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NASCAR Barometer: A Clearer Picture

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

Now that we're four races into the Chase for the Cup, the championship picture is getting clearer. So too are the drivers who need to be used in our fantasy racing lineups. Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart's Chase victories, Mark Martin's sudden revival and Carl Edwards' steady diet of Top 10's since July have elevated these four drivers atop the list of fantasy racing desirables. At the other end are drivers who should be avoided.

Race No. 5 of the Chase brings us to the mid-way point in the quest for this season's championship. It also brings us to the intermediate oval in Charlotte, N.C. This race will give us a good picture of what to expect in the final five races of this season. Charlotte Motor Speedway will host the Bank of America 500 this weekend, and it will be the second intermediate oval in the 10 races of the Chase.

UPGRADES


Jimmie Johnson
The No. 48 team is firing up the afterburners and getting ready to check out. After the victory at Dover and three straight Top-3 finishes, Johnson rides a tidal wave of momentum to one of his favorite tracks this weekend. He's stretched his margin over second-place Denny Hamlin to 36 points and looking for more after this event. Johnson owns six victories at CMS, including this event one year ago. Johnson's 50 percent rate of cracking the Top 5 at Charlotte and his hot streak entering this event make him a big contender in this 500-mile race.

Tony Stewart
Once the Chase for the Cup started, the No. 14 team slowly came back to life. Smoke has piloted the team's Chevrolet to one win and two Top-5 finishes the last two weeks, so he's now within shouting distance of Johnson heading to Charlotte. This intermediate oval holds a lot of opportunity for Stewart to climb back within reach of the championship. Currently fifth overall at 107 points behind Johnson, Stewart can get back into the race with some good racing and good fortune. His dominance at Kansas recently and his win this past weekend at Fontana is demonstrative of what he can accomplish on these large ovals.

Kasey Kahne
While Kahne has struggled to find consistency this season, the No. 9 team has to been seen as a serious contender at Charlotte Motor Speedway and any of the intermediate ovals for that matter. The Richard Petty Motorsports star has won three career races at the North Carolina oval, and he's fresh off a pole win at Kansas and Top-5 finish at Fontana. Despite his subpar 12th-place finish here in May, all indicators point to a big rebound in the Bank of America 500.

Kyle Busch
With the Sprint Cup trophy slipping away once more, Busch will race to the edge of the envelope and beyond this weekend to keep any hopes alive at the mid-way point. He knows how tough Jimmie Johnson is during the Chase and he'll try to overcome that disadvantage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch rides a six-race Top 10 streak at Charlotte into this event, and he's been very competitive on 1.5-mile ovals this season. The No. 18 team cracked the Top 5 at Atlanta recently, so there's that type of potential for the Joe Gibbs Racing star at Charlotte.

Kurt Busch
The championship has likely slipped out of Busch's reach with his subpar finish at Auto Club Speedway this past weekend. Four races in and one Top-10 finish later the Penske Racing driver is looking like a long shot for the 2010 championship. Busch sits sixth overall and trails Jimmie Johnson by 140 points entering this event. He should pull out all the stops this weekend for a good run, and to salvage any hope remaining for a late run at the championship. We expect the No. 2 team that won the Coca Cola 600 at CMS earlier this season to show up this weekend.

DOWNGRADES


Denny Hamlin
The Joe Gibbs Racing star has struggled tremendously at the intermediate oval outside Charlotte. First, Hamlin has a disappointing 30 percent career Top 10 rate at the oval. Second, he had a blown engine and DNF at the recent Atlanta race as well as an uninspiring 12th-place finish at Kansas. The intermediate ovals have not been kind to the No. 11 team this season.

Marcos Ambrose
Ambrose has three career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway with no finishes better than 22nd. The No. 47 team also has fallen into a rut in recent weeks. Ambrose is leaving this team for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011, which leaves him little incentive to pull himself out of his tailspin.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Earnhardt has some decent career stats at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he and his team are stuggling, and it's obvious it won't be a quick fix for the No. 88 team. His last four trips to CMS have yielded no Top-20 finishes, and we don't expect one this weekend either.

Juan Pablo Montoya
A four-race Top-10 drought has Montoya outside the Top 15 in the series standings. Don't expect a turnaround at Charlotte Motor Speedway are pretty slim. Montoya has only one Top 10 in seven career starts at the intermediate oval, and three DNF's to add to the pessimism.

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