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NASCAR Barometer: Back to Back

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.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship continued Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Ryan Newman qualifying on pole and Kasey Kahne alongside.

The first half of the race saw very few cautions. Drivers were well behaved for the opening miles while Newman, Kahne, Mark Martin and a handful of others took turns leading the pack.

After the relative calmness of the first 150 laps, fuel strategy became the headline in the second half of the distance. Teams started asking drivers to ease their throttle with about 75 laps remaining, and everyone tried to pack as much fuel into the car as possible. Newman, Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were just a few of the Chase contenders who wondered if they would be able to finish before they lost fuel pressure.

Tony Stewart stretched his fuel load far enough to make it home. Clint Bowyer had the lead with just two laps to go before he ran out of gas on the front straight, along with Denny Hamlin who ran out of gas a lap prior. It was Stewart's second consecutive win, and the effort sets him up nicely for a strong run to winning another championship.

This week, the Chase heads to the "Monster Mile," Dover International Raceway, where the concrete track typically serves up single-file racing with plenty of speed and hard consequences for driver errors. Winning at Dover requires track position. Matt Kenseth turned a two-tire stop into a victory over Mark Martin by allowing him to start closer to the runner-up finisher. Jimmie Johnson opted for a four-tire stop in that same period, and wound up ninth as a result. Teams will work to out-guess one another, gambling to stay at the front of the line.


Tony Stewart -
Stewart is only the second driver to start a Chase with back-to-back wins. The victory earns him a seven-point lead in the championship and is the best possible start to his championship charge. The consecutive victories are Stewart's only two wins of the season, showing that the team is reaching its peak at the perfect moment. He has a top-5 and three top-10s in the last five Dover races, but momentum is king in this series and his last two victories signal that he should be considered a contender this week as well. Fantasy owners should certainly give Stewart consideration for a starting position this week. He seems to be primed for another top-10 finish.

Jimmie Johnson -
Hard racing with Kyle Busch in the closing laps caused Johnson to rub hard against the No. 18 car, and raised temperatures under the driver helmets as well. Johnson came away with a damaged fender and a questionable right front tire. Those issues forced him deeper in the finishing order (19th) than he otherwise may have deserved from the day's effort. Fans shouldn't be surprised that Johnson is one of the hottest commodities at Dover International Raceway. The No. 48 team owns three winner's trophies from the last five races at the concrete oval and the best average finish in that time of the current drivers at 5.6. Johnson might be the best option for fantasy owners this week.

Kurt Busch -
A scare with the No. 22 car failing pre-race inspection threw a bit of adversity at the team prior to Sunday's Sylvania 300. The day didn't get much easier for the No. 22 car, either, as Busch struggled with the handling, and the team failed to find a way to significantly improve the car. Busch lapped well behind the leader's pace for most of the afternoon and struggled home to finish 22nd, losing some serious ground in his championship effort. Busch's recent results at Dover are admirable; three top-5s and 103 laps led. Look for Busch to get back on the horse this week, though, as the series heads to one of his better tracks.

Matt Kenseth -
Contact with teammate Carl Edwards after the halfway mark of Sunday's race knocked Kenseth out of 15th position and put him behind with 125 laps remaining. He and the team worked hard to come back in the running order by the finish, claiming sixth position and dodging a bullet to their championship hopes. Kenseth is one of three drivers to claim a Dover win in the last five races. He won there in May, taking advantage of track position to make a pass for the victory. His average finish in that time (5.8) is second only to Jimmie Johnson. The No. 17 started the 2011 Chase with disappointment after a strong day at Chicago ended with a poor finish on fuel mileage, but Kenseth is back on the horse and looking for more at Dover this week.

Mark Martin -
Sunday's Sylvania 300 was a good race for Martin, who desperately hoped to extend his consecutive top-10 finishing streak to three. He led laps early in the race, but faded in the final third, ultimately suffering a flat tire with just 25 laps remaining in the race. He was classified in 25th position when the checkered flag waved, but the team can take some pride in the raciness they showed early in the running. Martin could play a spoiler for the Chase entrants this week at Dover. His average finish through the last five races at the track is 8.2 with two top-5s and three top-10s. This season hasn't been one of Martin's best, but he could close it on a high this week.


Brad Keselowski -
Once again Keselowski demonstrated that he could be a champion in the making. He was running in the top 5 with less than 70 laps remaining in the Sylvania 300, after having been there most of the afternoon. He took advantage of Bowyer's fuel troubles and cruised to his eighth top-5 of the season in second position. In his three career Dover starts, Keselowski has a best finish of 13th. He finished off of the lead lap twice, and just hasn't gotten the job done yet. He'll be more careful now that he is in the Chase, but that caution may not work him as far forward in the finishing order as fantasy owners should be looking for this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
A flat tire with less than 100 laps to go dented Earnhardt's hopes of a top Dover finish Sunday afternoon, but he kept the car relatively damage free. The 17th-place finish the team is credited with is not representative of its pace. A second flat tire on the final lap caused the car to finish even lower than it already would have given the earlier issue. Dover has consistently been one of Earnhardt's more challenging tracks. His average finish in the last five races is 19.4, and he hasn't scored any top-10s in that time, either. He made a great start to the Chase in Chicago, but stumbled in New Hampshire. Dover could be another roadblock to navigate.

Joey Logano -
Like much of the last five races, Logano spent Sunday afternoon's Sylvania 300 mired in the middle of the pack, unable to make an impact further up the running order. He finished the day in 14th position, but that was boosted by late-race problems other drivers experienced. It was just another bland day for the young driver. With a top-5 and two top-10 finishes in the last five Dover races one would think Logano would rank higher in the average finish list. Instead, Logano's five-race average finish is 19.4 and includes one DNF and only three lead-lap finishes. Logano is hot and cold at Dover, and that is not a good thing for fantasy owners this week.

Jamie McMurray -
One lap down and in 23rd position was where McMurray finished Sunday. It was another disappointing run for the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team, making it four races since his last top-10 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. This week's AAA 400 doesn't appear to offer much promise to the No. 1 team either. With only two lead-lap finishes at Dover, McMurray might have one of the most disappointing records at the track in the last five events. His average finish in that span is 21.4, and he can't claim any top-10 results, either. McMurray has not performed at Dover in the last two seasons, and this isn't the week for fantasy owners to expect something different.

Jeff Burton -
Sunday marked six races since Burton scored his lone top-10 finish of the 2011 season. Things Sunday were lackluster for the No 31 team, which is the flavor of the year for it so far. These last eight races probably can't pass quickly enough to satisfy Burton's desire for a fresh start. This week might look good, though current evidence suggests otherwise. Burton's recent results at Dover have been very stout. He took home two top-5 finishes from his last five races there, and has an average finish of 9.4. The problem is that this has been a year of disappointment for the team. With just the one top-10 finish through 28 races, recent track statistics don't ensure a confident performance.

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