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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Auto Club

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

The first four weeks of the season have not only resulted in four different winners, they resulted in four different methods of winning.

Daytona International Speedway is always unique and it was no surprise to see Kurt Busch inherit the lead on the final lap when Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson ran out of gas.

Brad Keselowski surged late in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 to pass Larson.

Martin Truex Jr.dominated the Kobalt 400 by winning both stages and the race.  

And finally, Ryan Newman used strategy to get last week’s win.

In the Camping World 500k, two new stage winners were added to the list. Joey Logano was unassailable in the first segment. Chase Elliott dominated the second segment. Neither of those drivers has won a race yet, but they have a very important playoff bonus point as a result.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 22 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 3

Eligible on Wins

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 178 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 12.00
Martinsville: 18.33
Texas: 9.50

Keselowski has quietly been the second-most powerful driver in the field since NASCAR left Florida. His victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway was almost followed by another at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and even with a mechanical problem, he finished fifth. Add one more top-five last week at Phoenix International Raceway and his three-race average is 3.67.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 2 Stage Wins / 153 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 21.00
Martinsville: 16.00
Texas: 10.50

Truex was not expected to run well at Phoenix so his 11th-place result is within range. That gives him four consecutive top-15s to start the year that includes a victory. He will not need to worry about the playoffs for the time being, which is a state he has never been in during his career.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 105 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 12.00
Martinsville: 20.00
Texas: 16.17

Back-to-back disappointments for Busch have hurt his fantasy players more than the driver. With the Daytona 500 victory in his pocket, he does not need to be overly concerned about a 30th at Vegas or 25th at Phoenix. He had the same kind of season in 2016, however, and did not make much noise during the playoffs.

Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 101 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 13.00
Martinsville: 13.83
Texas: 15.33

Newman snapped a long winless drought last week in Phoenix and that is relevant for fantasy players. He has long been one of the most consistent drivers in the field with streaks of top-15s on a given track. Now that he has found Victory Lane, he knows he has added an arrow to his quiver and owners need to pay closer attention to him on tracks where he has top-fives.

Eligible on Points

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 184 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 22.33
Martinsville: 18.60
Texas: 17.17

Larson found one more way to lose last week at Phoenix. If he had not tried to get into a hole that wasn’t there, he would have stayed close enough to Newman to make the pass. Then again, perhaps he was remembering how the driver of the No. 31 body-slammed the No. 42 into the wall a few years back while racing for a playoff berth and decided to keep his distance.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 171 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 6.00
Martinsville: 23.33
Texas: 4.50

We always thought it was Jeff Gordon who did not know how to restart; perhaps it is simply that the No. 24 won’t go on short runs. Elliott would seem to be almost as bad in the first few laps of green as his predecessor and until he learns this skill, winning is going to be difficult.

Joey Logano (0 wins / 1 Stage Wins / 135 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 16.67
Martinsville: 11.50
Texas: 10.33

If it seems like penalties are affecting more of your drivers this year than before, that is probably true. Track position has become so incredibly important not just at the end of races, but during each segment that teams are pushing the envelope harder. That creates mistakes like the one that bit Logano at Phoenix.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 Stage Win / 123 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 13.33
Martinsville: 15.50
Texas: 10.83

It took most of the afternoon, but Harvick finally challenged for a top-five at Phoenix. His lack of dominance hurt his Fantasy Power Rankings because the Camping World 500 should have been an establishment race during this stage of the season.  

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 119 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 12.33
Martinsville: 16.83
Texas: 11.67

In the final stages of the Camping World 500, McMurray lost his top-10 finish and faded to 15th. Handicapping races is a combination of science, art, and patience. The No. 1 remains one of the top contenders and should be on most fantasy rosters, but until he challenges for top-fives, McMurray will not be an anchor.

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 127 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 35.00
Martinsville: 19.00
Texas: 31.50

Like his sophomore competitor Elliott, Blaney needs to learn how to finish races. He has been one of the strongest overall drivers in the field, which accounts for his eighth-best Fantasy Power Rankings score. His second-place finish in the Daytona 500 elevates him to sixth in the points’ standings, but until he can earn top-10s at will, he is difficult to place-and-hold.

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 97 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 13.00
Martinsville: 7.20
Texas: 3.40

Busch has struggled on two-mile tracks in the past two years and that could become a factor in his ability to remain in the top 16. Once he clears that hurdle, however, NASCAR visits two tracks on which he has a better-than 10th-place average finish. His next best shot to win will come at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 93 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 11.33
Martinsville: 15.17
Texas: 7.17

Johnson finally got a position that was good enough to ease him into the top 16, but he still did not look like a defending champion. Over the course of his career, Auto Club has been one of his best tracks, however, and he could leave there with a playoff berth insured.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 105 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 28.67
Martinsville: 19.17
Texas: 15.50

Kahne is still solidly in the top 16, but his effort at Phoenix left a lot to be desired. NASCAR Statistical Services gave him a Driver Rating of 77.1, which was only 17th-best and his Average Running position of 13.3 was 13th. He slipped at the end and finished 20th—and none of those stats will get fantasy owners overly excited.

