NASCAR Barometer: Larson Wins Final Regular Season Race

NASCAR Barometer: Larson Wins Final Regular Season Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Larson used a perfect pit stop to win the final race of the regular season before NASCAR's playoffs begin at Chicagoland Speedway. The stop under caution gave him lane choice for the overtime restart, which he played to perfection over Martin Truex Jr., who ultimately crashed while trying to hold off Denny Hamlin. It was another top night for Larson who has lived up to his potential so far this season, but the game changes for him and the other championship contenders starting this week at Chicagoland Speedway where the playoffs get underway and the championship field narrows.

Teams that made it into the playoffs now focus on perfecting their game and will work to peak over the next 10 races and see themselves through to the final round in Miami. The remaining teams need to get over the sting of missing out on a championship run and focus on winning in the final portion of the schedule. Many still have something to prove this season, which should make the final rounds of 2017 something special.

UPGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson enters the playoffs with bolstered confidence. He was a regular face in the top five throughout the race distance but used a late caution and a perfect pit stop to seal the deal. That moment enabled him to gain track position, and nail the restart to take Saturday night's win. In three Chicagoland starts he has two top-10s and finished 18th last year. This team was one of

Kyle Larson used a perfect pit stop to win the final race of the regular season before NASCAR's playoffs begin at Chicagoland Speedway. The stop under caution gave him lane choice for the overtime restart, which he played to perfection over Martin Truex Jr., who ultimately crashed while trying to hold off Denny Hamlin. It was another top night for Larson who has lived up to his potential so far this season, but the game changes for him and the other championship contenders starting this week at Chicagoland Speedway where the playoffs get underway and the championship field narrows.

Teams that made it into the playoffs now focus on perfecting their game and will work to peak over the next 10 races and see themselves through to the final round in Miami. The remaining teams need to get over the sting of missing out on a championship run and focus on winning in the final portion of the schedule. Many still have something to prove this season, which should make the final rounds of 2017 something special.

UPGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson enters the playoffs with bolstered confidence. He was a regular face in the top five throughout the race distance but used a late caution and a perfect pit stop to seal the deal. That moment enabled him to gain track position, and nail the restart to take Saturday night's win. In three Chicagoland starts he has two top-10s and finished 18th last year. This team was one of the fastest early in the 2017 season, and they have begun to rediscover that form as the playoffs approach. That is good news for fantasy owners but could be bad news for other competitors.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex spent much of the first segment of Saturday night's race running second behind Matt Kenseth. He added another stage win to his tally by taking the second on Saturday night after getting out front, however. He arguably had the car to beat throughout Saturday night and was pulling away from the field when a late caution changed the landscape of the finish. He was unable to pit faster than Larson and didn't have the muscle on Larson on the final restart. The resulting battle with Hamlin left him in the wall on the final lap. Truex won last year's Chicago race and has led at least 30 laps in the last two races at the circuit.

Kyle Busch – Busch used a late restart in the first stage to force his way into the lead. He then held off Larson to take his 11th stage victory of the seaso, but struggled in the final segment. Busch's handling disappeared in the final 100 laps and he lost touch with the top five as he struggled to compete. Luckily, Busch was able to hang on while the team made chassis adjustments. That effort put him back inside the top 10 when the final caution waved, and he streaked home to another top finish from there. Chicagoland has been a good track for Busch. He started from pole three times, won in 2008 and has finished in the top 10 in the last five races there.

Erik Jones – After a number of weeks delivering the biggest surprise, it's time to put Jones squarely in the upgrade column. The Furniture Row Racing rookie was a picture of consistency despite adversity Saturday night in Richmond and he ran a complete race among the veteran leaders. He didn't get into the playoffs due to his poor late restart, but a victory won't be too far off given how well he has been racing recently. He continues to improve each week and should be considered for fantasy rosters each week despite being a rookie. To make things even more interesting, he is a two-time Chicago winner in the Xfinity series. There a lot for fantasy owners to like about him right now.

DOWNGRADE

Joey Logano – After starting the season strongly, it was surprising that Logano missed the cut for the playoff positions. It was even more remarkable that he was just one position away from making the cut Saturday night. His spring win at Richmond seemed to be the turning point in his season, from which he never fully recovered. There are still 10 races for him to rediscover his winning ways, but the sting of missing the championship battle will remain for some time. A win this week in Chicago would be his first at the track. He is on a run of three consecutive top-10 finishes at the circuit heading into this week's race, however.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson spent a good portion of Richmond's first stage running outside of the top 20 after battling a loose chassis and having a poor restart after an early caution. He spent most of the night running outside of the top 15 after that but leveraged another late restart to gain track position and walk away with a surprising top-10 finish. That certainly wasn't what the team looked capable of accomplishing, though. While fantasy owners should expect Johnson to improve in the playoffs, some questions are justified. Chicagoland Speedway is one of the few tracks where Johnson hasn't won. In fact, fantasy owners should note that he hasn't finished in the top 10 there since 2013.

Danica Patrick – After a strong run through the first 250 laps of Saturday's race, Patrick found herself spun by contact with Austin Dillon. It was the fifth caution of the race and dropped the No. 10 machine from one of its best performances in recent memory. The current season has been a trying one for her and the team, and watching her teammates find success makes it even more difficult. In five visits to Chicagoland races she has yet to score a top-10 finish. Her best finish at the track was 19th in 2014. She hasn't had a great season, and this week's circuit isn't one at which she has performed well. Those factors make her a cautious play at best for fantasy owners.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth started Saturday night's race in Richmond just as he did in the spring, in the lead from pole. Things went south in the final segment, though. A chain reaction crash entering pit road forced Kenseth behind the wall for repairs, which eliminated any chance of him earning a playoff spot with a win. In the end it didn't matter. Having a repeat winner Saturday night allowed Kenseth to maintain his position in the championship fight by his points total, giving him a reprieve from a disastrous Richmond outing. The team needs to turn things around quickly, though. Kenseth won in Chicago in 2013 and offers fantasy owners eight top-10 finishes from 16 starts at the track. His championship fight begins this weekend.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer, like Kenseth, was one of the cars caught out when an ambulance made entry to pit road under caution a disaster. He was involved in the chain-reaction incident but recovered briefly only to come up short in his quest for the playoffs. Bowyer was one of the drivers needing to win in Richmond to gain entry, but the bizarre situation on pit entry made that unnecessarily difficult. Still, Bowyer has 10 races remaining the season, which are 10 chances to find Victory Lane in his first season with Stewart Haas Racing. In 11 Chicago starts, he has one top-five and seven top-10s. Fantasy owners should watch him in practice and qualifying to see how the team reacts to the disappointment of missing the playoffs.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Daniel Suarez – Suarez made news last week when sponsor Subway dropped him for a television segment where he handed out donuts to race fans. The blow to the team and the young driver could have been enough to bury them. However, Suarez took to the track in Richmond and put his talent on display with an impressive top-10 effort. He was solidly in the top 10 prior to the overtime restart, and he held station for a seventh-place finish and another top-10. Looking ahead, Suarez has three top-10 finishes at Chicagoland from four Xfinity starts, and his best finish in that span was fourth last season. He has been improving his finishes in the second half of the season making him a driver fantasy owners shouldn't overlook.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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