Fantasy NASCAR Picks – Chicagoland: Lifelock.com 400
After the mayhem that was Daytona, the Cup series almost gets a break this weekend – going back to a nice, safe intermediate track Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway.
Now, before you hear the words “intermediate track” and instantly think “boring racing”, remember that the 1.5 mile oval is very similar to Las Vegas – and nobody thinks the action there is bad. Actually, Chicago is a little more interesting that Vegas; there is less banking in the turns, but more on the front-stretch, so the speeds are just as fast. At the same time, the corners are wide enough that there are a couple of different lines to choose from to find more grip – meaning the drivers have more control over the action as well as more side-by-side racing.
But you didn’t come here to find out why Chicagoland is fun, you came for picks – and the good news is that there are several stand-out drivers in the Windy City that make picking your Fantasy NASCAR squad a little easier. Here are my best-bet picks for Chicagoland Speedway:
Five-race averages are in parenthesis, with Average Running Position (ARP), Average Finish (AVG) and Driver Rating (RAT)
1. Kevin Harvick (ARP: 7.9 AVG: 9.8 RAT: 106.8): Harvick is not only leading the points right now, he seems pretty much unstoppable, and fortunately for fans of the No.29 car, Chicagoland is one of his better tracks. Harvick won the first two races in Joliet back in 2001 and 2002, and has continued to run strong at the mile and a half oval – Kevin has top-10 finishes in six of the nine races here (five of those were in the top-5), and his 707 championship points scored here over the past five races is tied for second best in the Cup series, behind Tony Stewart. Harvick’s win last week at Daytona was his third top-5 in a row, and there is no reason to think he won’t keep that streak going Saturday night.
2. Tony Stewart (ARP: 7.4 AVG: 9.4 RAT: 112.1): Stewart is good at any type of ‘driver’s track’, and Chicagoland is no exception. In nine career races at the 1.5 mile oval, Smoke has scored a staggering seven top-5 finishes, including two wins. Tony’s 747 championship points here over the past five races are tops in NASCAR’s Cup series, and his driver rating is second to Jimmie Johnson’s. After a slow start, Stewart has definitely hit his stride over the past five races, and his mid-season hot streak should continue this weekend. Start him if you can.
3. Jimmie Johnson (ARP: 7.3 AVG: 11.2 RAT: 112.8): Surprisingly, Johnson has never won at Chicago, but he has been exceptionally consistent here. In eight career races, the No.48 car has only finished lower than eighth one time, and that was due to an accident back in 2007 – if you throw that race out, Jimmie’s average finish is 4.0. Over the past five races, Johnson has spent 88.9% of his laps here in the top-15 and has led 176 laps (first and second among NASCAR drivers, respectively). Jimmie (like everyone) got caught up in a wreck last week, breaking his streak of four straight finishes of sixth or better. The No.48 team is definitely on top of their game – don’t be afraid to start them.
Safe Picks for a Solid Chicagoland Finish
1. Jeff Gordon (ARP: 11.2 AVG: 11.2 RAT: 96.3): This week provides another solid opportunity for Gordon to get that elusive first win of the season. In addition to one victory at the 1.5 mile oval, Gordon has top-10 finishes in six of his nine races here – five of those in the top-5. Gordon survived the mayhem at Daytona to collect his fourth-straight top-5 finish, and is racing as well as he has all season. True, Jeff has yet to find Victory Lane this year, but as long as he keeps racing the way he has recently, he provides plenty of Fantasy NASCAR value.
2. Kyle Busch (ARP: 10.2 AVG: 12.8 RAT: 104.6): Like he is at most tracks, Kyle is a bit of a feast-or-famine driver at Chicago. His five-race averages look great – ARP of 10.2, a healthy driver rating of 104.6 and his 167 laps led are third among NASCAR drivers. He’s only finished in the top-10 at Chicago twice in has career, though. Of course, those finishes were a third place finish in 2006 and a win in 2008. His other finishes weren’t bad – outside of his 33rd place finish last season (due to a blown engine), everything else has been in the top-15 – but it is enough to keep him out of the ‘favorites’ category this weekend. Don’t be afraid to use The Shrub, just realize that the risk is a touch higher (but the reward could be, too).
3. Matt Kenseth (ARP: 9.9 AVG: 11.2 RAT: 107.8): Kenseth – just like all of his Ford teammates – has struggled this season, but you can’t argue with his stats here, and Chicagoland could be the track where we start to see a turnaround from the Blue Oval contingent. Matt has finished seventh or better in three of his last five races at the 1.5 mile oval, and has led more laps over the past five races (296) than any other driver. Kenseth has looked fast recently, but just hasn’t been able to put it all together – this could be the weekend that he does.
One of the toughest things to do when picking a Fantasy NASCAR team is filling those last few slots – either “C List” drivers in category leagues, or low-budget drivers in salary leagues. Here are a few drivers that could present a good value for your team this weekend:
1. Marcos Ambrose (ARP: 19.8 AVG: 11.0 RAT: 80.5): We only have one race to go by when looking at Ambrose’s performance at Chicago, but that race did produce an 11th place finish – so the outlook is promising. We all know about his road-course disaster at Sonoma, but surrounding that race, Marcos finished 13th at New Hampshire and a 15th at Michigan. With a track that is almost mid-way between those two coming up this weekend, Ambrose is worth a shot.
2. A.J. Allmendinger (ARP: 16.8 AVG: 13.0 RAT: 79.5): Allmendinger has raced twice at Chicagoland, and twice he has come up 13th. Not bad at all. In addition, the Dinger has been one of the strongest drivers in the Ford stable this season, and is racing with a ton of confidence. As long as he can recover from his wreck and ensuing blow-up in the garage last week at Daytona, he makes a fine bargain pick.
3. Reed Sorenson (ARP: 20.1 AVG: 18.5 RAT: 77.2): Sorenson gets the nod here not so much from his previous performance (although he did finish seventh here back in 2006), but more because of the car he is driving – Brian Vickers was great the past two seasons at Chicago in the No.83 car, with finishes of sixth and seventh. Reed finished eighth last week in Daytona making his debut in the Red Bull car, and should bring some decent momentum into the weekend. For owners short on starts with other ‘C’ List drivers, Sorenson makes an attractive option.
There are several drivers with great stats and lofty ratings at Chicagoland, so that should offer some flexibility this weekend with your Fantasy NASCAR roster. As long as you don’t stray too far from the top-picks, you should be able to maximize the number of points your Fantasy NASCAR roster scores.