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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Indy

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

The Overton's 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is in the books with two more flat track races on its heels. The 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway certainly seem different from the air than the track in Loudon, but the skills needed to navigate them are much the same. Drivers will gain momentum in the coming weeks and two more races will click off the schedule as we continue to countdown to the playoffs.

Last week the same cast of characters was at the front of the pack. Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick recorded top-fives on the heels of strong Kentucky Speedway runs. The biggest beneficiary was Denny Hamlin, however, who practically removed all doubt about his position in the playoffs by winning.

The math still works out so that more than 16 unique winners could alter this year’s playoffs and that changes how the racers race.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 7 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 12

Locked into the Playoffs

Martin Truex Jr. (3 wins / 14 stage wins / 758 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 12.33
Pocono: 19.17
Watkins Glen: 15.00

Last week, the Furniture Row team wanted to make a big statement by winning on a track type that has not been particularly kind. They came close with a third-place finish. The bigger impact overall was that they stopped a two-race skid of results in the 30s.

Jimmie Johnson (3 wins / 1 stage win / 552 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 10.67
Pocono: 22.50
Watkins Glen: 26.00

Fantasy players are going to have get accustomed to the fact that Johnson is not a consistent top-five contender at the moment and settle for results in the top 15. In the past six races, he has landed between 10th and 13th four times and those are his high water marks.

Kyle Larson (2 wins / 3 stage wins / 720 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 7.00
Pocono: 9.17
Watkins Glen: 15.00

There is a bonus that goes along with leading the points and Larson wants it. Along with the rest of the field, he is giving up a lot to the driver who keeps winning segments and he’ll have to win more races before he can truly be listed as a co-favorite with Truex.

Brad Keselowski (2 wins / 3 stage wins / 564 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 13.00
Pocono: 8.67
Watkins Glen: 15.00

It remains to be seen if last week’s ninth-place finish changed Keselowski’s momentum. He stopped a two-race slide of 30-somethig results, but the majority of his efforts since Kansas Speedway this spring have been disappointing.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2 wins / 0 stage wins / 441 points)
Power Ranking: 15
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
New Hampshire: 18.67
Indianapolis: 23.67
Watkins Glen: 30.67

Stenhouse moved up the Fantasy Power Rankings and points by one position last week because of consistency. Twelve of his last 14 races ended in top-15s, and that makes him a good value in most salary cap games. Slow and steady wins the race.

Eligible on Wins

Kevin Harvick (1 win / 3 stage wins / 639 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
New Hampshire: 10.33
Indianapolis: 5.67
Watkins Glen: 14.00

A lot has changed this year and it is difficult to know if that is because of the new segmentation of the races or simply a part of the changing of the guard. The veteran Harvick has not been nearly as dominant as he once was, but with 12 top-10s in his last 18 races he has been strong enough to be fantasy relevant.

Ryan Blaney (1 win / 3 stage wins / 486 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
New Hampshire: 15.33
Indianapolis: 24.00
Watkins Glen: 19.00

Winning Pocono Raceway was great, but in order to be useful to fantasy owners, Blaney is going to have to develop some consistency. He has not been able to string back-to-back top-10s together a single time this season.

Denny Hamlin (1 wins / 2 stage wins / 589 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 4.00
Pocono: 12.33
Watkins Glen: 17.33

Winning does not fix every problem a team has, but this team was not that far off before getting to Victory Lane in the Overton's 301. Three of their previous four races ended in fourth-place finishes and now they head to back-to-back flat track races where they can capitalize on their momentum. 

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 stage wins / 455 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 17.33
Pocono: 11.67
Watkins Glen: 6.33

Fantasy owners are still working out the implications of this new system. Few drivers seem to be consistent and certainly those with a history of being erratic have not gotten any more predictable. With eight top-10s in his last 18 races, Busch is questionable most weeks, but he finished eighth at New Hampshire.

Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 stage wins / 428 points)
Power Ranking: 14
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 17.33
Pocono: 18.00
Watkins Glen: 24.00

Newman spent much of the season in a comfortable range where he challenged for top-15s. His last two races ended in a 22nd- and 27th-place finish and fantasy owners have to be concerned with whether that is the start of a new trend.

Austin Dillon (1 win / 0 stage wins / 363 points)
Power Ranking: 20
Points’ Standings: 20
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 14.67
Pocono: 18.33
Watkins Glen: 27.67

While the list of winners is filling up, Dillon is the only one who actually impacts the top 16 in a negative way. Sitting 20th in points, he insures one of the top teams will fail to make the playoffs. For the moment, that driver is Joey Logano with self-imposed penalties that have him well behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth.

