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Posts Tagged ‘Dale Earnhardt Jr.’

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 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on July 4, 2011

NASCAR is having another Saturday night race; this time in Kentucky.  It’s the first race for the Sprint Cup Series at the Kentucky Speedway, which may make it harder to choose your drivers, but some of them have had success at the track when they raced in the Truck and Nationwide series.   Joey Logano won here in last year’s Nationwide race, and Carl Edwards has won here in a Truck race (2003) and a Nationwide race (2005).

This is one more of the cookie-cutter 1.5 mile D-shaped ovals.  Look for the usual suspects to do well this race that does well on every other 1.5 mile track in NASCAR. 

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Jeff Gordon
No one in NASCAR has been hotter than Jeff Gordon over the past five races.  He’s averaging a 6th place finish and has one win in that span.  Gordon is also up to 8th in points and with his two wins seems to be safe to make the chase.  I don’t think that will be reason for him to take it easy though.  Look for Gordon to keep pressing and compete for another win.  He loves to break in new tracks with wins.  He’s done it at the Auto Club Speedway in California, the Kansas Speedway, and of course the first time NASCAR was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Gordon will be primed and ready to show he can still do it.

Alternate Chaser: Carl Edwards
Edwards was the first driver to win at Kentucky in two different series (Nationwide and Truck) and he could be the first driver to win in three different series.  We all know how dominating he can be on 1.5 mile ovals.  Of his 19 career victories 15 of them have been on ovals.   Edwards was on close to 12% of your teams last week and he finished 37th, falling out of the points lead.  Look for him to have a rebound week and push to get the win in Kentucky.

Joey Logano
Over the past five races Logano has been the hottest non-chaser in NASCAR.  He’s averaging a 12.2 finish with a top five and top ten finish.  He has won at this track in a Nationwide series car just last year, so Logano could pick up some good points for you this week.  Last week, when Logano finished 3rd and picked up 41 points, less than 6% of you had him on your team.  Jump on the bandwagon now and pick up Logano.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt is in the middle of a three race streak without a top ten.  That matches his longest of the season.  Last time this happened he finished 7th in the next race.  Let’s hope he can do something similar in Kentucky.  Earnhardt is having a great year making him a legitimate contender for the title again.  He doesn’t have a win yet this season, but with 3 top five and 8 top ten finishes he’s knocking on the door.  I don’t know if this weekend will be the one he wins, but it seems like one Earnhardt should at least finish in the top ten.

Dark Horse: Brad Keselowski
Brad is averaging a 14.8 place finish over the past 5 races this season.  That may not sound too impressive, but it’s good enough for 10th best.  Don’t forget that Keselowski did win at Kansas five weeks ago, which is a 1.5 mile D-Shaped oval like Kentucky, so he can get it done.  He may not win this weekend, but don’t overlook Keselowski.  He should at least contend for a top ten or fifteen finish.

Posted in Driver Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on June 27, 2011

The boys are back in Daytona for the Coke Zero 400.  This is a pretty cool race, seeing the cars under the lights with all of their special paint jobs for the 4th of July weekend.  It also helps that Daytona provides some tight racing and close finishes.  For your team this week, it seems that chasers may be the easy pick.  Nine of last year’s chasers are the hottest drivers having the top average finish over the last five races.  No one is hotter than Kurt Busch and his 5.4 average finish.  Will he be the chaser to put on your team this week?

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Kurt Busch
Yes, Kurt Busch is the Chaser that you should have on your team this week.  Kurt doesn’t have a win at the track yet, but don’t let that scare you away.   Not only does Kurt have the best average finish over the past five races, he has 7 top ten finishes in the last 8 races at Daytona.  He’s fourth in points and is having a great season.  Kurt Busch should be on your team.

Alternate Chaser: Carl Edwards
Edwards doesn’t have the best record in Daytona with 0 wins, 4 top five and 6 top ten finishes in 13 career races, but he does have four consecutive finishes inside the top ten which no other driver has.  Oh, and he is the points leader right now, let’s not forget that.  Only 7.3% of you had Edwards on your team last week, so he could be worth picking up and gaining points on the competition.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Among active drivers Earnhardt Jr. has the 4th best average finish at Daytona.  Two of his 18 career wins have come in Daytona as well.  Dale really made his name at restrictor plate races and there’s no reason he would do poorly this weekend.  If he avoids trouble he should finish in the top ten.  Of the races he finished outside of the top ten he was 35th, 29th, 36th, 32nd, 36th, 27th, 39th, 24th, 13th, & 13th.  So, stay out of trouble and Earnhardt should get you a top ten.

