Let the Chase begin! The NASCAR Sprint Series travels to Chicago, Ill. this week for the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The race Sunday will be the first race this season at Chicagoland Speedway and the seventh race this season on a 1.5-mile cookie-cutter race track. The drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing have won five of the seven races. Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch will be good picks this week for all fantasy teams.
Chicagoland Speedway is similar to Las Vegas, Kansas and Kentucky. Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson finished each of these races in the top 10. Kasey Kahne finished two of the races (Las Vegas and Kansas) in second place.
Fantasy teams should try to stick with the drivers in the Chase for the remaining 10 races. NASCAR teams give their best equipment to their drivers who secured a spot in the Chase.
The Chase participants this season are Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr.
Here is my top 25 and stats from the NASCAR Media Center based upon the driver’s career statistics at the Chicago.
Racing for the Win
1. Matt Kenseth has been the best driver this season on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks. He has won three times this year on the “cookie-cutter” race tracks. Kenseth also has a series-best average finish of 8.19 and a series-best driver rating of 112 since 2011 on this type of race track.
Kenseth is the driver to beat on Sunday.
2. Kasey Kahne would be the best driver this season at the intermediate race tracks if it was not for Kenseth’s dominance this season. Kahne finished second at Las Vegas, Kansas and Charlotte. He will be fast on Sunday and has a good chance to start the Chase in Victory Lane.
3. Kevin Harvick was called a Lame Duck at the beginning of the season. Now a member of the Chase field, Harvick has a good chance to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. He will need to get off to a good start at Chicago.
Harvick won on a similar race track at Charlotte in May. Ignore where he qualifies, because he will quickly make his way to the front.
4. Kyle Busch is one of the hottest drivers in the Chase. The problem with Busch is that he often comes into the Chase on a hot streak, but cools down once the Chase begins. It will be different this year.
Busch will start the Chase with a top-five finish.
5. Martin Truex Jr. runs well on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks. If your fantasy team still has allocations left with Truex, it would be wise to use them when the series races at the cookie-cutter race tracks. Truex finished eighth at Las Vegas, second at Texas, fourth at Kansas, ninth at Charlotte, seventh at Kentucky and third at Atlanta.
He is a sure bet to finish in the top 10 this week.
6. Jimmie Johnson has been in a slump, but the money is now on the line so expect Johnson to heat back up. Johnson has a series-best driver rating of 116.2 at Chicago and he finished second here last season. Johnson has never won at Chicago, but he usually finishes up front.
It is time to put Johnson back on your fantasy team.
7. Carl Edwards has the most momentum coming into the Chase with his win at Richmond. After the race he said he plans on winning the Championship. I would not bet against him. Expect a top-10 finish from Edwards this week.
8. Joey Logano was on a hot streak until the race at Richmond. Logano finished seven of the last eight races in the top 10. He will make it eight of nine on Sunday.
9. Clint Bowyer could easily start the Chase with a win. He has finished six of his seven career starts at Chicago in the top 10. Bowyer will race up front and finish with another top-10.
10. Kurt Busch has finished the last four races on intermediate race tracks in the top six. He will have a good chance to win the pole and finish up front this week. Busch is a good selection for all teams.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been up and down on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks. He has three top-10 finishes and three finishes outside the top 15. Earnhardt will finish just outside the top 10 on Sunday.
12. Brad Keselowski will be the driver who misses the Chase and then runs up front the final 10 races of the season. Kyle Busch did it last year and Keselowski will do it this year. Expect a top-15 finish from Keselowski this week.
13. Greg Biffle only has one top-10 finish this season on a 1.5-mile intermediate race track. He is much better on the 2-mile race tracks than he is on the cookie-cutter race tracks. Biffle will struggle to finish inside the top 15 this week.
14. Jeff Gordon has one win, six top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes and one pole in his 12 career races at Chicago. He knows how to get around the race track, but this is not Gordon’s year. Expect a top-15 finish from Gordon on Sunday.
15. Ryan Newman is hard to predict this season. When the stats suggest he will struggle, he runs up front. When the stats suggest he will run well, he finishes outside the top 10. Newman’s average finishing position at Chicago is No. 15.
That is where you can expect him to finish on Sunday.
16. Juan Pablo Montoya has an average finish of No. 16 on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks this season. Montoya will match his average this week and finish No. 16.
17. Paul Menard is a better driver on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks than he is on the other types of race tracks. If you plan to use Menard as a sleeper pick, it would be wise to use him at Chicago, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas or Homestead.
18. Marcos Ambrose has been a lot better lately than people think. He has finished four of the last five races in the top 15. He has been a good sleeper pick for the races on the intermediate race tracks. Ambrose has finished every race this season on the intermediate race tracks in the top 22.
He will finish inside the top 20 this week.
19. Brian Vickers may make the Chase next year if he can drive the No. 55 car next season the way he has driven it this season. He consistently runs inside the top 20. He is better on the shorter race tracks than he is on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks.
Expect Vickers to finish inside the top 20 on Sunday.
20. Jamie McMurray finished seventh at Kansas, second at Kentucky and No. 11 at Atlanta. He has a chance to finish up front, but I think the Chase drivers will dominate the top 10. McMurray will finish inside the top 20 this week.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Mark Martin is having a tough time turning back the clock this season. He only has five top-10 finishes in his 19 races. Martin could surprise people and finish in the top 10, but lower your expectations for him this week.
He will finish inside the top 25 this week.
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has run all of the races this season on the 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks in the top 20. Now that the stakes are higher for the Chase contenders, Stenhouse will only be able to finish inside the top 25.
23. Denny Hamlin should be higher on this list, but he has run poorly all season. Do not gamble with Hamlin on your team this week.
24. Aric Almirola started the season running well. He has struggled since the All-Star race. There are better selections for your team this week.
25. Justin Allgaier will be making his debut this week in the No. 51 car for the new owner, Turner-Scott Motorsports. My gut tells me that Allgaier will surprise fantasy owners this week. It would not be the first time the No. 51 car has run well this season.
Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne
Group B: Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano
Group C: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier
Fantasy Live Picks
Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, Justin Allgaier
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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