The Start of a Hot Streak?
We’re in Dover, Delaware this weekend for the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway, “The Monster Mile”. There were two practice sessions this weekend (both on Friday) and you can find detailed reports about them as well as combined average speeds by clicking here. Mark Martin won the pole for Sunday’s 400-lap event by beating out “Five Time” Jimmie Johnson by one one-hundredth of a second. The full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. With a one-mile track, starting position is generally important, but that doesn’t mean a driver can’t use strategy–or even drive through the field–to get to the front.
I would like to mention one last thing: this week marks the beginning of Segment 3 over at “The Showcase” game on Fantasy-Racing-Online.com. The entry fee is $25.00 per team, but you could win up to $900.00 still (yes, signing up this late!) with all the prizes available. I run the game, and hope you take the time to check it out. There are over 130 teams signed up, and this is the first year. Click here for more information. Also, you can follow me on Twitter if you use it — @FanNASCARPredic.
Projected Start & Parkers: Mike Bliss, Joe Nemechek, Scott Riggs, Scott Speed, David Stremme, J.J. Yeley and POSSIBLY Stephen Leicht.
My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex, Jr., Mark Martin, David Reutimann.
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Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The FedEx 400:
11. Clint Bowyer – Starts 4th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Bowyer has been flying under the radar a bit since his teammates are doing so well this season, but the fact of the matter is this: in the last ten Sprint Cup races, Clint has finished 13th or better in eight of them. He ran 4th at Bristol in March and followed that up with a solid 10th-place effort at Martinsville in April. At Dover specifically, Bowyer has been pretty solid. In twelve career starts here, he owns an average finish of 14.3 and has finished 11th or better in half of them. Clint has never gotten a top 5 at “The Monster Mile,” though. The #15 was 18th in terms of ten-lap average in Happy Hour but looked a little better on the overall average speed chart. With his starting position, I expect a solid top 15 out of Bowyer on Sunday, with a possibility of a top 10 if they get some luck.
12. Denny Hamlin – Starts 10th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Hamlin didn’t really blow me away in practice on Friday, and this is actually his third-worst track on the circuit, so I’m not expecting much out of the #11 team on Sunday. In twelve career starts at “The Monster Mile,” Denny has notched just four top 10 finishes and has only led in one race. He had a good year here in 2010, posting top 10s in both races, but those are the only events at Dover in the last seven that he has ended up better than 16th at the checkered flag. Hamlin finished 20th at Bristol and 6th at Martinsville earlier this year. About the only thing that I really like about him this weekend is the four top 5s in the last five Sprint Cup races. But that’s still not enough for me to take the #11 on Sunday. If they are near the front at all during the FedEx 400, it would be a surprise to me.
13. Ryan Newman – Starts 3rd – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
The ONLY reason The Rocketman is getting this ranking is because of his qualifying effort. I had him penciled in as an “Avoid” driver but I’ll give him a shot I guess. Both Stewart-Haas cars are off this weekend (and have been for a while, really), and the only thing Newman really has going for him this weekend specifically is his 13th-place rank on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour. His rank on the overall speed chart left a lot to be desired. At Dover, though, Ryan hasn’t been too bad, so he also has that going for him. In twenty career starts here, he owns an average finish of 11.5 (third-best in the series), and he finishes inside the top 10 more often than not. When he qualifies well here, Newman generally races well. He started in the 20s in both races at The Monster Mile last season and went home with finishes in the 20s both weekends as well. He finished 12th at Bristol after starting 3rd earlier this year.
