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NASCAR Barometer: Star of All-Stars

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 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race may not be a points paying event, but it is consistently a highlight of every season. The only thing to go after is a big check and bragging rights. For fantasy owners, this can mean nothing, or it could give valuable insight for the season's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.

Saturday's warm-up event, the Sprint Showdown, was a battle between Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr., with McMurray and a surging Ricky Stenhouse finishing in the top two positions to advance to the main show. Danica Patrick won the fan vote and also started the feature race after finishing ninth in the Showdown.

The stage was set, and when the laps started ticking down it was the brothers Busch who split segment wins. The All-Star race format does all it can to throw adversity into the mix, though. Before the final segment it was Kurt Busch out front, but in the final pit stop his team faltered and the lead wasn't retained.

When the final green flag flew, Jimmie Johnson pushed his way forward and claimed his record fourth All-Star win ahead of Joey Logano. Doe anything change for fantasy owners as a result?

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson -
The Sprint All-Star Champion of 2013 is Johnson. The five-time Cup champion captured his fourth All-Star victory after Kurt and Kyle Busch won each of the prior segments. Johnson owns two top-5s in the last five Charlotte points races, and with two wins from 11 starts this season, he is asserting himself as one of the contenders. He has six wins at the Charlotte track, with his most recent coming in the 2009 NASCAR Banking 500. He finished third in last fall's Bank of America 500 and has a 14.6 career average finish at the track. Superlatives are the only way to describe Johnson, and with his record-setting fourth All-Star victory under his belt, he is the favorite heading into this week's Coca-Cola 600.

Jamie McMurray -
McMurray pulled himself out of a potential Downgrade this week. The underachievement Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has waded through the last few seasons has been remarkable. To make things a bit better the teammates have been showing a bit of fight early in 2013. McMurray has three top-10s so far this season and claimed a win for the team in Saturday's Sprint Showdown. With Juan Pablo Montoya's top-5 at Richmond International Raceway, this organization has a bit of optimism back on its side. While we aren't expecting a complete reversal of fortune overnight, baby steps in the right direction are showing, and fantasy owners may want to take that into consideration as they make their selections for the 600.

Kasey Kahne -
While he didn't make the Upgrade column last week, Kahne is a stout competitor at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He raced to a fourth-place finish in Saturday's All-Star event, giving way to teammate Johnson for the victory. Throughout Kahne's 18 Charlotte starts, he lays claim to four victories, seven top-5s and 10 top-10s. His average finish at the track is 18.6, and to make things even better, in the last five races at the track he has a win, two top-5s and three top-10s. Kahne is performing very well with Hendrick Motorsports, and his prowess at this track makes him a nice option for fantasy rosters this week, especially after coming so close to another All-Star trophy.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Truex may not have the greatest recent record at Charlotte, but this season has been one of good things for the No. 56. Michael Waltrip Racing had a breakthrough year in 2012, and Truex now sits 14th in points with two top-5s and four top-10s so far. He has just one top-10 in his last five Charlotte efforts, but started from pole in Saturday's Sprint Showdown, and nearly raced his way into the All-Star Race. He was blocked by traffic in the second segment of Saturday's Showdown and then tried a little too hard and found the wall to be unforgiving. Still, Truex is turning in respectable performances almost every week, and fantasy owners should pay attention.

Kurt Busch -
Frustration had to be there for Busch's All-Star effort. He won the first and fourth segments of the race and was the first car on pit road for the final stop. Unfortunately, his team didn't get him out ahead. After the slow stop Busch returned to finish fifth in the final 10-lap segment. Busch won the 2010 Coca-Cola 600, the same year he won the All-Star race. While he was in the Downgrade column last week, things are looking much brighter for the Las Vegas native. Before last weekend Busch had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, including a DNF at Talladega Superspeedway. Things can change quickly in Sprint Cup, though, and this team knows what it needs to do differently to come out on top this week.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski -
One driver staying put in the Downgrade column for the Coca-Cola 600 is Keselowski. His lone top-5 from the last five Charlotte races is not impressive for the No. 2, and when you consider his last top-10 finish came in April's STP 400 you see a driver on a downturn in form. His car gave up early Saturday night, and he only led one lap since mid-March. While this is a string of performance that is sure not to last long, it is worrisome for fantasy owners who should be looking to take advantage of drivers who are peaking. Keselowski certainly is not at the peak that we would expect to see him, and for that reason it might be best to look elsewhere for a fantasy play this week.

Danica Patrick -
Patrick may have won the fan vote to get into the main event Saturday night, but she wasn't able to capitalize on the honor. She finished ninth in the Sprint Showdown, but was the last car on the lead lap when the checkered flag fell on the All-Star race. Patrick does have experience in NASCAR's longest night, she started last year's 600-mile race from 40th position to finish 30th. Danica is learning the ropes and has turned in some respectable performances this rookie season, but with the equipment she has, she could be doing more. Charlotte should be a place where she could leverage her 2012 experience, but her finish Saturday wouldn't suggest it will happen this Sunday.

Paul Menard -
While Menard may be in the running for a spot in Chase, this week may be a bigger challenge than other weeks for the No. 27. In the last five Charlotte races this driver hasn't finished in the top 10 and failed to finish on the lead lap every time. His best effort at the circuit came in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600 when he finished eighth. He finished fourth in the Showdown, and that could drive some interest his way, however the statistics don't support it. His career average finish at the track is 22.7, which includes just one DNF. Menard might be one of this season's improvements, but this might be the week fantasy owners want to cool their jets on his prospects.

Jeff Burton -
Burton's last five tries at Charlotte Motor Speedway haven't produced any top finishes. He has just one lead lap finish in that time and a 21.2 average finish. Burton hasn't been the driver he used to be, and top-10 finishes have become even more hit and miss for the No. 31 despite the team's resources. He had a good night in Saturday's Sprint Showdown, finishing third, but wasn't able to advance to the main show. Burton's last Charlotte top-5 came in the 2008 Bank of America 500, which he won. In total he has three wins at the oval, but hasn't even finished in the top 15 there since 2009. Fantasy owners will not want to hang their hats on a top run from the No. 31 this week.

Tony Stewart -
Despite scoring pole position in the 2011 Bank of America 500, in his last five Charlotte races Stewart only claims one top-10 finish. Since that time Stewart claims just two top-15 results and a 17.9 career average Charlotte finish. Stewart HAAS Racing has been struggling this season, but "Smoke" normally turns up the wick as spring turns to summer. While he should get things turned around before the end of the season, chances are that it won't be this week that the corner is rounded. Stewart hasn't snagged a top-5 yet this year, and has just one top-10 that came in the season's second race. This team and driver are struggling, and fantasy owners should steer clear until thing change for the better.

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