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NASCAR Barometer: Kahne Breaks Through

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.

Pocono Raceway's second race of the 2013 season saw Hendrick Motorsports dominate. It wasn't the consensus Hendrick pick that dominated either. The story of the day was right-front tires, and that was what befell Jimmie Johnson on his quest to complete the Pocono sweep.

Johnson was just one of a handful of drivers who suffered tire failures, and while he did well to stay on the lead lap, the damage was done. The remaining Hendrick teammates were left to lead the field through the afternoon, and were running 1-2-3 in the final miles of the distance. A late restart due to debris shuffled that order, but it was Kasey Kahne who came out as the victor.

This week the series unloads at Watkins Glen International for its second road course of the season. Just as we saw at Sonoma Raceway in June, the NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars have seriously stepped up their games when turning right and left. In fact, in the Toyota Save Mart 350 it was Martin Truex Jr. who took the win. Only Marcos Ambrose of the road ringer class cracked the top-10 finishers while Boris Said, traditionally a driver who would run up front when NASCAR came to town, only managed to finish 18th.


Kasey Kahne -
Kahne nearly had Sunday's race stolen by teammate Jeff Gordon, but a late restart gave him the opportunity to drive his car as hard as it could go into turn 1, passing Gordon to take back the lead and win the race. Kahne had the car to beat for much of Sunday's race, so it was likely that if he got any chance he would take it, and he did with some gusto. Kahne's last five Watkins Glen races haven't produced a top-10 finish, but his average result in that time is 17.4, without a finish off the lead lap. This team has been knocking on the door for much of 2013, and it is only right that it collects another win, opening the door for a solid run at this year's championship.

Marcos Ambrose -
Through the last five Watkins Glen races, Ambrose lays claim to the highest average finish of 2.0. Winning two of the last five races and not finishing outside of the top 5 in that span will do that for a driver. He had a respectable outing Sunday in Pennsylvania, avoiding trouble and finishing 12th when the checkered flag flew. Ambrose hasn't been the driver fantasy players would likely turn to for much of the 2013 season, but when a road course arrives, he becomes a confident play. Ambrose is the best driver in the series at this track through the last five races, and fantasy owners would be blind to not consider a start for the Tasmanian this week.

Kyle Busch -
Busch turned in a relatively quiet race last weekend in Pocono. The quietness resulted in a top-10 finish, and sometimes that is enough to build significant momentum when heading to the next week. That momentum can be magnified when the driver in question has a good record at the circuit, and that is the case this week for Busch. A win and three top-5s in the last five Watkins Glen races make Busch a solid option for fantasy owners this week. His average finish in those five tries at the track earned him a 4.6 average finish, and he didn't finish outside the top 10 in any of those tries. Busch is rarely a driver to discount, and this week at Watkins Glen is no different.

Brad Keselowski -
In the last three Watkins Glen starts, Keselowski owns an 8.0 average finish. He notched two top-5s in those starts and didn't fail to finish on the lead lap in any. Last Sunday was somewhat of a return to form for the No. 2 team, who has endured some trouble this season, spending almost the entire race fighting in the top 10. When he finished sixth Sunday it was just his second top-10 result in the last five races. This season has been a struggle compared to 2012, but the No. 2 continues to plug onward, collecting good finishes wherever possible. Another strong result could be in the cards as early as this week, considering his record at the Glen.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Despite leading seven laps in Sunday's 400, Truex only managed to finish 15th. The result wasn't what the team hoped for, but it also wasn't a complete disaster. Things will look a little brighter for the No. 56 team this week, though. Road courses have been kind to Truex, making him a consideration for fantasy roster each week the series visits one. In fact, Truex has been one of the better Cup regulars on the road courses in recent seasons. His victory at Sonoma in June proved that, and he also carries a 12.4 average finish from the last five Watkins Glen races into this weekend's test. While the team hasn't finished at the front as consistently as it would like this season, this week could present an opportunity.


Denny Hamlin -
A mistake while attempting a downshift in turn 3 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday put yet another dent in Hamlin's 2013 effort. After contact with the wall from the incident, Hamlin drove straight to the garage, ending his afternoon for all intents and purposes. When the day was over Hamlin was classified in 43rd position, which extended his slump yet another week. Despite scoring two top-10 finishes at the Glen in his last five attempts, Hamlin's average finish is terrible at 25.0. Granted, the two times he actually finished the race he scored top-10s, however a completion rate of just 40 percent of the last five races is severely disappointing.

Matt Kenseth -
Not much more could have gone wrong for Kenseth last Sunday. The day started terribly with contact in the very first turn, and then ended just as poorly with a spin and more contact. It was not a good day for the championship contender. His last five Watkins Glen efforts only produced one top-10 result and a 12.2 average finish. Kenseth has had a wonderful first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, but what the team lacks is consistency. When performing well, there isn't anyone who can compete, but when things go wrong, they go really wrong. Kenseth is coming off of a terrible week, and it may be wise to see how the team responds before selecting him for a fantasy play this week.

Joey Logano -
One top-5 finish in his four Watkins Glen tries hasn't pushed Logano up the statistics of current drivers at the track. His average finish of 21.0 includes just two lead-lap finishes and doesn't distinguish him from the rest of the field this week. While his seventh-place result at Pocono notched his third top-10 in the last five races, the chances of him repeating the same form aren't strong this week. The team's finishes have been up and down week-to-week, and rarely produce back-to-back top results. Logano's past results at the Glen simply don't foreshadow a top result this week, and fantasy owners should select him only with caution after considering other options.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Three top-10 finishes in the last five races are helping the Earnhardt stock rise for 2013. He was one of the Hendrick cars that put its stamp on Sunday's event, rounding out a team top-3 in the final miles but finishing fifth after the final restart. Earnhardt's road course results simply haven't been as good as other's in the last few seasons. As an illustration, the last five races at Watkins Glen have produced zero top finishes for the No. 88. His average finish in that span is a measly 26.0, with three finishes off the lead lap. It is hard to lose the lead lap on a road course under the current NASCAR rules, but Earnhardt has mastered that art at Watkins Glen.

Danica Patrick -
Patrick admitted after Sunday's wreck at Pocono that a day where she runs in the top 20 is a good day. However, a top-20 effort is not a good day in the world of fantasy racing, and owners will be unwilling to accept that on their rosters. Patrick has never competed in the Sprint Cup at Watkins Glen, and her 29th-place effort at Sonoma Raceway won't generate any confidence in her chances this week. Simply put, her first season of Sprint Cup has been a disaster. Her team certainly has the goods to score victories; both of her teammates have done so already this season. Still, Patrick continues to struggle and meaningful change is necessary before she becomes a viable play.