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A Look Back At My 2011 Season Predictions

Posted by chadmusselman on November 28, 2011

Each year, before the season starts, I make my NASCAR predictions on who will win the championship, the most races, etc.  Sometimes the predictions come true and sometimes they are way off.  Let’s take a look at this year’s and see how they turned out.

Champion: Prediction: Jimmie Johnson   Actual: Tony Stewart
What can I say?  I went with the safe bet and was wrong.  Jimmie had his “worst” year ever in NASCAR with career lows in point standings (6th) and wins (2).  His average starting position of 12.9 was his worst since 2002.  To my defense, I did say that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Carl Edwards won the championship.  He tied for it, so I guess that doesn’t really count.  Congrats to Tony Stewart and his great run in the Chase.  Maybe we should have known he would break Jimmie Johnson’s streak since he was the driver that won the championship back in 2005, before Johnson’s amazing run began.

Most Disappointing: Prediction: Clint Bowyer
I was pretty close on this one.  Bowyer did not make the chase, and finished 13th in points.  I thought he may be further down in 15th – 20th, but overall it wasn’t a good year for Bowyer.  He had 16 top ten finishes in 2011.  The only time he had fewer in a full season was 2006, his first one as a full-time driver.  Bowyer will have to work hard to get back in the chase.

Most Surprising: Prediction: A.J. Allmendinger
I think my prediction of Allmendinger’s season was a darn good one.  He didn’t have to make the chase to be surprising, but he almost did it anyway.  Also, finishing 15th is a good accomplishment for Allmendinger.  He’s improved each season of his career, and should be a legitimate contender to make the chase next season.

Rookie Of The Year: Prediction: Trevor Bayne    Actual: Andy Lally
Winning the Daytona 500 is a great way to start off your career!  Officially, Bayne wasn’t a rookie in 2011, but how can you say he wasn’t the best first year driver out there?  NASCAR has recognized Andy Lally as the 2011 Rookie Of The Year.  He won by default since he was the only official rookie racing in the Sprint Cup Series.  Lally averaged a 30.8 place finish in 2011 while Bayne averaged a 25.8 place finish.  Both have a ways to go, but Bayne got the big win and shows a lot of promise.

Comeback Driver: Prediction: Brian Vickers    Actual: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It can be hard to judge the comeback driver of the year, but it’s safe to say that , although Vickers does have a great story with his comeback, his performances on the track weren’t good enough.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the other hand, really stepped up in 2011 and proved that he is still a good driver and can contend with the elite.  Earnhardt made the chase and finished 7th, right in between his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Most Wins: Prediction: Tony Stewart     Actual: Tony Stewart
Nailed it!  Five wins for Stewart gets him the award for most wins this season.  The amazing part is that he did this in the Chase, propelling himself to the championship.  Stewart really is a great driver, and I guess we can now call him a pretty good owner.


Posted in Front Story | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Proved Me Wrong

Posted by chadmusselman on November 21, 2011

Back in January of this year I asked the question, “Will 2011 be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s year?”  I emphatically said “No”, and that Earnhardt has already peaked and should hope the rest of his career doesn’t end up like Kyle Petty’s.  I also said the changes Hendrick was putting in place to get Earnhardt back into the chase would hurt the rest of the team.  Boy was I wrong about Earnhardt.

The 2011 season has easily been the best for Earnhardt since 2008.  He showed that he can still run with the elite drivers, staying in the top ten in points almost all season and making the chase.  Sure, he didn’t make much noise in the chase, but that’s not the point.  The point is that he made it and finished 7th in points, by far better than I ever thought.  Earnhardt didn’t get that elusive win, but he did finish in the top five 4 times and in the top ten 12 times.  That’s the most since the 2008 season.  His 14.6 place average finish in 2011 is also his best since the 2008 season.

To add to the success on the track for Earnhardt, he signed a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2017 season.  Rick Hendrick was talking about the contract extension at the beginning of the season, at which time I said he should be looking to let the current contract expire and dump Earnhardt.  Well, if this season is any indicator of what’s to come, Rick Hendrick once again made the right decision by finalizing Jr’s contract in early September.