Juan Montoya
In Montoya’s first five races at Daytona his average finish was 27th with 14th being his best.  Since then, in his next four races at the track, he finished 9th, 10th, 27th, and 6th with an average finish of 13th.  It looks like Montoya has figured out the superspeedway and gained some respect from other drivers to give him the room needed to stay in the race to the end.

Dark Horse: David Ragan
In David’s 9 career races at the track he has collected 3 top ten and 2 top five finishes with an average finish of 16.8.  After Sonoma Ragan fell two spots to 20th in points, but look for him to have a rebound this week at Daytona and contend for a top 15 finish.  He’s not a bad driver and does have 4 top ten finishes this season, so it’s not out of the question.

Posted in Driver Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Heluva Good 400 at Michigan International Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on June 13, 2011

In the Pocono race Jeff Gordon showed he still has the fire, collecting his 2nd win of the season and 84th of his career.  Will that fire carry over into this week’s race at Michigan?  Races here usually come down to fuel efficiency and how well the pit crew performs.  Races in Michigan are also notorious for having very few cautions and long green flag runs.  The track is very wide, so there is plenty of maneuvering room for the drivers to avoid trouble and stay out of each other’s way.  Hopefully that doesn’t mean the race will be boring, and we’ll get some good side-by-side racing and a close finish!

This Week’s Recommendations

Chaser: Jeff Gordon
As far as wins go, this is the most successful season Gordon has had since 2007 when he won 6 times.  Could Boy Wonder be back and getting on track to winning 5 or 6 races in 2011?  I don’t think things will ever be like they were back in the mid to late 1990s when he was winning 7 – 13 races per season, but he is showing life and looks to be showing that he’s a contender for the title again.  Michigan is a track that Gordon has done well at with 2 wins, 18 top five and 23 top ten finishes in 36 races, averaging an 11.4 place finish.  I think he’s ready to go on a roll and start collecting top five finishes and possibly another win or two along the way.

Alternate Chaser: Carl Edwards
There’s no driver with a better average finish at Michigan than Carl Edwards.  His 6.3 average finish here is 3 ½ spots better than 2nd place.  Edwards is also one of the hottest drivers over the past five races averaging a 13.4 place finish.  If you don’t think Jeff Gordon is going to get it done this weekend, then there is no reason to leave Edwards off your team.  He’s the points leader, and less than 25% of you had him on your team last week.  In 13 career races at Michigan he has 11 top ten finishes, 8 top five, and 2 wins.  He needs to be on your team this week!

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There is no driver hotter than Earnhardt Jr. right now.  Over the past five races Earnhardt is averaging an 8.2 place finish with three consecutive top ten finishes and a top five finish in there as well.  Earnhardt doesn’t have the best record at Michigan with a 15.7 place average finish, but has done pretty well here recently with two top ten finishes in the past 3 races.  Obviously this isn’t much of a secret to most since 56% of you have him on your team already, but if he isn’t on your team what are you waiting for?  You’re losing points to everyone else.

Joey Logano
Joey Logano, have I lost my mind?  He only has two top ten finishes in 2011.  Hang on though.  Michigan is actually a track that he has done very well at.  He’s finished in the top ten in three consecutive races here.  Logano has also perked up some over the past few races with a 3rd and 11th place finish.  He is down in 23rd place, but has climbed up four spots over the past few weeks.  It’s a gamble, but if you’re willing to take the risk you’ll be getting some points that everyone else will miss out on.  Logano was only owned by just over 6% of you last week.

Dark Horse: Brian Vickers
Vickers is finding his 2011 comeback tougher than expected, sitting way down in 26th in points.  This should all turn around at Michigan.  He missed both of the races here in 2010, but going back to 2007 Vickers has 5 consecutive top ten finishes with a win mixed in there as well.  He took the pole position for the last three races he participated in here as well.  This is obviously a track that he knows and is confident in racing on.  Look for Vickers to have a solid week and collect his 5th top ten finish of the season.

