Overtaking the Lead
Once the TUMS Fast Relief 500 on Sunday, we may be looking at a new championship leader, and this race could easily end up being the turning point in the Chase. Jimmie Johnson looks awesome (as usual) and Denny Hamlin looks good, but points leader Brad Keselowski seems to be struggling a bit. Click here to check out the average practice speeds from the sessions on Saturday and see for yourself. Johnson won the pole for Sunday’s race, and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here.
My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Brian Vickers
My Probable Yahoo! Bench: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex, Jr., Aric Almirola
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Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The TUMS Fast Relief 500:
*Chase drivers marked in red*
11. Tony Stewart – Starts 7th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I’m not certain what kind of Tony Stewart will show up for fantasy owners on Sunday. He finished 7th here last time around, but it’s safe to say that was inflated by the late-race wreck (see Yahoo! chart here). Still, the #14 Chevrolet was solidly inside the top 15 for the entire race, so it’s not like Smoke was terrible. He had a great qualifying effort on Friday, ending up 7th, but he tends to qualify better here at Martinsville than other race tracks. I just don’t see Tony maintaining that track position very long, based mainly on his overall average speed rank. The #14 was 10th in the first Friday practice session in terms of ten-lap average and ended up 17th on that same chart in Happy Hour. I think Stewart has a solid top 15 car going into the TUMS Fast Relief 500, but it’s hard to trust him this year. If this team has some decent strategy they could end up with a top 10 when it’s all said and done.
12. Brad Keselowski – Starts 32nd – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
The championship points leader has already admitted that this race was going to be a huge test for this Blue Deuce team. He went out and qualified in the bottom fourth of the field on Friday and that’s usually a kiss of death here at The Paperclip. However, Paul Wolfe and the crew improved upon this car as the practices went on throughout Friday afternoon and Keselowski ended up 13th-fastest in Happy Hour. As far as ten-lap average, the #2 Dodge was 16th in that practice session. All of that being said, if there’s one team in the garage that can overcome all of this, it’s this one. There’s no doubt that they’ll use some sort of strategy to gain track position early on in the race but the question is to whether or not BK will be able to maintain that on the track. He has made five starts at Martinsville Speedway and has finished 12th or better in three of them. He also hasn’t finished worse than 19th. Looking strictly at speed, Keselowski really only has a car capable of a finish in the teens. Whether or not he finishes inside the top 10 will come down to how well this team’s strategy works out. If you’re really worried about his 32nd-place starting spot, keep in mind that Brad drove up to a 12th-place finish in his first career start at this track after starting 30th, and that was in the “side job” #12 Dodge for Penske Racing.
13. Ryan Newman – Starts 17th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Yes, Ryan Newman won here last time around, but when you look at his Yahoo! chart from that race, you’ll notice that the #39 was outside of the top 10 for nearly half of that race. What does that translate to? Newman benefited the most from Clint Bowyer’s late-race divebomb. That being said, it was still the #39 team in victory lane that day and you get fantasy points for how drivers finish, not how they run–well, in most games. Historically this has been one of Newman’s best tracks on the circuit. He has a career average finish of 13.7 in twenty-one career starts at Martinsville and has finished inside the top 10 more often than not. This weekend, the #39 ranked 5th in ten-lap average during Happy Hour but wasn’t overly impressive to me on the overall average speed chart. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Newman have a good finish on Sunday afternoon but keep in mind that he has been disappointing for fantasy owners for much of the 2012 season.
14. Aric Almirola – Starts 10th – Yahoo! C Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
The #43 team had a solid 8th-place finish here back in April , but that was inflated a little bit due to the last-minute wreck. However, Almirola looks pretty fast this weekend and could be a sleeper for a top 10. He’ll roll off the grid in 10th on Sunday afternoon, which his best qualifying effort at Martinsville since 2008, and ranked pretty high on the overall average speed chart after running 117 total practice laps on Friday. In addition to that, Aric was 12th in both ten-lap average charts for those practice sessions. Despite the letdown in Kansas last weekend, that #43 Ford was blazing fast and makes you wonder whether or not this team has hit on something? The risk is definitely there but Almirola could come home with a solid finish on Sunday afternoon.
15. Kevin Harvick – Starts 13th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
“Happy” hasn’t had a top 10 finish in Sprint Cup action since early September, but he also hasn’t finished worse than 16th in those six races, either. To put it simply, this team has become consistently better-than-average. Harvick had a decent qualifying effort on Friday, ending up 13th, and should be in the teens all day on Sunday. His rank on the overall average speed chart was also decent, and Kevin has an average finish of 12.4 over the last five races at this track. The good news, however, is that he has led at least six laps in each of those events and has three top 5s as well. I don’t think that streak will continue, but Harvick should be a safe pick for the TUMS Fast Relief 500. That being said, there’s a big gap between a safe pick and a good pick. I probably won’t have the #29 on any of my rosters this weekend.
Those To Avoid For The TUMS Fast Relief 500:
Greg Biffle – Brad Keselowski didn’t get the kiss of death because of his qualifying effort this weekend, but Greg Biffle does, who will start 30th on Sunday. To say that The Biff has struggled at Martinsville Speedway is a massive understatement. In nineteen career starts here, he has just two (!) top 10s and has an average finish of 22nd. Those with a better average finish than Biffle at this track include: Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, and Steve Park. Biffle was 14th in overall average speed but the #16 team only ran 94 laps combined in the Saturday practice sessions. He was 28th in both practices in terms of ten-lap average. Just stay away…
Kasey Kahne – The #5 Chevrolet isn’t nearly as bad as Greg Biffle and his #16 Ford, but there are too many other (better) options than Kasey Kahne this weekend. He had an engine problem here back in April and finished 38th after starting on the pole and running pretty well. Believe it or not, KK hasn’t finished inside the top 10 at The Paperclip since the 2006 season when he was still with Evernham Motorsports. That streak won’t be broken on Sunday, I will state with confidence. This team is just off for some reason. Kahne failed to crack the top 15 in terms of ten-lap average in either practice session on Saturday.