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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Pocono (Spring)

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

Kyle Larson was one restart away from officially locking into the playoffs with a second win under his belt—and that could be significant. Halfway through the regular season, there are eight drivers with unencumbered wins and the series has not yet hit the road courses or the final regular season restrictor-plate, superspeedway. There is a realistic chance that this could be the season with 16 or more winners, which means points are not going to get a team into the playoffs.

Stage racing seems to be playing a significant role—less because of the points earned and more because of the shuffling of strategies. Anyone outside the top 10 in points should be nervous as this week Ryan Blaney fell out of contention this week despite sitting 13th in the standings.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 13 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 9

Locked into the Playoffs

Jimmie Johnson (3 wins / 0 stage wins / 414 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 17.50
Michigan: 15.00
Sonoma: 8.67

Johnson had to come from the back of the pack at Dover International Speedway last week after making an unapproved change. In the closing laps, it appeared he would have to settle for second to Larson until a late-race restart allowed him to get the jump on the younger driver.

Martin Truex Jr. (2 wins / 8 stage wins / 545 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 19.67
Michigan: 18.50
Sonoma: 20.67

Truex continues to rack up stage wins and at the end of the day, that could be very important. The eight bonus points he gets for those plus 10 more for his pair of wins means that he has an 18-point advantage over some contenders. Since Johnson won last week, however, he would hold only a three-point lead over that driver if the playoffs started tomorrow.

Brad Keselowski (2 wins / 2 stage wins / 410 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 8.17
Michigan: 5.50
Sonoma: 18.67

After suffering through early DNFs in his last two races, Keselowski is going extremely happy that he has two wins. He added only two points to his total at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover, has fallen to seventh in the standings, and bad luck can be hard to shake.

Eligible on Wins

Kyle Larson (1 win / 2 stage wins / 536 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 8.83
Michigan: 14.17
Sonoma: 18.33

Larson knows that he needs to work on restarts and that is a step in the right direction. Losing the five bonus points that would have gone with a AAA 400 win could become very important, however, not only because he doesn’t have that bonus but because of who earned it instead. To contend for a championship against Johnson, Larson will need every advantage he can get.

Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 stage wins / 299 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 16.83
Michigan: 13.33
Sonoma: 9.33

Newman’s fourth-place finish at Dover is the first time this year that he has been able to back up on top-10 with another. For all of his vaunted consistency, he is more likely to finish in the teens than the single digits. That makes him a good filler pick in games when he fits the right niche.  

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 stage wins / 291 points)
Power Ranking: 14
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 11.50
Michigan: 14.50
Sonoma: 8.00

Busch is in the top 16 in points by four markers, but without his win he would not be playoff eligible because of Austin Dillon’s Charlotte triumph. While points don’t matter yet, they might eventually if there are more than 16 winners. Equally important, they are a way for players to determine the strength of their fantasy prospects.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1 win / 0 stage wins / 299 points)
Power Ranking: 17
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 24.83
Michigan: 24.83
Sonoma: 25.67

Statistically, Stenhouse is about to hit a rough patch on the schedule. With three-year average finishes around 25th for the next three tracks, it is best to move him to the evaluate-only category and climb back on his bandwagon if he gets a couple of top-10s.

Austin Dillon (1 win / 0 stage wins / 263 points)
Power Ranking: 19
Points’ Standings: 21
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 19.00
Michigan: 16.67
Sonoma: 18.67

We did not expect Dillon to run all that well at Dover, so his 12th-place finish was a pleasant surprise. It did not advance him in the points, but he did pick up a couple of positions in the Fantasy Power Rankings and could be become more relevant in the coming weeks.

Eligible on Points

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 stage wins / 429 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 12.17
Michigan: 7.50
Sonoma: 10.00

Given the way he has run in recent years, it seems a odd for Harvick to not have a win at this stage of the season. Sitting fourth in the standings proves that he has run strong and been a good fantasy pick on most occasions, however.

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 3 stage wins / 416 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 20.67
Michigan: 32.17
Sonoma: 11.00

Busch can be difficult to handicap in the best of times, but that is exacerbated when he gets frustrated. Losing the fuel mileage contest at Charlotte took him out of his game and he finished only 16th at Dover. Now, he enters a track that has not been kind recently and will probably struggle again.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 398 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 18.50
Michigan: 2.00
Sonoma: 21.00

If anyone ever needed a top-five finish, it was Elliott at Dover. He has been snake bit in recent weeks and must have been wondering what he had to do to avoid trouble. He was behind last week’s wreck when Ty Dillon spun late in the AAA 400, but he made the right move, did not get hit from behind, and may feel that Fate has forgiven him.

