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NASCAR Barometer: Big Win on Big Weekend

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.

The biggest weekend in racing every year is Memorial Day weekend, and with Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR all running big races, anyone can see why.

Each race had an Australian starting on the front row, and it was Marcos Ambrose who carried the torch in NASCAR. He led the field to the green flag, kicking off more than 100 laps of green-flag racing, over a quarter of the distance of NASCAR's longest race. Clearly the drivers settled in right away, and it was only debris that brought the first cautions of the long night. The race featured long stretches of green-flag racing, and the fewest caution periods in the 600-mile race since the 1999 edition.

Greg Biffle used the Roush Fenway Racing Ford power to lead more than 200 laps, more than any other driver in the field, but it was Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports who seemed to have the advantage when the sun went down. Kasey Kahne turned on his afterburner in the closing segment, and commanded from the front until the checkered flag flew at the 600-mile mark.

This week the field heads to Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson won three in a row in 2009 and 2010, but Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are defending 2011 victories at the track.

UPGRADE

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne is finding his way around Hendrick Motorsports, and has settled in very nicely very quickly. He was flying at Charlotte as the race wound down, leading all the way home. He picked up his first win with Hendrick Motorsports, and his third in the Coca-Cola 600. Results like he has been posting recently, coupled with last week's win, make him a driver that is poised to kick off a real hot streak. That might be difficult this week though. Kahne's average result from the last five races at the track is just 19.2. Typically that would warn fantasy owners away, but six top-10s in a row including Sunday's victory do not lie. Ignore the track numbers, and go with your gut on this one.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson looked like he was going to have a chance to challenge for a victory in the Coca-Cola 600. That was until he tried to sneak out a two-tire pit stop in the closing laps. Unfortunately, he left before the gasman disengaged, and ended up having to serve a stop-and-go penalty for the infraction. He ended the night one lap down in 11th position, which wasn't where he should have finished. All things considered though, he had a great two weeks in Charlotte, and now goes to another track where recent statistics convey his series dominance. Dover belongs to Johnson. He won two of the last five races at the track, and commands the field with an average finish of 5.8 in that time.

Jeff Burton -
After hanging around the middle of the field for munch of Sunday night, one wouldn't think that the No. 31 car would hold much fantasy value for the following week. Despite Sunday's mediocre outing, Burton manages to make himself an attractive fantasy option at Dover with an average finish of 8.4 in the last five races at the Monster Mile. He scored two top-5s in that time, leading just nine laps. He consistently finishes near the top of the order at this particular track. He came home 19th in the Coca-Cola 600, but he could be in line for his first top-10 since the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Mark Martin -
An engine failure deep into Sunday's longest NASCAR race put Martin out of the race, but he was actually running well at a track he normally struggles at. Now, going back to a normal race distance, Martin should have something for the competition. This week is a golden opportunity to use a Martin play, especially considering his part-time schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing. His average finish through his last five Dover tries is 10.0 with just one finish off of the lead lap, and two top-5s. He took a win at the track in 2004, and has a career average finish of 10.7 at the track. Forget about his engine issue, and confidently consider Martin for a helping of points this week.

Matt Kenseth -
Roush Fenway Racing is having a great roll in 2012, and Kenseth has been riding the wave all the way up. Despite finishing a lap off of the leaders last week in Charlotte, he still finished 10th. It was his eighth top-10 of the season. He stalked the top runners through the first half of Sunday's 600, keeping himself in contention until he fell off of the lead lap in the final segments. The result cost him a little bit of ground in the points to teammate Greg Biffle, but he can claim that back very quickly. Kenseth's recent Dover average includes a win, and only one finish outside of the top-5, which equates to an average finish of 6.0 in the last five races. Given his current form, he should match that result this week.

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch -
Despite being with a small team in 2012, Busch is picking his moments to make an impact. He struggled Sunday night in Charlotte, finishing four laps off of the lead. That 27th-place finish marks four consecutive races where the No. 51 has finished outside of the top 20, which is not a good sign. Big teams have trouble breaking a downward swing of momentum, but one has to think that Phoenix Racing will have to work that much harder to reverse their current trend. Another chance for Busch to impress could be this weekend though. He put down a win and three top-5s in the last five races at the concrete oval, but his current form signals some concern heading into this week's race.

Greg Biffle -
Despite leading through much of Sunday night's 600-mile race, Biffle has been experiencing a minor skid after jumping out to the points lead early this season. Judging by his past Dover results, that skid could continue this week. His average finish in the last five Dover races is 16.8, and he only picked up one top-10 in that time as well. Roush engines have been incredibly strong so far this season, and they certainly look like the team to beat, but Biffle will have to overcome his lack of results at Dover in addition to the 42 other cars on track. Other drivers present greater fantasy value this week, and players should look to them in order to maximize results.

Tony Stewart -
Sunday was a difficult night for Stewart. He was bumped from behind in the pits, and was running multiple laps down as the race started to wind down. With just one points victory at the track, all the way back in 2003, it wasn't a huge surprise to see Stewart struggle. This week may be another upstream swim for the reigning champion. One of the few tracks that Stewart has never tasted victory is Dover. His average finish through 20 career starts there is 15.9, and in the most recent five his tally is slightly worse at 18.6. Stewart can be more valuable at other tracks, so it would be wise to save this week's start for later.

Brad Keselowski -
Sunday was a solid outing for Keselowski. He never made any missteps throughout the long distance, and rolled home to a very respectable fifth-place finish, his fourth top-5 of the season. Keselowski has a tendency to reverse past trends at tracks, and the trend at Dover is not a great one. His four-race finishing average at the track is 18.2, and he has yet to score a top-10 there. While putting him in the downgrade column is a recipe for a stunning result, it is tough to play him without some valid questions this week. Fantasy players will need to weigh current form versus past results, and this one will opt for caution on the No. 2 this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
At one point near the end of Sunday's 600 miles it appeared as though Earnhardt was working himself into a position to win. Ultimately, he did not have the speed that teammate Kasey Kahne had, and was forced to settle for a commendable sixth-place result. With no top finishes in any of the last five Dover races, Earnhardt presents somewhat of a fantasy dilemma. His roll of results to date in 2012 has been impressive, and he continues to knock on the door of victory. With an average result of 21.8 with just one lead la finish in those last Dover events he might just be too much of a risk to play this week.

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