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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Talladega (Spring)

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

Drivers, fans, and fantasy owners are still getting accustomed to the playoff format in general and more recent changes that encourage risk-taking. Last year, getting locked into the playoffs did not make much difference to how drivers ran. They took a few more risks than normal, but the offset was they were relaxed and well equipped to run among the top five.

This year, the risks do not seem to be creating as great a reward. Of course, there is a slightly different risk/reward scenario this season since NASCAR began the first five races by allowing the teams to choose how many lugnuts to put on their tires. Vibrations and mistakes in the pits have impacted the teams much more than gambling on fuel or two tires did in 2015.

This week, NASCAR has gone back to mandating five tightened lugs on each wheel. Undoubtedly, this was partly because of the spotlight that was shined on the issue by Tony Stewart’s statement and penalty last week, but the timing probably has something to do with the looming Geico 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway. A loose wheel there—or worse yet, a broken wheel—has the potential of devastating half the field.

Once this race is in the books, the next wild cards on the schedule will be the road course events at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, plus the next restrictor-plate, superspeedway contest at Daytona International Speedway. 

Regular Season Races Remaining: 17 (Maximum points per race = 45)
Unique Winners in 2016: 6

Locked In

Kyle Busch (2 wins / 302 points)
Power Ranking: second
Points’ Standings: 4th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 21.00
Kansas: 19.00
Dover: 16.50

It’s going to sting when one gets moved out of the lead a few hundred yards from the finish line, but when it’s your teammate that does the deed, it is even worse. Carl Edwards’ bump-and-run on the No. 18 the final lap goes into the memory bank and at some point the favor will be returned. The upside of his timing is that Edwards did not wreck Busch and a sconce-place finish earned a lot of points for his Busch’s fantasy owners.

Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 310 points)
Power Ranking: third
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 14.17
Kansas: 10.33
Dover: 10.67

Johnson was a victim of race car teams being unable to police themselves when it came to tire security at Bristol Motor Speedway and when the No. 48 crew left one too many lugnuts loose on that bullring, he lost a lap. He rebounded nicely at Richmond International Raceway to score his sixth top-10 in the past eight races, however, and now that NASCAR has updated the rule he should be more predictable in the future.  
Carl Edwards (2 wins / 331 points)
Power Ranking: fourth
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 18.00
Kansas: 10.17
Dover: 18.00

Edwards was able to get to the back bumper of the No. 18 and for a split second he had a decision to make. He was too nice at Phoenix International Raceway with Kevin Harvick in his way and did not want to relive the final lap of the Toyota Owners 400 wondering if he might have won. He removed all doubt by knocking Busch out of his way, but he was a great fantasy value because of how he ran all day. Edwards dominated cap games by racing at the front longer than anyone else and that is how he should be remembered.

Currently Eligible on Wins

Kevin Harvick (1 win / 324 points)
Power Ranking: first
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 15.17
Kansas: 7.50
Dover: 7.83

Harvick has not seemed as dominant in 2016 as he was last year, but he has eight top-10s in the first nine races of the season. Four of these were top-fives and no one can be overly concerned about his average finish of 6.56 except for the fact that he has not been leading as many laps as fantasy owners are accustomed. Still, he leads the field in terms of his Fantasy Power Ranking and that means that he has been just strong enough to place-and-hold until future reference.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 258 points)
Power Ranking: eighth
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 22.83
Kansas: 18.20
Dover: 18.33

Hamlin and the next driver on this list Brad Keselowski are testaments to how important it is to get a victory under one’s belt. The drivers of the No. 11 and 2 cars have not been quite as strong as the four listed above them and have languished behind at least three other drivers in terms of raw power. Still, their victory in the banks virtually assures they will be part of the 2016 Chase and the pressure is off their shoulders.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 255 points)
Power Ranking: 10th
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 18.17
Kansas: 14.67
Dover: 12.33

There is not a lot to say about Keselowski. He has been flying under the radar for much of the year with less than a handful of top-10s to his credit, but the team got everything right in the final laps of the Auto Club 400. Under NASCAR’s new rules, he only needs a few dominant performances to be champion and this team may be resting and experimenting until the playoffs begin.

