Dan Beaver

Chasing the Cup

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Chasing Phoenix (Spring)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


The first three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races of 2017 have produced three different winners, but NASCAR’s new segment points are helping fantasy owners determine who has been the strongest.

With one dominant win, Martin Truex Jr. has seven bonus points that will carry with him throughout the playoffs. Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch have been rewarded with the same five they would have earned last year, but Kevin Harvick has three bonus points without winning a single race.

The segment points are also creating a wide gulf between the top four drivers and those battling for 16th in the standings. Currently 68 points separate fourth from 17th. Players can expect that gap to widen as the season progresses. It will be fairly easy to tell who the favorites are to make the playoffs.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 23 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 3

Eligible on Wins

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 132 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 10.83
Auto Club: 12.00
Martinsville: 18.33

Keselowski was only a couple of laps away from giving Ford three wins in the first three races. If he had done so, that would be the first time since 1992 and it would have firmly established him as a favorite in the playoffs—and that was only week three of the season.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 2 Stage Wins / 127 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 18.17
Auto Club: 21.00
Martinsville: 16.00

Truex became the first driver to sweep both stages and win the race. As a result, he earned the maximum 60 points and leapt up the chart. More importantly, he proved it could be done and now any driver who needs the sweep knows that all he has to do is be perfect in a race.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 93 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 7.67
Auto Club: 12.00
Martinsville: 20.00

Every time something goes wrong in a race, Busch should recite to himself, “I won the Daytona 500; I won the Daytona 500.” He is virtually locked into the playoffs and still has the second most bonus points behind Truex. If that could keep him calm, he would be a better fantasy value.

Eligible on Points

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 131 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 7.17
Auto Club: 22.33
Martinsville: 18.60

Larson has been the most powerful driver in the first three races. Back-to-back, second-place finishes and a near-win at Daytona has made him fantasy gold because most games have not yet adjusted his salary cap sufficiently. All he needs, is to start winning and he’ll reach superstar status.

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 129 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 8.50
Auto Club: 6.00
Martinsville: 23.33

Elliott is making a mockery of the concept of a sophomore jinx. He has had a legitimate shot at winning the first three races and spent most of those events running with the leaders. He should perform well at Phoenix International Raceway, but his best chance to win early in the season is going to come at Auto Club Speedway.

Joey Logano (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 119 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 6.67
Auto Club: 16.67
Martinsville: 11.50

It seems as if Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are destined to find one another on the track. No matter who owns the blame for each instance of contact last week, it has created bad blood between Logano and Kyle Busch that is going to have repercussions throughout the season.

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 106 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 9.00
Auto Club: 35.00
Martinsville: 19.00

Blaney gave us a shock at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That is the type of track on which he should excel and he didn’t. He scored a solid top-10 on the similarly-configured Las Vegas Motor Speedway and now has a relatively solid cushion in the standings. More importantly, his Fantasy Power Ranking suggests he will maximize his potential on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. First, he needs to survive the short, flat tracks that are coming up. 

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 86 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.33
Auto Club: 12.33
Martinsville: 16.83

It is too soon to know if the changes at Chip Ganassi Racing will stick through the entire season. Both McMurray and Larson have come out of the gates strong, but with there are enough powerhouses below them in both the points and Fantasy Power Rankings that players should have some concern as to what will happen when Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth overcome their slow starts and climb the standings.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 Stage Win / 91 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 1.67
Auto Club: 13.33
Martinsville: 15.50

Three stage wins give Harvick a little hope because he is in the same ballpark as two race winners in terms of bonus points. And while no one expects that he will fail get his own trophy and punch his invitation to the playoffs, he will not be entirely comfortable until that happens. Last week’s single point in the Kobalt 400 was a wakeup call.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 88 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 16.17
Auto Club: 28.67
Martinsville: 19.17

Kahne’s 12th-place finish in Las Vegas has kept him in points’ contention. It was also his 15th top-10 in the past 18 races and for a driver who struggled through much of the past two seasons, that is more than encouraging. It is taking a while for game managers to fully appreciate his potential and that is creating opportunities for fantasy players.

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 68 points)
Power Ranking: 16
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 10.83
Auto Club: 15.50
Martinsville: 12.17

Last week, Joe Gibbs Racing finally lived up to their promise. They had all of their veteran drivers in the top 10 on the white flag lap and Hamlin scored a sixth. Hamlin should be able to ensconce himself more comfortably in the top 16 with runs at Phoenix and Martinsville Speedway, but he has been less than predictable on short, flat tracks in the past two seasons.

