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NASCAR Barometer: On the Road Again

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2015 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Rain couldn't stop the excitement of the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Joey Logano led the field to the green flag from pole, and he was in the lead when the skies opened. Prior to the rain it looked like it would be Joe Gibbs Racing's day with Logano in the lead and Denny Hamlin leading the most laps, with plenty of competition through the rest of the field.

After the track dried, Kurt Busch drove away. Soon, though, his younger brother Kyle found his groove and worked his way forward with Brad Keselowski in tow. For the first time in recent memory the finish did not come down to fuel mileage, and there was plenty of hard racing until the finish line.

By the end, Keselowski was clear in front. The No. 18 gave it all he could, but wasn't quick enough off the final corner to overtake Keselowski for the win. NASCAR has a habit of writing fine drama, and Keselowski's testing accident earlier in the week at Road Atlanta, where he fractured his ankle, made his win Sunday all the more impressive. The No. 2 overcame certain adversity in physical pain, but still came up with the trophy in a tremendous outing.

This week the series attacks its second road course of the year, Watkins Glen International. As is usual with road courses, the specialists come out to play. The Sprint Cup regulars will again have to contend with the masters of turning right and left, but don't expect a road course ringer to run away with it. Time has shown that the series regulars can compete with the best and have a distinct advantage spending week in and week out in the machinery.


Marcos Ambrose -
Ambrose was 19th when rain interrupted Sunday's running. That's about where he spent the last portion of the run as well. He finished 20th Sunday, which isn't the result he and the team now expect every weekend. With six top-10s this season, Ambrose is taking a step forward in finishes, and this week's road course race will give him another opportunity for his first win. Three top-five finishes in three career Watkins Glen races make Ambrose a very attractive fantasy option this week. His average finish in that span is 2.7, and he is probably the best in the series at throwing a heavy sedan around a flowing road course.

Tony Stewart -
Sunday wasn't a typical day for Stewart at Pocono. He was never one of the fastest cars and ended the 500 miles in 11th position. Road courses don't faze Stewart, though. He famously took a driver's class at Infineon Raceway to better his skills, and it certainly didn't hurt. Earlier this year Stewart traded his Sprint Cup car with Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen. Stewart got a taste of the McLaren Mercedes while Hamilton sampled the Toyota Camry. There couldn't have been a better Sprint Cup driver for Hamilton to trade with, either. Stewart's average finish of 2.6 in the last five races at the track is the best on the circuit. Two wins, four top-fives and five top-10s in the last five Watkins Glen races make Stewart a top play.

Kyle Busch -
Despite spinning early and then being penalized for entering pit road too early, Busch worked his way forward like a rocket, and was confidently in fourth position during the rain delay. Busch probably could have won the race if he had been able to keep the lead on the final restart, but a charging Jimmie Johnson allowed Brad Keselowski to slip into the lead. Busch ultimately finished second, not a bad result for a spin and a penalty. For next week, Busch has not finished outside of the top-10 at Watkins Glen since 2006. His average finish in those last five tries at the New York track is 5.8. He won the 2008 edition and finished eighth last year. Busch should be one to watch this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Sunday's race allowed Truex to knock on the door a bit. He finished 12th and ran close to the top 10 nearly all afternoon. The team is certainly getting better results, and Truex was very close to bagging his seventh top-10 of the year. Looking ahead to this week, Martin is one of the better Sprint Cup regulars at Watkins Glen International. His average finish in his five total races there is 16.4 and is boosted by a top-five and top-10 finish. He hasn't finished off the lead lap in any of his attempts, and finished 15th in last year's run. A solid 12th-place finish this week could lead to an even better result at a track where Truex has confidence.

Ryan Newman -
Newman didn't have his name called often Sunday, but when the race took a break, he was in the top 10. He swiftly found a setup and line that worked at the Pocono oval, and worked his way further forward through the final race segments. The checkered flag marked his seventh top-five of the year. Sunday's Pocono effort will encourage even more from the Purdue graduate. He is finishing better in 2011 than he has in any of his prior seasons with Newman-HAAS Racing with 10 top-10s and a win so far. Newman only has one top-10 finish in the last five Watkins Glen races, but his average finish is still 16.0. He finished 12th last year, and his worst finish at the track is 26th. He makes an attractive third driver next week.


Mark Martin -
Martin found himself in ninth place during the Pennsylvania rain shower. That was a strong position, but he was unable to hang on when the race restarted. He came home in 13th position after starting 25th. Unfortunately, Sunday's lackluster performance is representative of Martin's blunted sharpness from years past, which doesn't bode well for the remainder of the season. In his last three Watkins Glen races, Martin hasn't scored any top-10s. His average finish in that time is 20.7. His most recent trip to the track last year gave him a finish of 19th. With many road course specialists coming to drive this race, Martin just doesn't have the attractiveness of a third driver this weekend.

David Ragan -
Early contact at Pocono sent Ragan into the wall, damaging the rear of his No. 6 Ford. By the time he returned to the action he was more than 50 laps down with no hope of a good finish. He soldiered on, though, picking up points here and there from other drivers who ran into trouble. The 34th position he is credited with will look much better at the end of the year than a DNF, though. Ragan may be saving his job with his turnaround in results this season, but to get it done on a road course is an entirely different matter. Ragan has an average finish of 27.8 in his four career starts at the Glen, and his best finish was 24th in 2009.

Joey Logano -
Sunday was a beautiful day for Logano, until the very end. He started the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 from pole and ran confidently in the top five through much of the afternoon. He found himself at the point when the skies opened, and it was a deserved position, not one he lucked into. Unfortunately, a cut tire ended the impressive drive and forced him to finish 26th. Logano has two starts at the Glen to his Sprint Cup credit. His best finish was in his rookie try, a mediocre 16th place. He finished last year's race 33rd. He did finish sixth earlier this summer at Infineon Raceway, but fantasy owners would be right to be cautious when expecting a repeat of that effort.

Jeff Burton -
The Richard Childress Racing team was outraced Sunday at Pocono. None of the drivers looked like a potential winner and almost all struggled with handling issues of one form or another. The No. 31 was not immune and was not a factor at the front of the field. Burton has yet to score a single top-10 this season, and next week doesn't offer much hope for a turnaround. Burton's average finish in the last five Watkins Glen races appears low because of two crashes. He recorded two DNFs due to those accidents, but bounced back to finish ninth there last season. When he has finished the race, he comes home in the top 20. The inconsistency of results and a terrible 2011 to date are what knock Burton down on the preference list this week.

Kasey Kahne -
Red Bull endured a tough Sunday afternoon. First Brian Vickers went to the garage after losing an engine. Then it was Kahne's turn on the bad-luck wheel. He picked up a garbage bag on his nose that sent the temperature in the engine soaring, and had to make an unscheduled pit stop to remove the debris, and he was 29th when it started to rain. Once the race restarted he was involved in contact with Juan Montoya, capping off a forgettable race. In the last five Watkins Glen races, Kahne earned an average finish of 19.2. He hasn't been the driver to beat when the series comes to the road courses. His last three races there have all resulted in top-20s, but that isn't good enough for a fantasy play.

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