14. Aric Almirola – Starts 12th – Yahoo! C Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Fantasy experts all year have been clamoring on the need to save Aric Almirola starts in Yahoo!, but it’s hard to do that when he’s been running so well lately. I’d rather start him now when he looks good than wait and hope he looks good later down the road. Once again, the #43 looked fast in practice. Almirola topped some big names on the average speed chart and even ranked 6th in Happy Hour when it came to ten-lap average. I said earlier this year that he time to use Almirola was at the short tracks, and I like that even more now with Mike Ford as the crew chief. Remember, A.J. Allmendinger drove the #43 car for Petty Motorsports for three years and had some good runs at Dover, including a 7th-place finish last fall and a car that looked capable of winning in the 2010 fall event. The Dinger led 143 laps that race but lost a cylinder and finished 10th. So, you obviously have to hope that the equipment/team holds up for Almirola on Sunday. In the two short track races this season (Bristol and Martinsville), the #43 finished 19th and 8th, respectively. I don’t think a top 15 is out of the question for Almirola on Sunday. However, because he’s not starting up front (like last weekend), and probably won’t get any laps led points, you probably won’t find me starting Almirola on Sunday in Yahoo!. I only have 5 starts left. If you’re sitting with 7 or more, I’d go with him.
15. Jeff Burton – Starts 15th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Like his teammate, Kevin Harvick, I think Jeff Burton is really flying under the radar this weekend in Dover. And, you know, that’s actually kind of surprising, especially when you look at the Dove races over the last two years. Burton actually has the third-best average finish of anyone in the series over those four races, with two 2nd-place finishes and two 11th-place efforts. Jeff actually hasn’t finished worse than 16th in the last fourteen races here, and I don’t expect that to change on Sunday. At Bristol earlier this year, Burton qualified 33rd and drove up to finish 6th. Do I think he’ll end up that good at The Monster Mile this week? No, but a top 10 isn’t out of the question. The #31 Chevrolet ranked 14th on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour.
15b. Paul Menard – Starts 20th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
If you’re looking to get off-sequence from everyone else this weekend, I’d take a long look at Paul Menard. He ran 16th here last fall and, as to be expected with the #27, didn’t look too shabby on the average speed chart. Also, believe it or not, Paul hasn’t finished worse than 18th in Sprint Cup Series action since April 1 at Martinsville. Remember, Menard finished 10th at Bristol in March earlier this season. Statistically, this is his third-best track on the circuit, but that’s not saying much: in nine career starts at The Monster Mile, Paul Menard has an average finish of 20.3 and six finishes outside of the top 20. If he would have qualified a little better on Saturday, I’d feel more confident in taking the #27. Pick him at your own risk…
Those To Avoid For The FedEx 400:
Tony Stewart - In case you missed it in my Preview from earlier this week, here’s what I had to (and still have to) say about Smoke: “You should avoid this team simply on the basis of them being so hit or miss this season. It’s crazy to think that Smoke has two victories in the 2012 season but only five top 10s in the twelve races. When you look at his recent finishes at Dover, it gets even more depressing. Stewart’s average driver rating over the last four races here is an abysmal 68.3 and he has an average finish of 21st over that span. He has just four top 10s in the last fourteen races at The Monster Mile. Smoke finished 14th earlier this year in Bristol.” I think a top 15 out of Stewart on Sunday would be like a win for this team. Something is seriously wrong if Scott Speed qualifies better than a three-time Cup champion.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - As a fantasy racer, I want top 5s and top 10s out of my top-tier picks, not top 15s. With Junior, I think that’s all we’ll be able to get out of him this weekend, even though he does sound real confident with his car. However, how can a guy who has had such a consistent 2012 season not sound confident every single week? He’ll roll off the grid in 17th on Sunday, and I expect Dale to run around there all race. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt, Jr. has made eight starts at Dover and has just two finishes better than 20th: two 12th-place efforts, one in 2009 and one in 2011. He finished 15th at Bristol earlier this year and didn’t make a run of at least ten consecutive laps in either practice session on Friday. If you read my Preview, you know that’s a big red flag for me on the small tracks.
Kurt Busch – This isn’t an “avoid like the plague” rank, but let’s be honest: why even take a risk with Kurt Busch? All things considered, I think the #51 could be a sleeper option this week. A very, very deep sleeper option. He ranked pretty high on the average speed chart but that was more due to the fact that he ran only 69 laps combined during the two practice sessions on Friday. He has four top 5 finishes in the last six Dover races, but those came while he was driving for Penske Racing, not James Finch. Unless you’re in a league where you have to pick between him and guys like Casey Mears or something, there are simply too many other picks that are better than Kurt this weekend.