Trevor Bayne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 82 points)
Power Ranking: 17
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 28.25
Auto Club: 24.50
Martinsville: 24.75

Roush-Fenway Racing continues to show improvement. The difference between Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is that the driver of the No. 6 has managed to stay out of trouble and avoid mechanical issues. Like McMurray and Blaney above him, however, his future might not be in his control when some of the marquee drivers below him solve their problems. There are only 16 playoff slots open.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 73 points)
Power Ranking: 18
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 25.83
Auto Club: 21.33
Martinsville: 20.83

Bowyer enters Phoenix with back-to-back results of 11th and 10th. He is capable of adding another top-10 this week and among the somewhat surprising faces in the top 16 at this stage of the season, he is one of the most likely to remain with the leaders. This organization is strong and they now have three solid drivers contending.

Paul Menard (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 62 points)
Power Ranking: 21
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 20.17
Auto Club: 9.33
Martinsville: 15.83

Do not be surprised if this is the last time Menard is profiled in this article. He owes his position in the top 16 to the poor performances of Johnson and Busch. Those drivers are only one strong run away from passing the No. 27 and they have much better Phoenix records.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 71 points)
Power Ranking: 22
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.80
Auto Club: 18.00
Martinsville: 12.17

Kenseth is on the rise in the standings courtesy of back-to-back top-10s. He has not established himself with the lead pack for long enough in the first three races to give him a great Fantasy Power Rankings’ number, but he is not typically one of the flashier drivers in the field. So long as he is producing points for his finishing results, he should be on a majority of fantasy rosters.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 70 points)
Power Ranking: 23
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 16.17
Auto Club: 25.00
Martinsville: 18.67

Almirola clings to the top 16 this week based on consistency. His two top-15s in the first three races have not set the world on fire, but they have made him a good value at his level. One of those came in the wild card Daytona 500, however, so fantasy players might not want to fully commit just yet. 

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tacks

Power
Ranking

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Phoenix

Auto Club

Martinsville

Eligible on Wins

2

1

Brad Keselowski

1

 

4.50

|

10.83

12.00

18.33

5

4

Martin Truex Jr.

1

2

6.82

|

18.17

21.00

16.00

9

7

Kurt Busch

1

 

11.52

|

7.67

12.00

20.00

Eligible on Points

1

2

Kyle Larson

 

 

4.38

|

7.17

22.33

18.60

3

3

Chase Elliott

 

 

4.82

|

8.50

6.00

23.33

4

5

Joey Logano

 

 

6.62

|

6.67

16.67

11.50

6

6

Ryan Blaney

 

 

9.26

|

9.00

35.00

19.00

7

10

Jamie McMurray

 

 

10.30

|

11.33

12.33

16.83

8

8

Kevin Harvick

 

3

10.52

|

1.67

13.33

15.50

10

9

Kasey Kahne

 

 

13.21

|

16.17

28.67

19.17

16

15

Denny Hamlin

 

 

17.57

|

10.83

15.50

12.17

17

11

Trevor Bayne

 

 

17.85

|

28.25

24.50

24.75

18

12

Clint Bowyer

 

 

18.23

|

25.83

21.33

20.83

21

16

Paul Menard

 

 

19.95

|

20.17

9.33

15.83

22

13

Matt Kenseth

 

 

20.95

|

11.80

18.00

12.17

23

14

Aric Almirola

 

 

21.40

|

16.17

25.00

18.67

Drivers Outside the Top-16 in Points

11

 

Jimmie Johnson

 

 

14.79

|

18.33

11.33

15.17

12

19

Kyle Busch

 

1

14.95

|

10.60

13.00

7.20

13

 

Austin Dillon

 

 

17.14

|

24.17

17.00

17.83

14

 

Ryan Newman

 

 

17.21

|

13.83

13.00

13.83

15

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

17.52

|

11.80

9.67

11.60

19

 

Erik Jones

 

 

18.90

|

19.00

NA

NA

20

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

 

19.76

|

24.67

18.00

34.33

24

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

23.30

|

21.00

NA

NA

25

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

23.75

|

31.00

31.00

26.33

26

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

24.10

|

19.50

16.67

14.33

27

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

24.41

|

24.67

23.67

25.50

28

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

24.75

|

31.00

26.50

28.00

29

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

25.45

|

29.33

22.00

23.83

30

 

David Ragan

 

 

26.67

|

24.50

22.33

21.00

31

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

27.15

|

32.60

22.67

23.80

32

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

29.35

|

27.00

34.50

30.50

33

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

29.75

|

NA

NA

NA

34

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

33.93

|

37.00

NA

39.00

35

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

34.30

|

33.00

34.00

33.00

36

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

34.63

|

31.67

33.00

36.00

37

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

36.56

|

43.00

NA

39.00

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver


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