The Sprint Cup Series heads home this weekend, taking the traveling show to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500. The race, held annually since 1960, boasts a list of former race winners that reads like a who's who of the sport, ranging from Weatherly, Lorenzen and Johnson in its early stages to Gordon, Martin, and another Johnson in recent years.
Last week's California event was a debacle for a handful of Chasers, including the brothers Busch and the entire Roush Fenway Racing brigade. Of course, three of my five fantasy picks from last week were included in that group of six people, and Jamie McMurray was no fantasy stud either. Way to break up my run, folks—for my lead picks, the ones that really count, I had Denny Hamlin (2nd) at Loudon, Carl Edwards (5th) at Dover, and Greg Biffle (1st) at Kansas. Were I a Chase driver, I'd have gone from up 17 points on Johnson to 90 points out of the lead.
Then again, I purposely avoided Jimmie Johnson as a fantasy pick last week. I figured that such a prediction would be too easy to make. In a way, I was right. While Johnson didn't win, nobody gained any substantial ground on him, and many of the stronger Chase competitors lost anywhere from 20 to 100 points on him.
Since I've been trying to pick each Chase driver once during the Chase, I'm going to pick Johnson this weekend. No, it's not just because I'm disappointed with last week's failures, it's because I had this budgeted out before the season. While you can pick Johnson at just about any track and get away with it, his numbers are absurd compared to the competition at Charlotte. Six wins in 18 starts with 13 top-10s is huge. The only reason his average finish flutters into the double digits is because of a few DNFs, but hey, we've all been there.
Joey Logano is a solid pick as a dark horse, although I struggle to label him as such because his limited Charlotte stats have a stronger average than Johnson's. He has an average finish of 9.0 in three Charlotte starts, with a top-five finish in this race last year. Although he hasn't won at the track in Sprint Cup or Nationwide, he's never finished outside of the top 15 in a race in either. He'll score a lot of points either way.
Three more, as a part of fantasy racing's biggest safety net:
I'm going to go with three-time Charlotte winner Kasey Kahne in this slot for two weekends in a row. Perhaps I'm indebted to Kahne for being the only driver I picked to post a finish worth anything last week at California, but his Charlotte record speaks for itself. In fact, his only Charlotte DNF came in a race he dominated, the fall event in 2004. In seven of his 13 Charlotte starts, he's led laps in the double digits, and he's led more than 100 laps in a Charlotte event three times.
Tony Stewart is on quite the high after the way the past week or so has gone. First, he wins the California event and propels himself back into Chase contention; then, he confirms the long-whispered rumor that Mobil 1 will join Stewart-Haas Racing next year to complete the sponsorship of Stewart's own car. Nevermind a 13.4 average finish and eight consecutive top-20s at Charlotte—he's got the momentum on his side, and that can only help.
Finally, coming from left field, David Reutimann is an interesting Charlotte pick. Yes, his Coca-Cola 600 win last year was a product of a clever pit strategy during a rainy spell, but his finishes at the track have improved greatly since that confidence builder. His past two races there have seen finishes of 15th and fifth, and he managed to lead laps, if only briefly, during the 600 this time around.
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