RotoWire Partners

NASCAR Barometer: Johnson's Still the Man

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.

After leading every lap of the NASCAR Sprint Showdown on Saturday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. advanced to the All-Star race with an impressive A.J. Allmendinger tagging along by finishing second. The third driver to advance was Bobby Labonte, who won the fan vote, and finished 19th in the main event.

The night, as usual was very exciting, with a number of cars experiencing engine problems. Interestingly, two Roush Fenway Racing cars ended their nights with engine trouble, which should telegraph that they were experimenting in order to remain solidly atop the order in points.

Following the Showdown, Kyle Busch led the field to the green flag and had a strong finish in fourth. Unfortunately, nothing in the All-Star race really matters unless you finish first. The driver who came up with the big check was none other than Jimmie Johnson. Counting Saturday night's triumph, Johnson has back-to-back wins, and that is more than enough to worry just about everyone in the NASCAR paddock.

Up this week is another round at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the longest race on the NASCAR calendar, the Coca-Cola 600. The race is a traditional fixture of the Memorial Day trilogy of races that make up the biggest race weekend of every year. Enjoy it race fans.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson -
No changes from last week here. Johnson is the man. Coming through to victory in the All-Star race sets him up as one of the instant favorites for this Sunday's 600-miler. That win makes it two in a row for the No. 48 team, and you can rest assured that the rest of the field will be nervous. Before Saturday, a win and two top-5s in the last five Charlotte races already made Johnson an instant consideration for fantasy selection. His average finish at the track in that span is a disappointing 20.6, but now we know that doesn't matter. Johnson is the series lap leader so far this year, and now trophies are starting to be collected. There aren't many more confident picks this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Earnhardt led 18 laps in Saturday's All-Star race after advancing to the main event by winning the Sprint Showdown, leading all 40 laps there. Considering he only has one top-10 finish in the last points paying Charlotte races, that performance is very impressive. Earnhardt is knocking on the door of Victory Lane, scoring eight top-10 finishes from the first 11 races. There may be no hungrier driver than the one in the No. 88 right now, and considering he scored his two best Charlotte finishes Saturday night, one can assume that hunger is turning into salivation. Earnhardt is well overdue for a victory, and his races so far this year indicate that 2012 could be the year for him to come good with Hendrick Motorsports.

Kyle Busch -
Coming off of three top-5 finishes in the last three races, and his fourth top-10 in a row, Busch definitely has momentum before the Coca-Cola 600. He led 14 laps Saturday night, and claimed fourth in the All-Star race. His recent finishes indicate that Busch is continuing to run consistently after the rollercoaster opening to the season. The team will need to continue its good run of form at Charlotte where Busch has an average result of 9.4 in the last five regular-season races. He claims three top-5s and four top-10s in that time. Busch is clearly getting his job done at this point in the year, and more top results are sure to come.

Matt Kenseth -
Every fantasy owner should seriously consider Kenseth this week, especially after confirming his Charlotte pedigree in the All-Star race. In the last five points-paying races at the track the No. 17 scored a win, two top-5s and four top-10 finishes that push his average result to 6.6. He finished sixth in the Southern 500 two weeks ago and third in Saturday night's All-Star race. The team is working hard to stay up front. Kenseth reversed his Darlington statistics, and turned in a very impressive race. He is now second in the point standings, and will be seeking to score another top finish in this, NASCAR's longest race.

Joey Logano -
Logano's Charlotte record continued to be fortified in Saturday night's Showdown. He and the team showed some significant progress in Darlington, and those two things make him a driver to consider for this week's Coca-Cola 600. Logano's average finish in the last five Charlotte point-races is 8.0, which includes two top-5s and three top-10s. While the season hasn't been shining brightly for him just yet, he could still surprise this week. We advised you to watch Logano's progress in the Showdown before deciding on selecting him for this week's big show, and he proved himself worthy. Feel free to use Logano this week for some solid points.

DOWNGRADE

Jeff Burton -
The past two seasons have shown that Burton is turning into a non points-race specialist at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but finds it hard to get it done in the real deal. He finished eighth in the Sprint Showdown Saturday night, but also finished ninth in last year's edition. However, in the last five Charlotte points races Burton only compiled an average result of 21.0 with just one lead-lap finish. Clearly he struggles at the track when points are on the line, and for that reason fantasy players should take caution when looking to play him this week. With just one top-10 finish in the last seven races, Burton isn't one to rest your hopes on this week.

Carl Edwards -
Edwards was one of two Roush Fenway Racing drivers that suffered engine issues in Saturday night's All-Star race. That is worrying for the Ford team that has been so dominant thus far this season, but fantasy players should know that the team would have been trying new things Saturday night. It is best that they learn that they won't work in a non-points event, which is exactly what they did. So with that behind the team, the engines should be back to full strength next week. The best finish Edwards claims at Charlotte is third though, and that came in last year's Bank of America 500. His average finish at the track from the last four starts is only 11.8. For those reasons, Edwards might not be the best fantasy option this week. Instead, look to teammate Kenseth.

Brad Keselowski -
Much like we said last week, Keselowski tends to perform much better in the All-Star races at Charlotte than he does in the 600-mile event a week later. Simply put, Keselowski has not performed well Memorial Day weekend. His average finish in the last five races at the track is 18.8 and, despite nabbing pole position in last year's classic, he failed to score a single top-10 at the track in points paying races. In the 2011 Sprint Showdown he finished second and advanced to the main event where he finished 18th. In his first All-Star Race he finished seventh, then second last Saturday. He could fool us with a strong run this week, but if history is any indication, his result will be lower this weekend.

Mark Martin -
After scoring his worst finish since the STP 400 in Darlington last week, Martin promptly finished last of the running cars in Saturday night's All-Star race. Unfortunately, the news doesn't get much better for Martin when looking at Charlotte points races either. Through the last five points-paying races at Charlotte Motor Speedway Martin tallies an average finish of 21.2, despite finishing on the lead lap three out of those five races. We warned fantasy players last week that most of Martin's visits to the speedway don't turn out quite like hoped, and that form continued right through Saturday night. Save your Martin starts for some time later in the season.

Follow @cjradune on Twitter.