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NASCAR Barometer: The Monster Mile

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.

Regan Smith crossed the line first in the Showtime Southern 500 on Saturday for his first career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in very exciting fashion. He held off Carl Edwards in the closing laps and final restart to claim the trophy. It was a very impressive feat for the 27-year-old.

The race was full of adversity and drama that included a green-white-checkered finish and an unlikely winner. It didn't seem like much went to plan for any team involved as almost everyone struggled with handling, contact or mechanical trouble.

Kasey Kahne qualified on pole in his Red Bull Toyota and led the field away in the opening laps. As the race settled into a rhythm it became clear that handling would be key, and the teams that managed their cars' characteristics the best throughout would come out on top.

There was no shortage of action in the running, though. Plenty of crashes, driver feuds and crew chiefs scratching their heads kept the entertainment factor high. As if all that wasn't enough, there was even a punch thrown in pit lane as the cars pulled to their haulers.

This week brings us the Monster Mile, Dover International Speedway, where Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have split the last five race wins. It is a short track with high banks that typically produces as much contact as a race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The key to winning is pit strategy and track position, two things the No. 48 team does better than almost anyone else.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson
The No. 48 team was not on the same page Saturday night. Johnson had a car that was difficult to drive quickly, and the team couldn't make enough changes to make him feel comfortable and get to the front of the field. He finished the difficult night in 15th position. It was his lowest finish since the Kobalt Tools 400 in March. Despite Saturday's struggle, however, Johnson has the highest average finish at Dover in the last five races of all active drivers. With three wins, four top-fives and two pole positions, Johnson has amassed an average finish of 4.8 in that period. The No. 48 team will figure out what went wrong Saturday and come back stronger than before this weekend, and that makes Johnson a strong fantasy selection.

Mark Martin
Mechanical issues made Martin's Saturday night a difficult one to persevere through. Soldier on he did, though, and came away with a 19th-place finish. It was his second consecutive race finish outside of the top 10, but a decent result considering he may have not finished at all. He slipped a bit in the points the past two weeks to 14th but has still shown potential to be a confident fantasy selection. Statistically speaking, Dover is a better track for Martin, and he will be hungry to right his 2011 championship charge. This week may be a good time to use him. His average finish in the last five Dover events is 8.6, with two top-fives and three top-10s.

Kyle Busch
One set of ruffled feathers resulted from the coming together of Kevin Harvick and Busch. Both drivers bounced off of one another in the closing laps of Saturday night's race, and Harvick tried to get a punch in while Busch ran the empty No. 29 into the pit wall as Harvick swung. Both drivers were fairly clear that their meeting in the official's trailer would not be the end of their tussle. Looking ahead to next week, owners should probably ignore Busch's 20.8 average Dover finish. With two wins in the last five races there, he should have a decent run in store after the excitement he was part of in Darlington.

Ryan Newman
Fifth place Saturday night was Newman's reward for a very strong race. It was his fourth top-five finish of the season and first in five races. Lack of speed hasn't really been an issue those past five races, but the results haven't come his way. Now that momentum is on his side, Newman becomes a more attractive option than even for fantasy players. Newman has blazed his way into the upgrade column for two weeks in a row now. He has a sturdy Dover record recently with three top-10 finishes in the last five races. His average finish in that span is 10.4, and all finishes were on the lead lap. Choose the No. 39 with confidence.

Kasey Kahne
Two top-five finishes in a row are well deserved for Kahne. He is rediscovering his old form in the short-term ride he has with Red Bull Racing, and he looked like he could win Saturday night. Kahne is back to his winning ways after a struggle the last two years before joining Hendrick Motorsports and RBR by extension. After flexing his muscle at Darlington, Kahne is building momentum for the upcoming races. He has a decent Dover record with two top-10 finishes in his last five starts. His average finish isn't wonderful at 17.6, but he has potential to perform, as he demonstrated Saturday night. Kahne could be an ideal option for fantasy rosters next week.

DOWNGRADE

Jamie McMurray
Saturday night's ninth-place finish in the Showtime Southern 500 was McMurray's second top-10 result of the season. Suffice to say, 2011 hasn't been what he and the team were working for. After winning the biggest races of the season last year, McMurray has been off the radar this year. Additionally, McMurray is in the bottom half of active drivers at Dover International Speedway. His average finish in the last five races there is only 24.6, and he hasn't scored any top-rated finishes in that time. Only twice did he finish the race on the lead lap. McMurray is not a satisfying option at Dover, and just two finishes better than 18th this year should drive that point home.

Denny Hamlin
Darlington produced another top-10 reward for Hamlin. It was his second in a row and third of the year. He now sits 16th in points, and climbing. All may not be what it seems for the No. 11 next week, though. Remarkably, Dover is a track where Hamlin does not have a knock-your-socks-off record. His average finish in the last five races is 21.8, with just two lead-lap finishes. He scored a top-five and a top-10 two other times, but inconsistency and bad luck have plagued him at the Monster Mile. He might have momentum on his side, but it would be wise to use a Hamlin start on a track where he has a better history.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Making friends isn't easy, and Montoya may not care that he has very few in the Sprint Cup garage. He has been the center of attention for all the wrong reasons the last two races. The spark could be the frustration Montoya must feel after four consecutive finishes outside the top 10. Frustration might boil over again as he looks unlikely to impress this weekend at Dover either. Montoya's average finish in the last five Dover races is unimpressive at 24.4. He did score one top-10 in those starts, but only finished on the lead lap twice, and failed to finish another two times. Avoid Montoya unless your league awards points for contact.

Matt Kenseth
Kenseth scored his third consecutive finish worse than 20th Saturday night in Darlington. He is now 10th in points and a long way away from his run of four consecutive top-10 finishes, which included his win in the Samsung Mobile 500. Kenseth has been fast just about every week, but contact and a lack of closing power have typically ruined those runs. If he can keep his nose clean, he has the speed to win. Dover could be no different. Kenseth scored four top-fives in the last five Dover races. His average finish in that time is 6.0, a very fine record at the concrete jungle, but considering his recent string of results it might be best to think twice. He needs a solid Dover run this week, and that pressure may keep him out of Victory Lane.

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