Posted in Driver Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

Posted by chadmusselman on May 1, 2011

Darlington Raceway is known as the track “Too Tough to Tame”, and “The Lady in Black”.  It’s unique egg shaped design can make it tough for the drivers to get around the track without brushing up against the retaining wall.  Up until a few years ago, the Southern 500 was always held on Labor Day, and was one of the big-ticket races for NASCAR. 

This track earned Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon $1 Million bonuses when they won the Winston Million which ran from 1985 – 1997.  To win the Million a driver had to win 3 of the following 4 races; Daytona 500, Winston 500 (at Talladega in the spring), Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500 (at Darlington on Labor Day weekend).  Elliott won the prize the first year it was offered, in 1985 and Gordon collected his in 1997.

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Denny Hamlin
So far 2011 has not treated Hamlin very well.  He’s down to 17 in points, only has two top ten finishes this season and is averaging an 18.1 place finish.  Definitely not the numbers you would expect to see from someone who gave Jimmie Johnson all he could handle in the Chase for the Cup last season.  If he’s going to get things turned around Darlington could be the place he does it.  His 6.6 place average finish is best among active drivers, and he won here last year, so he should have plenty of confidence coming into the race.  We all know Hamlin is too good of a driver to be sitting in the middle of the pack.  It’s time for him to start showing how good he is and make a run at the top ten in points.

Alternate Chaser: Jeff Gordon
Gordon has great statistics at almost every track on the circuit.  The problem is that most of that success was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  That’s not necessarily the case for Darlington.  Jeff did dominate the track in his early years, but he still is dominating at Darlington today.  Don’t believe me?  Well, he has 7 consecutive finishes in the top five with one win.  That’s domination in my book.  For his career Gordon has 7 wins, 18 top five and 21 top ten finishes in 30 career races.  The man is money at this track.  Gordon will get your fantasy NASCAR team a lot of points this weekend.

Ryan Newman
Newman has been pretty hot at Darlington in recent years as well.  He’s collected 5 top ten finishes in the last 6 races here with 3 of them being top five finishes.  In his 12 career races at Darlington Newman has 6 top five and 8 top ten finishes.  He doesn’t have a win yet, but has been close with a second and third place finish.  Newman has missed the chase in 4 of the last 5 seasons.  He’s driving like he did 6 – 9 years ago and could get his “Rocket Man” nickname back if he keeps it up.  He’s looked good and it seems he will all season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I don’t think there’s a driver that has surprised me more this season than Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (Yes, A.J. Allmendinger is a close 2nd.)  I wrote Earnhardt off as someone who would fall into mediocrity and not be a contender.  Boy, has he proven me wrong on that!  4th in the point standings and going to a track that he has some success; Jr. looks to be in a good position.  Earnhardt has also been one of the hotter drivers over the last five races, averaging a 9.2 place finish (5th best among all drivers).  Close to 61.5% of you had Jr. on your fantasy NASCAR team last week, and I don’t see a reason to take him off now.

Dark Horse: Martin Truex Jr.
After making the chase in 2007 Truex finished 15 in the standings in 2008, which wasn’t too bad.  Then starting in 2009 things started to get worse.  He finished 23rd in points, and followed that up with a 22nd place finish in 2010.  So far 2011 is following the same trend as he finds himself 22nd in points again.  Truex definitely qualifies as a dark horse for this race.  The good news is that he is averaging a 12.8 place finish at Darlington and has 4 top 15 finishes in 5 career races.  He probably won’t contend for the win, but should challenge for a top ten and probably finish around the top 15.

Posted in Driver Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway

Posted by chadmusselman on April 11, 2011

Talladega is the largest speedway on the NASCAR circuit at 2.67 miles.  Drivers can go from first place to 25th place in the matter of a half lap.  Because of this it makes it extra difficult to predict who will finish in the top ten and really makes it possible for anyone to have a good or bad day.  Only three chasers from last season are in the top 10 of average finish position at Talladega, and six of last year’s chasers have won a race here.  The best average finish at this track is 13.3 and owned by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.  Not the guys you would have expected, right?  Juan Montoya has the fifth best average finish with 14.8.  You never know who will have the good luck at Talladega

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Kevin Harvick
Harvick is my main pick this week for two reasons.  One – He’s been on fire lately winning two of the last three races.  He has earned the nickname of “The Closer” now because of his late race passes to take the lead.  If there’s any place that a late race pass will win it, it’s Talladega.  Two – Harvick is pretty good at Talladega.  He did win here last spring, so he knows how to do it.  In his career he has the one win, 5 top five and 9 top ten finishes in 20 races.  Ride the hot streak and let Kevin Harvick collect points for you Fantasy NASCAR team.

