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Chasing the Cup

Chasing 2015 M'ville (spring)

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

Kevin Harvick came up one position shy of completing the West Coast sweep, but he remains the hottest driver on the circuit with eight consecutive first- or second-place finishes. The driver who almost beat him was an unsurprising teammate, but ultimately the fellow standing in Victory Lane was a bit of a shocker.

Prior to last week’s Auto Club 400, Brad Keselowski had never even cracked the top 15 on the California two-miler. With 15 laps remaining in regulation, he was mired deep in the pack but he had an Ace up his sleeve in the form of four fresh tires. One green-white-checkered finish would not have put him in the lead, but Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe knew that restarts can get hairy. They survived two late-race green flags and a spin by Greg Biffle on the final lap to be the fourth different team to win in 2015.

Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch dominated much of the race, but a series of late-race restarts allowed strategy to carry the day. In his second week back, Busch has nearly won each race and could quickly add his name to the list of Chase contenders.  

Meanwhile Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer stumbled. Biffle crashed on the final lap and finished 32nd. Bowyer never got up to speed wand finished 30th, which opened the door for two new racers to climb into the top 16. David Ragan had his own up-and-down race but scored enough points to slip into 15th while Jamie McMurray secured 16th. There is still a long way to go and some big names on the outside looking in, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that there will be some fresh faces on the leaderboard for most of the season and into the Case.

Those fresh faces create unique opportunities for fantasy players.

Kevin Harvick (2 win / 225 points)
Chase Ranking: first
Last week: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 18.33
Texas: 13.83
Bristol: 20.67

Martinsville Speedway is Harvick’s third-worst track in terms of average finishes, but then again Atlanta Motor Speedway was at the bottom of the list; finishing poorly in recent Peach Tree races did not keep him from crossing under the checkers second this year and Harvick is likely to keep at least a top-five streak alive at Martinsville as well.

Joey Logano (1 win / 197 points)
Chase Ranking: second
Last week: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 14.17
Texas: 8.50
Bristol: 11.17

When he was nailed for an uncontrolled tire late in the Auto Club 400, it appeared Logano would have to give up his perfect record of top-10s in 2015. He climbed to seventh before the checkers waved, and while that was far from the top-five he might have earned without trouble, he was relieved to finish with the leaders.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 163 points)
Chase Outlook: third
Last week: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 15.67
Texas: 11.83
Bristol: 13.33

Keselowski was ranked only ninth in the Chase Outlook grid last week and was in a position that is extremely volatile. He does not have to worry about points any longer after his four-tire strategy worked to perfection at Auto Club Speedway. He and teammate Logano can now concentrate on perfecting setups for Chase races and the next venue on the circuit is Martinsville, which hosts one of the final 10 events.

Jimmie Johnson (1 win / 159 points)
Chase Ranking: fourth
Last week: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 8.83
Texas: 6.00
Bristol: 15.33

One win practically guarantees an invitation to the Chase, but two mathematically seals the deal. Johnson is one of the favorites to win at Martinsville because he has done so eight previous times. Fantasy owners should be wary of that, however, because if this team has experimented with risky setups in the past it will only get worse with the added security of a second victory.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 192 points)
Chase Ranking: fifth
Last week: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 23.83
Texas: 12.00
Bristol: 19.50

Truex got nudged down the list one position because of Keselowski’s victory, but he kept his top-10 streak alive and remains perfect for the year. Therein lies the problem, however; as more drivers below him win it becomes increasingly important to keep scoring top-10s or grab his own elusive victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 164 points)
Chase Ranking: sixth
Last week: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 10.00
Texas: 16.17
Bristol: 17.67

Earnhardt returns to the site of his most recent Cup victory hungry for another Martinsville triumph. To get it, he will have to beat his teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon, but that is precisely the situation he was in last fall. While it took a long time to get that inaugural win on this bullring, Martinsville still ranks at Earnhardt’s second-best track in terms of average finishes.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 162 points)
Chase Ranking: seventh
Last week: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 17.33
Texas: 13.83
Bristol: 17.50

Newman did not make a lot of noise during the Auto Club 400, but he surged in the final laps and finished fifth. That was his third consecutive top-five and fourth straight top-10. He should be able to keep that streak alive because last year he finished third in the fall and he had a controversial win on the half-mile bullring in 2011.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 159 points)
Chase Ranking: eighth
Last week: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 22.33
Texas: 16.17
Bristol: 15.33

Kahne slipped three spots in the points this week and he may not be done falling. Last fall he was involved in six separate accidents in two races at Martinsville and Texas Motor Speedway. He broke a suspension in his most recent Bristol Motor Speedway bash and bad luck like that can be hard to shake.