One member of the Hendrick stable that could have been negatively affected by the changes that Hendrick instituted was Mark Martin.  In the pit crew and team shuffle, Earnhardt got Jeff Gordon’s 2010 team, Jeff Gordon got Mark Martin’s 2010 team, and Mark Martin got Earnhardt’s 2010 team.  Mark Martin easily had one of his worst seasons in recent years.  Martin finished 22nd in points (worst since 2008), has only 2 top five and 10 top ten finishes.  You would have to go back to the mid to late 1980’s to find a season that Mark Martin had fewer top five and top ten finishes.  His 18.2 place average finish was his worst since 2003.  Not a good season for Martin no matter how you look at it.

Maybe this helps answer part of the question, is it the driver, the car, or the pit crew that wins championships?  This shows that Earnhardt was probably working with an inferior team for a couple years before getting Jeff Gordon’s old team.  Mark Martin may be getting older, but he’s still a quality driver and the drop-off from 2010 to 2011 was significant.  I guess we know who Rick Hendrick can let go at the end of the season.  I wouldn’t want Kasey Kahne to inherit a team with that bad of a record.

Earnhardt has to be very happy about 2011, looking forward to making more strides in 2012 and getting his first win since the 2008 season.  Dale, I promise you one thing; I won’t write anything stating 2012 will be a bad season for you and that you’re washed up.  You definitely proved this year that you don’t have to get by on your popularity and you are a true contender for the championship.

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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on November 15, 2011

It all comes down to this race!  Only three points separate Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.  Can Stewart get the job done and pass Edwards in the last race to win the Championship?  Is it possible for them to be tied in points at the end of the race and have to go to a tie-breaker to see who wins the championship?  Stewart has more victories this season, so the edge should go to him.  Don’t plan on any of the drivers challenging Stewart or Edwards for position on the track.  No one wants to be the guy that wrecked them, destroying their chance at a title.  They will be the only ones racing each other hard in the final race.  With that in mind it should be no surprise who I’m picking as my chaser, and alternate chaser this week.

This Week’s Recommendations

Chaser: Carl Edwards
If past history at Homestead-Miami Speedway is any indicator, Carl Edwards should hang on to his slim points lead and win the championship.  Edwards has the best average finish at the track (5.7) and two career victories here as well.  In his seven career races Edwards has four top five and six top ten finishes.  His only finish outside of the top ten was his first race here in 2004 when he finished 14th.  I think it’s safe to say Edwards will get a top ten finish.  The question is, can Stewart do much more to put pressure on him?

Alternate Chaser: Tony Stewart
If anyone can do it, Stewart can.  He, like Edwards, has two wins in Homestead-Miami.  Stewart also has three top five and six top ten finishes to go with the wins, in 12 career races.  His average finish of 12.4 isn’t quite as good as Edwards, but it’s not too shabby.  Given the fact that Stewart is trying to win his third NASCAR championship and drivers will be giving him plenty of room to run around the track, he should be a top ten finisher this week.  Again, the question is, will it be enough to win the title.  He may have to win the race, and lead the most laps to get it done; especially if Edwards is on his tail in 2nd or 3rd place.

A.J. Allmendinger
Believe it or not, A.J. Allmendinger owns the third best average finish at this track among active drivers.  In his three career races here Allmendinger is averaging an 8.7 place finish.  He’s finished 11th, 10th, and 5th in those races.  Allmendinger is 16th in points, only 3 away from Greg Biffle in 15th.  He will be pushing hard to pick up another spot in the standings and finish a very respectable 15th.  Also, Allmendinger has been one of the hottest drivers lately, averaging a 13th place finish over the last five races.  There’s no reason to believe he won’t contend for another top ten finish this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr.
Truex Jr. has a top ten finish in the last three races, and four of the last five at Homestead-Miami.  He’s averaging an 11.7 place finish in his 6 race career at the track; good enough for sixth best among active drivers.  Just over 12% of you had Truex on your team last week when he finished 20th.  This looks to be a better track for Truex and he should contending for a top ten finish and get you more points this week.

Dark Horse: Jeff Burton
Burton finds himself down in 23rd place.  Way too low for a driver of his caliber.  He has turned it around a little over the past five races.  In that span he’s averaging an 11.7 place finish with two top five and three top ten finishes.  Burton has also had some success at Miami-Homestead in his career with four top five and five top ten finishes.  I’m sure Burton will be glad the 2011 season is over after the race, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be fighting for another quality run and keeping momentum for the 2012 season.

