RotoWire Partners

NASCAR Barometer: Timely Driving

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.

Much can happen in 500 laps at a short track, and Martinsville Speedway didn't fail to deliver last Sunday. The close racing produced 17 caution periods for more than 100 laps, but it also produced 19 lead changes among eight drivers. By the time the checkered flag waved, only five cars had retired.

It was an exciting race, with an exciting finish. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, favorites to hoist this season's Sprint Cup, battled one another, leading the majority of the laps. As the miles wound down, though, Kenseth took the helm over Johnson and stretched his legs just a bit. The stretching wasn't enough, however, and Jeff Gordon tracked the No. 20 down to take the lead and the win. It was the veteran's first of the season, and extends his life in the Chase.

This week the series returns to the bread and butter track of the Sprint Cup season. Texas is a fast, high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval circuit. This is the type of track where big teams know how to perform. Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports all rise to the top on these types of ovals and this week should be no different.

UPGRADE

Jeff Gordon -
While Gordon wasn't one of the two most dominant cars Sunday in Martinsville he stalked Kenseth in the final segment and passed the championship contender for the lead with just a handful of laps remaining. The veteran drove a very intelligent race, and used his experience to come home in the top position again at the unique circuit. It was Gordon's first victory of the season. In Texas, Gordon boasts a win, two poles and four top-10 finishes in his last 10 races. His average finish in that time is 16.9. Gordon is a consistent driver who may not be the top contender for the Chase this season, but is reliable to put up decent points for fantasy owners, including this week.

Greg Biffle -
Biffle is the only driver to have finished in the top 5 in each of the last five Texas races. He won the fall race in 2011 and claims an average finish of 4.8 in his last five tries at the fast quad-oval. Biffle was upset with the No. 48 after last week's contact but managed to come back and finish ninth after dropping down the order with the resulting damage. His Martinsville result should give Biffle something to build upon as the series heads to Texas this weekend. The No. 16 is usually very strong at the oval and can use some of last week's frustration to put in a top result at a track he normally runs well at.

Carl Edwards -
Sunday was another rather quiet afternoon for the No. 99 team. Edwards didn't lead any laps in Martinsville and finished outside the top 10 and behind many of the other Chase contenders. There haven't been many opportunities to use Edwards in fantasy rosters this season, and while 2013 has been decent for him it hasn't produced the results he would normally expect from himself. His average result of 6.4 in the last five Texas races suggests he is in a good position to come away from Texas with a top result. Edwards is usually a contender when this track pops up on the schedule, and his disappointing effort last week shouldn't influence this week's performance.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson won one of the last five Texas races, scored two top-5s, and four top-10s as well. There is rarely a track where Johnson isn't considered one of the favorites, and as he battles for yet another championship this week should be one where he is at his best. He led more than 100 laps Sunday along with only championship rival Kenseth bettering that mark, but his finish didn't retain the points lead for the 48. Johnson is now tied with Kenseth in the standings with just three races remaining this season and the No. 48 team will be working hard not to put a foot wrong. If there is any driver that knows how to finish strongly it is this one, and Texas should be good for the team.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Eighth place wasn't what Earnhardt was hoping for when he started Sunday's race in Martinsville, but it was a confident result for the driver who continues to build success with Hendrick Motorsports. He failed to lead any laps while his teammates were solid contenders, and that has to be discouraging. Still, Earnhardt has proven that he can put in the work necessary to make a situation better, and things should get a little better this week. With four top-10 finishes in the last five Texas races, Earnhardt has quickly become one of the better fantasy options at this track. His average finish of 12.4 in the last five races there is among the better records of active drivers.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski -
Unfortunately for Keselowski his up-turn in form is coming after the Chase is already under way without him in it. He finished fourth in Martinsville last week and was the highest-placed finisher without leading a lap. While he would have liked to be defending his title these last few races, Keselowski is now looking to salvage a season. The last 10 Texas races have only produced two top-10 finishes for the 2012 champion. Those top-10s also happen to be the only times he finished on the lead lap in that span. His average finish through those events is 21.3, and this will probably not be the week fantasy owners should rely on Keselowski to overtake their rivals.

Kurt Busch -
He may not have been the lowest placed Chase contender last Sunday, but Busch didn't do himself any favors in the standings. He finished 18th in a very disappointing afternoon for the former champion. Unfortunately, things don't look much better for the No. 78 this week, especially for fantasy owners. While Busch does own a Texas victory from 2009, his results at the track haven't matched other driver options this week. His average finish in the last 10 Texas races is 17.6, failing to finish on the lead lap five of those times. While he is making a strong effort with a small team, this may be another week to not expect a top-drawer result from Busch.

Denny Hamlin -
Sunday produced a glimmer of satisfaction for Hamlin's dismal season. Running up front for much of the afternoon, Hamlin started showing some signs that he will eventually return to the contender he was before this season came off the rails. Fantasy owners should probably wait to place their chips on No. 11 until next season offers a fresh start, though. Hamlin missed the spring race at Texas this season, but also hasn't landed a top-10 there since sweeping the victories at the track in 2010. In his 15 Texas starts Hamlin owns two wins, five top-5s and eight top-10s. His career average finish is 10.9 at the track, but this season has been unlike any other for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

Juan Pablo Montoya -
Montoya is looking forward to a return to IndyCar in 2014, but needs to make it through the last few Sprint Cup races first. This week's track is a place where Montoya has not done well. In the last 10 races at Texas Motor Speedway Montoya failed to finish on the lead lap eight times and tallied an underwhelming average finish of 25.0. There is little reason to select Montoya for most fantasy racing formats this week. He finished 13th in Martinsville, but Texas offers a completely different challenge. Montoya hasn't performed well at the 1.5-mile quad-ovals since coming to NASCAR Sprint Cup, and fantasy owners shouldn't expect much different from the Colombian this week.

Jeff Burton -
An early spin in Sunday's race put Burton at the back of the field before 10 laps were even complete. Still, the veteran didn't give in and by the time the distance was complete he had worked his way forward all the way to 11th position. Burton's time with Richard Childress Racing hasn't produced a bounty of success, and he will part ways with the team following the conclusion of this season. Unfortunately, his results at Texas are similar to that lack of success. Just two top-10s in the last 10 races there have given him an average finish of 18.8 in that time. He finished on the lead lap in less than half of those starts and doesn't make a compelling roster option this week.