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 68 points)
Power Ranking: 16
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 15.50
Martinsville: 12.17
Texas: 15.50

One would have liked to see a better finishing result from Hamlin than 10th at Phoenix, but given the fact that he had to come from the back on two occasions, we’ll cut him some slack. He now has back-to-back top-10s for the first time this season. He ended 2016 with five consecutive single-digit results.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 97 points)
Power Ranking: 17
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 21.33
Martinsville: 20.83
Texas: 22.67

This team is learning how to run in the front of the field again. Tony Stewart was a great driver, but at the end of his career he was not going to challenge for too many top-fives. Neither will Bowyer for a while, but consistent results on either side of 10th will earn positive fantasy points and make him attractive.

Trevor Bayne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 100 points)
Power Ranking: 20
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Auto Club: 24.50
Martinsville: 24.75
Texas: 26.67

Teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stole the thunder last week in Phoenix, but Bayne has been much stronger overall. A 10th at Daytona and top-15s in his next two races have made him the more reliable of the two as they head into a track that was literally built by their car owner. Look for both Roushketeers to run well in the Auto Club 400.   

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tacks

Power
Ranking

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power Avg.

|

Auto Club

Martinsville

Texas

Eligible on Wins

2

2

Brad Keselowski

1

 

4.19

|

12.00

18.33

9.50

4

4

Martin Truex Jr.

1

2

7.96

|

21.00

16.00

10.50

11

9

Kurt Busch

1

 

14.23

|

12.00

20.00

16.17

13

11

Ryan Newman

1

 

15.30

|

13.00

13.83

15.33

Eligible on Points

1

1

Kyle Larson

 

 

3.74

|

22.33

18.60

17.17

3

3

Chase Elliott

 

1

4.66

|

6.00

23.33

4.50

5

5

Joey Logano

 

1

8.19

|

16.67

11.50

10.33

6

7

Kevin Harvick

 

3

9.83

|

13.33

15.50

10.83

7

8

Jamie McMurray

 

 

9.83

|

12.33

16.83

11.67

8

6

Ryan Blaney

 

 

10.23

|

35.00

19.00

31.50

9

13

Kyle Busch

 

1

11.86

|

13.00

7.20

3.40

10

16

Jimmie Johnson

 

 

12.77

|

11.33

15.17

7.17

12

10

Kasey Kahne

 

 

14.75

|

28.67

19.17

15.50

16

14

Denny Hamlin

 

 

16.52

|

15.50

12.17

15.50

17

15

Clint Bowyer

 

 

18.41

|

21.33

20.83

22.67

20

12

Trevor Bayne

 

 

20.00

|

24.50

24.75

26.67

Drivers Outside Playoff Contention

14

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

16.21

|

9.67

11.60

12.00

15

 

Erik Jones

 

 

16.30

|

NA

NA

12.00

18

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

 

18.46

|

18.00

34.33

19.50

19

 

Austin Dillon

 

 

18.81

|

17.00

17.83

21.50

21

 

Paul Menard

 

 

21.60

|

9.33

15.83

22.33

22

 

Matt Kenseth

 

 

22.20

|

18.00

12.17

14.60

23

 

Aric Almirola

 

 

23.52

|

25.00

18.67

19.83

24

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

24.08

|

NA

NA

20.00

25

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

25.16

|

31.00

26.33

29.60

26

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

25.19

|

16.67

14.33

19.00

27

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

25.52

|

26.50

28.00

26.33

28

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

25.56

|

23.67

25.50

23.33

29

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

27.60

|

22.00

23.83

31.33

30

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

27.72

|

NA

NA

NA

31

 

David Ragan

 

 

28.12

|

22.33

21.00

28.17

32

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

28.76

|

22.67

23.80

29.80

33

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

30.32

|

34.50

30.50

34.33

34

 

Joey Gase

 

 

32.40

|

NA

NA

NA

35

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

32.80

|

NA

39.00

NA

36

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

32.81

|

33.00

36.00

36.40

37

 

Cody Ware

 

 

33.13

|

NA

NA

NA

38

 

Derrike Cope

 

 

35.70

|

NA

NA

NA

39

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

35.84

|

34.00

33.00

34.50

40

 

Corey LaJoie

 

 

36.12

|

NA

NA

NA

41

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

36.36

|

NA

39.00

35.00

 

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 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 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.