Alternate Chaser: Kurt Busch
Like Harvick, Kurt Busch has had a solid start to the season and performs well at Talladega.  In 20 careeer races Busch has collected 13 top ten finishes and 6 in the top five.  He doesn’t have a win at the track yet, but it’s obvious he has the machinery and skill to get it done.  For the season so far Busch is 5th in points after gathering his 5th top ten finish last week.  Kurt Busch is a NASCAR champion, why wouldn’t he be able to get you some big points for your team this week?

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If a man has five wins at a track in only 22 career races you have to have him on your Fantasy NASCAR team don’t you?  Earnhardt has done exactly that.  He has also finished in the top five 8 times and top ten 11 times in those 22 races.  Maybe Earnhardt will prove me wrong and 2011 really will be his year.  He’s off to a great start sitting 6th in the points chase after 7 races.  Talladega is definitely a track that he can break his long winless streak at.

Juan Montoya
Believe me, I’m surprised to be recommending Montoya too, but look at the numbers.  He has done well here in his career and especially last year when he finished 3rd in both of the races.  In eight career races he has 3 to five finishes, and an average finish of 14.8; good enough for 5th best among active drivers.  Montoya may be best known for his road racing in Indy Car and F1, but he’s quietly becoming a really good superspeedway racer as well.

Dark Horse:  Brad Keselowski
This one came down to Keselowski and Joey Logano.  I gave Keselowski the edge since he won here in 2009.  In four career races Keselowski has 3 top ten finishes with the one win.  As noted above, his 13.3 average finish is best among active drivers.  Quite honestly it’s been a pretty bad year for Keselowski not scoring a top ten finish in the first 7 races, and having a 15th place finish in Phoenix be his best of the season.  Keselowski doesn’t have a shot at making the chase, but if he wants to be in the top 20 in points he needs to score some better  finishes.  His first step to doing that could be this weekend at Talladega.

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Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Posted by chadmusselman on April 4, 2011

The Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, TX is the venue for the 7th race of the season.  When this track was originally built in 1996 it had a two-track/dual banking system; one with 24 degree banking for NASCAR and an inner track with 8 degrees of banking for Indy Cars.  That has since been removed and the track is more traditional with one consistent banking.  This is also a track where the 2010 chasers perform well.  Seven of the chasers are in the top ten for best average finish and nine of them have won at least one race here.

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has the second best average finish at Texas (9.5) among active drivers, and he has the third best average finish over the past 5 races this season.  Put those two factors together and you get my top pick for winning the race this weekend.  Kenseth has a win with 8 top five and 11 top ten finishes at the track in 17 career races.  Take Denny and Jimmie off your Fantasy NASCAR team this week and insert Kenseth.

Alternate Chaser: Kevin Harvick
Wow, has Harvick come on strong at the end of the last couple races or what!  With those two wins he is the hottest driver on the circuit, averaging a 5.8 place finish in the last five races.  He’s also done very well at the Texas Motor Speedway averaging a 12.4 place finish with one win, 7 top five and 12 top ten finishes in 20 races.  If you want a hot driver on your team, Harvick is your guy; there’s no one hotter.

Mark Martin
Martin has the longest active streak of top ten finishes in Texas with four.  He has finished 6th, 4th, 6th, & 3rd in those races.  After last week’s strong run Martin has climbed back into the top ten in the standings.  This should be another good run for Martin and help him continue his climb up the standings.  He knows how to drive and may not always be able to win every race, but definitely is capable of finishing in the top ten in every race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is up to 8th in the point standings?  Is it 2006 again?  I’ll give Earhnardt credit; he’s having a pretty good season so far.  He’s been up in the lead pack most of the time contending for the top 5 and winning the race.  Texas Motor Speedway is also a track that he’s won at before so this could be the weekend that he breaks his long winless streak.  Earnhardt has also finished in the top five 3 times and top ten 8 times in 17 career races.

