Fantasy NASCAR preview: LifeLock.com 400
Like so many other tracks on the schedule, Chicagoland Speedway is a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval, but it's a little different from most cookie-cutter tracks. Chicagoland has the least amount of banking of any 1.5-mile track other than Kansas Speedway, its sister track.
The unique element of the track is the curved back stretch. Since Chicagoland lacks a true straightaway, the drivers cannot simply cruise near the wall at any point on the track. It may have its quirks, but reviewing the results from other intermediate tracks is a good temperature check for owners while making their picks.
Location: Joliet, Ill.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Prior to 2008, the older Busch brother had five finishes in either the sixth or eighth position at Chicagoland in a span of seven starts. The last two events at the site haven't worked out so well. Busch finished 28th in 2008 with an average running position of 20th. Last year, he spent a career-high 92.5 percent of laps in the top 15 but finished 17th after late-race contact sent him fading through the field. Busch was ninth at the midway point of the race and held an average running position of 10th. No one has been better than Busch on 1.5-mile tracks this season. He recorded dominating wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in addition to finishing fourth at Texas Motor Speedway. Despite the two recent hiccups at Chicagoland, Busch has been running b and is a very b value.
With as good as Stewart runs in the summer months, it comes as no surprise that Chicagoland has been his best 1.5-mile track. In nine career starts, Stewart has two wins and seven top-fives at the site. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Stewart has never held an average running position worse than 10th. Smoke has led at least one lap on seven occasions and has spent at least 76.0 percent of laps running in the top 15. Stewart's fourth-place finish from last year is even more impressive considering he was running 16th with 27 laps remaining. At times in recent weeks he has been either lucky or good. Stewart has a great chance to be both on Saturday night.
After winning at Chicagoland in 2005, Earnhardt has been pretty good during his return trips to the site, finishing no worse than 19th. In those four races, Earnhardt has held an average running position of 12th or better on three occasions while recording over 88.0 percent of his laps running in the top 15. The recent finishes at Chicagoland are decent but haven't always reflected how well Earnhardt has run, which could cause him to be undervalued. Now sitting 11th in points, expect a maximum effort from Earnhardt and his team to stay firmly in the Chase picture.
For a driver known for his ability to run well on intermediate tracks, it's surprising Kahne has just a 25.0 average finish at Chicagoland in six career starts. Kahne's first two starts at the site ended with DNFs,and it wasn't until last year that he recorded a top-10 finish. In 2009, Kahne finished a career-high third with an average running position of fifth and ran all 267 laps in the top 15. This season, Kahne has been very consistent on 1.5-mile tracks, finishing ninth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, fourth at Atlanta, fifth at Texas and 12th at Charlotte. Bad luck has played a part in Kahne's struggles this season, but he has finished in the top four in three of the last four races and appeared to be on his way to another such finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway if not for a blown motor. Those looking at just Kahne's average finish at Chicagoland will miss out on a possible top-five finisher.
Last year, Reutimann was among the most consistent drivers on 1.5-mile tracks. In 2010, it took the double zero a few races to get it figured out. Reutimann finished 13th at Las Vegas but equipment issues left him with DNFs at Atlanta and Texas. Things were back on track for the 600-mile marathon at Charlotte. Reutimann led three laps and finished fifth with an average running position of fourth, the second best of the race. At Chicagoland, Reutimann is only getting better. From 2008-09, Reutimann's finish improved from 14th to 12th, while his laps in the top 15 increased from 56.6 to 72.3. One thing that really helped was qualifying ninth; time trails were rained out in 2008 and left him starting 29th.
Temper your expectations
From 2005-07, Kenseth held an average running position no worse than fifth at Chicagoland and had two runner-up finishes to show for it. Over the last two years, his performance at the site has started to slide. In 2008, Kenseth finished seventh but was a bit of an overachiever with an average running position of 14th. Last year was a nightmare. Kenseth qualified 33rd and was already a lap down by Lap 105. He would finish 23rd with an average running position of 24th and ran only a single lap in the top 15. Kenseth's last top-10 this season came six races ago at Charlotte, but he has been very mediocre since with just two top-15s.
As bad as Kenseth was last year at Chicagoland, his teammate Biffle was even worse. After qualifying 35th, Biffle held an average running position of 28th to finish in the 31st position. Biffle began the intermediate season with top-10s at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Texas before too many collisions with the wall spoiled a good run at Charlotte, leaving him in 32nd. The Roush organization is now heading into a second year of this slump. Even though they looked to have it figured out earlier in the year, all of their drivers have been going backwards lately.
If not for struggling mightily in recent weeks, Martin would make an otherwise fine selection for this Saturday. Last year at Chicagoland, Martin cruised to victory. He led 195 of 267 laps with an average running position of second. Martin has six top-10s this season, half of which have come on 1.5-mile tracks. However, Martin overachieved in the last two. He finished sixth at Texas with an average running position of 19th and only 23.1 percent of laps in the top 15. At Charlotte, Martin finished fourth with an average running position of 14th. Maybe he'll get lucky once again, but it's more likely your lineup will end up in flames, like Martin's car did last week at Daytona.
With three top-10s in four career starts at Chicagoland, Bowyer is sure to get a lot of attention this week. However, Bowyer has struggled at times this season to bring home the finish he has deserved. His indecision at Daytona last week cost him a possible win and put him on the infield grass. Last year at Chicagoland, Bowyer finished ninth with an average running position of sixth and 99.3 percent of laps running in the top 15. His other top-10s at the site came with average running positions of 19th, 18th and 13th, indicating a small degree of luck was involved. It's not to say Bowyer won't rebound this week, but you just might want to see him finish a race b before putting him back in your lineup.
Since finishing eighth in his first career at Chicagoland back in 2003, McMurray's performance at the site has been in free fall. He finished 13th the following year and has not had a top-20 since. In the last five races at Chicagoland, McMurray's best average running position is 23rd, and he has only cracked the top 15 during one race for 39 laps. McMurray was the runner-up at Charlotte, the most recent race on a 1.5-mile track, but this site remains a mystery to him.
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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