Segment 2 Preview: ESPN Stock Car Challenge

The first segment of ESPN’s Stock Car Challenge ended last Saturday night at Darlington when Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag.  While Hendrick Motorsports had reason to celebrate, I did not.  I finished the first segment with 1,637 total points (82.8 percentile).  On the bright side only 23,527 player entries scored higher.  This hasn’t been my strongest showing in recent memory, but there is little value in dwelling on the past. There will always be drivers you wish you hadn’t dropped and others you should have picked up.

The good news is that everyone playing the game has to reset their roster using the updated driver salaries prior to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27th.  Now is the time to plan for the future, so let’s start looking at the dynamics of the races making up Segment 2.

The next 15 races will determine who makes The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.  The races at Daytona, Bristol, and the final race of the segment at Richmond will be repeats of tracks we saw in Segment 1.  The drivers will race twice at two of the tracks (Pocono, Michigan) during the Segment 2.  Added into the mix are the two road course races (Infineon, Watkins Glen).  The remaining races will be held at Charlotte, Dover, Kentucky, Indianapolis, New Hampshire, and Atlanta.

As of Monday each driver’s market cost was adjusted based on their current points standings and past performances.  Greg Biffle, current points leader, is the most expensive to driver own at ($22.0).  I expect Jimmie Johnson ($21.8), Kyle Busch ($20.5), and Tony Stewart ($21.0) to be the top performers based on the segment’s track history (including the road courses).  Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth ($21.8), and Denny Hamlin ($21.0) will all be major players leading up to The Chase.  Fantasy owners should load up on as many of these 6 Sprint Cup Chasers as they can in Segment 2.

Also keep your eye on the Wild Car contenders, the guys looking to get into The Chase on wins.  Ryan Newman ($19.8) and Brad Keselowski ($20.2) have already won this year and are currently Wild Card eligible.  A wild card birth may be the only hopes of making NASCAR’s version of the playoffs for Clint Bowyer ($20.1), Kasey Kahne ($20.0) and Jeff Gordon ($19.7).

Proof you don’t need to win races to make The Chase or dominate your fantasy league: Martin Truex Jr. ($20.3), Kevin Harvick ($21.2), and  Dale Jr. ($21.3).  Slow and steady wins the race.

I feel like Carl Edwards ($20.7) is going to have to win a few races to make it this year.  He may not need the wins to get in, but the #99 team needs the confidence.  Cousin Carl has great value for fantasy owners if he can produce like he did in 2011.  Edwards is an excellent set-it-and-forget-it option for Segment 2.  He has 8 Top 10 finishes in 14 career Sprint Cup road course races.

Mark Martin ($18.6) is scheduled to drive the #55 in the first 4 races of the new segment.  Then, in between breaks, he will drive for MWR at Indianapolis, Pocono, Michigan, Atlanta, & Richmond.  Martin is a solid short term option going into the new segment.  Just make sure to replace him before the green flag drops at Infineon Raceway.

The road courses pose an interesting challenge for the owners that look for long term, buy-low drivers to keep for an entire segment.  They are often forced to drop drivers they acquired early in a segment to keep pace with the week-to-week strategists.  Carl Edwards (mentioned above) and road course specialist Marcos Ambrose ($18.5) have the long term appeal that fantasy owner’s need to get through those tricky right hand turns.  Ambrose has 7 Top 10‘s including 1 win in 8 Sprint Cup road course races.  He is currently in 18th place in the Sprint Cup Standings.

Road Course Stats

A.J. Allmendinger ($18.0) can be the bargain hunters dream if he just finishes races as well as he qualifies for them.  On the other hand, Paul Menard ($19.3) is slightly overpriced.  Menard was last year’s winner at Indianapolis, but we haven’t seen much out of the #27 since.  He had strong cars at Daytona and Talladega, but salary cap owners need consistency.  Joey Logano is the better play at ($19.2). Day old sushi?  Juan Pablo Montoya ($17.2) and Jeff Burton ($17.7) are tempting but I am not sure I can stomach these guys.

I will be back next week to share strategies and race setups in my Pre-Practice and Post Qualifying notes for Charlotte.  In the mean time enjoy the All-Star Race and a week off from Fantasy NASCAR heart ache.

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