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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway

Posted by chadmusselman on November 7, 2011

Only two races left and three points separating Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.  Tony Stewart has really turned on the jets in the Chase amassing four wins in the eight races so far.  This should be one of the most exciting finishes to the season ever!  I have to give NASCAR kudos for the change in the point system and making every race of the season count for the championship.  There won’t be anyone wrapping up the title a race or two before the end of the season anymore.

The next to last race is in Phoenix, a relatively flat 1 mile tri-oval.  Ten of the chasers have won here in the past and only two regular drivers not in the chase have won a race here.  The main theme for picking drivers this week will be who’s been hot recently.  Most of the picks this week have a high average finish over the last five races.

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Jimmie Johnson
Okay, so Jimmie Johnson hasn’t exactly torn it up over the last five races, but dog-gone it, he’s really awesome at Phoenix.  He leads all active drivers with four wins here, and also has 11 top five and 14 top ten finishes in only 16 career races.  That’s right; Johnson has only finished outside of the top ten twice in his career at Phoenix.  He won’t win his 6th consecutive title, but he very well can win the race this weekend.

Alternate Chaser: Tony Stewart
It’s harder to get hotter than Stewart is right now.  He has won two in a row and finished in the top ten in four straight.  Stewart is only three points out of the lead and charging hard.  He’s going to be very focused and determined to get ahead of Carl Edwards before the final race in Homestead.  And, don’t forget that Stewart has won here before, collecting 7 top five and 10 top ten finishes along the way.  In 19 career races you may not think that’s very impressive, but I don’t know how you can go against the run Stewart is on right now.  He was on less than 10% of the fantasy teams last week, so pick him up this week and get those points you missed.

Kasey Kahne
Kahne has averaged an 8th place finish over the last five races, good enough for 3rd best.  He’s really doing a good job of building confidence and proving that Rick Hendrick is getting a quality driver for the 2012 season.  In 14 career races at Phoenix Kahne has only finished in the top ten four times with one top five, but you can throw those numbers out.  He’s on a great run right now with five top ten finishes in the last six races.  That should be good enough of a run to put Kahne on your team and ride the streak. 

Greg Biffle
Biffle is the 4th hottest driver over the last five races, averaging an 11.4 place finish.  His average finish at Phoenix isn’t too bad either (14.9).  Biffle has had success here in the past with four top five and five top ten finishes in 15 races.  He’s usually in the top fifteen at the track and should be again, and contending for another top ten finish. 

Dark Horse: Mark Martin
Okay, so Mark Martin hasn’t been hot of late, but I can’t ignore his record at Phoenix.  He’s averaging an 8.8 place finish with two wins, 12 top five, and 19 top ten finishes in 29 career races.  Only Jimmie Johnson has a better average finish than Martin.  I think Mart Martin has too much pride and is too good of a driver to mail in the final two races of the season.  He should show some life this weekend and have a shot at the top ten when the race is winding down.


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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on October 31, 2011

Tony Stewart started the chase strong with back-to-back wins.  Can he do it again?  Winning three races during the chase is very impressive, and as a result, he’s only eight points behind Carl Edwards for the lead.  Jimmie Johnson’s 2nd place finish is keeping him in the hunt, but definitely on the outside looking in right now.  It should be interesting in Texas this weekend.  Fourteen active drivers have won a race at the Texas Motor Speedway during their career with Carl Edwards’ three leading the way.  Nine of the past winners are current chasers.  It looks like there is no shortage of good drivers to pick for your team this week. 

This Week’s Recommendations

Chaser: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth’s 9th place average finishing position at Texas is best among active drivers.  In 18 career races at the track he has 12 top ten and nine top five finishes along with two wins.  Last week in Martinsville wasn’t Kenseth’s race, finishing 31st, but look for him to rebound this weekend.  In his last nine races at Texas Kenseth has finished in the top ten eight times; a very impressive run that should continue this weekend.  Kenseth was on less than 4% of the teams last week.  Put him on your team this week and get points that everyone else is missing.

