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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Richmond (spring 2015)

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

To say that the Food City 500 was chaotic would be a gross understatement. Delayed by rain and then red-flagged three times en route to a green-white-checkered finish, it was an event that challenged drivers’ stamina and concentration. Strategy, speed, luck, and skill all combined to create one of the most interesting top-10s of the season.

Six drivers who finished at the top of the order earned their season-best results including winner Matt Kenseth, third-place Jeff Gordon and fourth-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In the big scheme of NASCAR, Kenseth’s victory was the only position that had a guaranteed impact on the Chase, however, but the ripple effects through the field will be felt for weeks to come. Teams are undoubtedly very happy that Bristol is not one of the championship venues.

Bristol’s placement on the schedule was important for another reason. For the first time in many seasons, back-to-back short track races are being run and the Toyota Owners 400 will shake up the standings even more. If that were not enough, Talladega SuperSpeedway comes on the heels of these back-to-back bullrings and no one has ever come up with a successful formula for predicting that event.

Three weeks from now, Kansas Speedway will host the SpongeBob SquarePants 400, which will be the first of two consecutive similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. 

Kevin Harvick (2 wins / 314 points)
Chase Ranking: first
Last week: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 9.50
Talladega: 17.33
Kanas: 7.33

Last week all three of the perfect drivers of 2015 saw their top-10 streaks snapped. One can blame Bristol or bad luck, but Harvick’s instinct let him down and he was forced to lock up the brakes before hitting a stationary Jeb Burton. He was running third at the time, so fantasy owners can either see this race as a glass half full or half empty.

Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 258 points)
Chase Ranking: second
Last week: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 18.50
Talladega: 19.50
Kansas: 11.67

Bristol has not always been one of Johnson’s better tracks and he could just as easily have suffered the same fate at several of the leaders last Sunday. He ran into Burton at the three-fifths mark of the race while Johnson was trying desperately to stay on the lead lap. Once he got his rhythm again, he was determined to get back to the front and finished second—which was his fourth top-five of the year.

Not Yet Locked in

Joey Logano (1 win / 284 points)
Chase Ranking: third
Last week: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 14.33
Talladega: 25.33
Kansas: 13.67

The other drivers who witnessed long top-10 streaks come to an end at Bristol did something to cause their own trouble. Harvick spun into Burton, Martin Truex Jr. had a penalty that put him in the hornet’s nest, and Brad Keselowski triggered the spin that collected his teammate. Only Logano was an innocent bystander and that will increase his confidence level entering Richmond. Logano is the defending winner of the Toyota Owners 400.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 255 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth
Last week: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 11.83
Talladega: 15.17
Kansas: 15.17

Keselowski did not blame a wet track for his spin in the first 25 laps of the Food City 500, but he is too good of a driver to simply lose the car in the situation he faced. His accountability remains because 42 other drivers were on the track at the same time and managed to control their cars in those circumstances. The positive takeaway from this is an acknowledgment that Keselowski continues to drive his car to the ragged limit and that is often good for a few fantasy points.

Matt Kenseth (1 win / 236 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth
Last week: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 12.50
Talladega: 11.83
Kansas: 6.67

Kenseth must feel as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders after winning the Food City 500. It snapped a 51-race winless streak that encompassed all of last year, and while he is not mathematically locked in, one victory is likely to be enough to punch his championship ticket. That is important to how he will race in coming weeks because it takes him off the cusp of being dropped out of the Chase; last week he sat only five spots ahead of 17th.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 223 points)
Chase Ranking: sixth
Last week: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 17.20
Talladega: 21.33
Kansas: 12.40

Hamlin remains an uncertain value after being credited with his fourth result outside the top 20 in 2015’s eight races—even though Bristol was actually run by Erik Jones. If not for his victory at Martinsville, Hamlin would be tied with Jamie McMurray and slightly ahead of Danica Patrick and the other drivers on the cusp of the top 16. That is why his victory in the STP 500 is so important. He is known as a short, flat track master and could get a second win at Richmond this week.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 281 points)
Chase Ranking: seventh
Last week: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 17.50
Talladega: 16.67
Kansas: 8.67

