July 8, 2009

Top-10 laps prove un-predictive

Running at the front of the pack is supposed to be a good thing, and as one part of the formula that accounts for our Fantasy Power Ranking, it is typically a good predictor. Unfortunately, it falls a little short on the six "cookie-cutter" tracks of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.

In the last five years, Tony Stewart has spent more time in the top 10 than any other driver. With 1,079 laps at the front of the pack, he's circled the track with the leaders more than 80 percent of the time and yet his average finish of 14.27 during the past five years on the "cookie-cutter" tracks is only seventh best.

To make this even more curious, he has not been plagued with too much bad luck. In the 44 races that have occurred since this part of the schedule in 2004, Stewart has only failed to finish four races. He was slowed by crash damage on two other occasions, but for the most part, he's been running at the end of the day. His old Joe Gibbs Racing team seemed to simply miss the setup in the closing laps.

On the other hand, Jimmie Johnson has the second most laps in the top 10 during the last five rolling years and he's been able to convert those into top-10 finishes. With 1,062 laps in the top 10, he's spent 79 percent of his time with the leaders on the six "cookie-cutter" tracks.

Chad Knaus has been able to help him close the deal, however, and he's earned an average finish of 8.7 in the last five years—nearly five positions better than his closest competitor. Johnson also has four DNFs during that time frame, but he's earned 25 top-fives and 31 top-10s in those 44 races compared to only 23 top-10s for Stewart.

The second-most productive driver in terms of their five-year average finish is Jeff Burton with a 13.23. Notably, he has scored the exact same number of top-10 finishes in the last year as Stewart with 23. The key to his success, however, seems to be consistency. Even though he's been significantly off the pace in three of the last 44 "cookie-cutter" races, he hasn't recorded a single DNF.

Kyle Busch is another great example of how strength and success are not always the same thing. This all or nothing driver has spent the majority of his time at the front of the pack. He was not yet competing in July 2004 and so has run in one less race during the past five years than his competitors. That means that his 855 laps spent in the top 10 is 80 percent of his personal total.

Busch's "hell for leather" style of racing, however, has seen him hit the showers early four times because of crash damage and once for a broken timing chain. On two other occasions, he was significantly slowed by crash damage and that has left him with only the 12th-best five-year average finish of 16.49.

For a fantasy owner that means that even though it's great when your driver dominates a race, it's not the only factor that goes into winning. Ultimately only the finishing position counts for points, so take drivers with a long history of success this week instead of those who have impressed you with their strength.

Laps in the top 10, sorted by five-year average finish

Laps' RankDriverTop-10 lapsPossible%5 Yr Avg.
2Jimmie Johnson 1,0621,33879%8.70
10Jeff Burton 4201,33831%13.23
4Matt Kenseth 9661,33872%13.43
14Carl Edwards 3801,07135%13.56
6Jeff Gordon 7231,33854%14.00
1Tony Stewart 1,0791,33881%14.27
9Greg Biffle 5631,33842%14.52
12Mark Martin 3801,33828%15.16
20Clint Bowyer15980420%15.55
23Denny Hamlin14680418%15.86
8Dale Earnhardt Jr5771,33843%15.91
5Kyle Busch8551,07180%16.49
3Kevin Harvick 1,0401,33878%17.50
11Casey Mears 4071,33830%17.73
24Jamie McMurray 1191,3389%19.18
13Kurt Busch 3801,33828%19.45
19Kasey Kahne 2261,33817%19.91
18Martin Truex Jr28880436%20.91
7Brian Vickers 5851,07155%21.32
15Ryan Newman3391,33825%21.98
22Bobby Labonte 1531,33811%22.07
16Elliott Sadler 2971,33822%22.89
34Juan Montoya25340%23.36
29David Stremme308044%23.83
21David Ragan15753429%24.65
17Reed Sorenson28980436%25.67
26Joe Nemechek 951,3387%26.30
39David Gilliland05340%27.04
30Dave Blaney 211,3382%27.38
38Paul Menard05340%27.38
37David Reutimann05340%27.64
27Robby Gordon 431,3383%27.84
40Sam Hornish Jr02670%28.60
31Michael Waltrip 161,3381%29.36
28Mike Bliss 325346%29.50
25A J Allmendinger11826744%31.10
35Bill Elliott08040%31.20
36Tony Raines05370%31.41
33John Andretti 55341%33.89
32Mike Wallace 62672%35.77

Ganassi in no hurry to replace Truex

Chip Ganassi is in no hurry to replace Martin Truex Jr. now that he's been signed by MWR, according to Autosport.com. Ganassi said, "Martin made a business decision that he felt was in his best interest and we can't fault him for that."

Our View: The comment sounds eerily similar to ones he used with Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears left the Ganassi fold. One has to wonder how long this owner can keep losing talent without being seen only as a feeder for the superteams instead of a contender himself.

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