Alternate Chaser: Denny Hamlin
Kenseth has the best average finish at Texas, and Denny Hamlin has the second best average finish at 9.3.  Hamlin won both races here in 2010 so it’s obvious he’s comfortable with the track and knows he can get the job done.  He may be out of contention for the championship, sitting 11th in points, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on winning races.  Hamlin has 8 top ten and 5 top five finishes in his 12 race career at Texas so look for him to be battling for the victory when the laps are winding down.

Clint Bowyer
Bower is a solid driver that is having a pretty decent year.  He’s 13th in points and won at Talladega a couple weeks ago.  This weekend should be another solid run for Bower.  He’s averaging a 13.4 place finish at Texas and has three top five and six top ten finishes at the track in 11 career races.  Bowyer is no secret to those of you playing Chad’s Fantasy NASCAR; he was on close to 50% of the teams last week.

Greg Biffle
Biffle has had some rough times and some good times in Texas.  In his first nine races at the track he only finished in the top ten twice and his average finish was a horrible 26.1.  Compare that to the last six times he’s been at the track and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Since the second race at the track in 2008 Biffle has had six consecutive top ten finishes, averaging a 5.8 place finish.  I think it’s safe to say Biffle has a better feel for Texas and should be among the leaders this weekend.

Dark Horse: Jeff Burton
As bad of a season that Jeff Burton has had, there have been signs of life over the last couple races.  Two weeks ago in Talladega he finished 2nd and last week in Martinsville he was able to bring home a 6th place finish.  Those were only his 2nd and 3rd top ten finishes of the season.  Pretty hard to believe Burton doesn’t have more.  Hopefully this weekend in Texas he’ll be able to get his 4th top ten finish of the season.  He does have nine top ten and three top five finishes at the track in his career, as well as two wins.  It has been a bad year for Burton, but don’t count him out of the remaining three races just yet.


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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on October 24, 2011

Only four races left in the season and the top five in the standings are separated by only 26 points.  It looks like NASCAR will get their wish with the new points system and have several drivers with a shot at winning going into the final race at Homestead.  Unfortunately for Jimmie Johnson his 26th place finish last week may have been the nail in the coffin on his hopes of winning his sixth championship in a row.  That doesn’t mean he won’t run hard this weekend at Martinsville and try to make it interesting.

We all know Martinsville brings tight racing with lots of passing and action.  This will be another race that the chasers have to avoid trouble; even if it’s started by someone on the other side of the track.  It doesn’t take long for wrecks to happen and drivers to get their fenders banged up or cut a tire by running over debris.

This Week’s Recommendations

Chaser: Jimmie Johnson
Johnson may not win his sixth title this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s the best driver at Martinsville.  Jeff Gordon has more wins (7) than Johnson (6), but Johnson has won his in only 19 races at the track.  Along with those six wins he has finished in the top five 13 times and top ten 17 times.  His average finish of 5.6 is also best among active drivers.  Is Johnson done, and not motivated to finish the season strong?  I don’t think so.  He should be pushing harder than ever to get another win in Martinsville.

Alternate Chaser: Jeff Gordon
If Jimmie Johnson is the best at Martinsville, then Jeff Gordon has to be second best.  His seven wins are most at the track, and his 7th place average finish is third best among active drivers.  In 37 races Gordon has 30 top ten and 24 top five finishes here.  It’s ridiculous really.  He only has four finishes outside of the top 15 at the track and only two outside of the top 25.  Even when he has a bad day it’s better than a lot of drivers on a good day.  He may not be able to win the title this year, but there is no doubt he can win the race this weekend.

Mark Martin
Martin has finished in the top ten in four of the last five races in Martinsville.  He’s sporting an average finish of 13th place over his 47 race career at the track.  Along with two wins, Martin also has 12 top five and 25 top ten finishes.  He hasn’t shown much in recent races finishing outside of the top ten in four of the last five this season, but Martin knows this track well.  He should contend for a top ten and improve his 19th place point standings.  He’s a better driver than what has been shown over the past month.

Clint Bowyer
Bowyer is coming off of his first win of the season and should be feeling good about himself.  He has finished in the top ten in three of the last four races and four of the last six this season.  Bowyer has had moderate success at Martinsville with a top five and six top ten finishes in 11 career races.  He’s 13th in points, and had he made the chase we’d be talking about him hanging with the big boys contending for the title.  Give Bowyer credit, he’s done well and looks like he will finish the season strong and hopefully hang on to 13th position.