Dark Horse: Martin Truex Jr.
Truex finds himself down to 17th in points after a bad race in Martinsville.  He has done OK at Texas though with 5 top ten finishes in 11 career races.  Truex was a chaser in 2007, so he is capable of going on a good run and collecting top ten finishes.  If you want someone different on your team that others won’t have, Martin Truex Jr. could be your guy.

Posted in Driver Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fantasy NASCAR Recommendations for 2011 Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol

Posted by chadmusselman on March 13, 2011

The drivers should be good and rested for this Bristol race since after three races NASCAR felt it was a good idea to have a week off.  At least they fixed it so there won’t be a week off after three races.  (More on that in a separate post.)  We all know that Bristol is an exciting ½ mile track that allows for some close racing, and can make drivers lose their patience. 

This Week’s Recommendations:

Chaser: Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has been running well so far this season, even though he did have some bad luck in Las Vegas.  He should continue the solid start to the season this weekend.  He’s done really well at Bristol in the past, and there’s no reason he can’t do it again.  Of the last four races here Kyle has won three of them.  He’s also finished in the top ten 5 consecutive races. He is going to win a race one of these weeks, and why not this one?

Alternate Chaser: Greg Biffle
“The Biff” has had a horrible start to the 2011 season averaging a 27.7 place finish in the first three races.  Bristol should be the beginning of a turnaround for Biffle.  He is averaging a 10.8 place finish here, and had ten top ten finishes in 16 career races.  It’s time for Biffle to start a string of top ten finishes, and this should be the first one.  Put him on your Fantasy team and wait for the points to roll in.

Ryan Newman
Unlike Greg Biffle, Newman is one of the hottest drivers so far in 2011.  He is averaging a 10.7 place finish in the first three races, and has done very well at Bristol over the past two seasons.  In 2009 & 2010 Newman finished in the top 10 three times.  Those are two pretty hot streaks by Newman that shouldn’t be ignored.  He’s a good driver and knows how to get around the track fast.  It should be a solid points week for Newman.

Mark Martin
For his career Martin has raced at Bristol 44 times with 23 top ten and 16 top five finishes.  He also has two wins and averaging a 13.2 place finish.  In 2009 Mark finished 2nd and 6th in the Bristol races, but he wasn’t so lucky in 2010 finishing 35th and 23rd.  This should be the year that Martin bounces back at Bristol and runs in the front pack to get another top ten finish.

Dark Horse: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. has the third best average finish among active drivers at Bristol (11.5) and has one win with twelve top ten finishes in 22 career races.  Dale has two top ten finishes in the last three races at the track and is off to a decent start in 2011 sitting in 10th place.   Maybe he will prove me wrong and have a good season and make the chase.  Either way, he’s worth the gamble at Bristol since he’s proven he can finish in the top ten.

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Driver Recommendations for 2011 Daytona 500

Posted by chadmusselman on February 13, 2011

Most sports have a pre-season to allow the athletes to get into “game shape” and ready for the grind of a long season.  It seems that everyone has their own way to analyze how well a player will do (and if they want them on their fantasy team) based on their pre-season performances.  If a proven veteran does poorly in the pre-season, it’s no big deal because they might be experimenting with new techniques.  If a young player does poorly people may think it’s an indicator of struggles to come.

NASCAR doesn’t have a true pre-season, but the Bud Shootout and Gatorade Duels coming up pretty much act as one.  The Shootout was last night and the field was limited to the top drivers in NASCAR.  One bad thing about the Shootout and Duels is that since they are at Daytona with the restrictor plate it’s hard to get a true gauge of how well some of the drivers will do the rest of the season.  Hopefully it gives us a good indicator of who will perform well in the 500 so you can know who to put on your fantasy NASCAR team.

Reminder of how recommendations are made:
All recommendations are based on the rules of Chad’s Fantasy NASCAR. I’ll select one chaser, and an alternate chaser. Then I pick three other drivers that did not make the chase last season, one of them being a dark horse. In order to be a dark horse the driver must be 16th or worse in the point standings. For the first 5 races of the season I’ll use the standings from 2010 to pick the dark horse.

This Weeks’ Recommendations:

Chaser: Kevin Harvick
Harvick has done well in Daytona recently collecting three top ten finishes in the last four races.  He also has the 4th best average finish at the track among active drivers (14.5).  For his career Harvick has won here twice with 5 top five and 8 top ten finishes in 19 races.  Last season Harvick proved that he’s one of the best drivers on the circuit and deserves some respect.  So much that you should probably have him on your fantasy team this week.

