RotoWire Partners

NASCAR Barometer: The Fight Is On

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.

Three races into the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase to Championship fans now know that the 12 contenders are going to fight tooth and nail until the finish. The Price Chopper 400 was a good chance to see all of the Chase competitors racing one another at the front of the field.

Kasey Kahne started the Kansas 400 with Paul Menard alongside, and a hungry Jeff Gordon up his tailpipe. It wasn't long before the four-time champion took the lead for himself, earning very valuable bonus points.

It was a competitive race with a number of drivers taking the lead while most of the Chase contenders ran up front throughout the afternoon. Open-wheel veteran Patrick Carpentier even spent some time at the front of the field, leading important laps for the part-time driver. Twenty lead changes is evidence of how competitive it was, but it was Greg Biffle's race to win.

UPGRADE


Greg Biffle –
Biffle won his second race of the 2010 season Sunday with an impressive Kansas effort. The result stamped Biffle's intentions on the Chase and moves him up the order to eighth from ninth, where he started the day. Roush Fenway Racing has turned their 2010 program around in the last 10 or so races and now Biffle and teammate Matt Kenseth are showing the rest of the field that they could steal the championship from the teams that have dominated the earlier portions of the season. Biffle has an excellent recent record at Auto Club Speedway and is likely to be a factor again next weekend. Fantasy owners should make sure to include him in their lineups.

Matt Kenseth –
Kenseth finished seventh in the Price Chopper 400, and had one of his best runs at Kansas Speedway. Like teammate Biffle, Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing have a strong package for the 1.5-mile oval tracks that make up the majority of the Chase races. Kenseth is benefitting from the hard work he and the team invested this season, and he is looking to earn even better finishes when some of the other Chase competitors have troubles. Kenseth has the second best record over the last five races at Auto Club Speedway, second only to Jimmie Johnson. Still, Kenseth is a very strong fantasy option in California, as are all of the Roush Fenway Racing drivers.

Jeff Gordon –
Gordon started the Kansas 400 from third position and battled a loose car in the early running. The poor handling didn't affect him terribly though, and he took over the lead early in the race. Eventually the problems caught up with him and he struggled to get the settings right again. He finished the day sixth, a strong run when a number of Chase competitors also had good days. It was important not to lose ground to those competitors. Gordon finished 20th in the last race at Auto Club Speedway, but has the fourth best average at the track in the last five runs. His average finish is 8.4 in that time with three top-five finishes.

Tony Stewart –
Stewart had a fast car all of Sunday afternoon. He took his fair share of the lead, and battled at the front throughout, leading more laps than in any other previous Kansas start. He arrived at Kansas this week 10th out of 12 Chase contenders, and made it clear that his Chase was not done yet. Perhaps the best news for Stewart is that his Auto Club Speedway record is a good one, with an average finish of 10.2 in the last five races there, missing a top-10 finish only once in that span. Stewart is ending the season like he normally does, and fantasy owners should give him consideration for next week.

Jimmie Johnson –
Johnson took over the Chase point lead with a second-place result at Kansas Speedway Sunday. Johnson drove a perfectly ideal race considering that he was slightly off the pace as the race got underway. He held station back in the field as the team worked on the car, and worked his way forward as the laps wound down and picked up a very important and hard-earned finish Sunday afternoon. Johnson must be licking his lips waiting for next week's race in California. He has the best average finish of the current drivers through the last five races there, and has led nearly four times the amount of laps at the track in those races, earning an average finish of 2.8. There is no reason not to start Johnson next weekend.

DOWNGRADE


Kasey Kahne –
Kahne had a promising day turn sour in the second half of the race. He lost control of the car in turn four and hit the wall and damaged his right rear. That damage was the least of his worries though because the spin blew out his left front tire, and the ride back to the garage shredded the tire, his fender and everything else resident in that section of the car. Kahne's average finish in the last five Auto Club Speedway events is 19.4 with two top-10 finishes and just one lap led. Fantasy owners may want to avoid Kahne next week despite the promise that he showed this week at Kansas.

Kyle Busch –
While Busch did all that he could to salvage a difficult day his Chase chances still took a beating. He bumped David Reutimann, seemingly by accident, sending the No. 00 spinning. Reutimann eventually retaliated, ruining Busch's car and dropping him down the order. He ended the day in the 22nd position, but that was a finish that took a lot of effort. The team could have written the day off, but did all that they could to save as many points as possible. In the last five California races, Busch's average finish is 10.4 with two top-fives and three top-10s. He will have to turn up the heat in the remaining races in order to gain ground and climb the Chase standings.

Clint Bowyer –
Bowyer said this week that his championship hopes were over. Given the penalty he and the team received from NASCAR that seems reasonable. Last week was a rough outing for the team as they tried to recover from the blow, and this week Bowyer just couldn't get it done. He was never a factor and it was all he could do just to remain on the lead lap. Bowyer was right, it would take a miracle for him to win his first championship after these first three Chase races. His average finish at Auto Club Speedway in the last five races is 13.0 with three top-five finishes in that time. Bowyer will be racing for pride in the last races of the season.

David Reutimann –
Reutimann was touched by Kyle Busch early in the race and spun. That was just the start of his bad day. Later in the race he caught up to Busch and hit him in the rear as well. Unfortunately Reutimann got the worst of his retaliation. Reutimann now has two races since his last top-10 finish, and just seven races left to finish a good year for the team on a high note. In the Auto Club 500 in February, Reutimann finished 15th. If he can keep his nose clean through the remaining races, Reutimann still has a lot to be proud of this season. It will be important to take some momentum into the off-season, and the No. 00 team has not exactly been at their best the past two weeks.