Dark Horse: Joey Logano
Logano has only raced in Martinsville five times, but outside of his first race here when he finished 32nd, he’s always been in the top 13, which happens to be his average finish at the track.  He hasn’t had a top ten finish since way back at Watkins Glen, so Logano is past due.  This could be the race that he gets his 7th top ten of the season.

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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Posted by chadmusselman on October 17, 2011

When things started to liven up at the end of the race in Charlotte, Jimmie Johnson hit the wall hard.  That definitely hurt his chances of winning another title, but there is no way Johnson can be counted out yet.  Talladega is obviously a huge track with the drivers being bunched close together for most of the race.  We can expect more beating and banging on the cars, making it tough to predict who will make it through the race cleanly and go to victory circle.  Anyone can get caught up on someone else’s mess.  This could be the race that shakes up the standings and puts Keselowski and Stewart in a position to make a charge in the final four races, or it could be race that Edwards, Harvick, and Kenseth need to further separate themselves from the rest of the chasers.

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Kevin Harvick
Harvick is averaging a 7.2 place finish in the Chase races (2nd best) and averages a 14.3 place finish at Talladega (3rd best).  It seems like a good formula for him to have a good race next week.  In 21 career races at Talladega Harvick has 10 top ten and 6 top five finishes with 1 win.  Harvick is only 5 points behind Carl Edwards for the point lead and less than 1.5% of you had Harvick on your team last week.  This is the perfect chance to get him on your team and get some real points. 

Alternate Chaser: Kurt Busch
Kurt Bush hasn’t made a ton of noise in the chase, but is sitting 7th; only 25 points out of first place.  He has had a lot of success in Talladega over his career, averaging a 13.9 place finish (2nd best) with 6 top five and 13 top ten finishes in 21 career races.  With the unpredictable way races can take shape in Talladega, this could be the time for Busch to finish strong and move up in the standings to become a real contender for the title.  We know that he has what it takes to win the title.

Mark Martin
This weekend will be Mark Martin’s 48th race in Talladega.  He has had a great career at the track collecting 2 wins, 11 top five and 24 top ten finishes along the way.  Martin has cooled off a bit over the last four or five week dropping from 16th to 20th in the standings.  He’s due for a good finish and Talladega is a track that should suit his driving style and provide him with it.  Martin can stay in the middle of the pack and let the initial craziness settle down and be around to contend for a top ten at the end of the race.

Clint Bowyer
It looks like Clint Bowyer is starting to get the hang of Talladega.  In 11 career races he only has 5 top ten finishes, but he’s on a roll with three consecutive top ten finishes at the track.  In that stretch he has also finished in the top five twice with a win.  Hopefully this trend can continue for Bowyer and he’ll get another top five or ten finish this weekend.

Dark Horse: Joey Logano
Believe it or not, no one has a better average finish at Talladega then Joey Logano.  Logano has only raced here five times, but in those races he has finished in the top ten four times with two top five finishes.  He finished 12th last week, so maybe this can be the start of a good run for Logano to finish out the season.  He was on less than 10% of the fantasy teams last week, so pick him up and you should get good points this week.

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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on October 10, 2011

Look out Edwards and Harvick; Jimmie Johnson is on the move!  After his win in Kansas Johnson moved from 5th to 3rd place in the standings and is only 4 points out of first.  Never doubt the 48 team.  On the other side of the spectrum is Jeff Gordon.  For doing so well before the Chase, he has struggled a little of late.  His 34th place finish last week dropped him to 10th in the standings, 47 points out.  He now joins Earnhardt, Newman, and Hamlin as drivers that are essentially out of it.  The other eight chasers still have a legitimate chance at the title.  Eight place Kyle Bush is only 20 points out of first.

The 1.5 mile tri-oval of Charlotte is the next stop.  It’s obviously a great track that can provide some quality racing and exciting finishes.  There are a lot of drivers that have legitimate shots at winning and finishing in the top ten.  Let’s see who you should have on your team.  Don’t forget; the race is Saturday night this week!

