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NASCAR Barometer: Sweeping to Victory

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.

Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway saw Jimmie Johnson start from pole for the first time at the "World's Fastest Half Mile" as well as the first time this season. It was Kyle Busch who came into the race with controversy, no stranger to him, as well as the chance to sweep all three major series with wins at the same track in the same weekend.

Johnson had a strong car through the first portion of the race, and it looked like he could be the car to beat. A restart ended his chances though, while mistakes from other competitors opened the door for Kyle Busch to take the win and make history.

After having the chance four previous times, Busch made good on his efforts to sweep three major NASCAR events at the same track in the same week. It was a tremendous week for the driver, and it stamped his ticket to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, if it wasn't already.

UPGRADE


Kyle Busch
Busch won the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series races at Bristol before finally taking the checkered flag for Saturday's Sprint Cup race. He had the rare chance of sweeping all three major events at the same track in the same week, not the first time he's had that opportunity, and it ended with that record. His average finish in the last five Cup races was 14.8 before Bristol, but is holding a solid position in the points, and vaulted higher with other drivers' problems. Next up is a track where Busch hasn't been at his best. His average finish in Atlanta is 18.3 in 12 career starts, but he has won. It isn't wise to bet against Kyle, but the next race may not be the best opportunity to use him.

Jamie McMurray
McMurray proved that he doesn't only show up for the big races by running solidly in Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race. Including his win at the Brickyard, McMurray has now scored four top-10 results in the last six races. The team seems to have made the turn from their string of five finishes 15th or worse, and McMurray did himself a lot of good in the points with Saturday's strong run. McMurray's average finish in the last five Atlanta Motor Speedway races is 23.8, and he's scored four top-10s in 12 career starts at the track. McMurray should be a decent third driver for most fantasy line-ups in some of the closing races, but his statistics at Atlanta aren't favorable.

Clint Bowyer
After three races finishing 15th or worse, it was about time that Bowyer had a race to be proud of. He ran strongly throughout Saturday's Bristol race and helped his chances of making the Chase by not faltering while others in the points ahead of him did. Bowyer's grasp on a Chase spot could get even tighter as the races wind down, and he has chance to continue that trend in two weeks in Atlanta. In his nine career starts at the track, he scored four top-10 finishes and has an average finish of 16.4. If the team can be consistent in the closing races, they make a solid fantasy option.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The past weeks, and indeed years, have been frustrating for Earnhardt. As predicted though, he came through with a solid night in Bristol. He struggled with handling in the final run, but that didn't diminish the great night he had up to that point. It had been five races since Earnhardt scored a finished better than 19th, and his solid performances at Bristol continued Saturday. Another good track for Earnhardt is Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the series visits in two weeks. His average finish in 22 career starts is 12.1 with a win, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s. His average finish in the last five races there is 11.4, indicating that he could be in store for another strong run in the next race.

DOWNGRADE


Denny Hamlin
Hamlin was one of a few top drivers to have a disappointing night at Bristol. Hamlin was never among the fastest cars, but the trouble struck. He initially ran over a spring from another car, and then had a vibration in his gearbox that required lengthy repairs in the garage. He eventually returned to the fray, but was over 20 laps down. For the past five races Hamlin has alternated between a top-10 and a 15th or worse place finish. The consistency for top finishes hasn't been present since he scored five top-fives in a six-race span in May and June. Hamlin's average finish in 10 career Atlanta races is 15.9.

Jimmie Johnson
Despite starting on the pole position and leading nearly 200 laps, Johnson found the wall, which ruined his race. On a restart Johnson was bumped from behind and turned into the wall by Juan Pablo Montoya. The damage done to the No. 48 was extensive and required lengthy repairs, most with a hammer. Since his back-to-back wins in June, Johnson has only scored one top-10 finish. His average finish in the last five races at Atlanta Motor Speedway is 14.4. Johnson's normally impenetrable finishes have been highly suspect this season. Fantasy owners are right to remain wary. Couple Johnson's recent bad luck with his average Atlanta finish and he may not even be a wise choice for that race.

Tony Stewart
Stewart's night was a difficult one, filled with contact. He was rear-ended by another car as he slowed to avoid one accident, and then his car's handling was lost and he scraped the wall on his own afterward. The finish was disappointing for Stewart after scoring consecutive top-10 finishes in each of the last five races prior to Bristol. Luckily for Stewart, the series heads to Atlanta next, where he has found Victory Lane twice in 21 career starts, and his average finish in the last five races is 10.2. While he had a difficult night Saturday, he may be in line for a turnaround in Atlanta.

Regan Smith
Saturday night proved to be a rough one for Smith. Just after getting lapped, and being the first driver down, he was involved in a caution brought out by David Ragan. Just a handful of laps later saw Smith blow a tire, hit the wall and bring out his own caution. It wasn't a good night for his underfunded team, and it was certainly not the top-20 finish that driver and team would have been striving for. Smith and Furniture Row Racing need every point they can manage, and the effort and cost wrapped up in a tough night in Bristol won't help the team progress. Fantasy owners should beware of the No. 78 for a week or two, until they get back on their feet.

David Ragan
After scoring two top-15 finishes in the last four races, Ragan found the wall Saturday night in Bristol. Roush Fenway Racing has been riding a wave of improvement in the past few races, but Ragan hasn't been a major benefactor of that turnaround. The driver continues to struggle, as his position of 24th in the points prior to Saturday would indicate. Ragan has yet to score a top-five finish this season, and has only managed a best finish of sixth, which came in the Aaron's 499 in April. Ragan hasn't lived up to the promising future he seemed destined for, and fantasy owners should be hard pressed using him for any of the remaining races this season.

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