September 12, 2013

FANTASY: Let the Chase Begin (?)

GEICO 400 Fantasy Preview


The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland. (Getty)
I put a question mark in the title of the post because, as I write this on Thursday morning, it's still unclear if the Chase field is set or not.

On Monday night, NASCAR came down with unprecedented penalties that resulted in the removal of Martin Truex. Jr from the Chase.  On Wednesday, there was a brief statement regarding an investigation into radio traffic surrounding Joey Logano, but the sanctioning body has yet to make a ruling.

The Chase opener is just a few days away, and the fantasy world needs to move forward regardless.  The good news when it comes to Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing is that there's no Chase format, it's just a season-long compilation of points.  It doesn't matter which drivers are in or out of the postseason, it's still about turning out the best weeks possible regardless of a driver's status.

Here's a look at which drivers should make the fantasy roster at Chicagoland:

The Track


Opened in 2001, Chicagoland Speedway is the standard cookie-cutter that has become popular to build in more recent years.  It's a 1.5-mile, D-shaped tri-oval with intermediate levels of banking.  While that's not an unusual layout at all, it does provide some unknown as it only hosts one race per year and thus there's less familiarity than at other cookie-cutters.

X-Factor


Going forward, the Chase field will be the X-Factor.  This is the time of year that most Chase drivers really seem to push for points days.  It's not that they don't do that during the first 26 races, but it's common in the Chase to see a lot of high finishes from the majority of the contenders.

Fantasy Strategy


Owners should play favorites with the Chasers with the X-factor in mind.  That doesn't mean to completely ignore those not in the Chase, as there's a lot of hidden value in some of those drivers, but when in doubt, go with the Chaser.

A-List


Start


  • #15 Clint Bowyer - Fans have decided to make Bowyer the whipping boy for Saturday night's race, and that's not going to go over well with the driver.  He's long overdue for a win and with six top-10s in seven career races at Chicagoland, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him breakthrough this weekend.
  • #20 Matt Kenseth - Four top-10s in 12 races at Chicago don't speak well for Kenseth, but his 101.5 driver rating tells a story more of misfortune than ineptitude.  With the way he's been racing this season, he could most definitely win the GEICO 400.
  • #29 Kevin Harvick - He might be a little under the radar in the Chase, but with six top-fives (two wins) in 12 races at Chicagoland, he might not stay that way for long.


Park


  • #48 Jimmie Johnson - It's hard to argue against Johnson's nine top-10s in 11 Chicago races, but the No. 48 has been off the past month.  If he gets on a roll, there will be plenty more opportunities to start him.


B-List


Start


  • #18 Kyle Busch - His struggles in the Chase are well documented, and there will be a strong emphasis on starting the postseason quickly.  With three top-fives in eight Chicago starts, including a win, this is a good track for him to gain momentum.
  • #39 Ryan Newman - Having snuck into the Chase after Truex's penalty, Newman has something to prove.  He has a win at Chicagoland and seven top-10s in 11 starts, so he could turn out a good day.
  • #55 Brian Vickers - Leave the MWR feelings out of it.  Vickers is a great play this week to save allocations on other drivers.  He is one of only two drivers in the field with a top-10 average finish at Chicago (Johnson is the other); in six starts, he has a 9.5 average finish.
  • #99 Carl Edwards - A 16.6 average finish at the track is not impressive, but Edwards is feast or famine at Chicagoland, as he has three top-fives in eight starts.


Park


  • #16 Greg Biffle - He's often an afterthought in the Chase, and it's unlikely he kicks off the 2013 postseason in style.  He has only one top-10 in 10 starts at the track.
  • #78 Kurt Busch - With six top-10s in 12 races at Chicago, he's not the worst start out there.  However, he's finished 17th or worse in four of the last five starts at the track and has never recorded a top-five.


C-List


Start


  • #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - In the final race of the regular season last week, Stenhouse finally broke through for his first top-10 of the season (his girlfriend got hers in February).  He's never raced a Cup car at Chicagoland, but he should be familiar with the cookie cutter layout at this point, and he has some momentum.
  • #34 David Ragan - With a 17.2 average finish at Chicago, Ragan seems like the best choice this week to save allocations on drivers like Stenhouse and AJ Allmendinger.


Park


  • #13 Casey Mears - He does have two top-10s in 10 Chicagoland races, but he also has an abysmal 25.4 average finish.


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Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.

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