This Week’s Recommendations

Chaser: Jimmie Johnson
No active driver has more wins in Charlotte than Johnson.  His six are one better than Jeff Gordon.  He’s also finished in the top ten 14 times in 20 career races at the track.  The Lowes team is starting to find its Chase groove and cranking out great performances.  Winning last week, and finishing 2nd the week before is only the beginning.  Johnson is in great position to win his sixth championship in a row.  When they start to run like this there isn’t much that can stop them.

Alternate Chaser: Carl Edwards
Well, Edwards is the points leader as well as the hottest driver on the circuit.  He’s averaging a 4.4 place finish over the last five races, and Edwards has seven consecutive top ten finishes, with five of those top five finishes.  The streak will have to end eventually, but not this race.  Edwards has 7 top ten finishes at Charlotte in 13 career races, and amazingly hasn’t finished in the top ten here since the Coca-Cola 600 in 2009.  That’s four consecutive races without a top ten finish in Charlotte.  That’s simply too long of a streak and it has to end this weekend.

Kasey Kahne
I was surprised to see how well Kasey Kahne has done at the Charlotte Motor Speedway throughout his career.  He’s averaging a 14.1 place finish in 15 races, along with 5 top five finishes and three wins.  He hasn’t finished in the top ten for three consecutive races at Charlotte, so like Edwards, I think Kahne is due.  He has finished 4th and 2nd in the last two weeks so maybe Kahne is starting to put it together late in the year and building momentum for his ride with Hendrick in 2012.  Either way, Kahne looks to be a solid driver to have on your team this week.

Joey Logano
Would you believe that Joey Logano has the best average finish (7.4) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway than any other active driver?  Sure, the sample size is smaller (5 races), but the fact is he does well here.  Logano has 2 top five and 4 top ten finishes in those five races.  It’s been a bad year, and he needs a couple good runs to wrap up the season, and this is a place that he could get it.  Logano was owned by less than 4% of the fantasy teams last week, so there is definitely a chance for you to pick him up and gain some points.

Dark Horse: David Reutimann
Another surprise for me when I was looking at the stats for Charlotte was David Reutimann.  He’s finished in the top ten here four of the last five races.  Reutimann hasn’t done much this season, but it’s obvious he has figured out Charlotte and it’s become one of his favorite tracks.  One of his two career victories came here back in the Coca-Cola 600 of 2009.  Reutimann was on less than 1.5% of the teams last week, so this is definitely an opportunity for you to pick up a driver almost no one else will have and gain points.

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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on October 4, 2011

Kurt Busch’s win last week and Jimmie Johnson’s second place finish show how much movement there can be in the standings with the chase format and new points system.  Both drivers moved up five spots; to 4th and 5th, making them contenders for the title once again.  (Busch is actually tied in points for 3rd.)  Tony Stewart’s 25th place finish hurt, but definitely didn’t take him out of contention.  He is only 9 points out of the lead, tied for 3rd place with Kurt Busch.  With the new points format it seems that anyone currently in the top 9 are still in the hunt.  Right now Jeff Gordon holds down that spot, only 19 points out of the lead.

Bad news for Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman, and Denny Hamlin though.  They may have to start thinking about next season and be glad they made the chase in 2011.  Earnhardt is 34 points out, Newman 41, and Hamlin 68.  There are simply too many good drivers to be passed up for either one of these guys to have a legitimate chance at the title, although that’s not to say they will give up trying.

So, what have we learned three races into the Chase?  The field is still wide open and there are a lot of drivers with a legitimate chance to take home the title.  Heck, this could be the same line I use when we’re six or seven races into the chase.  Let’s hope so!

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Jeff Gordon
No driver gets around the Kansas Speedway like Jeff Gordon.  His 8.1 place average finish is the best, his two wins are tied for the most, and the eight top five and nine top ten finishes at the track are also the most at the track.  In short, Jeff Gordon is awesome at Kansas.  His worst finish of 39th was back in 2006.  Since then he has five consecutive top five finishes here.  His only other finish outside of the top ten was in 2004 when he finished 13th.  Gordon is also averaging an 8.8 place finish over the last five races this season.  Sounds like a good recipe for a top five run and possibly another win.

Alternate Chaser: Tony Stewart
If Jeff Gordon is the No. 1 driver at Kansas, then Tony Stewart has to be 1B.  Like Gordon, Stewart has raced at Kansas 11 times and has two victories.  The slight difference is that Stewart only has five top five and eight top ten finishes at the track.  His 11.9 place average finish here isn’t quite up to Gordon’s mark, but pretty close.  In 2007 & 2008 Steward finished a horrible 40th and 39th, so it would appear that he’s gotten the bad luck out of the way and he can battle for another top five or win this weekend in Kansas.