Paul Menard (0 wins / 152 points)
Chase Ranking: ninth
Last week: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 17.17
Texas: 17.17
Bristol: 10.83

Menard is one of the fresh faces in the top 16 five weeks into the 2015 schedule. He climbed up the chart based on his fourth-place finish in the Auto Club 400, but he was already among the elite because of three consecutive top-15s. Fantasy players should ignore Menard’s records on any given track and concentrate on his momentum while it lasts.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 138 points)
Chase Ranking: 10th
Last week: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 13.50
Texas: 17.83
Bristol: 25.00

Almirola has yet to crack the top 10 in the first five races of the season and that could eventually take a toll. For the moment, two 11th-place results at Atlanta and Auto Club are good enough to keep him high in the points. As long as drivers ahead of him in the standings are the ones winning, everything will be fine, but the No. 43 needs to pick up the pace before some of the big names outside the top 16 start to rumble.

AJ Allmendinger (0 wins / 137 points)
Chase Ranking: 11th
Last week: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 12.50
Texas: 22.00
Bristol: 17.25

A dropped cylinder last week at Auto Club caused Allmendinger to finish outside the top 20 for the first time all year. He can rebound in the next three weeks, however, because he finished in the top 15 in his latest start at Martinsville, Texas, and Bristol. This team needs to approach each race as their best opportunity to secure their place among the top 16.

Casey Mears (0 wins / 132 points)
Chase Ranking: 12th
Last week: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 24.67
Texas: 26.00
Bristol: 24.50

Mears is one of the drivers in greatest jeopardy of being displaced if and when some of the drivers below him start winning races. Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Gordon, and Busch are each capable of winning multiple times and that could put the No. 13 in a dogfight to remain Chase eligible.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 127 points)
Chase Outlook: 13th
Last week: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 7.67
Texas: 9.50
Bristol: 13.17

Kenseth was one of a handful of drivers who knew he had enough fuel to go the distance last week at Auto Club. While those around him conserved gas, he was pulling away from the field and would have earned his first victory in the last 50 races—until debris ruined his opportunity. A problem with his drive train dropped him even further back and he has to wait at least one more week for that elusive win.

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 125 points)
Chase Ranking: 14th
Last week: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 14.60
Texas: 12.40
Bristol: 19.67

Under other circumstances, Hamlin would be one of the favorites to win at Martinsville this week. He has been a short, flat track master for most of his career, but lately he has had difficulty on tracks that were once very kind. Hamlin can probably get a top-10 this week, but if there is another first-time winner in 2015, he could still slip down the standings.

David Ragan (0 wins / 124 points)
Chase Outlook: 15th
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 26.83
Texas: 33.00
Bristol: 23.67

Last week was the first time this year that Ragan appeared comfortable in the No. 18. He qualified well and raced with the leaders in the opening laps; unfortunately, he annoyed one of them and Gordon sent him spinning without ever making contact. Ragan eventually rebounded to finish 18th, but he is still seeking his first top-15 of the season.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 120 points)
Chase Outlook: 16th
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 18.67
Texas: 16.83
Bristol: 16.50

Chip Ganassi Racing has been among the strongest teams for the past two seasons, but a series of unfortunate events derailed McMurray last year and the inexperience of a freshman season kept Kyle Larson out of the 2014 Chase. This is their year to shine and it will be surprising if neither of them are among the top 16 at the end of the season.