Alternate Chaser: Tony Stewart
We all know that Stewart could win any race he’s in.  He had a relatively quiet 2010 season.  I have a feeling 2011 will be more exciting for him.  Stewart has finished in the top ten in half the races he’s entered at Daytona.  That’s a pretty good ratio for this track given that someone can go from 1st to 25th in less than a lap.  Three wins at the track also make him a good candidate to be on your fantasy NASCAR team.  He should be able to collect some points for you.

Juan Montoya
You wouldn’t think of putting someone best known as an F1 and Indy Car driver on your Fantasy NASCAR team for the Daytona 500, but Montoya deserves a close look.  He has performed well at Daytona recently.  He collected his two top ten finishes at the track in 2009 and 2010.  There are a lot of drivers t who can’t say they have done that.  (Trust me I looked.)  Montoya probably won’t be on most people’s fantasy team, so take a chance early in the season and he could get you a lot of points others will miss.

Kasey Kahne
At one point in his career Kahne had a run of 4 consecutive top ten finishes at Daytona.  Then he had 3 straight of 15th or worse.  In last season’s  July race he pulled off a 2nd place finish.  Is Kahne poised to have another run of top ten finishes at Daytona?  Yes, I think he is.  He’s in a one year contract with Red Bull Racing, so I’m sure he’s going to go out and give it his all, having a lot of fun along the way.  There’s really no pressure on him to do great, so Kahne should be able to relax and enjoy a top 10 finish.

Dark Horse: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Daytona has helped make Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career.  He has 2 wins, 8 top five and 13 top ten finishes in 22 career races at the track.  His 14.4 place average finish is 3rd best among active drivers.  There’s no doubt Earnhardt Jr. knows how to get around the track.  He finished 2nd and 4th in the races here last season.  Add to that the fact that he’s racing with Jeff Gordon’s team and cars from the 2010 season.  Now you know that he has great equipment behind him too.  If Earnhardt Jr. can stay focused throughout the race, look for him to be in the front contending for the win.

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Will 2011 Be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Year?

Posted by chadmusselman on January 16, 2011

Dale has been bad, real bad, lately.  He missed making the chase in three of the last four seasons, finishing in 21st (2010), 25th (2009), 12th (2008, in the Chase), and 14th (2007).  He also hasn’t won a race since the 2008 season, and that win was two years after the one before it.  That’s right, in the past 4 full seasons Dale has only managed one win.  In the last 6 full seasons he only has three wins. 

As you probably already know, Rick Hendrick has instituted some changes in an effort to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in the winner’s circle and into the Chase.  Hendrick is basically putting Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Jeff Gordon’s car with Jeff Gordon’s crew chief and team.  Now Earnhardt’s crew chief will go over to Mark Martin, and Mark Martin’s crew chief will move over to Jeff Gordon.  Seems like a lot of change to solid teams just to hope you can make a bad driver a little better.

Another change to take place is to have Earnhardt share a shop with Johnson.  Jeff Gordon and Jimmie  Johnson were sharing one shop and Mark Martin and Earnhardt the second shop.  Now Gordon will be paired with Martin at the second shop.  I guess Rick Hendrick thinks that Earnhardt will learn from osmosis or something by bumping elbows with Jimmie Johnson, who knows.  It sure can’t hurt to be able to pick Jimmie’s brain, and maybe since they’re closer in age they’ll be able to communicate better than Martin and Earnhardt did.  I don’t see that happening though.  Jimmie will be focused on winning his 6th in a row and Earnhardt may hinder that.

A change is needed, but maybe the change shouldn’t be Rick Hendrick moving drivers around to try to help a bad driver.  Maybe the change should be letting Dale Earnhardt Jr’s contract run out after this year, and not sign the extension that they’re talking about.  I’ve said it before.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a good guy, and I like him, but he’s not a good driver.  He’s passed his peak.  Now he has to bank on being popular with the fans and hope he can win another race or two before his career ends up like Kyle Petty’s.  So, will 2011 be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s year?  No, not even close.  Let’s just hope that these changes don’t totally mess up the chemistry that Hendrick Motorsports had.

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