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 361 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 11.00
Michigan: 15.67
Sonoma: 15.33

So far all six of Hamlin’s top-10s have come in pairs, but he has not been able to score three consecutive yet in 2017. That could change this week on a track type that he once dominated. If it does, he could become a place-and-hold pick for the next few weeks.

Joey Logano (1 encumbered win / 1 stage win / 348 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 18.17
Michigan: 5.83
Sonoma: 8.00

The encumbered Richmond International Raceway win is starting to loom large. Logano has fallen to 11th in the points and that puts him only two positions above the current bubble for making the playoffs. There is no indication that his fortune is going to turn around quickly, so the next couple of races are going to be critical.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 1 stage win / 327 points)
Power Ranking: 21
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 15.67
Michigan: 14.00
Sonoma: 27.67

Kenseth passed Blaney for 12th in the standings and that puts him in playoff contention. He holds only a seven-point lead, so that will not give him a lot of comfort. Of those two contenders, Kenseth is much more likely to win one of the next 13 races, but he needs to do so quickly to have a chance to breath before the final 10 races.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 415 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 12.67
Michigan: 11.00
Sonoma: 10.67

McMurray was involved in the last-lap crash at Dover and still managed to finish in the top 15. It will take at least four or five weeks of new, unique winners to put him in jeopardy of falling out of playoff contention. Players will revel in his consistency and the knowledge that he is almost always a solid fantasy pick.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 349 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Pocono: 14.83
Michigan: 21.67
Sonoma: 17.67

At Dover, Bowyer has his first truly bad finish since the Daytona 500. He had mechanical problems and went to the garage for an extended stay, finishing 31st in the process. He should be able to rebound quickly, but Pocono was not kind to him in 2016 so that is far from certain.

 

Power
Rankings

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

 

|

Pocono

Michigan

Sonoma

Locked into the Playoffs

9

6

Jimmie Johnson

3

 

11.71

|

17.50

15.00

8.67

3

1

Martin Truex Jr.

2

8

7.11

|

19.67

18.50

20.67

2

7

Brad Keselowski

2

2

6.40

|

8.17

5.50

18.67

Eligible on Wins

1

2

Kyle Larson

1

2

4.94

|

8.83

14.17

18.33

13

15

Ryan Newman

1

 

15.39

|

16.83

13.33

9.33

14

16

Kurt Busch

1

 

15.46

|

11.50

14.50

8.00

17

14

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

1

 

16.50

|

24.83

24.83

25.67

19

21

Austin Dillon

1

 

18.41

|

19.00

16.67

18.67

Eligible on Points

7

3

Kevin Harvick

 

3

9.17

|

12.17

7.50

10.00

8

4

Kyle Busch

 

3

10.91

|

20.67

32.17

11.00

4

8

Chase Elliott

 

2

7.23

|

18.50

2.00

21.00

11

9

Denny Hamlin

 

2

14.28

|

11.00

15.67

15.33

6

11

Joey Logano

1

1

9.17

|

18.17

5.83

8.00

21

12

Matt Kenseth

 

1

18.95

|

15.67

14.00

27.67

5

5

Jamie McMurray

 

 

9.16

|

12.67

11.00

10.67

12

10

Clint Bowyer

 

 

14.78

|

14.83

21.67

17.67

Drivers Outside Playoff Contention

10

13

Ryan Blaney

 

3

12.23

|

10.50

17.25

23.00

15

 

Kasey Kahne

 

 

16.30

|

21.50

13.00

7.67

16

 

Erik Jones

 

 

16.32

|

NA

NA

NA

18

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

16.60

|

3.80

12.60

7.00

20

 

Trevor Bayne

 

 

18.56

|

24.00

21.67

24.00

22

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

22.00

|

19.50

19.00

NA

23

 

Paul Menard

 

 

22.76

|

28.17

10.67

11.33

24

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

24.16

|

NA

NA

NA

25

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

24.22

|

13.00

27.50

30.00

26

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

24.23

|

21.67

23.17

29.33

27

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

25.41

|

23.00

31.00

32.33

28

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

25.69

|

29.00

20.00

20.33

29

 

David Ragan

 

 

27.00

|

22.00

27.67

35.67

30

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

27.62

|

29.83

32.50

36.00

31

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

28.11

|

27.83

28.83

27.67

32

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

29.95

|

32.25

33.75

30.00

33

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

31.97

|

NA

NA

NA

34

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

32.84

|

32.60

34.00

32.00

35

 

Cody Ware

 

 

33.33

|

NA

NA

41.00

36

 

Corey LaJoie

 

 

34.25

|

NA

NA

NA

37

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

35.40

|

36.00

43.00

NA

38

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

35.42

|

NA

37.00

NA

39

 

Derrike Cope

 

 

35.74

|

NA

NA

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.