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NASCAR Barometer: Knockin' on Victory's Door

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.

It seems like just yesterday the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was at Pocono Raceway, and yet here we are again for the summer race. That weekend in June saw Jimmie Johnson lead practice and qualifying and win the race. It might be silly to bet against him having similar success this weekend, especially considering how well he ran at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend.

Last week's race at Indianapolis presented Johnson as one of the drivers to beat from the drop of the green flag. Unfortunately for fans of the No. 48, though, that fifth win wasn't to be. Instead, native Hoosier Ryan Newman took the reins of the field and led the other 42 drivers to the finish line of one of the biggest races of the season. The engineering major from Purdue University is on the hunt for a drive next season, and Sunday's win will go along way to prove that he fits on a team somewhere on the grid.

That success for Newman could translate to a surge in results this week too. His Pocono Raceway record is respectable, and the momentum of scoring one of the season's biggest wins could give him the boost he needs to finish in the top-5 again this week.

UPGRADE

Ryan Newman -
After Newman's performance in Indianapolis, Pocono could present further opportunity for fantasy owners to capitalize. His average finish at the Pennsylvania oval is 7.4; second only to Johnson through the last five races there. Two top-5s and four top-10s make him an attractive option for fantasy rosters this week. His win at Indy was his first at the track, which is special for anyone let alone an Indiana native. The No. 39 has been knocking on victory's door a few times this year, and a perfect drive Sunday finally made that a reality for the team. Newman is still without a drive for next season, and that could give him extra motivation to put in a top result this week in Pocono.

Joey Logano -
Logano scored yet another top-10 finish Sunday in Indianapolis. That result was his ninth top-10 this season and his second in four races following consecutive 40th-place finishes. This young driver has change working against him his first year with Penske Racing. He also spent a number of weeks without his crew chief, who was on suspension for rules infractions, but those hurdles haven't completely slowed him. Logano is proving he can score top results despite adversity, which is a virtue in this series. While he may not be a top play every week there are certain tracks where he can make a difference on fantasy rosters, and this week at Pocono Raceway is one.

Jimmie Johnson -
There is no questioning Johnson's abilities at Pocono. Out of his last five tries, he scored four top-5 finishes, including the win in June. His average finish in that time is an impressive 5.4, and he comes into this weekend as the clear-cut favorite for fantasy rosters. He dominated much of last week's race, but in the end just didn't have the edge that could make the difference last weekend at the Indianapolis motor Speedway. Still, Johnson finished second last week, which is nothing to sneeze at, and while that may be considered a disappointment, the team will leverage that to go one better this week at Pocono. As usual, there is rarely a week where Johnson doesn't make a fantastic fantasy play, and this week is no different.

Tony Stewart -
Stewart's fourth-place run at Pocono in June added a third top-5 finish to his latest five-race resume at the triangle track. His average finish in that time is 8.8, despite a starting average of 22.4. The disparity in those two numbers represent Stewart's ability to discern exactly what it takes to make a car fast at this track on race day. That edge could give Stewart the upper hand this week. He was the winning owner last weekend in Indianapolis, and can now claim an Indianapolis owner's win along with his win as a driver. He finished fourth, a solid result in and of itself, and that momentum could carry the team forward again this week. Stewart is a confident play almost any time at Pocono Raceway.

Greg Biffle -
Biffle finished a solid second in June at the Pocono triangle. He started the June race from the 13th position, and drove the car home to a top-5 result. That finish was his lone top-5 at the track in the last five races, but he does claim a 15.2 average finish in that same time. He was nowhere to be found Sunday at Indianapolis, but that shouldn't impact his ability to perform to expectations this week. The No. 16 has seen up-and-down results this season, but certain tracks make for a confident play, and Pocono is one of those. Biffle isn't the kind of driver fantasy players can count on week in and week out, but this may be one to give him the benefit of the doubt.

DOWNGRADE

Kasey Kahne -
There once was a time when Kahne was the man to beat at Pocono Raceway. Unfortunately, the past five races there haven't been as kind. Kahne claims just one top-5 finish from those five tries, and that amounts to an average finish outside top-20 current drivers through the same period at 21.4. His average start of 8.0 in those races wouldn't suggest such a disappointing finishing average, but the numbers indicate some inability to finish strongly. The No. 5 car finished 36th at the track in June, and finished third at Indianapolis last week. The top-5 from last week's race may give him a boost, but at Pocono he has a bigger hurdle to clear. While the No. 5 may be a solid option some weeks, this one presents somewhat of a gamble.

Matt Kenseth -
This might be a week fantasy owners can feel comfortable giving Kenseth a week off. His recent statistics at Pocono Raceway, despite scoring two top-10 finishes in the last five races, indicate limited upside this week for Kenseth. His average finish in the last five Pocono races is 15.8, with a 14.4 average start. Those are very average results for a driver whom fantasy owners expect to score wins. He was able to score yet another top-5 finish last week at Indianapolis, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team underperform expectations at a track where Kenseth hasn't been at his best. His upside this week may not be enough to justify a start.

Carl Edwards -
Thirteenth position was the best that Edwards and the No. 99 team could muster Sunday at Indianapolis. The team wasn't a competitor through much of the afternoon and worked to simply claim a top-20 finish, which isn't enough to move forward in the standings. With a similar Pocono record to former teammate Kenseth, Edwards makes a more risky play this week. Edwards notched just two top-10 finishes in his last five efforts at Pocono Raceway, compiling a 16.0 average finish, despite a 6.2 average start. While the No. 99 clearly can qualify well, he hasn't quite figured out what to do to be competitive over an entire race distance at Pocono Raceway.

Denny Hamlin -
It is painful to continue counting Hamlin out each week, but the tide continues to flow against him. His Pocono results from the last five races include one top-5 and another top-10 result, helping him tally a 15.8 average finish. His starting average is quite good, at 6.8 through the same period, but consistent race results have been harder to come by for the No. 11. He started last week's Brickyard 400 in the top-5 and ran there for many of the opening miles, but wasn't able to keep the pace up. Hamlin finished last week's race 18th when the day was done, and that pushed him further behind in points. He will not make the Chase this season, and any progress the team makes will be for next season at this point.

Juan Pablo Montoya -
Montoya may have had a good Brickyard 400, but the chances of him repeating that form this week at Pocono may require some help from a pixie. His average finish at Pocono is 18.0 in the last five races at the track, and his average start isn't that great either at 16.4. The Colombian scored just one top-10 finish in that span, and that indicates that he faces challenges again this week. He was able to finish in the top 10 last week at Indianapolis, a track he knows well, but that top-10 was just his fourth this season. This team continues their struggles, and despite the progress they've shown they just aren't quite ready for prime time.