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NASCAR Barometer: Downgrade Jimmie?

C.J. Radune

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2012 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Another Saturday night shoot out was on hand for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend. The Midwest oval produced a lot of fast and close racing, and it was a surprise winner that made the night his own.

It was Jamie McMurray who started on pole, with Jimmie Johnson along side. From the green flag, Johnson jumped out to a good lead while it was McMurray who took a more measured approach and dropped back a few places. It was Johnson who dominated the opening segments, leading every lap in the first quarter of the scheduled distance. Johnson eventually hit trouble while other cars began to flex their muscle as the track came into their hands.

The race flew by with minimal caution periods and a number of close battles throughout the field. As the laps ticked down to 50 to go the action really began to heat up. It was David Reutimann, who had been stalking the leaders all evening, who came to life and took the lead, running away for the win.

UPGRADE

David Reutimann
Reutimann had a great night in Chicago, running for the lead in the closing stages after keeping other leaders in sight throughout the entirety of the run. Reutimann had just one Cup win before Saturday night, in the Coca Cola 600. With performances like Saturday night, he should pick up even more before his career ends. Reutimann has an extra week to celebrate his success, but he should be anxious to run in Indianapolis. The Floridian has just three Brickyard starts, but he chalked up a top-10 finish in last year's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. His average finish at the track is 25.3, but if the team can capitalize on the momentum from this week, he could very well duplicate that best-ever finish at the track.

Jeff Gordon
Gordon had finished in the top five 10 times so far in 2010, and he made it 11 Saturday. He ran strongly the entire night, leading laps as a top car throughout the race. He was even on song as the conditions went from day into night. Gordon's squad kept up well with the track, which allowed Gordon to remain at the front and challenge for the win as the distance wound down. Gordon is also the man at the Brickyard. His record at the track is superb with four wins, nine top-fives and 13 top-10s from 16 career starts. His average finish over those 16 years is 8.6. Those statistics should be the definition of impressive. No fantasy owner should be without Gordon somewhere in his squad in two week's time.

Carl Edwards
Edwards had a great night after a very slow start to the season and some consistency issues. The No. 99 team entered Saturday evening 12th in points, holding down the final spot in the Chase. Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing were hoping to record a solid finish that would enable them to build a little cushion in the points, and possibly even move forward. They did that and probably even surpassed their goal by finishing second with a very solid performance that the team really needed. Edwards has also been fairly consistent at Indianapolis in the past. His average finish at the track is 11.2 in five career tries. His best finish came in the 2008 edition of the race where he finished second.

Clint Bowyer
Saturday night's visit to Chicagoland Speedway produced a solid evening for Bowyer. He ran in the top 10 for the majority of the race, and quietly turned in another top finish in 2010. Bowyer, who was 14th in points before Saturday, has turned in a number of very solid runs in 2010, and he duplicated those efforts yet again Saturday night. Bowyer has four starts at the Indianapolis motor Speedway, but just one of those attempts produced a top-five. His average finish in that time is 13.5, which is consistent and solid enough for a third driver in most fantasy line-ups. Bowyer's efforts in 2010, along with this week's run in Chicago, make him a bankable choice for the Brickyard 400.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson
Johnson led every lap of the opening quarter of the distance at Chicagoland, but squandered that dominance with mistakes and lost time as the race wore on. First, he missed pit road, then spun after chassis changes loosened the car too much before finally touching the wall and reporting to the pits for repair. Despite Saturday night's mistakes, Johnson is a driver every fantasy owner should have in his line up for the Brickyard 400 in two weeks. He has won the past two events, and has averaged a finish of 17.9 at the famed speedway in eight career starts. Johnson has had a significant amount of good luck in his career, and it looks like he is trying to get rid of any bad luck for 2010 prior to the Chase.

Scott Speed
Chicagoland Speedway was not kind to Speed Saturday night. He, like some other drivers, never found the set up that would allow him to run even in the middle of the pack. Speed instead fell behind a lap and was virtually the caboose on the train for the full distance. Consistency has been a huge problem for this team in 2010, and Saturday night demonstrated that fact clearly. Speed has scored just two top-10s this season, despite running near the front in a number of races. Speed has just one career start at Indianapolis and it turned out to be a 31st-place run in 2009. The lack of consistency for this team and the poor prior result at the Brickyard should make fantasy owners look elsewhere for a fourth driver.

Greg Biffle
Shortly after a caution period Biffle began to lose his engine. He had been running fairly decently prior to the trouble, but immediately began slipping backwards as the life in his Ford engine began to slip away. Biffle worked everything he could within the cockpit to bring it back to life, but it was well off song. He was 10th in points prior to Chicago, and will want to get back on the horse at Indianapolis in two weeks. Biffle's best Brickyard finish came last season when he finished fourth. His average result in seven career starts is 15.4. His best result this season so far was third in the Daytona 500. He will be hoping to score his third top-10 of the season in Indianapolis.

Kevin Harvick
Harvick's night in Chicago was one to forget. He struggled with a loose car through the first half of the race, and then was forced to do some major engine work in the garage, costing him any shot at a decent result. For some reason, the team never got the set up right and Harvick languished at the back of the field as a result. Certainly Harvick will want to get back in form at Indianapolis. He won the 2003 event from pole, and has an average finish of 10.8 in his nine career starts at the track. Harvick is your points leader who had a bad week in Chicago. Don't hold that against him in two weeks.

Robbie Gordon
After two strong runs for his small and underfunded team, Gordon's luck caught up with him in Chicago. The driver from California found himself three laps behind the leaders just 100 laps into the event and ended the day colliding with another car. Gordon had been on a high after scoring back-to-back top finishes for the No. 7 team, a second-place result in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 and then a 12th-place finish in the Coke Zero 400. Prior to those results Gordon had only managed to finish in the top 15 twice before in 2010. Gordon should also not be relied on at Indianapolis. His two top-10 results at the track came in 2002 and 2003, and his average finish since those runs is only 28.2.

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