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NASCAR Barometer: The Big One Strikes

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 Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 saw its fair share of roadside assistance being needed by the field.

The afternoon produced plenty of restrictor-plate excitement, as only Talladega Superspeedway can. Drivers duked it out up front while others dropped back in hopes that survival would be the key to victory. As those strategies played out, plenty of drivers who had struggled took their share of the spotlight. Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya were just two names that found themselves in the mix.

Sunday's final laps saw nothing less than what a race at Talladega is expected to produce. There was close racing, four-wide, in the closing laps, and the final crash collected nearly half the field. The chaos left NASCAR to sort out the finishing order well after the smoke had dissipated, and, fortunately, all of the drivers walked away from the carnage.

After the spin cycle that is Talladega, the Chase contenders take a deep breath and regroup before the Chase resumes this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway where speeds are high and the cool night track creates more than its share of handling quandaries for teams to navigate.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth -
After riding through an insane finish off the last turn at Talladega, Kenseth claimed a long overdue Roush Fenway racing victory on a superspeedway. Some could argue that he won it through luck, after nearly creating an accident with Clint Bowyer, and narrowly avoiding the final pile-up that took out the rest of the field. However, after the smoke cleared it was the No. 17 that was out front when the final flag waved. Kenseth won last year's fall Charlotte race and boasts an 8.2 average finish in the last five runs there with three other top-10s in that time. Disappointing results have put him out of the Chase leaders, but he came back strong last week, and fantasy owners should pay attention.

Clint Bowyer -
After dropping to the back of the field for much of Sunday's race, Bowyer worked his way forward and was out front in the closing miles, attempting to win his third consecutive fall Talladega race. Kenseth hip-checked him out of the lead with a little more than one lap remaining, and ultimately he was caught up in the final crash. He may not have more than one top-10 in the last five Charlotte races, but he is close to the top in the Chase standings and demonstrating remarkable consistency. Bowyer could be a factor in this championship before time runs out, and the prowess with which he worked his way forward last Sunday is evidence that this team knows what it is doing and has the ability to compete amongst the best.

Kevin Harvick -
The No. 29 team had a great day lined up at Talladega. The team showed strength unseen yet this season, but it all came to naught in the final turn, and a top-5 car was classed in 14th position. If this team can focus on the positives from the other 499 miles it raced Sunday, this week could present an opportunity to record a top finish to close out the year. Despite a disappointing 2012, Harvick could be a driver for fantasy owners to consider after last week's performance and Harvick's Charlotte class. Including a win, he scored four top-10s in his past five races at the track and can brag about a 6.8 average finish in that time.

Kyle Busch -
One of the few drivers lucky enough to not crash out of last week's race on the final turn, Busch claimed his third top-10 in the last four races. Busch led early in Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, demonstrating that he can have a fast car at any track on the season's calendar. He fought up front with a quick car the entire afternoon and used some luck to come out of Turn 4 unscathed. His speed is unquestioned, and this tick of good luck could signal a change in tide. All that could come good again this week in Charlotte, where his average finish is 8.4 in the last five races, despite a DNF thrown in the mix.

Joey Logano -
Perhaps the last time this season that fantasy owners can consider Logano, he could offer a decent option this week in Charlotte. His average finish in the last five races at the track is 11.6, with two top-10s. He finished two laps off of the lead in Talladega, after being an innocent bystander in an early wreck, but he soldiered on and finished a disappointing 32nd. Momentum is clearly not with this driver at the moment, but he has a knack for scoring results in Charlotte. He quietly scored three top-10s leading into Talladega's wild card, and that could be enough to propel him to another solid Charlotte effort.

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch -
An honorable mention goes to Busch this week. He is making his debut with Furniture Row Racing, a team he thinks has more potential than Phoenix Racing, at one of his best tracks. Busch could offer a surprise result this week, but at any rate, it will be interesting to see how he meshes with his new surroundings. He ended his short stay at Phoenix parked by officials for driving away from safety crews without his helmet on after having contact. He said the incident is normal for him and reflective of the way his season has been. We will see how he does with another that hasn't seen much success, and if his frustrations continue to interfere with his racing.

Jimmie Johnson -
One top-5 and two Charlotte DNFs in the last five tries suggest Johnson is a gamble for fantasy racers this week. He may be battling for the Chase lead, but he will have to survive Charlotte to keep from losing ground. Johnson has every chance possible to score a top result this week, but fantasy players should be wary of his recent inconsistency at the track. The trend may indicate that he might have a bit more concern than other tracks this weekend, and that could be enough to not get the usual best out his equipment. He, like most of his Chase competitors, was caught in the final wreck Sunday, but held second place in the championship standings. Approach Johnson with caution this week.

Tony Stewart -
Just one top-10 in the last five Charlotte points races isn't a record that Stewart would be proud of. Statistics like that also suggest that he will have a wall to climb this week if he wants to reverse his slow start to the Chase. Stewart dropped two places in the Chase after taking the wildest of all the crazy rides in Talladega's final-lap crash. The car went airborne, and he rode quite some distance on Kasey Kahne's hood before coming to a stop and being classified provisionally in 22nd position. He admitted that the crash was likely his fault, trying to block a charging Michael Waltrip, but apologies don't reverse the damage done, and Stewart now has an even bigger gap to cover.

Martin Truex Jr. -
After getting caught up in the craziness at Talladega, Truex was classified in 12th finishing position. His team owner was the one making the charge in the closing turn, and Truex unofficially notched his second Chase finish outside the top 10 due to the accident. After putting forth a tremendous season to get into the Chase with Michael Waltrip Racing, he has disappointed in the playoffs so far. That streak might extend itself this week when he comes to a Charlotte track where he hasn't scored a top-10 in any of the last five points-paying races.

Carl Edwards -
It wasn't long before Edwards was put behind the leaders at Talladega, forced to overcome a damaged car. Edwards tangled with Cole Whitt early in Sunday's race, forcing him to race with a limping vehicle for much of the race distance. By the time he returned to the fray he was an insurmountable number of laps down, and completely out of contention. His disappointing season is being capped off with more misery, and he just can't seem to buy a break. Edwards claims one top-5 and two top-10s in the last five Charlotte races, tallying an average finish of 11.2. With the way he and the team have raced lately, fantasy owners might want to stay clear.

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