Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

The Week of the Non-Chasers

One thing we’ve heard hundreds of times already this weekend and I’m sure we’ll hear again is the repaving of Kansas Speedway. This Sunday will be the first Sprint Cup race on the new surface at this track and with it brings a lot of unknown variables that are hard to decipher. Most in the garage agree that track position will be key on Sunday (do NOT assume that that simply means starting position) and that the speedway will probably loosen up throughout the Hollywood Casino 400. We’ll find out soon enough, but I think this race could see a lot of comers and goers. Kasey Kahne won the pole on Friday and the full starting lineup for Sunday’s event can be found by clicking here. Also, don’t forget to check out the average practice speeds post–it’s much more accurate than looking at one fast lap.

My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Aric Almirola
My Probable Yahoo! Bench: Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Regan Smith, Sam Hornish, Jr.

Lots of unknowns at Kansas this week. Get the ifantasyrace advantage and get our analysis

Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Hollywood Casino 400:
*Chase drivers marked in red

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11. Carl Edwards – Starts 17th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I mentioned in my Preview earlier this week that Carl Edwards looks like he’s starting to heat up now that the season is coming to an end, and might be heading toward a 2010 Denny Hamlin-esque surge. Earlier this season, Edwards was able to crack off top 10s at most of the intermediate tracks despite qualifying mid-pack or worse. He’ll have to pass more than a few cars on Sunday to get up to the top 10, but I think the #99 Ford is capable. It also doesn’t hurt that Edwards has top 10 finishes in 80 percent of his starts at Kansas Speedway and hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 here since the 2007 season. He looked pretty good on the overall average speed chart on Saturday but didn’t look great in Happy Hour, which is a reason I bumped Cousin Carl down a bit.

12. Paul Menard – Starts 14th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Slugger Labbe is back atop the pit box for this #27 team and they’re picking up right where they left off. Paul Menard is another driver who has somewhat flew under the radar this weekend (probably because he’s not a Chaser). He’ll roll off the grid in 14th on Sunday afternoon and should remain inside the top 15 for most of the race. He was solidly inside the top 10 on the overall average speed chart and had one of the stronger cars in Happy Hour in terms of that statistic as well. Oh, and one more thing: Menard was 2nd behind Mark Martin in terms of ten-lap average during the final practice session. He’s also been pretty good here at Kansas in the last two fall races, collecting finishes of 12th and 8th.

13. Tony Stewart – Starts 33rd – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

This weekend is looking quite similar to the one in Charlotte a week ago. In case you forgot what I said last week about Smoke, I’ll briefly sum it up for you: the #14 will line up in the bottom 1/4th of the field, but the car is better than that. In terms of fantasy racing, you want a finish better than in the teens out of a Chase driver, and Tony Stewart simply won’t get you that this weekend. In Charlotte, Stewart started 32nd and finished 13th. On Sunday, in Kansas, he will roll off the grid in 33rd, and had a strong enough Happy Hour session that I think he’ll pull off a top 15 once again. Tony has finished 13th and 15th in the last two races at Kansas Speedway.

14. Regan Smith – Starts 39th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk FactorHigh Risk**

I wrote this team off completely after qualifying, as I’m sure many other people did as well. However, Regan Smith really impressed me in Happy Hour when the #88 crew was able to free up the car. At the time, he jumped up to the top of the board. He’ll have a whole bunch of cars to pass once the green flag flies on Sunday, but there’s one good thing about this situation: Steve Letarte and this #88 crew has been doing this all season–including at Chicagoland a month ago where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. still managed an 8th-place finish. Regan Smith ended up pretty high up on the overall average speed chart despite his rough first practice session and we saw last weekend that he can run top 10 in this car. This will be a risky pick, and I don’t think it’s worth it, but a top 15 is possible out of Regan Smith on Sunday. I just hope Hendrick Motorsports isn’t using these races with Smith to “experiment” with the car to help the other drivers in the stable (how often does Junior blow up?).

15. Ryan Newman – Starts 6th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Newman is generally thought of as a great qualifier, but that hasn’t really been his strong suit this season. Lately, however, the #39 has had rocketships in qualifying, and this Friday was no exception. That being said, running one fast lap is very different than keeping that speed up over a long run in a race. I don’t think Newman will fare as bad this weekend as he did in Charlotte last Saturday (he started 3rd and finished 20th), but don’t expect anything phenomenal out of The Rocketman on Sunday in Kansas. He had the 6th-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour and ranked mid-pack in terms of overall average speed on Saturday. I’m expecting a top 15 out of the #39 and not much better. Newman has only one top 10 in the last ten Sprint Cup races at this track.

Those To Avoid For The Hollywood Casino 400:

Tony Stewart – Check out what I wrote about Smoke up above, specifically the part that I underlined.

Jeff Gordon – The same applies for Jeff Gordon–he’s a fantasy racing stud and won’t get you a finish worthy of his elite status this weekend. Why even take the risk? There are many, many other options this weekend outside of the #24. It was mentioned in Happy Hour that Gordon’s car looked like it was handling fine but just didn’t have speed. Juan Montoya had a better overall average speed than Jeff Gordon and he hit the wall in practice. I’m not sure if this team has hit a wall or something but this should be the second straight week without the #24 inside the top 10.

A.J. Allmendinger – I’ll give him this: A.J. has that #51 Chevrolet looking better than Kurt Busch did all season. Solely looking at the numbers, this car could finish top 10 on Sunday. It’ll roll off the grid in 13th on Sunday and had the 4th-best overall average speed over the two Saturday practice sessions (seriously!). However, what’s the point of taking Allmendinger? The gain is minimal, in my opinion, with the risk being insanely huge. There are way too many other cars to take that are in the same “league” as the #51, and they are safer options as well.

Danica Patrick – Being lapped at a track like Kansas Speedway in under 30 laps is an absolute embarrassment, and judging by the practice speeds, that’s exactly what’s going to happen on Sunday to Danica Patrick. I’m open for debate, however, and would like anybody who reads this to comment below and give me a reason why she belongs in NASCAR’s top series. I await your response.