Currently Eligible on Points

Joey Logano (0 wins / 299 points)
Power Ranking: fifth
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 21.33
Kansas: 9.00
Dover: 7.17

Overall, Logano has been slightly stronger than Keselowski, but he lost ground in the final laps of the Auto Club race and still seeks his first victory. He knows to balance gambling for wins with going for broke, which has contributed to solid points’ performances in all but one race this year. With only three top-fives, however, he has not been fantasy gold but when he is rightly priced, he’s worth a few shekels of silver.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 246 points)
Power Ranking: sixth
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 11.83
Kansas: 12.00
Dover: 13.83

This team seems to have found a comfortable place to run. Each year several drivers get into the Chase on points and so long as the No. 78 is comfortably in the top 10 with most or all of the winning drivers ahead of him in the standings, there is no pressure. Talladega SuperSpeedway looms large as does Daytona International Speedway’s second race plus contests at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. The winning scenario and its impact on teams can change dramatically and quickly.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 212 points)
Power Ranking: sixth
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 19.67
Kansas: 9.17
Dover: 16.83

Kenseth is a perfect example of why it is sometimes difficult to tell a driver’s strength from their finishing results. He has raced with the leaders enough to easily be one of top-10 performers, but mistakes and accidents have hurt his results. One reason to look at the Fantasy Power Ranking, however, is that it suggests drivers are ready to break out and have solid results as soon as they stop making mistakes.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 178 points)
Power Ranking: ninth
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 13.17
Kansas: 15.33
Dover: 9.17

There are not a lot of drivers who want to go to Talladega. Earnhardt is one of the exceptions and in recent years he has reassumed his position as the Pied Piper of the plate tracks. He came within a few yards of winning last fall’s CampingWorld.com 500 and if he can take the checkers in the spring race on this track, he will practically have his ticket punched for the playoffs. He will be a popular fantasy pick that neither helps nor hurts most fantasy rosters.

Kurt Busch (0 wins / 279 points)
Power Ranking: 11th
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 18.33
Kansas: 17.00
Dover: 19.50

Busch does not have a victory on either plate track, but he has quite a few second- and third-place finishes at Talladega and Daytona. He doesn’t need to win in order to be fantasy relevant, however, and his relatively modest average finish of 10.44 hides the fact that all but two of his results have been top-10 finishes this year. He is flying under the radar and could be the consummate differentiator.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 234 points)
Power Ranking: 12th
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: NA
Kansas: NA
Dover: NA

Elliott is slowly creeping up the standings and if not for the fact that Talladega is such an unknown, we would predict that he would be among the top 10 next week both in regard to his Fantasy Power Rankings and NASCAR Sprint Cup points’ standings. It takes only one small mistake to plummet on the plate track, however, and players have a vivid memory of him spinning in this year’s Daytona 500.

Austin Dillon (0 wins / 234 points)
Power Ranking: 13th
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 20.60
Kansas: 22.50
Dover: 25.40

Just as bandwagons form, fantasy players need to know when to jump off them. The tide has turned for Dillon and after scoring finishes of 11th or better in his first four starts, he has now finished 19th or worse in four of his last five attempts. No matter what happens at Talladega, it is time to play a wait-and-see game for the No. 3 team and allow them to score more consistent top-10s before putting them back on a roster.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 222 points)
Power Ranking: 15th
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 25.17
Kansas: 10.50
Dover: 14.17

One might assume that since all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers are in the top 16 in points, they are as strong as the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. One would be wrong. Kahne was consistent but not powerful until last week in Richmond when he finally scored a top-five finish. His average in the first eight races this year was 17.88, which has him in a precarious points’ position.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 205 points)
Power Ranking: 19th
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 13.83
Kansas: 14.50
Dover: 20.00

The converse of using the Fantasy Power Rankings’ formula to tell which drivers are going to break out is that it also gives one a snapshot of who surges at the end of races. Newman and Jamie McMurray have finished better than the majority of their competitors, but they have not been quite as strong throughout races as these results suggest. That means they are good in games offering points only for finishing results, but less profitable in ones that reward laps among the leaders.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 224 points)
Power Ranking: 20th
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 23.00
Kansas: 20.00
Dover: 15.00

For some organizations, simply making the Chase is a goal unto itself. McMurray has scored only one top-10, but nearly all of his remaining results have been in the mid- to low-teens. That makes him an interesting pick when he fits a final roster slot so long as players are willing to settle for an average finish of about 16th. 

