With the Chase set to begin next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, there are 11 drivers that are about to get to his the reset button on their season and start fresh. Granted, the point leader is never going to be thrilled, but for every other title contender, having their deficit to the leader erased has to be a wonderful feeling. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, there aren't many leagues out there that incorporate the Chase rules, and the only way to reel in the leader to win a championship is to close the gap a little each week. Of course, that is much easier said than done.
Gaining ground in your fantasy league not only requires you to pick drivers that are running well, but it also requires you to pick drivers that the frontrunners in your league aren't using. For example, picking Jimmie Johnson week after week probably isn't going to gain you a lot of ground since just about every owner is going to be using the five-time champ during the playoffs. Instead, you need to find a few unconventional drivers that are putting up solid numbers under the radar, and one driver that has been doing just that lately is Paul Menard.
Menard has been criticized throughout his career for only getting his ride because his family provides the sponsorship dollars. While that may be true to a degree, he has taken advantage of the situation to become a better driver. Menard has been steadily improving over the past two and a half seasons, and he is currently enjoying the best year of his career. More importantly, he is in the middle of the longest stretch of sustained success at the Cup level, and he is just the type of driver fantasy owners looking to creep up the standings in the final months need.
It started with a 12th-place finish at Pocono in June, and Menard really hasn't slowed down since. He has finished 17th or better in nine straight starts, cracking the top 15 in eight of those starts. During the stretch, his 11.9 average finish is the sixth best in the series, ranking ahead of names like Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Granted, he doesn't have a single top-five finish during the streak, but there is something to be said about his consistency. In fact, his steady results are even more useful for those owners trying to make a late season surge. It does no good to grab a top-five finish one week and a DNF the next. Menard's rock solid result the last nine races are just what the doctor ordered for any owner with a lot of ground to make up.
More importantly, Menard has been even better during the past five races. He has finished in the top 12 in all five starts, and he has cracked the top 10 in his last three races. Menard has a 10.0 average finish during the span, tying him for the fourth-best average finish in the series. He is also one of just five drivers to have completed every single lap during the five races. If that's not reliability, I don't know what is.
While the top-five finishes may never come, the top-10s and top-15s should continue to pile up. There are several reasons that he has improved his average finish from 26.9 in 2009 to a career-best 14.7 in 2012, and not all of them involve the money that his family is shelling out. Menard has improved as a driver, and he is behind the wheel of the best equipment of his career at Richard Childress Racing. He has easily been one of the 10-most consistent drivers in the series for more than two months now, and he only seems to be getting better. Any fantasy owner trying to work their way up the standings in their league would be crazy not to take a chance on Menard in the coming weeks.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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