Atlanta kicks off the final third of the 2010 Sprint Cup season.
So, last week I screwed up.
I figured, “Hey, with college about to start and all, maybe I should write my Atlanta fantasy post right now, save it for a week, and then just take ten minutes to post it when people actually need it.” Seemed like a good idea at the time, right?
Well, it was, until I forgot what week of the year it was (blame it on me being awake at four in the morning) and posted it anyway. Oops. If you’re looking for this week’s fantasy picks, click here; otherwise, this column is going to be a general fantasy overview for the rest of the year.
We’re now two-thirds of the way through this Sprint Cup season, with only two regular-season races and the Chase for the Sprint Cup to go. The remaining schedule is dominated by four cookie-cutters (Atlanta, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas), but contains just about every type of track on the schedule besides a road course.
Of course, this is about the time where Jimmie Johnson kicks into gear. His charges to the championship have been well documented, as no driver has ever benefitted more from the Chase. Currently ninth in points and about a three-race deficit behind Kevin Harvick, Johnson’s top four tracks as judged by average finish–Phoenix, Martinsville, Fontana, and Loudon–all appear on the remaining schedule.
Of the remaining tracks that Sprint Cup will run this year, Johnson only has mediocre records at Richmond (which isn’t in the Chase anyway) and Talladega (which is a crapshoot anyway).
As for Harvick, his team has been the class of the field all year, but most of his best tracks are behind him on the schedule. Homestead is statistically his best track, but five of his six worst active tracks–Dover, Fontana, Martinsville, Atlanta, and Charlotte–come up in the following twelve weeks of racing.
But this year, things have been looking up for Happy on those tracks, and he may not have a reason to worry. Fontana yielded a second place finish, he ran a strong ninth at Atlanta, led 57 laps from the pole at Martinsville, placed seventh at Dover, and came home a respectable 11th at Charlotte. While those types of races alone won’t knock the defending champion off his pedestal, they will more than suffice for a driver at some of his worst tracks.
In effect, this brings us down to the question of present versus past. Which key factor–history or momentum–should be influencing your fantasy picks from here on out? Should you be focusing on only one over the other, and if so, which?
Here’s the thing: we all know that the 48 team has shown signs of, well, humanity this year. Add to that the intense pressure stemming from the fact that nobody has won five consecutive championships at NASCAR’s highest level, and you may be able to say that the goose is cooked on the drive for five.
Meanwhile, Harvick’s team has done everything right for the majority of the year, won a respectable one in eight races, and has even performed at the tracks on which he’s struggled in the past. (See above.)
In the end, it all depends on which fantasy game you’re playing, and who’s available to you on any given week. (Duh. A little more elaboration, please?)
For a single driver, pick-‘em-once-and-they’re-done games like One and Done at OnPitRow.com, your best bet is undoubtedly to go for history. A driver like Harvick is probably not the best choice for a track at which he struggles, unless you’re picking last-minute and he qualifies really well. Johnson becomes your golden ticket to victory lane, so use him wisely. As for the rest, try and limit your picks to Chase drivers–they’re the only ones who really matter in the final ten events.
For games that give you a fleet of drivers every week, make sure to always pick one of the top five active drivers at any given track. (This is one of my Fantasy Pick’Em rules of thumb.) But in these games, you have a greater ability to go for momentum drivers. Sure, it can crash and burn on you if they perform as history suggested they would, but getting a little lucky with an interesting, out of left field pick could be the difference between first and second in your fantasy racing league.