Stock Car preview: Samsung 500
We're back in action on the Nextel Cup circuit at Texas after a week off, and it's pretty clear what the early trends are so far. Hendrick Motorsports has dominated the field, and Jimmie Johnson can win anytime, anywhere. Jeff Gordon is frustrated with near-misses, and Tony Stewart has yet to win or truly challenge the Hendrick superstars. Kasey Kahne is a bust and the early struggles of Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be over. Things only get more exciting with the return of Mark Martin this week, and second-year men Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer are looking good. There are even more interesting storylines I could mention, but savvy Stock Car Challenge players are on top of the news and happenings after six races, and now it's just a matter of building the right lineup under your current salary structure.
VICTORY LANE SPECIAL
Tony Stewart (23.5); All the focus is on Johnson and Gordon right now, making it a fine time for Stewart to sneak back into a top spot and challenge for his first win of the season. In terms of potential for earning a victory combined with a cap-friendly tag, no pick is better than Stewart this week. He is only the fourth-highest priced driver in the Stock Car Challenge right now, so it's a prime time to add him and get on for what could be the start of a really good stretch. In 2006, Stewart won for the first time at Texas, leading 278 laps in the process. He has led a total of 437 laps in the past four races at the site and he has finished in the top eight in four of his past five Texas races.
Jeff Gordon (24.4): A near-miss at Martinsville, the third second-place finish by Gordon this season, can only spur him to make a harder push for his first win of 2007. What is scary about Gordon so far is that he is the current Nextel Cup points leader, but he hasn't even won a race yet. Stewart and Gordon seem overdue to end up in Victory Lane, and now is a great time to add either one if you don't own them yet. Of course, adding Gordon will force you to take a risky pick or two at the bottom of your squad. But he's well worth it, and those who already have him should be well aware he has never won at Texas, which is another motivating factor for him.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22.5): He has gotten back on track recently, with two top-10 finishes in the past two races. The accomplishments look even more impressive when you consider the past two races were in the Car of Tomorrow and both were on short tracks. Junior has a successful history at Texas and, at the current Stock Car Challenge price, he's a solid pick. He has finished in the top 10 in five of the past six races at Texas, and he has seven top-10 finishes and a victory in nine career starts at the site.
Kasey Kahne (20.6): Yes, it's been a very disappointing season for him so far. If we are going to give Kahne one last chance to turn things around before casting him into the "don't touch" basket again, it should be at a track like Texas. He's a boom-or-bust pick at Texas, but when he fares well, he can easily challenge for a win. He finished second in his first-ever race at the site in 2004, and won the first Texas race in 2006 after leading for 63 laps. Kahne always qualifies well at Texas, as he has started in the top five in four of five career starts at the site. We must note he does have three Texas DNFs, but he'll run very well if he avoids bad luck.
Mark Martin (19.3): The voluntary and controversial layoff has dropped him far from his previous top spot in the standings, but it has also kept him at a very friendly price tag. It's no secret that Martin is probably the best value pick in the Stock Car Challenge right now. Martin has a past win to his credit at Texas. He finished ninth in the first race at the site last year and placed second in the second race of 2005. In his career, he has six top-10 finishes at Texas and only one DNF.
David Stremme (17.2): He has already placed in the top 25 in two career races at Texas, but more importantly, Stremme has quietly been one of the best value drivers in the Stock Car Challenge so far this year, and you simply have to keep going with him. He's the type of driver who will allow you to frontload your squad with other top picks while providing you with a respectable finish. Stremme has five top-20 finishes so far this season and has placed in the top 15 three times. Stremme has finished in the top 20 in his past two Busch Series races at Texas.
David Ragan (14.8): It's been an up-and-down season so far for the rookie, but he has shown the ability to deliver quality finishes, especially when you consider the price tag. Again, you simply have to search for some lower-priced bargains to complement your big names, and Ragan fits the bill well. Ragan finished in the top 8 in both Truck Series races at Texas last year, so does know the track well enough. Of higher importance is his three top-16 finishes so far this season.
Kurt Busch (21.4) is another superb pick, with six top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Texas. ... If you dare pay for Jimmie Johnson at 24.7, the return is the comfort knowing he has five top-5 finishes in nine starts at Texas. ... Clint Bowyer (21.0) finished 19th in his first-ever Nextel Cup race at Texas last season, and then placed fifth in the second race. ... Jeff Green (16.3) finished 13th in the second Texas race last season. ... Scott Riggs (17.2) finished seventh in the first race at Texas last season.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports. You can contact Scott here.
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