Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Brickyard 400 presented by BigMachineRecords.com
Since 1909, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the torchbearer for motorsports. Everything about the layout of the track is a challenge, no matter what type of race car is used. IMS features long straightaways that allow the driver to run wide open coming off Turns 2 and 4. The lack of banking makes turning and rolling through the corners very difficult. A successful combination of lifting off the gas and braking will allow the driver to carry that momentum through the short chutes on each end of the track and maintain speed. Executing this skill lap after lap makes passing a very difficult task so a good starting position makes for a much easier day.
Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practice sessions prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.
Location: Speedway, Ind.
Drivers to keep an eye on
In addition to winning at the Brickyard from the pole in 2003, Harvick finished as the runner-up last year to give him eight finishes of 11 or better in 10 career starts. In the last two races this season, Happy has finished 16th and 21st but posted average running positions that exceeded those results, a sign he was something of an underachiever. Don't call it a slump, Harvick is still running well and among the top selections at Indy.
With four career wins, Gordon leads all drivers with victories at Indy. Although his last win came in 2004, he has accumulated a pair of top-fives and two more top-10s in the six starts since. In that span, Gordon has posted an average running position of 14th or better on five occasions. Twelve races into the season, Gordon sat a disappointing 16th in points but has climbed to seventh thanks to seven consecutive finishes of 17th or better, including a win at Pocono Raceway, a only other flat 2.5-mile track on the schedule.
With an average finish of 8.2 in a dozen career Indy starts, Stewart leads all drivers in that statistic. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, his average running position of ninth ranks second. Smoke has claimed a pair of checkered flags in that time and enters with two consecutive top-fives at the Brickyard. While Stewart has yet to pick up a win this season, he's coming off a runner-up performance New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
A season of substandard finishes has resulted in a new crew chief for the No. 16 team starting last week at Loudon. Indy offers a great opportunity to get the season turned around. Over the last four years at the Brickyard, The Biff has seen his finish improve from 15th to eighth to fourth, culminating in a career-best third last year while leading 38 laps and spending all 160 laps inside the top 15. His average running position also stepped up in each of those races which indicates the upward trending is very much legitimate.
In four career starts at IMS, Montoya has held an average running position of sixth or better three times. On two occasions, he spent every lap inside the top 15. However, Montoya has only posted one finish better than 11th. JPM would likely own two straight IMS wins if not for a pit road speeding penalty in 2009, after leading a race-high 116 laps, and a questionable call for four tires last year. Restarting midpack, Montoya wrecked getting too aggressive charging to the front after once again leading the most laps of the day. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner has qualified on the first row three times at the site in a Cup car and will have a new crew chief effective this week in hopes of reigniting his season.
It didn't take Logano anytime at all to find success at the Brickyard. In 2009, he finished 12th with an average running position of 19th. Last year, he rallied from a 34th-place starting position to finish ninth. Over the last four starts this year, Logano has sixth or better three times. After a dreadful start to the season, Sliced Bread is finally looking like a fresh fantasy selection.
In six starts since 2005, Martin has yet to finish worse than 11th at the Brickyard and owns a series-best average running position of 8.6. Over the last three years, he's qualified no worse than third. The caveat is Martin's performance this season. Over the last eight starts, he owns a single top-10 and has finished 22nd or worse in three straight. If Martin performs well in the Friday practice sessions, he's someone to risk getting into your lineup.
Another one of the struggling drivers with a new crew chief, Burton is still in search for his first top-10 finish of the season. Indy could be the answer as he's held an average running position of 10th or better in four of the last five starts with three finishes of at least ninth. Yes, Burton has been a hazard all year long but is another driver to closely monitor during practice.
Temper your expectations
Coming off a win at Loudon, in addition to four top-10 finishes in the last six starts, Newman enters Indy with some momentum. However, his history at the site is fairly lackluster. In 10 career starts at the Brickyard, Newman owns a single finish better than 11th. With four finishes ranging from 13th to 17th in the last five years, Newman has a very low ceiling this week.
Since 2005, Earnhardt owns just one top-10 finish at Indy with three DNFs. In addition to his weak resume at this week's track, Earnhardt has not finished better than 15th in five straight races despite collecting a dozen such results in the previous 13 starts. Through the first 15 races, Earnhardt did not record an average running position worse than 19th but has now done so in three of his last four. Sorry, Jr. Nation but the sky appears to be falling unless things turn around very quickly.
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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