.67
Vegas: 28.00
Phoenix: 25.17

Mears is the first of several drivers ranked among the top 16 this week that few experts believe will actually make the Chase. There is a reason NASCAR runs the races and does not simply rely on punditry and that is because Cinderella stories do happen in this sport. Mears did a yeoman’s job last year on a number of courses and cannot simply be overlooked.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 37 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 34.67
Vegas: 18.67
Phoenix: 22.83

The next three tracks will be a test for Bowyer and the spirit of his team. He has not run particularly well on any of these tracks and has only isolated top-10s at Vegas and Phoenix in 2012 as high water marks. Atlanta has been downright viscous in recent season and he has not cracked the top 25 there since 2010.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 37 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 10.00
Vegas: 13.00
Phoenix: 21.33

Truex would not have advanced to the final round last year, but he would have made some noise if he had been among the Championship 16. His first five results during the 2014 Chase ended in top-15 finishes. If he can keep his momentum going on two tracks where he has three-year average finishes of better than 15th, he could be fantasy relevant until the summer.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 35 points)
Chase Outlook: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 20.00
Vegas: 9.67
Phoenix: 15.17

Despite winning Atlanta last year, Kahne’s three-year average finish on that track is still a disappointing 20th. That is because his two efforts prior to that ended in a 23rd in 2012 and a 36th in 2013. In fact, one has to go back to 2010 to find another strong Atlanta run. He should be a better value in two weeks at Vegas.

Greg Biffle (0 wins / 35 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 13.33
Vegas: 14.00
Phoenix: 11.00

Biffle could gain a little momentum in the coming weeks because his latest finishes at Atlanta and Phoenix ended in top-10s. Both of those were fall events so they outweigh the 22nd he earned at Vegas in the spring. Most of Biffle’s efforts on the next three tracks in the past three years ended in the mid-teens, so that is what fantasy owners should expect in the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.

David Gilliland (0 wins / 33 points)
Chase Outlook: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 25.33
Vegas: 30.33
Phoenix: 29.67

Gilliland has a knack for putting himself in the right position late in the race on plate tracks and his surge earned the 11th-most points last week. He will not remain in the top 16 in points for long, but that does not mean he is fantasy irrelevant because he could be useful on driver’s tracks later in the season as a mid-cap extender.

Sam Hornish Jr. (0 wins / 32 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 11.00
Vegas: NA
Phoenix: 31.00

Hornish answered one big question last week at Daytona and that was how well this team would  ommunicate with a new driver. It is too soon to form a bandwagon, but early indications are that Hornish will run as well in 2015 as Marcos Ambrose did last year and that will make him a good value from time to time.

Michael Annett (0 wins / 32 points)
Chase Outlook: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 21.00
Vegas: 29.00
Phoenix: 30.00

Annett has made only four starts on the next three tracks and that lack of experience is going to be hard to overcome if he wants to remain in the top 16. One interesting tidbit is that he has finished better than he qualified in every one of those races.

Austin Dillon (0 wins / 30 points)
Chase Outlook: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 21.50
Vegas: 18.50
Phoenix: 31.00

Entering their second seasons, Dillon and Kyle Larson will continue to battle to see who the best of the Young Guns is. One or both could make the Chase and then the real battle begins. For now, Dillon needs to continue finishing races, which is a feat he accomplished all through 2014.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 29 points)
Chase Outlook: 15th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 20.33
Vegas: 21.67
Phoenix: 15.83

Almirola and the entire Richard Petty Motorsports organization is getting progressively better, but one might be hard pressed to tell that from their record on the coming three tracks. Since the start of 2012, the No. 43 team has scored only one top-10 there; the good news it was a ninth last August at Atlanta.

David Ragan (0 wins / 27 points)
Chase Outlook: 16th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 26.00
Vegas: 28.00
Phoenix: 30.67

Ragan was tapped to fill in for Kyle Busch and that could be the genesis for a rebirth for that driver. He is in the best equipment of his career since leaving Roush-Fenway Racing and has enough maturity now to make the most of this opportunity. If not for his new ride, he would be one of the drivers most likely to pull over and make room for those listed below.

Notables Who Will Move Up

Carl Edwards (0 wins / 22 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside Chase consideration
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 19.67
Vegas: 5.00
Phoenix: 12.17

Like Hornish, Edwards needed to show fantasy owners how well he would communicate with his new team. His 23rd-place finish in the Daytona 500 is completely irrelevant compared to how this team ran last week and he is poised to be one of the better values in the game.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 13 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside Chase consideration
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 8.33
Vegas: 5.00
Phoenix: 12.17

Gordon had the best car in the field for most of the Daytona 500, but once he got shuffled out of the lead, he was just another passenger. That is typical for him on plate tracks, but now that he has a chance control his own fortune he will start climbing back up the grid.

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 10 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside Chase consideration
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 8.00
Vegas: 19.00
Phoenix: 29.40

It seemed unlikely that Larson would have as bad a Daytona 500 in 2015 as he did last year, but he did. It did not take long for him to establish himself as a solid fantasy pick during his rookie season and he will rebound as a sophomore as well. It may take more than a week or two for him to get into the top 16, however.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 9 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside Chase consideration
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Atlanta: 7.67
Vegas: 11.00
Phoenix: 12.00

Early damage in the Daytona 500 relegated Kenseth to the back of the pack. It took a little too long to effect repairs, and that single incident wound up costing him three laps that could never be overcome. The drivers and teams know Daytona is not predictive of other results, so Kenseth will not lose any momentum from his bad finish.

 

Next Three Weeks

Driver

2015 Power Avg.

Atlanta 3-yr Avg.

Vegas 3-yr Avg.

Phoenix 3-yr Avg.

Joey Logano

2.77

11.33

10.67

13.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3.38

8.67

6.33

9.00

Kevin Harvick

4.00

11.00

20.33

3.17

Denny Hamlin

5.42

14.00

15.67

9.67

Kasey Kahne

6.31

20.00

9.67

15.17

Martin Truex Jr.

7.08

10.00

13.00

21.33

Jimmie Johnson

7.15

22.00

4.67

14.33

Greg Biffle

7.23

13.33

14.00

11.00

Clint Bowyer

10.75

34.67

18.67

22.83

Casey Mears

14.25

25.67

28.00

25.17

Austin Dillon

15.38

21.50

18.50

31.00

Sam Hornish Jr.

15.67

11.00

NA

31.00

Michael Annett

17.00

21.00

29.00

30.00

David Gilliland

19.42

25.33

30.33

29.67

Aric Almirola

26.00

20.33

21.67

15.83

David Ragan

26.00

26.00

28.00

30.67

Outside Looking In

Jeff Gordon

8.21

8.33

15.33

11.33

Carl Edwards

9.23

19.67

5.00

12.17

Paul Menard

10.38

16.67

6.67

20.33

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

15.08

18.00

22.50

15.75

Danica Patrick

16.46

18.67

27.00

29.40

Michael McDowell

18.25

43.33

41.33

35.40

Trevor Bayne

19.50

16.00

17.33

NA

Jamie McMurray

20.08

15.67

12.00

20.67

Brad Keselowski

21.62

25.67

12.00

5.50

Tony Stewart

23.85

31.50

15.00

17.00

Matt Kenseth

26.00

7.67

11.00

12.00

Ryan Newman

27.69

15.67

16.33

15.67

Kyle Larson

28.00

8.00

19.00

16.50

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.