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NASCAR Barometer: The Chase Rolls 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.

Sunday's threatening weather in Delaware held off after a few scares, allowing for the full distance of the AAA 400 to go in the books. Two cautions for rain were all the weather had to say for the afternoon, and the race did not see the number of accidents the track usually produces.

Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth dominated the running in the early going, and those two continued to be fast at the front of the field throughout the distance.

The relatively trouble free span abruptly came to an end late in the race as Mike Bliss hit the wall, setting up a final round of pit stops as drivers readied themselves for the finish. Most of the top-10 teams replaced two tires in the stops, mimicking Kenseth's race-winning move from earlier in the season, but Kenseth did not.

The final restart featured Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson streaking away from the field, while Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and others drove for all they were worth to catch the two leaders. There was not enough time, though, and while Edwards got to Johnson's bumper, he didn't have enough time to pass. Busch took the win and climbed five spots in the Chase with it in his pocket.

This week the Chase turns its attention to Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile tri-oval where both Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing have consistently flexed their muscles. Handling is often a separator at the midwestern track where conditions can often become slippery. Brad Keselowski took his first win of 2011 in the Kansas 400 and hopes to repeat the effort in this week's Hollywood Casino 400.

UPGRADE

Greg Biffle -
Contact with the wall late in the AAA 400 dented Biffle's attempt to score a top finish Sunday. The problem was tough because the race, up until that point, had been very clean with very few drivers dropping out or having serious trouble. As a result, Biffle finished 27th, which wasn't representative of what the car was capable at Dover. Still, Biffle is looking to close out the season with a trip to Victory Lane, and that could come soon. This week the series heads to a track where Roush has pedigree, though. Biffle put together an incredible recent string of results at Kansas Speedway. His average finish in the last five races is 3.6, with two wins and four top-fives, making him a strong fantasy option.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson was quick all Sunday afternoon and carefully studied everyone's strategy to put himself in position to fight for the win at the end. A two-tire stop in the closing laps allowed Johnson to restart the final run to the finish behind leader Kurt Busch. From there he gave it his all to catch Kurt Busch as he streaked away, while also working hard to fend off a charging Carl Edwards. Johnson gained five spots in the Chase with his finish and is looking for more this week. Like most other tracks, Johnson's resume at Kansas is a good one. His win, three top-fives and five top-10s have helped contribute to an average finish of 4.4 the last five races there.

Kurt Busch -
Busch was on fire at Dover. He was fast on the restarts, and used the final one to his advantage, jumping out to a lead after the final caution and holding off Johnson for the victory. The win moved Busch five spots forward in the Chase to fourth and gave him momentum to use this week in Kansas. He can claim one top-10 finish in the last five Kansas races, with an average result of 14.8. He knows how to work with his team to get the car to handle the way he needs, and that will be important this week. Look for Busch to use momentum from Sunday to gun for another top finish this week.

Jeff Gordon -
Sunday was a disappointing afternoon for Gordon. The car ran well throughout the distance but began to fade late in the running, unable to show pace on restarts due to low tire pressure. In the closing laps the No. 24 car was fighting to remain in the top 15 and move forward. When the final lap was over, Gordon found himself in 12th position, doing all he could to salvage as many points as possible, while the other top Chase competitors fought it out for the win. Gordon knows how to run for points at Kansas. His last five races have all produced top-five finishes and he has come away with an average finish of 4.0 in that span. Play Gordon without fear this week.

Carl Edwards -
Edwards had a great car early in Sunday's race. He led for a bit and was able to pull himself up to the leaders in the closing laps, threatening for a top-two finish. In the end, he didn't have enough time to pass Jimmie Johnson, and Edwards was credited with a third-place result. On the 1.5-mile tri-ovals, fans are used to expecting great things from Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards is guilty of building that expectation with an average finish of 12.0 in the last five Kansas races. He has a DNF in that time, but that hasn't seriously damaged his average, demonstrating just how strong he can be at this speedway.

Brad Keselowski -
A power steering issue in the middle of Sunday's AAA 400 caused Keselowski to pit for service, and he returned to the field a lap down. He gambled when a caution flew, and stayed out to get his lap back, hoping that another caution would come before he needed to make a green flag stop for fuel. That never came, and Keselowski rolled home in a sobering 20th position, losing two spots in the Chase. Keselowski may be the surprise of the season. He won the STP 400 earlier this season, and that kicked off his run to making the Chase field. He may not be recovering from a testing accident this time, but fantasy players can still count on him working on a repeat victory this week.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch -
While Busch finished in the top 10 Sunday, it was not what the team was hoping for. Busch wasn't able to truly challenge the leaders throughout the afternoon, and ultimately was “the best of the rest.” It was a disappointing showing for the team who was hoping to take advantage of some other competitor slips, to make up some Chase ground. In the last five Kansas events Busch only finished on the lead lap twice. He hasn't scored a top-10 at the track in any of the last five runs, and his career best finish at the track was seventh in the 2006 Banquet 400. While it is difficult to ever forget about Busch, his statistics at Kansas are less than impressive.

Ryan Newman -
Newman lost miles of ground in the Chase Sunday at Dover. He struggled throughout the afternoon, and mostly battled at the back of the pack, along with his teammate Tony Stewart. Newman finished the 400 miles in 23rd position, while the Chase standings saw a big scramble among the drivers. The disappointing afternoon cost the No. 39 team some ground in the standings and will make the remaining seven races even more important. Despite starting his career at Kansas Speedway with three consecutive top-five finishes, Newman is enduring somewhat of a slump at the track recently. His average finish in the last five races here is 21.0, and he was only clean and fast enough to finish on the lead lap three of those five tries.

Matt Kenseth -
A two-tire stop to gain track position helped Kenseth win in his last outing at Dover International Speedway, but for some reason the team took four tires in the final pit stop this time. That decision put Kenseth behind the eight ball with about 40 laps remaining in the race. He didn't have the track position he needed to come forward, and finished the day in fifth position, instead of fighting for the victory. Inconsistent is probably the best word to describe Kenseth's finishes at Kansas Speedway. He finishes in the top-10 frequently at the track, but also has a habit of coming home 20th or 30th as well. His average finish in the last five Kansas runs is 18.4, in part due to a sour engine in the 2009 Price Chopper 400.

Jamie McMurray -
Fifteenth position was where McMurray wheeled his Chevrolet home to Sunday afternoon. He was never a factor in the race, and turned in another of what has been typical of the team's performances this year, lackluster. Kansas typically allows a wide array of drivers to record top-10 finishes. One driver that hasn't been able to take advantage of the competitive nature of the track, though, is McMurray, who has failed to chalk up a top finish in any of the last five races there. His average finish is 22.4 in that time, and he hasn't seen a top-10 finish at the track since 2004. This week is another where fantasy players will want to leave him on the sideline.

David Ragan -
Another quiet afternoon at Dover produced another finish outside of the top 20 for the No. 6 team. While the season has been a bit of a turnaround for the young driver, the pressure of finishing consistently is still weighing on his shoulders. Ragan is the one Roush driver that has been unable to use the 1.5-mile oval of Kansas to bolster his finishing average. A single top-10 finish is all he can brag about from the last five Kansas races, and his average finish in that time is just 17.6. He generally runs a humdrum race at the track, and it is reflected in his results. Fantasy owners should look elsewhere for a greater chance at scooping up some points this week.

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