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NASCAR Barometer: Upgrades, Downgrades

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.

The race that every driver wants to win was on tap Sunday following a week off for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Indy 500 winner and Monaco Grand Prix champion Juan Pablo Montoya, looking to rectify his mistakes from years past, qualified on pole and hoped to dominate the race just as he dominated qualifying.

The race began with an incident in turn 2 that gifted early damage to a handful of cars, while Montoya took a lead and held it. The early caution caused a chain reaction of problems for a number of other drivers. Shortly after the restart many cars began overheating, a very rare occurrence given the earliness of the race. Debris and grass kicked into the track by the first-lap incident was what caused the problems, and it befell a number of competitors. That debris also caused a few blown tires, collecting Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon in the bad luck.

By the time the race ended, the Ganassi car that everyone thought would win ended up in the garage while the underdog came through again. Ganassi Racing locked up all three of the biggest oval events on the American racing calendar with Jamie McMurray's win in Sunday's Brickyard 400. Credit must be given to that team as they defeated a number of solid teams who had great cars Sunday.

UPGRADE


Jamie McMurray
McMurray did his part to deliver Chip Ganassi Racing a triple crown of victories this season with wins in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 with IndyCar teammate Dario Franchitti offering up the Indy 500 as well. Ganassi Racing's cars dominated the race, and it was McMurray who took the checkered flag while Montoya suffered disappointment. The win caps a great season for McMurray despite his consistency issues in other races. It would be wrong to expect much from him next week at Pocono Raceway where his average finish in the last five events is 19.6. McMurray's inconsistency persists, but he is demonstrating a tendency to show up for the big races on the calendar.

Tony Stewart
Stewart started the Brickyard 400 in 15th position and worked on his car throughout the day to be a top runner by the closing laps. He was not the fastest car through the afternoon, but put himself into a solid position by hard work and diligence throughout the day. He finished the fourth with a car that probably should not have been that high. His average finish in the last five events at Pocono Raceway is 10.2, which includes just one finish outside of the top 10. Stewart has a tendency to come on strong in the second half of the season and it looks like 2010 will be no different for the Rushville Rocket.

Kyle Busch
Busch is beginning to show that he has matured as a driver and may be ready to contend for championships. After causing the chaos on the first lap, Busch took a wounded car and steadily and patiently worked his way through the field to bring home a top-10 result, his 10th of the season. Busch has put together a solid season so far despite a number of moments where he could have thrown it all away as he would have in his younger days. Instead, he is looking like one to watch out for when the Chase begins. He may not have the greatest Pocono record, but he did pick up a top-five result there in June's visit, so watch out for him next week.

Kevin Harvick
Harvick notched his fourth top-five finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Sunday's Brickyard 400. To be able to say that, and lead the points at this point in the season is a 180-degree turnaround from last year. It was another solid race for Harvick, which demonstrates incredible consistency this season. He should be a contender for the championship with the top finishes he seems to score every weekend. The last time the series visited Pocono Harvick racked up yet another top-five finish. His average finish in the last five runs is 11.4, making him a very attractive selection for fantasy rosters next weekend.

DOWNGRADE


Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya lost his chance at being the first driver to win in two different series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last season when he was caught speeding on pit road while in the lead. He was not going to make the same mistake this year, and he jumped out to a lead in the opening laps. He never ran far away from whoever was leading and by the end it was Montoya who picked up the bonus points for leading the most laps. Unfortunately, luck was not on his side as late race contact with the wall ruined a stellar run. Montoya has also improved at Pocono Raceway. He has finished eighth or better in the last three races, and his average finish in the last five races there is 19.2.

Jimmie Johnson
It isn't often that you will see Johnson's name in the downgrade column, but he is beginning to make it a habit now. For the second race in a row, Johnson squandered a front-row starting spot and came away with a disappointing result. In the two races prior to the Brickyard, Johnson's average finish was 28.0. That statistic is a far cry from what he is capable of, and you'd never guess that he has won five races already this season. Johnson should have ample opportunity to right his wrongs next week at Pocono Raceway. His average finish in the last five runs there is 6.8 with a lowest result of 13th in the 2009 Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.

Reed Sorenson
Starting in the back of the field creates a lot more chances for a driver to encounter problems on starts and restarts. Sorenson was unfortunate to ruin his car in the opening lap incident as a result of being deep in the field. His car was ruined before he even saw the exit of turn 2 and that effectively ended any chance he had at having a good day at Indy. Sorenson doesn't have much to look forward to next week at Pocono either. His record at the track is not a good one, despite the fact that the car will be driving was among the fastest there in the past. Sorenson's average finish at the Pennsylvania triangle is just 29.6 from eight career starts, with a best result of 20th in the 2009 Pocono 500.

Elliott Sadler
Another victim of early race drama was Sadler who was also caught up in the first-lap pile up. Sadler started the race 27th and that put him right in the thick of the early accident. He remained off the track for many of the opening laps and his day was virtually over, though he did eventually return to the track. Sadler's best points finish this season was scored in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 where he finished 17th. This has certainly not been the season he was hoping for. His average finish from the last five Pocono races is very disappointing at 28.2. Sadler should not be viewed as a fourth driver for fantasy rosters next weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior was having a respectable run Sunday at Indianapolis until he was forced into the rear of a loose Montoya who was aiming for pit road after contact. The resulting damage ruined Earnhardt's fender and put him deep in the field with very few laps left to make up much ground. Results have started coming Earnhardt's way though, and more will come by the end of the season. His record at Pocono is spotty, but with the improvements he and the team are seeing, he could be in line for a decent run next week. Keep in mind that his average finish in the last five races at the track is 18.0, so he will need some luck to turn that average around.