Greg Biffle
I guess Biffle has to be driver 1C in Kansas since his record is almost as impressive as Gordon and Stewart’s.  The Biff is averaging an 8.3 place finish at the track, has two wins, six top five and seven top ten finishes in ten career races.  This has to be a big no brainer to get Biffle on your team this week.  He had a bad finish last week, but don’t let that turn you off.  Biffle will be primed and ready to go this weekend.  He knows Kansas is a track that he can dominate and have a chance to win the race.

A.J. Allmendinger
Allmendinger has four career races at the Kansas Speedway.  In his first race, in 2008, he finished 9th.  In Allmendinger’s second race at the track he finished 17th; third race, 10th, and fourth race earlier this year he finished 27th.  See the trend?  That of course means that Allmending will finish in the top ten this weekend.  Well, maybe not, but he has shown that he can get a good finish at the track, and has a little bit of momentum after a 7th place run last weekend.  32% of you owned Allmendinger last week, so there is still a chance to put him on your team and gain points.

Dark Horse: David Ragan
David Ragain really is a darkhorse for this race.  He does have one top ten finish in Kansas over his five appearances at the track, but a 17.6 place average finish isn’t too impressive.  Outside of the 2009 race where Ragan finished 35th, he actually hasn’t done too badly.  He has finishes of 13th, 16th, 8th, and 16th.  These aren’t great, but finishing in the top 15 or top 20 isn’t horrible either and it’s steady points.  Ragan was on less than 5% of the fantasy teams last week.  If you need to make up points, he could be your guy.  Odds are good that he’ll be battling for a top 15 finish, and may even sneak into the top ten.

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Richard Petty Motorsports Climbing Back to Relevancy

Posted by chadmusselman on October 1, 2011

Back in January I posted about how Richard Petty regained ownership of his race team and was going to lead the day-to-day operations.  The question was, would he make a difference, and would his cars win?

The quick answer is, yes he has made a difference, and his cars have won.  Neither of Petty’s two cars made the chase, but Marcos Ambrose has won a race, and A.J. Allmendinger is sitting 15th in points.  Now, these aren’t earth shattering performances by the Richard Petty Motorsports drivers, but it does show improvement and that The King is making an impact.

This is the 5th season for Allmendinger in the Sprint Cup Series and he’s improved each season.  In 2007 he finished 44th in the standings, and last year was up to 19th.  With eight races left in the chase Allmendinger is 15th in points; only four points out of 12th.  It is a realistic goal for Allmendinger to get up to 12th place and build some momentum and hype for the 2012 season, when he should have a very good shot to make the chase.

Through 28 races in 2011 Allmendinger has eight finishes of 21st or worse.  If he could have turned four of those finishes into 20th place or better he would have received about 14 more points and been a serious contender to beat Denny Hamlin out of the last spot for the chase.  If Allmendinger can get a few more top twenty finishes next season he will be a contender for the chase.

Marcos Ambrose has won a race this season along with four top five and eight top ten finishes, but finds himself down in 23rd.  He has been way too inconsistent to say he’s close to contending to make the chase in 2012.  With those top ten finishes Ambrose had had some bad races as well.  After 28 races in 2011 Ambrose has nine finishes 25th or worse, and thirteen finishes outside of the top 20.  He really needs to find a way to cut those numbers in half before we talk about him making the chase and giving Richard Petty a strong second driver.

Can Ambrose make the improvements?  This is his fourth season in the Sprint Cup Series and his best season, points wise, was in 2009 when he finished 18th.  His one win, four top five and 8 top ten finishes are all career highs, but overall it appears that he hasn’t figured everything out that’s needed.  I don’t see him becoming a challenger any time soon, or ever.

Petty is making strides to becoming relevant again, mostly with Allmendinger, but it’s obvious more work needs to be done.  I’m sure they will be working hard for the rest of the season, and in the off-season to get both drivers more consistent and have Allmendinger contending for the chase.  Richard Petty knows how to race, so if there is anyone that can help coach up drivers, it would be him.

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