Notables Outside the Top 16

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 116 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase contention
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 33.00
Texas: 11.67
Bristol: 11.00

Late-race restarts can play havoc on the finishing order, which is why drivers need to be high in the standings or have a victory in their pocket. Larson restarted the Auto Club 400 in the top five with 15 laps remaining, but his rear bumper was sheared off in heavy traffic and he was forced to pit. That spoiled what would have been a sweep of the top five in two starts on the California two-miler.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 115 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase contention
Last week: 15th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 6.00
Texas: 14.00
Bristol: 10.33

Bowyer never got up to speed last week. He spent fewer than a handful of laps in the top 10 and was rarely among the top 15. The short tracks of Martinsville and Bristol have been extremely kind to him in recent seasons, however, so he should be able to rebound and get back into the top 16 in points.

Greg Biffle (0 wins / 113 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase contention
Last week: 16th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 12.00
Texas: 7.67
Bristol: 12.33

The two-mile tracks have traditionally been a Roushketeer playground. Frustration has been bubbling under the surface, but after a bad result in qualification last week, it came to the forefront for Biffle. For a brief moment at the end of the race it appeared strategy might salvage a good result, but Fate had other plans and the No. 16 crashed on the white flag lap.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 112 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase contention
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 6.50
Texas: 20.83
Bristol: 17.00

Gordon is creeping up the chart with back-to-back top-10s. He is currently 22nd in the standings, but could make all that moot if he wins at Martinsville. Along with Johnson, he has eight victories on this course. If he does not win, Gordon could still climb into the top 16 because he is only eight points behind the current 16th-place driver in the standings.

 

Next Three Weeks

Driver

2015 Power Avg.

Martinsville 3-yr Avg.

Texas 3-yr Avg.

Bristol 3-yr Avg.

Kevin Harvick

2.85

18.33

13.83

20.67

Joey Logano

5.92

14.17

8.50

11.17

Martin Truex Jr.

7.49

23.83

12.00

19.50

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

9.92

10.00

16.17

17.67

Brad Keselowski

10.00

15.67

11.83

13.33

Jimmie Johnson

10.34

8.83

6.00

15.33

Kasey Kahne

10.42

22.33

16.17

15.33

Denny Hamlin

13.47

14.60

12.40

19.67

Matt Kenseth

14.43

7.67

9.50

13.17

Paul Menard

15.00

17.17

17.17

10.83

Ryan Newman

15.54

17.33

13.83

17.50

Jamie McMurray

19.27

18.67

16.83

16.50

Aric Almirola

21.64

13.50

17.83

25.00

AJ Allmendinger

22.61

12.50

22.00

17.25

Casey Mears

24.06

24.67

26.00

24.50

David Ragan

24.27

26.83

33.00

23.67

Outside of Chase Contention

Kurt Busch

3.71

23.33

20.33

20.17

Jeff Gordon

11.96

6.50

20.83

17.00

Carl Edwards

14.51

14.83

14.50

21.00

Kyle Larson

17.24

33.00

11.67

11.00

Clint Bowyer

20.96

6.00

14.00

10.33

Greg Biffle

22.08

12.00

7.67

12.33

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23.38

27.75

26.25

10.50

Austin Dillon

23.94

13.50

24.25

19.50

Justin Allgaier

24.17

20.00

22.00

18.00

Danica Patrick

25.81

23.75

28.00

25.60

Tony Stewart

26.32

14.40

14.20

19.00

Brett Moffitt

28.31

NA

40.00

42.00

Trevor Bayne

31.25

NA

25.83

NA

David Gilliland

31.94

26.17

30.00

23.67

Sam Hornish Jr.

32.71

13.00

17.00

34.00

Alex Bowman

33.11

32.50

37.00

32.00

Cole Whitt

33.87

27.33

28.50

35.00

Michael Annett

34.98

27.50

25.50

32.00

Reed Sorenson

35.25

39.00

35.25

31.33

Landon Cassill

36.37

25.67

33.50

26.83

JJ Yeley

36.52

35.40

37.00

28.50

Josh Wise

37.11

34.67

37.00

32.67

Mike Bliss

38.03

44.33

40.67

43.33

 

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.