Truex’s remarkable top-10 streak came to an end after he was caught speeding on pit road and later sustained crash damage. Once in traffic, he got banged about to insure that he would not get into the Free Pass or Wave Around positions. Sometimes drivers and fantasy owners have to dust themselves off after a disappointing run and carry on to the next race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 241 points)
Chase Ranking: eighth
Last week: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 9.67
Talladega: 17.50
Kansas: 15.00

Despite his success on the restrictor-plate, superspeedways, Earnhardt is not a fan of Talladega SuperSpeedway. That track has physically hurt him in the past and until pack racing is eliminated, it has the potential to do so each time he straps in his car. Earnhardt will be looking for a little cushion from Richmond, which is a track where he has three consecutive spring top-10s to his credit.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 237 points)
Chase Ranking: ninth
Last week: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 13.83
Talladega: 19.00
Kansas: 9.00

Kahne’s bad luck is becoming predictable. Last week he had one of the strongest cars in the field and dominated the front of the pack until the closing laps of the Food City 500. He got shuffled out of the top five and was spun by a driver unaccustomed to running in the top 10 during the 2015 season . Ultimately Kahne cost fantasy owners a lot of points and that has been his pattern all season. He sits high enough in the standings to remain a concern each week, however.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 227 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Last week: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 8.00
Talladega: 20.83
Kansas: 10.33

Gordon has run much stronger than he finished for most of 2015 and the Bristol Food City 500 almost repeated that pattern. He was a fixture in the top five until loose lugnuts sent him to the pits and with so much carnage, he was in serious jeopardy of sustaining crash damage. A third-place finish did not lock him into Chase contention, but it was his first top-five of the season and that shows he is heading in the right direction.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 226 points)
Chase Ranking: 11th
Last week: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 17.83
Talladega: 19.17
Kansas: 18.17

The current Chase contenders are beginning to take on a familiar look, but Almirola is arguably the best dark horse among them. He is still seeking his first top-10 of the season, but has finished outside the top 20 only one time this year. His best chance at scoring major points in the coming weeks will be at Talladega since he won a plate race in 2014.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 223 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th
Last week: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 13.83
Talladega: 22.17
Kansas: 19.33

McMurray failed to earn a third consecutive top-10 at Bristol last week, but his 14th-place finish created some separation between his spot on the grid and 17th. For the moment, that is enough to make him an interesting fantasy pick and it improves his odds of being part of the Chase this fall. Execution and stability will keep him there, but fantasy owners should be ready to jump on and off his bandwagon a few times before September.

Danica Patrick (0 wins / 211 points)
Chase Outlook: 13th
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 27.25
Talladega: 26.75
Kansas: 24.60

Last week Patrick set the record for the most top-10s by a female racer in the history of NASCAR’s top division at six. Equally important, it was her third straight finish of 16th or better and second consecutive top-10 on a short track. If she can manage another strong run this week at Richmond—a track with similarities to unrestricted, intermediate speedways, short tracks, and flat courses—she will become a favorite to stay in Chase contention.

Paul Menard (0 wins / 210 points)
Chase Ranking: 14th
Last week: 16th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.00
Talladega: 19.50
Kansas: 10.67

Menard finished 11th at Bristol and climbed up the standings, but all the news is not good. He sustained crash damage for the second time in three weeks and he has a blown engine in the other event. The No. 27 team cannot afford to be overhauled by the competition because powerhouse organizations such as Roush-Fenway and Chip Ganassi Racing wait in the wings.

Carl Edwards (0 wins / 203 points)
Chase Outlook: 15th
Last week: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 10.83
Talladega: 23.00
Kansas: 9.33

Knowing what the problem is and fixing it is often two separate matters. Edwards is aware his is trying too hard, but when the chance came to pass Gordon for second late in the Food City 500 he was powerless to keep his instinct at bay and slapped the wall hard. He will find his zone before the end of 2015 and become a good value when that happens.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 201 points)
Chase Outlook: 16th
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 9.67
Talladega: 18.17
Kansas: 19.33

Last week Newman had 25 points restored to his total on a technicality and that—coupled with fifth-place finish in the Food City 500—puts him right back in the Chase hunt. Richmond is another driver’s track and Newman should be able to maintain his position for at least another week.