Eligible on Points

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 5 stage wins / 650 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 1.33
Pocono: 20.17
Watkins Glen: 16.00

In terms of bonus points, five stage wins equal one race win—but don’t tell that to Busch. He is frustrated with failing to win and now that Hamlin has gotten to Victory Lane that will probably get worse. Indy is a good place for him to turn things around with back-to-back firsts in 2015/2016 and two runner-ups in the three years before then.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 587 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 16.50
Pocono: 15.00
Watkins Glen: 13.00

In order to get back in the conversation about who is going to get their first win next, Elliott is going to have to start contending for top-fives on a consistent basis again. He has three such finishes in his last seven races, but none in the six events prior to that.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 524 points)
Power Ranking: 19
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 4.33
Pocono: 13.17
Watkins Glen: 7.67

Two of Kenseth’s best runs have come in the past two weeks. Once he announced he would not return to the No. 20, a weight was lifted off his shoulders. Speculation immediately surfaced that he might be in the No. 88 in 2018, but now that Alex Bowman has been named to that ride, one wonders about the No. 5.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 572 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Indianapolis: 18.33
Pocono: 17.17
Watkins Glen: 20.67

Last week was one of the rare times McMurray failed to crack the top 15 this year, but he did not miss by much. His 17th-place finish on the one-mile flat track still has to qualify as a disappointment, but he should rebound at Indy and Pocono because he is solid on his track type.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 469 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kentucky: 21.67
New Hampshire: 21.00
Indianapolis: 14.33

Bowyer cannot afford to rest. He is locked in a battle with Kenseth to stay on the bubble, but other at any moment some driver below them in the standings could pull off a successful gamble and get into playoff contention while most of the racers above them already have wins.  

 

Power
Ranking

Points

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Indianapolis

Pocono

Watkins Glen

Locked into the Playoffs

4.

1

Martin Truex Jr.

3

14

7.94

|

12.33

19.17

15.00

10.

9

Jimmie Johnson

3

1

12.65

|

10.67

22.50

26.00

1.

2

Kyle Larson

2

3

5.59

|

7.00

9.17

15.00

3.

8

Brad Keselowski

2

3

7.55

|

13.00

8.67

15.00

15.

15

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2

 

16.22

|

23.67

24.17

30.67

Eligible on Wins

5.

4

Kevin Harvick

1

3

9.35

|

5.67

10.17

14.00

9.

12

Ryan Blaney

1

3

12.55

|

24.00

7.33

19.00

11.

5

Denny Hamlin

1

2

13.58

|

4.00

12.33

17.33

13.

14

Kurt Busch

1

 

15.38

|

17.33

11.67

6.33

14.

16

Ryan Newman

1

 

15.50

|

17.67

18.00

24.00

20.

20

Austin Dillon

1

 

18.80

|

14.67

18.33

27.67

Eligible on Points

8.

3

Kyle Busch

 

5

10.77

|

1.33

20.17

16.00

2.

6

Chase Elliott

 

2

7.43

|

16.50

15.00

13.00

19.

11

Matt Kenseth

 

2

18.40

|

4.33

13.17

7.67

6.

7

Jamie McMurray

 

 

9.79

|

18.33

17.17

20.67

12.

10

Clint Bowyer

 

 

14.35

|

14.33

15.83

17.00

Drivers Outside Playoff Contention

7.

13

Joey Logano

1

1

10.36

|

4.67

15.33

3.00

16.

 

Erik Jones

 

 

16.26

|

NA

3.00

NA

17.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

16.92

|

15.50

11.20

11.00

18.

 

Kasey Kahne

 

 

17.84

|

16.00

20.33

24.67

21.

 

Trevor Bayne

 

 

19.31

|

37.67

23.40

15.50

22.

 

Paul Menard

 

 

21.88

|

19.33

27.17

22.33

23.

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

21.98

|

NA

19.00

NA

24.

 

Aric Almirola

 

 

22.08

|

28.00

31.00

20.33

25.

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

23.02

|

NA

15.00

NA

26.

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

23.74

|

14.00

15.00

33.50

27.

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

23.76

|

26.33

21.83

9.67

28.

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

24.51

|

26.67

23.50

26.33

29.

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

25.00

|

30.33

25.50

19.67

30.

 

David Ragan

 

 

26.59

|

31.00

23.17

25.00

31.

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

27.42

|

25.33

28.83

29.00

32.

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

28.67

|

31.33

27.83

30.67

33.

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

29.28

|

36.00

32.20

30.00

34.

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

32.06

|

NA

29.00

NA

35.

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

32.65

|

39.00

32.00

23.00

36.

 

Corey LaJoie

 

 

33.33

|

NA

28.00

NA

37.

 

Cody Ware

 

 

33.90

|

NA

39.00

NA

38.

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

35.20

|

NA

34.00

NA

 

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.