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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Easter

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

Momentum plays a critical role in handicapping fantasy NASCAR. Anyone who does not believe that is true, need look only to the beginning of last season and note that Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Martin Truex Jr. parlayed their starts into Chase berths. This year with the new aerodynamic package, there has been a little more equality at the top of the rankings. That not only increases the difficulty factor in handicapping races, it makes the job a little more interesting.

That is especially true because the first five races this season have been dominated by one track type. Three events have been held on similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks that favor superteams and marquee drivers. The wild card Daytona 500 kicked off the season and two weeks ago, NASCAR visited the hybrid Phoenix International Raceway with elements of a short track and speedway.

Some inferences can be made, but until the short track season and the next restrictor-plate, superspeedway race is in the books, it will be difficult to identify clear-cut favorites.  

Regular Season Races Remaining: 21 (Maximum points per race = 45)
Unique Winners in 2016: 4

Average Finish Ranking, first five races of 2016

1. Kevin Harvick (1 win / 195 points)
Points’ Standings: 1
Average Finish 2016: 4.0
Top-5s: 3
Top-10s: 5
Top-15s: 5

With a sixth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a seventh at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick has not been as flashy overall at the start of 2015 as he was in 2016. He is the only driver to sweep the top 10, however. Better still, he finally looked like last year’s dominator in the past two weeks with a win at Phoenix and a second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway.

2. Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 184 points)
Points’ Standings: 2
Average Finish 2016: 6.4
Top-5s: 3
Top-10s: 3
Top-15s: 4

Johnson is the only driver officially locked into the 2016 Chase with five races in the books and two wins in that column. And yet, he has quietly amassed the second-best average finish of 6.4. Part of the reason he has gone unnoticed is his poor qualification attempts that forced him to roll off the grid 16th on average, but that also means he has earned nearly 10 place-differential points in games that offer them.

3. Carl Edwards (0 wins / 171 points)
Points’ Standings: 3
Average Finish 2016: 7.4
Top-5s: 3
Top-10s: 4
Top-15s: 4

Edwards has so much more confidence at the beginning of this season than he did last year. He finished fifth in back-to-back races at the start of the season, stumbled momentarily at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and then came within a bumper of winning the Good Sam 500 in overtime. Joe Gibbs Racing is the dominant team at the moment with three of their four drivers on the top-10 average-finish chart, which makes them place-and-hold members of most rosters.

4. Kyle Busch (0 wins / 170 points)
Points’ Standings: 5
Average Finish 2016: 7.8
Top-5s: 4
Top-10s: 4
Top-15s: 4

If not for a melted bead and blown tire two laps from the end of the Auto Club 400, Busch would have the best average finish of the season. He entered that event with a sweep of the top five that stretched well back into 2015 and made him the defending champion. At this stage of the season, teams are willing to take risks they would not during the Chase and that poor result should not be held against the No. 18.

5. Denny Hamlin (1 win / 170 points)
Points’ Standings: 4
Average Finish 2016: 8.4
Top-5s: 3
Top-10s: 3
Top-15s: 3

Hamlin has been and all or nothing driver in 2016, but his highs have been greater than his lows. Victory in the Daytona 500 can be a double-edged sword and that would seem to be the case with Hamlin. His next two finishes ended outside the top 15 and it is not unreasonable to suspect that the team was experimenting at Atlanta and Las Vegas. His last two races ended in a pair of thirds, however, and propelled him to fifth on the average-finish chart.

5. Joey Logano (0 wins / 165 points)
Points’ Standings: 6
Average Finish 2016: 8.4
Top-5s: 2
Top-10s: 3
Top-15s: 4

Logano challenged for the lead at Las Vegas. He wanted to bank that victory early in the season just as he did in 2015, but was denied by his teammate. With a worst finish of 18th, he remains high enough in the points that he is not overly concerned about Chase eligibility—especially since he needs to only stay in the top 44 percent of the field on average—but pride is on the line. Logano is a Young Gun and they tend to be a little more erratic than veterans.

