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NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Keeps Rolling

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 Sylvania 300 was the second race of the 2013 Chase for the Championship and produced a second win for contender Matt Kenseth. Kenseth's win also led a 1-2 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing with Kyle Busch bringing home second-place honors on the day.

It was Kenseth's 500th start in the series, and Chase contenders took six of the top-10 positions. Only two other drivers have won both opening races of a Chase, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart, and Stewart is the only driver to convert the head start into a championship. Given Kenseth's prowess this season, the championship looks as though it is his to lose, despite eight races remaining in the season.

On tap this week is Dover International Speedway. Tony Stewart won the first race at the track this season with Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-four finishes. The "Monster Mile's" concrete surface presents a unique surface for the Chase competitors this week, and the steep banking throughout the mile requires drivers to hook the corners and slingshot down the straights. Will this be another strong week for Joe Gibbs Racing?

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth continued his roll last week with a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his second win in the two races of the Chase thus far. If there was a season this driver looked destined to win a championship, this one might be it. Making things look even better is that in each of the last three Dover races where he has finished on the lead lap, Kenseth finished in the top 10, including a victory. His average Dover finish in that span is 16.8, including a DNF. Kenseth has had an amazing first season with Joe Gibbs Racing so far, and may just bring the Sprint Cup back to that team in his first try.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson has the best average finish at Dover in the last five races. He led nearly half of the 2,000 laps run at the track in that time and scored a win and three top-5s as well. His average finish in that time is 6.6, which is second to none. He finished fourth last week in New Hampshire, but only led one of the 300 laps. That is a bit unusual for the No. 48 team, but he remains your third-place runner in the Chase standings. No team has performed better over these last 10 races of the season than this one, and while he hasn't seized the points lead quite yet, Johnson remains in the hunt and could make a charge starting as early as this week.

Clint Bowyer -
Despite all of his troubles the last few races, Bowyer may in line for redemption this week. His average Dover finish in the last five tries is 6.8, which is just behind Johnson, but his main accomplishment is five top-10s rather than wins. Last week's New Hampshire race was another of disappointment for the No. 15 crew. The team was in contention until trouble struck fairly late in the running when Bowyer was stranded on pit road for an excessive time. He finished 17th after 300 laps and lost ground in the Chase to the top three runners. Bowyer and team have overcome scandal this Chase, but have some distance to cover before they prove that they can be considered championship contenders.

Kevin Harvick -
The lame duck driver at Richard Childress Racing has a strong chance to end this season on a high this week. His average Dover finish in the last five races is 8.6, and his record includes four top-10 finishes in that time. He has to be looking forward to this week's Dover race after finishing a disappointing 20th position last week in New Hampshire. Harvick finished the race on the lead lap, but didn't make a huge impression at the front and failed to lead any laps. The No. 29 certainly knows how to be in contention at the end of races, but hasn't struck gold often enough this season to be considered one of the true top competitors. Fantasy owners have better options this week for a maximum points day.

Kyle Busch -
With four top-10 finishes in the last five Dover races it would be hard to count out Busch this week. Counting him out gets even more difficult when you consider that he had a tremendous race to finish second last week in New Hampshire, which was his second top-5 to open the Chase. If teammate Kenseth stumbles just a bit, Busch is working to put himself in position to capitalize, and score his first Chase championship. This young driver has yet to win a championship in NASCAR's top series, and has to be a bit uncomfortable missing out to a new teammate. If he doesn't lose his cool, Busch could be Kenseth's main challenger in the last eight races of the season.

DOWNGRADE

Juan Pablo Montoya -
This may be the last time we see Montoya's name in the NASCAR Barometer after it was confirmed that the Colombian was heading back to IndyCar in 2014 to drive for Penske Racing after losing his seat at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing at the end of this season. He finished 19th Sunday in New Hampshire, which has become typical for the former Formula 1 racer. With just one top-5 in the last five Dover races, Montoya doesn't look likely to set the Sprint Cup on fire in the last few races of his stock car career. Instead, he looks to continue turning in mediocre results, perhaps excluding Talladega Superspeedway. Much like they do most every week, fantasy owners may want to ignore Montoya as their third driver this week.

Denny Hamlin -
With just one top-10 finish in the last five Dover races, Hamlin doesn't present an attractive fantasy option this week. His average finish in those five runs is 18.8, with only three lead-lap finishes, despite leading 82 laps. He was largely absent from Sunday's Sylvania 300 and didn't lead any laps. He finished 12th when the distance was completed, which has to be frustrating when his two teammates finished 1-2 and sit atop the points. Hamlin hasn't scored a top-10 finish since June. That streak now extends to 14 races and worsens an already disappointing season. This team is looking ahead to 2014 already, and next year can't come soon enough.

Greg Biffle -
Finishing third in last week's Sylvania 300, Biffle did himself some good after falling four spots in the Chase after the opening round. Biffle has ground to cover, and will need to take more chances than other drivers these last few races. That type of pressure isn't a good situation to be in just two races into the 10-race Chase. Additionally, the No. 16 hasn't scored any top finishes in the last five Dover races. His average finish is 17.6, and he only finished on the lead lap twice in those five tries. It has been a disappointing span of results for this driver, and fantasy owners accordingly shouldn't expect much from Biffle this week.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne's two top-10 finishes at Dover in his last five tries help him to a 17.4 average finish. He only finished on the lead lap two of those five times, and this week could be another week of struggle for the young driver. He was running eighth last week in New Hampshire when he spun and hit the inside wall. That contact ended his chances for a top finish and dropped him farther down the points table. He was 10th prior to last week's race, but the trouble wasn't what he needed to speed up his march forward. The best may yet be to come from Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports, but fantasy owners may want to consider a driver with more upside this week.

Ryan Newman -
Despite starting from the head of the field Sunday, Newman didn't do what he needed. When all was said and done, the Indiana native led just two laps, finished 16th and didn't make up any ground on the Chase leaders. Newman has arguably one of the most disappointing recent records at Dover International Speedway. His only lead lap finish helped earn him an average finish of 23.2 in the last five races there, and obviously hasn't notched any top finishes in that time either. Mediocre results won't win championships, and they also don't do much to inspire fantasy selection either. This week would be another where Newman may be best left on the bench, showing little upside for a potential play.