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NASCAR Barometer: The Giant Triangle

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.

Another first-time winner celebrated in Victory Lane in the Brickyard 400. It was the first NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to win his first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, no small feat. Paul Menard made the day his own with perfect fuel calculation and a bit of luck in hand.

The race started with David Ragan leading the field to the green flag, but it was Kasey Kahne who led the first lap. Hard racing that is typical of the track was ever present again, but today there was very little consequence to contact. Menard was one who was tapped early, but he held on and continued trucking on. Joey Logano also received a tap, but performed a perfect four-wheel drift through the turn and didn't miss a beat.

What could have turned into a fuel-mileage exercise never really materialized as those drivers who were close saved enough to make it to the line, or took extra caution and pitted for the last splash that they needed. Menard got the green light to stop saving fuel with four laps to go, and Jeff Gordon was the one charging him down as Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin slowed to make it to the end.

This week the drivers turn their attention back to the giant Pennsylvania triangle of Pocono Raceway. Jeff Gordon won the June race, and with the taste if victory nearly reached at Indy, he will be one to look for this week.

UPGRADE

Jeff Gordon -
The Brickyard 400 was an excellent day for Gordon despite not winning the race. He ran in the top five nearly all day, and was closing down winner Menard in the final four laps, just coming up short in the end. He was achingly close to becoming Indy's first five-time winner in its major events. With five tp-10s in the last seven races, Gordon is definitely on a power streak, which could easily continue at Pocono. Gordon won the last visit to Pocono earlier this season, and could be in a prime position to repeat. His average finish at the track is 10.2 with the win, two top-fives and four top-10s.

Juan Pablo Montoya -
Montoya is always strong at Indianapolis, but Sunday was another Brickyard 400 where he came up short. He finished 28th, on the lead lap, but was a top competitor through much of the day. He'll need to put Sunday's disappointment behind him, though. Montoya performs very well on the tracks that resemble road courses, just as Indy and Pocono do. With its varied turns and banking, Pocono has played right into Montoya's strengths and his average finish reflects it. The last five Pocono races gave him an average finish of 8.2 with only one finish outside of the top 10. He finished seventh there in June and will be looking for better this week.

Kevin Harvick -
Eleventh was Harvick's reward for a long Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis. He was never one of the fastest cars, but worked hard to stay in touch with the front pack for much of the afternoon. Sunday's 11th-place finish gives indication that Harvick is close to being back in the top 10 after a three-race absence. Pocono is a track where Harvick is always competitive too. If he isn't a factor in the early running, he and the team work on the car and strategy to make themselves contenders by the end of the long Pennsylvania races. Harvick's average finish in the last five events there is 9.8 with three top-five finishes making him a very reasonable fantasy selection.

Denny Hamlin -
Sunday's race was a disappointing one for the No. 11 team. This team arrives every weekend expecting to win, but struggled this Sunday. He finished 27th, and that will not help them build confidence before the Chase. Despite Sunday's poor result, Hamlin is a perennial winner at Pocono Raceway, and his visit there in June could have produced another would it have not been for a faulty valve stem. That small issue ruined what could have been a win for the team, and instead relegated him to 19th. All things considered, though, he won two of his last five trips to the track, and has four career wins in 11 tries there. Do not count Hamlin out at this track, regardless of what his current form may indicate.

Tony Stewart -
Stewart might have had the most difficult day at Indianapolis. A pit infraction caused him to serve a drive-through penalty, after which he languished deep in the field. Despite that, by the end of the 400 miles, Stewart and his team worked hard enough to carry themselves forward to land a top-10 finish. It was definitely a day that the team had to give their all for, and the result should taste sweet after the hardship they endured. Stewart continues to show how much he loves the hot and slick summer months. After Indianapolis the series heads to another track where he is simply stellar. His average finish in the last five Pocono races is 7.4 with just one finish outside of the top 10.

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch -
Busch finished 21st in the Brickyard 400. He was behind the biggest incident of the day, which ruined his front splitter as he went through the grass to avoid contact. The incident pretty much ended his day, never being a factor after that incident. Looking ahead to this week, Busch only finished on the lead lap three of the last five Pocono races. His average finish in that time is 17.4, and has one top-five and two other top-10s. The No. 22 team can be fast at the Pennsylvania track, but have yet to consistently score top results there. Busch could be a factor this weekend, after all he, he did finish second back in June, but tread carefully due to his Pocono inconsistency.

David Ragan -
After starting Sunday from pole, Ragan only managed to finish 23rd at Indianapolis. Ragan's inconsistent finishes persist this season. He scored three top-five and six top-10s so far this season, but also has nine finishes outside of the top 20. Those statistics mean that fantasy players have to be careful what tracks they use Ragan on. The Indianapolis pole sitter has only scored one top-five finish at Pocono, and his career average finish from nine starts at the track is 21.4. Those statistics are not what fantasy owners look for to bank points, and for that reason Ragan isn't a selection you should make for Pocono.

Joey Logano -
A tap from Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave Logano a chance to demonstrate his car control skills as he drifted the car through an entire turn. It was a beautiful piece of driving from Logano, but that was his only highlight as he finished the race 25th. With three top-10s in the last five races one might think Logano could be a good choice this week at Pocono, but his results at the track tell a different story. Logano's best Pocono finish came just this year when he finished 11th. His average finish in the five races he's had there is 19.8, despite finishing on the lead lap each of those times. A top 20 is what would be expected from him this weekend, but probably not a win.

Casey Mears -
After being quite fast in practice and starting the Brickyard 400 in 11th position, Mears fell back to his expected result as an also ran with a finish of just 29th. The result was terribly disappointing after the team showed up well in the days prior to Sunday's race. With an occasional run that puts Mears into the top 15 he could be considered a decent fourth-driver option some weeks, but he hasn't been getting it done regularly this year. He finished 30th in June's 5-hour ENERGY 500 at Pocono, and his average finish in the last five Pocono races is just 26.5. Mears hasn't been a consistently dependable fourth-driver this season so you shouldn't expect this week to be any different.

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