7. Austin Dillon (0 wins / 139 points)
Points’ Standings: 10
Average Finish 2016: 11.6
Top-5s: 1
Top-10s: 3
Top-15s: 4

Dillon has been one of this season’s most pleasant surprises. He would have a sweep of the top 15 if not for a broken pit gun at Auto Club that happened on the final stop. He did not have time to recover, but entered the Auto Club 400 with an average finish of 8.5 in the first four races of the year.

8. Kurt Busch (0 wins / 148 points)
Points’ Standings: 7
Average Finish 2016: 11.8
Top-5s: 1
Top-10s: 4
Top-15s: 4

Busch had a terrible time at Auto Club. He wrecked his primary car in practice and then sustained damage in the race. Ultimately, he limped across the finish line 30th, which snapped a seven-race streak of top-10s stretching back to last year. Fantasy owners need to decide if they think that singular bad run stalled his momentum.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 145 points)
Points’ Standings: 8
Average Finish 2016: 12.40
Top-5s: 2
Top-10s: 3
Top-15s: 4

Junior made a rare mistake at Daytona International Speedway and crashed by himself. Fantasy owners may have forgotten about him momentarily since he did not fare well on a track he was supposed to dominate, but he fooled them and swept the top 11 in the last four races. His nice recovery should continue at Martinsville Speedway where Hendrick Motorsports is always strong.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 127 points)
Points’ Standings: 11
Average Finish 2016: 13.20
Top-5s: 1
Top-10s: 2
Top-15s: 4

The Auto Club 400 was a streak killer for several of this week’s top-10. Truex blamed Logano for the contact that destroyed his day and cause the No. 78 to fall to 32nd. That was the first time in 15 races that he failed to score a top-15, however, and he still makes a great fill-in pick for the final spot on most rosters. 

 

Average Finish, Season to Date

Rank

Driver

Avg. Fin

Avg. Start

Starts

1.

Kevin Harvick

4.00

8.20

5

2.

Jimmie Johnson

6.40

16.00

5

3.

Carl Edwards

7.40

9.60

5

4.

Kyle Busch

7.80

14.60

5

5.

Denny Hamlin

8.40

7.60

5

5.

Joey Logano

8.40

10.20

5

7.

Austin Dillon

11.60

10.00

5

8.

Kurt Busch

11.80

8.00

5

9.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12.40

18.40

5

10.

Martin Truex Jr.

13.20

14.40

5

 

11.

Brad Keselowski

13.60

16.00

5

12.

Jamie McMurray

16.00

11.60

5

13.

Aric Almirola

17.00

21.40

5

14.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

17.20

13.60

5

15.

AJ Allmendinger

17.40

19.40

5

16.

Ryan Blaney

19.00

14.00

5

16.

Ty Dillon

19.00

19.33

3

18.

Kasey Kahne

19.20

13.60

5

18.

Matt Kenseth

19.20

8.80

5

20.

Chase Elliott

19.40

12.60

5

21.

Ryan Newman

20.20

17.40

5

22.

Paul Menard

20.80

20.40

5

23.

Trevor Bayne

22.00

16.40

5

24.

Kyle Larson

23.60

17.40

5

24.

Regan Smith

23.60

29.80

5

26.

Casey Mears

24.20

23.40

5

26.

Brian Scott

24.20

25.60

5

28.

Greg Biffle

25.00

18.00

5

28.

Brian Vickers

25.00

20.33

3

30.

Landon Cassill

25.60

28.20

5

31.

Danica Patrick

26.60

25.20

5

32.

Michael McDowell

26.80

32.80

5

33.

Clint Bowyer

27.80

31.60

5

33.

David Ragan

27.80

31.40

5

35.

Matt DiBenedetto

29.40

29.00

5

36.

Michael Annett

29.80

33.80

5

37.

Chris Buescher

31.20

24.20

5

38.

Cole Whitt

34.50

35.50

4

39.

Jeffrey Earnhardt

35.00

38.33

3

40.

Josh Wise

36.00

37.50

4

Driver with only one start

 

Michael Waltrip

30.00

36.00

1

 

Bobby Labonte

31.00

33.00

1

 

Joey Gase

32.00

39.00

1

 

Robert Richardson Jr.

38.00

40.00

1

 

 

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.