Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard
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 aid a driver in carrying 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.
Practice sessions: Saturday, July 28 at 8:30 am ET, 10:30 am ET
Drivers to keep an eye on
Over the last four years Biffle has finished eighth or better at Indianapolis in each race giving him the longest active streak of top-10 finishes at the Brickyard. Since loop data was introduced in 2005 he's held an average running position of 10th or better on four occasions. This season the Biff owns 11 top-10s in the 19 races held thus far and has led the second-most laps of any driver. Given his excellent history at Indy and a strong 2012 season, Biffle may score a date kissing the bricks.
In addition to owning a pair of wins at Indianapolis, Stewart has finished third, fifth and sixth the last three years. Even though Stewart is currently tied with Brad Keselowski for the most wins of the season with three, he's been something of a boom-or-bust driver. Eight of Smoke's nine top-10s have been podium finishes: the three aforementioned wins, a pair of runner-up performances and three third-place results. However, Stewart has also finished outside of the top 20 on six occasions. Indy appears to be a very safe venue for Stewart, but misfortune has found him just as frequently as success this season, so nothing is guaranteed.
A year ago at Indianapolis, Kahne paced the field for a race-high 48 laps after qualifying on the outside pole. Unfortunately, another driver made contact with Kahne late in the race and caused him to finish 18th. In eight career starts, Kahne possess an excellent average starting position of 7.9 and has finished seventh or better four times. Despite a rough start to the season, Kahne has been excellent in qualifying all year and has scored a pair of wins, most likely earning him a spot in the Chase.
With four career victories Gordon leads all drivers in wins at the Brickyard. His last trip to the winners circle came back in 2004 but Gordon has earned three top-fives over the last five years, including a runner-up finish in 2011. Over the last eight races of this season Gordon has finished inside the top 20 each time out with five finishes of seventh or better, which has allowed him to climb seven spots in the standings.
Among all the tracks on the NASCAR schedule, McMurray's average finish of 13.1 at Indianapolis ranks as his best. In nine career starts at the site, McMurray has compiled three top-fives and five top-10s, highlighted by a win from 2010 and a fourth-place result a year ago. While McMurray has been a non-factor for much of the season, he's managed a respectable 10 top-15 finishes in the 19 races held thus far.
Despite excellent results in qualifying and strong runs on race day at IMS, Montoya, who dominated during his 2000 Indy 500 victory, has failed to seal the deal in a stock car. After finishing second as a rookie in 2007, Montoya has gone without a top-10 over the last four years despite leading the most laps in 2009 and 2010. With a pair of DNFs due to crash in that span, JPM is clearly a risk but fully capable of winning on his first oval if he can stay out of his own way.
With a career average running position of 8.9, Martin leads all drivers in getting around Indianapolis despite never winning at the site. Martin, who is returning to action after taking more than a month off, has seven straight finishes of 11th or better at IMS. The only concern with Martin is the three DNFs due to engine failure in his 12 starts this season. Since the other two MWR cars have only experienced one blown engine the issue can be overlooked, at least for now.
Among bottom-tier drivers, Hornish is worth a look over the next two races. Hornish's best Cup track is Pocono Raceway, the site of next week's race, which is also a flat 2.5-mile track like IMS. This week is particularly interesting because Hornish won the 2006 Indy 500. Success in a stock car has not been easy, however. After finishing 21st as a rookie in 2008, Hornish failed to end the day on the lead lap in 2009 and 2010, his last two appearances at Indy.
Temper your expectations
Even though Hamlin is the master of flat tracks, that success has not always translated to Indianapolis. In six career starts he's finished outside of the top 20 on three occasions, while his career average running position at the site only places him 18th among all drivers. Hamlin is coming off a runner-up performance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway but has finished 25th or worse in three of his prior four starts.
While last year's victory at Indianapolis marked Menard's first win in the Cup series, it also marks his last top-five finish. A return to the site may rekindle the fire, but going an entire year without another top-five finish is a big concern. Menard began this season with three top-10s in the first four races but has only one such result since.
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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