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tracks

Power
Rankings

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Talladega

Kansas

Dover

Locked In

2.

4

Kyle Busch

2

6.75

|

21.00

19.00

16.50

3.

3

Jimmie Johnson

2

6.92

|

14.17

10.33

10.67

4.

1

Carl Edwards

2

8.11

|

18.00

10.17

18.00

Eligible on Wins

1.

2

Kevin Harvick

1

4.67

|

15.17

7.50

7.83

8.

8

Denny Hamlin

1

11.59

|

22.83

18.20

18.33

10.

9

Brad Keselowski

1

12.22

|

18.17

14.67

12.33

Eligible on Points

5.

5

Joey Logano

 

8.12

|

21.33

9.00

7.17

6.

10

Martin Truex Jr.

 

9.59

|

11.83

12.00

13.83

7.

15

Matt Kenseth

 

11.29

|

19.67

9.17

16.83

9.

7

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

11.84

|

13.17

15.33

9.17

11.

6

Kurt Busch

 

13.00

|

18.33

17.00

19.50

12.

11

Chase Elliott

 

13.11

|

NA

NA

NA

13.

12

Austin Dillon

 

15.07

|

20.60

22.50

25.40

15.

14

Kasey Kahne

 

16.54

|

25.17

10.50

14.17

19.

16

Ryan Newman

 

21.09

|

13.83

14.50

20.00

20.

13

Jamie McMurray

 

21.30

|

23.00

20.00

15.00

Drivers Outside the Top-16 in Points

14.

 

Ryan Blaney

 

16.35

|

23.00

17.00

NA

16.

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

18.63

|

17.50

19.83

22.50

17.

 

Brian Vickers

 

18.91

|

12.00

21.75

23.33

18.

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

20.88

|

20.25

20.40

24.60

21.

 

Ty Dillon

 

21.68

|

NA

26.00

NA

22.

 

Trevor Bayne

 

21.86

|

33.50

24.50

37.00

23.

 

Paul Menard

 

22.21

|

13.50

13.33

16.17

24.

 

Kyle Larson

 

22.37

|

23.00

14.50

7.25

25.

 

Aric Almirola

 

23.18

|

19.17

15.33

15.00

26.

 

Greg Biffle

 

24.05

|

21.83

15.33

18.83

27.

 

Landon Cassill

 

26.73

|

24.50

32.83

33.67

28.

 

Danica Patrick

 

27.75

|

25.83

23.33

22.83

29.

 

Tony Stewart

 

27.83

|

29.60

26.40

12.80

30.

 

Michael Waltrip

 

29.17

|

21.00

NA

NA

31.

 

Casey Mears

 

30.00

|

22.33

25.17

23.83

32.

 

David Ragan

 

30.52

|

23.33

31.50

24.83

33.

 

Regan Smith

 

30.93

|

6.00

22.00

NA

34.

 

Michael McDowell

 

31.04

|

30.83

37.75

42.50

35.

 

Brian Scott

 

31.61

|

42.50

12.00

38.00

36.

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

32.00

|

29.00

27.50

33.00

37.

 

Chris Buescher

 

32.14

|

24.00

NA

NA

38.

 

Clint Bowyer

 

32.54

|

12.00

20.17

8.67

39.

 

Bobby Labonte

 

32.83

|

26.00

24.00

21.00

40.

 

Michael Annett

 

34.76

|

31.75

26.50

38.50

41.

 

Cole Whitt

 

35.04

|

20.40

30.00

27.60

42.

 

Joey Gase

 

37.43

|

NA

37.50

NA

43.

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

37.63

|

NA

NA

NA

44.

 

Robert Richardson Jr.

 

38.17

|

NA

NA

NA

45.

 

Ryan Ellis

 

38.33

|

NA

NA

NA

46.

 

Josh Wise

 

38.36

|

22.67

33.00

35.50

47.

 

Reed Sorenson

 

39.65

|

24.00

34.50

32.50

 

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 sometimes 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.