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Getting to Victory Lane
1. The secret might finally be out: David Reutimann is really good on 1.5-mile tracks. In the 10 races held on intermediates of that length last year, Reutimann had four Top 10s and only one finish worse than 16th. In 2010, equipment failures at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway masked his consistency on such sites this year. That was until he finished fifth at Charlotte Motor Speedway with an Average Running Position of fourth. On Saturday, Reutimann again held an ARP of fourth in addition to leading 52 laps. Over the last 11 races, Reutimann has finished no worse than 20th with three Top Fives and nine Top 15s. Currently 15th in points, Reutimann is pressing hard to make the Chase cutoff. Over the final 12 races of the season, five of them are held on 1.5-mile tracks. But since only one such event is held prior to the start of the Chase, Reutimann may fall just a bit short.
2. Carl Edwards put together easily his best run of the season on Saturday night. Edwards' runner-up finish, ARP of sixth and 100.0 percent of laps in the Top 15 were all season highs. Edwards has now finished sixth or better in two straight races, giving him eight Top 10s on the season. Edwards has credited his turnaround to parts and suggestions he has received from Kasey Kahne and his team, who are also in the process of turning their season around. The races prior to the start of the Chase are setup very well for Edwards. He finished 12th at both Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway, sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway and fifth at Richmond International Raceway. Just when it looked like Edwards was fading, he could be on the upswing.
3. Jeff Gordon was one of only four drivers to record all 267 laps running in the Top 15. Gordon has now finished in the Top Five in five straight races, all with ARPs of ninth or better. On the season, Gordon's ARP of 8.350 is the best among all drivers. Gordon leads the series with 10 Top Fives, but has been very vocal about needing to press for wins to improve his seeding in the Chase. He heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with four wins, the most among all drivers, and 13 Top 10s in 16 career starts.
From the spotter's tower
Points leader Kevin Harvick finished 34th with an ARP of 28th and failed to record a lap in the Top 15 for the first time all season. Harvick's car looked off from the start and was eventually taken behind the wall to have the fuel pump replaced. Teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton finished fourth and seventh, respectively. Like any other team, RCR has seen the occasional equipment problem, but nothing that has repeated itself. Don't shy away from Harvick, who came into Chicagoland with four Top Fives in five races. He should be just fine going forward.
Both of Kurt Busch's wins this season came on 1.5-mile tracks in addition to another Top Five at Texas. Busch finished 26th and fought a wicked-loose car all night. After the race, Busch said the team was unable to figure out the exact cause but noted they made numerous adjustments, including replacing the front shocks around the midway point. The Blue Deuce was in position for the free pass but never caught the needed caution that would have given him a shot at a much better finish. The remaining schedule prior to the Chase looks good for Busch to put this one behind him. He finished sixth at Pocono, third at Michigan and Bristol, and dominated in his victory at Atlanta. When it comes to 1.5-mile tracks, Busch is among the best and learning from this failure could eventually make the team even better.
Kasey Kahne finished sixth with an ARP of 10th. He's now finished sixth or better in four of the last five starts. Currently 17th in points, Kahne may not be able to make the Chase unless he continues to run strong on a weekly basis. Even if he misses out, the large number of 1.5-mile tracks in the late season schedule will make Kahne a top-notch Fantasy start.
Despite leading the most amount of laps, Jimmie Johnson finished two laps down in 25th after spinning out and later hitting the wall. Prior to missing pit road, Johnson was running second at the midway point of the race and really let this one slip away. Johnson has won three of the last four races at Indianapolis and the new father will be highly motivated to take the series lead in wins.
The starting grid
Even though he has yet to win at Chicagoland, Johnson was scored as the highest in ownership among A-List drivers in the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game at 34.30 percent. The bonus for leading the most laps helps soften the blow and allowed Johnson to finish sixth in performance. The top bargain in this tier was Carl Edwards, who was ninth in ownership (6.23) and finished tops in performance.
Many owners took a big hit in the B-List. Harvick (58.46) was by far the most-owned driver in the entire game but finished at the bottom in performance among his tier. Many owners were not privy to Reutimann's past success on 1.5-mile tracks. He was only 11th in ownership (13.72), but his victory propelled him to finish second in performance. Aided by the bonus points from winning the pole, Jamie McMurray (21.14) finished in fifth-place but was the game's top scorer this week.
The C-Lister you want on intermediate tracks going forward is Paul Menard. He finished 10th at Chicagoland and was second in ownership (42.21). All three of Menard's Top 10s this season have come on 1.5-mile tracks.
Denny Hamlin finished eighth with an ARP of 13th. After winning two straight races at Pocono and Michigan, Hamlin's best finish in three races was 14th prior to Chicagoland. Once the schedule begins to feature more flat tracks, expect Hamlin to rediscover his winning ways.
David Ragan finished 12th with an ARP of 17th and just 49.1 percent of his laps came running in the Top 15. It was Ragan's best result since finishing 14th seven races ago at Darlington Raceway. Hopefully, the new Ford FR9 engine can get Ragan out of his year-and-a-half-long funk.
Matt Kenseth finished 13th with an ARP of 21st and only 28.1 percent of laps running in the Top 15, the worst of anyone who finished in the Top 15. He's gone six straight races without a Top 10 and is now extremely overvalued in the Yahoo! game where he's second in ownership on a weekly basis.
As the only driver to finish outside of the Top 10 with an ARP of 10th or better, Martin Truex, Jr. finished 11th with an ARP of seventh. Truex was running in the Top Five during much of the first half of the race but developed an issue getting the car to turn and began to fall. He's been very inconsistent this season and remains a risky start despite showing flashes from time to time.
Greg Biffle finished 35th with an ARP of 14th. Biffle started fourth, but slowly slid out of the Top 10 during the first half of the race. His poor finish came as a result of losing his engine, marking the second failure of the FR9 engine in three races. At the moment, it appears the issues have been a result of the teams experimenting by pressing the engine to the limit, but another failure will certainly raise a lot more eyebrows.
Around the corner
The drivers will get a well-deserved week off before heading to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400.
*All stats up-to-date as of 7/12.
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