Fantasy NASCAR preview: Sylvania 300
The Chase for the Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway which is bigger version of Martinsville Speedway. Both tracks share a paper clip shape and shallow banking. With the limited banking, teams will often play with the springs to get the car to turn properly. Like Martinsville, passing is difficult, and the way to pass is to get inside someone on the straightaway and out brake them at the turn. Lapped cars become a factor late in the race, as well, so track position is extremely important. A good starting position is also important; history has shown the winner has started from inside the top-15 far more often than not. Using tire strategy to gain track position is an option, as New Hampshire was recently resurfaced and the track isn't too rough on tires.
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Drivers to keep an eye on
The man they call The Franchise has improved his finish at Loudon in five straight events. The latest result was a fourth-place run in June's Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Over the last four races this season, Reutimann owns an average finish of 12.5. He ran well in the eight Chase tracks that held their first event earlier this season with an average finish of 12.75. Reutimann has also been successful here in the 2007 and 2008 Nationwide races with an average finish of 7.5. He may be out of the Chase, but he's only getting better at Loudon and a great option this weekend.
In 20 career attempts at Loudon, Earnhardt has compiled several solid qualifying runs and finishes. In June, he started 20th based on points and went on to finish 13th. Last year, Earnhardt started fifth and finished 24th in the June race despite leading 29 laps. In last year's Sylvania 300, Earnhardt qualified fourth and finished fifth. Earnhardt led laps in both events in 2007 and '08 with an average finish of 12.3. Over the last seven years (13 races), Earnhardt has seven top-10 finishes at Loudon and started sixth or better eight times.
Despite not finishing in the top-10 since June, Burton is a driver worth considering at New Hampshire. In the June race, Burton finished 31st - his worst finish at Loudon since suffering engine problems in 2003. In the 10 races in between, from 2004 through 2008, Burton compiled an average finish of 10.5 at Loudon. Over the last four races this season, Burton has finished 18th in three of them, but perhaps the four-time New Hampshire winner can recapture a little Loudon magic this weekend.
The winner of last year's Sylvania 300 has scored the fifth most points over the last six races. Biffle finished 18th in the June race at Loudon. He has a record of September surges: He owns an average finish of 4.5 in the last four September races at New Hampshire.
No one seems to enjoy New Hampshire weather more than Busch, who won the 2008 June race at Loudon by staying out and catching the rain for the win. Earlier in the season, he finished third in June which was also called early due to precipitation. The rest of Busch's New Hampshire resume is boom or bust. From 2005-07 his best finish at Loudon was 19th but he finished sixth in last year's Sylvania 300 and swept the 2004 races. Busch is certainly worth the risk as he is coming off a runner-up performance at Richmond International Raceway, another flat track.
Temper your expectations
There are many mediocre options this weekend at Loudon and Edwards is certainly among them as a driver literally limping in the Chase. Edwards is driving on a broken foot and his ride has looked like a lame duck since late June, when he finished 19th at New Hampshire. In the nine races since, Edwards owns an average finish of 14.0. Edwards has an average finish of 12.5 in the 2007 New Hampshire races and 13.5 over his career. He did put together his best Loudon result in last year's Sylvania 300, finishing third, but he lacks the type of momentum he had a year ago.
Over his last six races, Kahne has one win for a rather misleading average finish of 12.3. Kahne started 13th and finished 10th in June's race, almost identical to last year's Sylvania 300 in which he started 13th and finished 11th. In 11 career starts at Loudon, Kahne owns an average finish of 16.0. Also, the RPM organization is working on its merger with Yates Racing for next season a manufacturer switch. Plus, Dodge has been cutting back support to their NASCAR program. Any lack of resources could cost Kahne dearly in the Chase.
After starting the season off with two consecutive wins, Kenseth recorded only seven more top-10 finishes. Kenseth ran uninspiring races in subpar equipment during much of his season-long slide all the way out of the Chase. Once a major threat at Loudon, Kenseth finished 22nd in June race and was forgettable in 2008 with an accident and an 18th-place result. From 2002-07, he ran a streak of 11 consecutive top-10 finishes at New Hampshire but we haven't seen that Kenseth this season.
Right now it seems unwise to make any prediction that goes against Vickers, who has an average finish of 7.3 over the last six races. However, Vickers has an average finish of 21.0 in 11 career starts at Loudon. He finished 35th in the June race following an accident. Vickers also finished 35th, down 13 laps, in last year's Sylvania 300. Keep in mind that Vickers just raced his way into the Chase at Richmond International Raceway which is another short, flat track he has limited success at. Momentum is a great way to break a slump but still quite a gamble for your fantasy lineup.
Mission accomplished. Montoya is the first non-American driver to make the Chase. Montoya set a new personal best, something he did a lot of this season, at Loudon with a 12th-place effort in June. However, over the last four races this season, Montoya has only one finish of 19th or better. Will Montoya remain content with top-10s or attempt to be the dark horse for the title? The concern is no longer Montoya's ability; it is how he'll perform now that the heat is on.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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