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NASCAR Barometer: Riding Big Mo

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.

Nearly half of the 43 cars that started Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 were involved in contact with another car or the wall before the halfway mark of the race passed. By the time the checkered flag waved just about every other car had been in an incident as well.

Eight cautions in the first half of the race set the stage for what was a very tight and hotly contested short-track race. The proceedings continued to heat up through the second half, and ended with a string of cautions that may have cost Jimmie Johnson a win, and could be a turning point in Tony Stewart's run to a championship. In total, 120 of the race's 500 laps were run under caution.

As tempers flared around them, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson set out to race each other for the victory in the closing miles. Late in the race Johnson was held out on old tires as most every other team pitted, but that didn't seem to affect him too much. On the final caution, though, Stewart hooked himself through the first two turns, enabling him to get underneath Johnson and take the lead, running away to victory for his third Chase win of the season.

This week's race in Texas is a return to 1.5-mile high-banked ovals that have become the staple of NASCAR racing. Clean air, track position and an ability to adjust a car's settings to drive high and low on the track is where the difference will be made in Texas. The speeds are as high as the banking, and hopefully some driver tempers will have cooled by then.

UPGRADE

Tony Stewart -
Up two spots in the Chase and only eight points away from the lead, Stewart has turned his season around. He was unflinching in his criticism of the car and team just a month ago, but since then has won three Chase races while also tallying two top-10s. Stewart has the bit between his teeth and is hunting Carl Edwards to tag and bag his third Sprint Cup trophy. In 19 races at the Texas oval, Stewart can claim a win, four top-fives and 10 top-10s. His career average finish at the track is 13.2, and his momentum is something fantasy owners should not ignore this week. Look for Stewart to make a move to stamp his name on this year's trophy this week.

Denny Hamlin -
Early contact between Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. caught Hamlin in the melee. The damage did not affect Hamlin's run, though. He was a leader throughout the afternoon, and ended the day fifth. The result was Hamlin's third top-10 finish in a row, but it still leaves him 11th in the Chase standings. He always looks to win, and he could have a great shot at doing so this weekend. Hamlin's record at Texas is pretty impressive with two wins in the last five attempts. Another top-five helps push his average finish to 6.2 in that time. Fantasy owners should look at Hamlin for a non-Roush driver to round out their top driver selections.

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth was not immune to the damage inflicted by Martinsville Speedway. Heavy late contact forced him into the garage for extensive rear-end repairs. It's a shame because Kenseth was running a very impressive race. Ultimately, he returned to the track, but was classified in 31st position, finishing 23 laps down. The No. 17 lost three positions in the Chase standings as a result. Kenseth's average Texas finish equals Hamlin's, but he did it with only one win. His consistency is arguably better at the track, and he owns four top-fives in the last five Texas races, including the victory in April.

Kurt Busch -
Early contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. started Busch's day off on the wrong foot, and it only got worse when he had issues with Paul Menard late in the running. While both cars were damaged, Busch was the one who lost the most track position when he spun. He managed to hold his position of eighth in the Chase, but finished Sunday's race 14th. Let's hope the contact is out of his system this week. With a win, two top-fives and four top-10s in the last five Texas races, Busch's recent average finish at the track is 9.4. He also led 142 laps in those races, and that makes him a contender for fantasy lineups this week.

Kevin Harvick -
With less than 100 laps left in Sunday's race, Harvick started making his presence felt at the front of the field. In the final restart, however, Harvick simply wasn't able to get enough of a jump to push himself forward to the leaders. He came home with a strong fourth-place result and is now third in the Chase standings. Harvick has been a stout competitor at Texas. He claimed a top-five and three top-10s in the last five races there, boasting an average finish of 13.0. That is among the best in the series, which demonstrates consistency and an ability to stick around until the end; two of Harvick's most valuable traits to fantasy owners.

DOWNGRADE

Greg Biffle -
Running 14th with less than 100 laps to go Sunday afternoon, Biffle was turned into the wall while trying to overtake Ryan Newman. That didn't affect him too much, though, because many other drivers met trouble after that incident as well. Biffle worked his way back forward and finished 15th. This week would normally be Biffle's chance to shine, and he has had a fast car in each of the last few races. But he hasn't closed the deal on a top finish. That may not change Sunday despite his strong Texas record. Biffle's average finish at Texas Motor Speedway is 6.0 in the last five races. He took home three top-fives in that time and only finished off of the lead lap once, but recent finishes suggest something worse this week.

Brad Keselowski -
Late in Sunday's 500-lap race, Keselowski was fighting his way forward in the field. He continues to show that he intends to fight tooth and nail for this year's championship. Like most drivers, though, late-race mayhem collected the No. 2 Dodge, and Keselowski was relegated to 17th place. It wasn't representative of Keselowski's pace on the afternoon, but finishing is half the battle. Texas hasn't been the best friend of Keselowski, either. In the last five races on the 1.5-mile oval, he only packed in an average finish of 24.6. Not a single finish on the lead lap exemplifies his difficulties at this track, and fantasy owners should steer clear this week as a result.

Ryan Newman -
Sunday didn't exempt Newman from the many tangles between drivers, but he did come off relatively lightly. He was involved in Biffle's late accident as a fairly innocent bystander, and wheeled his car home with comparatively little drama. He racked up a top-10 finish, just his third of the Chase. Newman has to work on consistency if he wants to make an impact in his next Chase effort. Despite Sunday's top-10, things aren't going his way in the current one. Newman is not the strongest of the Chase competitors at Texas, and his five-race average finish is 14.4. He hasn't finished in the top-10 there in his last five tries.

David Reutimann -
Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway marked 15 consecutive races since Reutimann last visited the top 10 in the finishing order. In a race that was punctuated by headlines and hot tempers, Reutimann again led a fairly anonymous existence. The team is simply not getting the job done in the second half of the season. Reutimann may struggle this week at Texas, too. His recent results at the track have been suspect, and his career there hasn't been noteworthy either. A disappointing average finish of just 21.6 in the last five Texas races, despite starting from pole on one of those occasions, makes him a low value option for fantasy rosters.

Kyle Busch -
Late-race drama ruined what was otherwise a solid day for Busch. He came into contact with Matt Kenseth, and then lost more ground when his crew didn't get all the lug nuts solidly onto his front wheel. He lost the wheel, limped back to the pits, and lost a ton of ground in the race and the Chase. He is now 57 points behind leader Carl Edwards, and winning races is all he can hope for the rest of this year. Busch can only boast a single lead-lap finish at Texas in the last five races there. That finish did net him a top-five, but a driver who can't manage to consistently complete the full distance, despite not registering a DNF in that time, is not a driver to whom fantasy owners should flock.

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