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NASCAR Barometer: It's JJ's World

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.

With just two races left in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth unloaded in Phoenix ready to battle. The pair had already made it a two-horse race for the title, and both were looking to put some distance between the other.

Like most Phoenix races, the running was competitive and leveraged strategy as much as a good handling chassis. There were plenty of chances for drivers to score bonus points by leading laps, but a few set themselves apart from the start. Hendrick Motorsports put on a top display, and Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne spent 90 laps out front between them. Carl Edwards was another driver who spent a good deal of time in the lead, and even looked like he had the victory. That win wasn't to be, though, as the No. 99 sputtered on fuel with just over one lap to go. Kevin Harvick was there to pick up the pieces. He encountered similar problems earlier in the race, but was in the right place to claim his second Chase victory last week.

This week the series heads to the final race of the season. Homestead-Miami Speedway has progressive banking, which lends itself to tight competitive racing throughout the field. It is a perfect stage to wrap up a season and crown a champion. While the title may be Johnson's to lose this year, fantasy owners will need to close their seasons just as strongly.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick arguably had the fastest car Sunday afternoon. He ran out of fuel while leading early but wasn't the only driver to do so. In fact, Harvick took the victory in the same manner he lost the lead earlier in the contest as Edwards ran short of fuel with just over a lap remaining. Harvick stormed to his second victory in the Chase by overcoming a major setback and heads to Miami with the most momentum in the paddock on his side. An average finish of 4.8 in the last five Homestead races makes Harvick a solid fantasy option this week. That average finish includes three top-5s and five top-10s. Couple those statistics with Harvick's current momentum and you have a choice fantasy option.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson may not have the greatest record at Homestead, but this is a man on the verge of collecting his sixth Sprint Cup title. He finished third in Sunday's Advocare 500, while closest rival Kenseth was a distant 23rd. The No. 48 is now 28 points clear at the top of the points, and would surely need an outright disastrous weekend in Miami to lose this year's Sprint Cup. With two top-5s and an average finish of 18.0 in the last five Miami races, that scenario doesn't seem likely. Johnson may not be racing for a win this week, but he will drive for points, and that could be just what some fantasy owners need this week.

Jeff Gordon -
Gordon in one of four drivers to have scored a win in the last five Homestead races. That win, combined with three top-5s and four top-10s give him an average finish at the track of 10.6 in the same span. Disappointingly, Gordon's title hopes virtually ended two weeks ago, but that didn't stop him from claiming 14th position in Sunday's race at Phoenix. It wasn't a top finish, but it shows Gordon back on track after a miserable prior week. The veteran driver won't be in the mix for the title this weekend, but could very well show up to battle for the win. Fantasy owners should feel confident selecting this driver for fantasy play this week in Miami.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Clearly not ready to challenge week in and week out yet, there are times when Truex rises to the surface of fantasy lists. Miami is one oval where that is the case. The Michael Waltrip driver has four top-10 finishes out of the last five races there, amassing an average finish of 7.8 in the same time. Similarly, Truex claimed another top-10 finish last week in Phoenix. It was his 14th top-10 finish this season, an impressive year for the driver and team, despite myriad troubles and penalties that put a damper on the year. The team has persevered and will be looking to end the season on a high note. Truex is a good option for fantasy owners this week.

Carl Edwards -
He may have been in position to take the win late Sunday, but didn't have the fuel mileage to stay there. Last week was a good one for the No. 99, running near the front and working his way into the lead as the miles ticked down. The result wasn't meant to be, though. Edwards now has to look forward to Miami, a track he excels at, and aim to score his third victory of the season in finale. The best average finish from the last five Sprint Cup races at Homestead belongs to Edwards. His average result of 4.6 includes lead-lap finishes, two wins and three top-5s. Edwards, despite not being in the championship hunt, could be in store for a big day.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski -
The defending champion's season has been a rough one. The No. 2 team didn't even make the Chase to have an opportunity to defend. Keselowski has come good recently, though, showing he has the capacity to run with the leaders, but it is too little too late. He ran well again last week in Phoenix, but he slipped in the closing segment, finishing 11th. While it wasn't a great afternoon for Keselowski, he is showing that he and the team are back on the horse. Unfortunately, Homestead has produced a challenge for him too. No top finishes in the last five races there tarnish his luster this week. While the build up to strength is good progress next season will be when he leverages it.

Marcos Ambrose -
While there is a time and place for fantasy owners to confidently select Ambrose, this week in Miami is not one. The Tasmanian hasn't finished in the top 10 in any of the last five races at the track and only finished on the lead lap twice. Simply put, Homestead-Miami Speedway is not one of Ambrose's better tracks. He struggles there, and is a gamble for fantasy rosters this week. His 26th-place result last week in Phoenix was yet another mediocre performance, and he has missed a top-10 for now five races in a row. Ambrose is your guy on a road course, perhaps an oval or two, but rarely at Homestead.

Juan Pablo Montoya -
Sixth place in last week's Advocare 500 makes it eight top-10s for Montoya in the 2013 season. That isn't a terrible record, but the Colombian came with much higher expectations for his Sprint Cup career. Things haven't played out the way he would have wanted. This week could be Montoya's final Sprint Cup race after struggling to make an impact on the circuit. He heads to IndyCar next season after leaving Chip Ganassi for Roger Penske. Based on his recent Homestead results, he may not be leaving Miami on a high either. His average finish from the last five races at this track is 29.8, finishing on the lead lap just once making him a low-value fantasy option.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Earnhardt sauntered away from Phoenix with another top-5 finish, his ninth of the season. The No. 88 now sits fifth in points and is in position to come away with his best points tally since the scoring system was changed in 2011. All of that is great news for Earnhardt fans, and signal that he could be one of the favorites as we look forward to 2014. This week presents a slightly different story, though. With only one top-10 finish in the last five Homestead races, Earnhardt would be a risk for fantasy players this week. His average finish from the last five races in Miami is 23.4, and that should be a concern for fantasy rosters.

Joey Logano -
Logano has only raced at Homestead four times. He does claim a pole effort from that short resume, but hasn't finished in the top 10 yet. In fact, his average finish in those races is 24.0. While he did pick up a DNF in that time, three other lead lap finishes should have been worth more. Logano had a solid run last week in Phoenix, and led 33 laps before coming home ninth for his 18th top-10 finish of the season, and second in a row. The turnaround has been impressive for this team after finishing 12th or lower in eight of the first 10 races of the season. Logano may be a top driver looking ahead to next season, but this week presents a challenge for the No. 22.