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Fantasy NASCAR: Crashing the party

By Brian Polking

With NASCAR's postseason in full swing, you may be interested to know that more than 80 percent of playoff races have been won by drivers that made the Chase. More importantly, the Chase drivers have dominated the top spots in general. It makes sense. After all, the drivers that make the Chase are the ones that have been the best for most of the year. Plus, the last thing a driver not in the Chase wants to do is make headlines for ending the title hopes of somebody else. Either way, history favors the Chasers come playoff time.

Joey Logano

The trend has continued in 2012 with Chasers winning the first two playoff races. Not to mention that seven of the top-10 finishers in each of the first two Chase races have been championship contenders. In fact, Chasers took the top seven spots last weekend at New Hampshire. Unfortunately, most fantasy owners already know that when the playoffs roll around that the Chasers tend to dominate. If you are one of the many owners that aren't leading your league and can't afford to play it safe, you need a few non-Chasers on your roster that are still going to deliver in the final weeks.

Kyle Busch is the obvious candidate. He opened the Chase with a fourth-place run at Chicagoland and was on his way to another top-five at New Hampshire when he had an engine issue derail him. However, it isn't exactly breaking news that Busch is capable of running up front. He can carry a fantasy team when he is hot, and he can devastate a team when he goes into a slump. Whether it is the regular season or the playoffs, owners can never be sure what they are going to get from Busch. Yes, gambling on a hot streak from Busch is probably the best option for owners buried in the standings with nothing to lose, but those within striking distance of the top spot in their league will want to go with drivers that can be a bit more predictable.

Based on the first two races of the Chase, two potential options are Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. Newman opened the playoffs with a fifth-place run at Chicagoland and followed it up with a 10th-place run at New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Logano followed up a seventh-place run in the opener with an eighth-place finish last weekend. Looking ahead to Dover this Sunday, both drivers could continue their streak of top-10 finishes. Newman is a three-time winner at the track, and he has finished in the top 15 in seven of his last nine starts. Logano has three top-10s in his last five starts at Dover, including an eighth-place run earlier this year.

More importantly, there is a good chance that both drivers could continue to have success beyond this weekend's trip to Dover. For one, both drivers no longer have to focus solely on winning races to try to sneak into the Chase via the wild card. Meanwhile, Newman recently signed a one-year extension to stay with Stewart-Haas Racing and is going to be looking to build momentum for 2013. Logano, on the other hand, is going to be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after the year, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Logano could end up thriving now that he knows he is going to get a fresh start and will no longer have to live up to the high expectations that came with replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 20 car. In fact, Logano has already shown in the past that he can have success in the final 10 races. In 2010, he finished 11th or better in seven of the 10 Chase events, finishing seventh or better six times during the stretch.

Gaining ground in fantasy leagues during the Chase is tough because such a small group of drivers tend to separate themselves. However, there are always a couple of non-Chasers each season that finish the year on a high note. Logano and Newman are looking like two drivers that plan on doing just that, and they are more than capable of adding a few more top-10 finishes before the 2012 season comes to a close. They could end up being a secret weapon for any fantasy owner trying to make a late push for their league title.


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