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NASCAR Barometer: Here Comes Indy

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.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch dominated much of Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kyle paced the field from the pole, but Hamlin spent the most time out front. The race as a whole was fairly straightforward, but a few drivers left with some raised eyebrows over NASCAR's infamous debris cautions.

The long green-flag runs put the race win down to pit strategy, and it was Hendrick Motorsports that won the chess match. Mistakes put Busch behind the leaders, and changes the team made on pit road actually sent him backward. In another JGR pit, Hamlin's team called for four tires on the final stop when the rest of the field went for two. The No. 11 was then forced to chase down the leaders.

In the closing segment it was down to Hendrick to hold off the charging JGR. Busch was out of the picture due to bad chassis adjustments, and Hamlin was also behind after losing track position on the four-tire call. It was Kasey Kahne out front, and it was his race to lose. In the final two laps Hamlin looked to be within striking distance, but was pushing too hard. Kahne took home his second victory of the season.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars get a rare week off before tackling the flat 2.5-mile oval of Indianapolis. The race has quickly become one of the most desired races to win on the calendar. Paul Menard took last year's victory, but it is unlikely that the speedway will produce another surprise winner this time around.


Kasey Kahne -
Track position, gained from calls made on pit road, was what won Kahne Sunday's race. He started from the front row and found himself out front after the final pit stop. With Hamlin's team making the wrong four-tire call the race was Kahne's to lose. He held off a charging No. 11 and put his car into Victory Lane despite not being the fastest through the afternoon. At Indy his recent record isn't terrible either. He is showing this season that he can win just about anywhere, and two top-10 finishes in the last five Brickyard 400s might just do it again. His average finish from the last five Indy races is 17.0, and the ability Hendrick showed on the flat New Hampshire track could translate to success at Indianapolis.

Tony Stewart -
After being caught a lap down deep into the race Sunday, Stewart fought back to finish 12th. The result was hard fought, but not one that the team should be struggling for. Alas, summer rolls on, and so will Stewart. An off week should be enough inspiration for the defending champion to notch another top finish at one of his favorite tracks. Stewart is one of the best in Indianapolis, and it also happens to be his home track. It took him a while to finally get that elusive Brickyard win, but in the last five races his average result is an impressive 7.6. Stewart always brings his A-game to Indy, and this year should be no different.

Mark Martin -
He didn't race at New Hampshire, but the extra week off might prove helpful for Martin. He had two DNFs in his last four races in the No. 55, and Indy will be tough on engines. The long straights and high temperatures could pose some issues, but if the team has made the necessary adjustments it shouldn't be a problem. In fact, the Brickyard 400 might present Martin with one of his best chances to win in this part-time season. His average finish in the last five races at the historic oval is 7.6, with three top-10s and a pole. He is almost always quick at the storied track, and with the extra legs Michael Waltrip Racing has shown this season Martin would be a good dark-horse fantasy play next week.

Carl Edwards -
Edwards has struggled compared to his teammates in 2012. Eighteenth in an anonymous New Hampshire race is not what the No. 99 hoped for heading into the off week. Instead, the team will spend the extra week nursing its wounds and making the required adjustments to its package. It won't be long before a major change will be in the offing, but whether it happens in the next week, Edwards should still be set for a strong run at Indy. The team has worked hard and, more important, not panicked and stands poised for a confidence-building run given Edwards' statistics at the Brickyard. He averaged an 11.2 finish in his last five runs at the speedway and could be a top-10 contender for fantasy owners.

Kevin Harvick -
With the birth of his child out of the way, Harvick is back to being completely focused on driving the racecar. Throughout the season he has held station in the top points positions and doesn't look likely to fall out of the Chase despite not winning a race yet this season. He scored his first top-10 since early June at New Hampshire, and three weeks without a top finish is highly abnormal for the No. 29. He signaled that he is back after his brief dip in finishes, and Indy could be where he really starts making an impact. His average finish in the last five is 12.6, making him a top fantasy option for the Brickyard.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Finishing fourth in New Hampshire gave Hendrick two top-5s and gave Earnhardt his third top-5 in the last five races. Earnhardt said with only a little more speed he could make himself one of the dominant cars on the circuit. Unfortunately, it might be just as difficult for the team to find that edge as it has been to turn him into the contender he is today. Unlike his father, Earnhardt Jr. hasn't figured out what it takes to race well at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His best career finish at the famed oval is sixth, which was just his second top-5 in 12 career Indy starts. That speed the team needs would be valuable in two week's time, but is that enough time to find it?

Kurt Busch -
One top-10 finish in the last five Brickyard 400s makes Busch one of the drivers to avoid this week. He failed to finish on the lead lap in two of the last five races at the oval, just as he failed to finish on the lead lap at New Hampshire. Last Sunday's race should have been one that Busch could have climbed the standings, but instead he finished a lap off the lead in a disappointing effort. Consistency isn't there yet and could be difficult to find for a small team with no sponsors. Fantasy owners should continue to use Busch selectively. Indianapolis isn't such a track.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin spent much of Sunday afternoon's race out front of the field. Final pit stops under caution dropped him into the field when he went for four tires versus most of the field going for two. There wasn't enough distance left for him to track down the leader after that, and he was forced to settle for second. It isn't likely that he'll bounce back after the short break either. Third in the 2008 edition of the Brickyard 400 is Hamlin's best finish at the track. His six career Indy starts produced only an 18.5 average finish. Hamlin has not shown the ability to consistently run up front at the track, and fantasy owners should take pause this week.

Ryan Newman -
Despite being an Indiana native, Newman hasn't excelled at the Brickyard. His average finish in the last five races there is 19.6, and he hasn't finished in the top 10 since 2002. His car owner is consistently a contender at the track, so it is surprising that Newman hasn't moved farther up the average. He finished 10th in Sunday's New Hampshire race in a decent outing for the No. 39. Newman ran hard with the leaders all afternoon, but didn't have the car that could break free and take charge. Sunday's finish was his second top-10 in a row, and just his second since winning in Martinsville in the spring. Newman is turning in decent finishes again, but not enough to buck his past at the Brickyard.

Paul Menard -
While he may have won last year's race at the Brickyard, Menard hasn't suggested that he might have anything for the competition again this year. His last top-10 finish was at Pocono Raceway five races ago, and that was only his fourth of the season. The only Richard Childress Racing car that is really making an impact this season has been Harvick, and that team hasn't even scored a win yet. It would be unreasonable to think that Menard could repeat at the speedway given his 18.5 average running position this year. The No. 27 car has been a mid-pack racer all season so far, and when the teams unload at Indy, it should be expected to be a top-20 finisher, but not much more.

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