Notables Outside the Top 16

David Ragan (0 wins / 194 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 29.33
Talladega: 13.83
Kansas: 30.17

Just when it seemed Ragan was going to be a steady, reliable value for fantasy owners, he crashed out of the Food City 500 and finished 41st. With Jones in last week’s Bristol race subbing for Hamlin, the clock is ticking on Ragan’s tenure as a Gibbs’ guy and he must pick up the pace before he returns to Front Row Motorsports if he wants to have an outside shot at making the Chase on points.  

Casey Mears (0 wins / 178 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: 15th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 26.00
Talladega: 19.83
Kansas: 28.67

Mears has been hovering on the cusp of being a bad value for a while with a 25th at Vegas, a 23rd at Auto Club, and a 27th at Texas. Now that he has fallen out of the top 16, those erratic results will keep him from getting on many rosters. Fantasy owners should not lose track of him, however, because he is capable of earning a few more top-15s before the season is over.

Greg Biffle (0 wins / 168 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 18.17
Talladega: 14.17
Kansas: 15.83

Ultimately it is the finishing result that contributes most points to a fantasy player’s total, but Biffle deserves notice for how well he has run several times this season. His average result is 23.4, but his Fantasy Power Rankings average is slightly better at 22.1. He needs more production to get allocated each week, but there is a glimmer of hope.

Austin Dillon (0 wins / 177 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 23.50
Talladega: 18.00
Kansas: 13.50

Dillon’s 10th-place finish at Bristol last week is not enough to recommend him as a place-and-hold driver since it is his first top-10, but he showed a lot of confidence all weekend. That sheds positive light on three previous results of 14th through 16th earlier this year to make him more than just a passing curiosity.

 

Next Three Weeks

Driver

2015 Power Avg.

Richmond 3-yr Avg.

Talladega 3-yr Avg.

Kansas 3-yr Avg.

Kevin Harvick

4.40

9.50

17.33

7.33

Joey Logano

8.71

14.33

25.33

13.67

Kasey Kahne

9.84

13.83

19.00

9.00

Martin Truex Jr.

9.86

17.50

16.67

8.67

Jeff Gordon

10.91

8.00

20.83

10.33

Brad Keselowski

11.23

11.83

15.17

15.17

Matt Kenseth

12.00

12.50

11.83

6.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12.01

9.67

17.50

15.00

Carl Edwards

12.20

10.83

23.00

9.33

Denny Hamlin

12.28

17.20

21.33

12.40

Jimmie Johnson

12.64

18.50

19.50

11.67

Jamie McMurray

16.05

13.83

22.17

19.33

Ryan Newman

16.71

9.67

18.17

19.33

Paul Menard

17.18

16.00

19.50

10.67

Aric Almirola

20.74

17.83

19.17

18.17

Danica Patrick

23.75

27.25

26.75

24.60

Outside of Chase Contention

Kurt Busch

7.00

16.17

24.50

21.67

Kyle Larson

14.74

13.50

13.00

7.00

Clint Bowyer

19.19

13.50

10.50

17.00

Greg Biffle

22.06

18.17

14.17

15.83

David Ragan

22.41

29.33

13.83

30.17

Austin Dillon

23.31

23.50

18.00

13.50

Tony Stewart

23.35

13.00

30.00

15.20

AJ Allmendinger

23.70

14.80

14.33

25.60

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23.90

22.50

17.50

20.50

Justin Allgaier

25.05

24.50

32.00

38.67

Casey Mears

25.24

26.00

19.83

28.67

Trevor Bayne

30.21

NA

28.00

NA

Sam Hornish Jr.

30.84

NA

24.00

27.33

David Gilliland

30.93

27.67

17.67

27.33

Reed Sorenson

32.62

37.00

24.00

33.80

Michael McDowell

32.92

41.00

31.17

39.60

Michael Annett

33.53

35.00

26.50

24.50

Alex Bowman

34.26

33.00

35.50

33.50

Cole Whitt

34.55

37.00

26.75

31.50

Landon Cassill

34.71

26.33

22.83

29.50

Josh Wise

37.45

36.67

30.33

37.00

Mike Bliss

37.90

40.80

NA

40.50

JJ Yeley

38.28

40.00

38.40

34.17

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,102 days. Since some races shift dates, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

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.