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Fantasy NASCAR rankings: GEICO 400
While a strong qualifying run has become a precursor to success at many tracks these days, Chicagoland Speedway has remained one of the few exceptions. In 11 Cup races at the track, only four drivers have won after starting inside the top 10. Not to mention that just one race has been won by a driver that qualified in the top five. Meanwhile, three drivers have won after starting 25th or worse, including Tony Stewart just last season. History says that any driver with a fast car on race day can get to Victory Lane at Chicagoland, even if they start deep in the field.
Those numbers are good news for a number of big names, including Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Both drivers qualified outside the top 25 for Sunday's race, but fantasy owners shouldn't panic. For one, the two have combined for five wins in the 11 Cup races Chicagoland has hosted. More importantly, both qualified outside the top 25 in last year's event and went on to deliver a 1-2 finish on race day.
Of course, starting up front doesn't hurt a driver's chance of winning either, and Jimmie Johnson will lead the field to the green Sunday as he searches for his first win at Chicagoland. The fact that he is winless has been more a product of bad luck than bad cars, and Johnson actually has the top driver rating at the track. Matt Kenseth is another driver that is winless at Chicagoland that has had plenty of strong cars. He owns the third best driver rating at the track.
Other big names starting in the top 10 that deserve consideration from fantasy owners are Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne and Hamlin are as hot as any drivers entering the Chase, and while Hamlin went to Victory Lane the last time the series visited a 1.5-mile track, Kahne has seven wins at 1.5-mile tracks for his career. Meanwhile, Junior is a former winner at Chicagoland and finished third at the track last season.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper pick this weekend may want to consider Aric Almirola. He has never made a start at Chicagoland in the Cup Series, but he is off to a strong start. After putting down solid speeds in practice Friday, he backed up his times by qualifying second. Granted, Almirola is likely to slip a bit as the race progresses, but it appears he has a fast car and a decent feel for the track despite his inexperience. He could be a sneaky source for a top-15 finish Sunday.
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