Spin the Black Circle: Autism Speaks 400
What are all you dopes doing booing Jeff Gordon? There's a perfectly good villain out there, and he wants you to hate him.
I'm talking, of course, about Tony Stewart. Every time Smoke opens his mouth, it's an invitation for a raspberry. His latest outburst came after the Charlotte race last Sunday, as he whined like a debutante about having to pit for fuel in the final few laps, only to watch Casey Mears take the event on a fuel-mileage strategy. "Look, I'm just a driver," Stewart told reporters. "I just drive. I don't calculate fuel." Then he stormed away like a petulant teen or, say, Kyle Busch.
Stewart regularly takes on "lesser" drivers via the media (who can forget his on-camera assertion that David Gilliland "lucked into his ride"?), cries about tires as though his pet rabbit just bit the farm, hates the Car of Tomorrow because it's like driving a "flying brick," has punched reporters and cameramen, told the entire state of Alabama he thinks they're "ignorant," famously feuded with everyone's uncle Darrell Waltrip because Waltrip had the temerity to question Stewart's behavior, has engaged in all manner of rough driving but when someone gets rough with him whines some more, and basically seems to believe he's smarter, more talented and more entitled than anyone else involved in his sport.
He's a good driver, all right. But his act is old, and I'm tried of "reporters" recounting his antics, but then changing tack and saying, "Some people may say he's a real jerk, but I really like Stewart." If we could all agree that it's uncool to suck up to the class punk, maybe the class punk would cut it out.
Anyway, let's take a look at Sunday's race in Dover from a fantasy perspective.
"Given To Fly" (Featured Elite Drivers)
Do you think it's fun to keep suggesting you use Hendrick drivers on your fantasy team? I mean, I'd like to think I have one or two ounces' worth of creativity in my body. But when it comes to the Car of Tomorrow, I'm sorry, you've got to look at both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon's finishing average at COT races is 2.2. That's right: 2.2. And Johnson's is 5.0. Here are their five finishes in COT events:
Yeah, I think maybe the Hendrick cars have something sussed out here. And until the rest of the racing world catches up with 'em, you have to use them on your fantasy squad, because this is the kind of loophole that doesn't come around every season.
If you're tired of using the Hendrick cars, or if you've used all your allocations on those guys, you can also consider Matt Kenseth at Dover. Kenseth almost certainly would've won his second consecutive Dover event last fall, but he ran out of fuel late, and wound up finishing 10th. Kenseth has submitted a not-quite-as-impressive-as-Hendrick-but-still-darned-impressive COT résumé through five events, finishing 11th, 10th, fifth, 10th and seventh, and he's been the second-best Bristol/Dover driver over the last two-plus seasons (to Greg Biffle), posting an average finish of 9.4 on these tracks since 2005 began.
"Rearviewmirror" (Midrange Drivers of Note)
In the COT, Clint Bowyer has finished eighth (Bristol), 11th (Martinsville), 22nd (Phoenix), ninth (Richmond) and ninth (Darlington). I'm not sure there's ever been a quieter 10th-place man in points at this juncture of the season; I truthfully can't remember Bowyer's name getting mentioned in the last three events (but perhaps that's simply the blind spot I have for Jack Daniels). In his rookie year, Bowyer finished 17th and then eighth in his first two Dover Cup races, and the improvement he showed at Bristol (his eighth place this year came after a 29th and a 38th in 2006) gives me hope that he'll calm down at Dover's concrete bowl and run a solid race. You could do a lot worse in Bowyer's price range.
For once, I'm staying away from Mark Martin this week, and instead will invest a little bit in Ryan Newman. Martin is as much of a bargain as ever, pricewise, for Dover, but I haven't loved what I've seen out of the Ginn team in COT races. Martin finished 12th, 14th and 17th in his three COT starts (Regan Smith started in the No. 01 car at Bristol and Martinsville and finished 25th and 26th), which is solid, but I think we can do better. In his last two COT starts, Newman finished sixth and fourth, and with a little more luck could've won at Darlington. He's also got three career wins at the Monster Mile in Dover and seven top-10s in 10 starts here. I feel like it's still exceedingly risky to start the Penske drivers in the "old" car, but the COT seems to have changed that equation quite a bit.
"Not For You" (Beware of These Drivers)
Breathe easy, Kevin Harvick, I'm leaving you alone this week. Harvick was my "driver to avoid" in consecutive events, and he finished 17th at Darlington and 21st at Charlotte, so I'm slowly making up for telling you to avoid Jimmie Johnson at Richmond (he won the race). At Dover, I'm going to say you should stay away from Kasey Kahne. I know Kahne sits 32nd in points and has exactly one top-10 all season, but fantasy players are still tempted by his excellent 2006 season, and keep expecting him to snap out of his funk. But I don't think this will be the week. Kahne has a terrible COT finishing average, 27th place, which is 26th-best among drivers who've made all five COT starts. And while Kahne probably should've won here in the spring of 2004, he hasn't had much Dover success since, posting three finishes of 35th or worse. Evernham Motorsports has a long way to go before it will be competitive in these COT events. Stay away.
"Nothing As It Seems" (Weekly Sleepers)
Last week I had Joe Nemechek (26th) and David Stremme (17th) for sleepers, for which I'll give myself a .500 winning percentage. At Dover, I like Jeff Green most among the very inexpensive drivers, because he's posted a better finishing average in COT races than Newman, Kahne, Jamie McMurray and a few other big names. In fact, Green's got two sixth-place finishes so far in the COT (at Bristol and Phoenix), and embarrassed no one in his follow-up races at Richmond and Darlington, finishing 24th and 22nd. Green doesn't have a bushel of great Dover finishes, but he's been inside the top 20 here on multiple occasions, and I like the fact that he excelled at Bristol just a couple months back.
Finally, last week's surprise 100-1 shot winner, Casey Mears, deserves a nod here. The No. 25 team can't help but feel a bit more confident heading into Dover after Mears notched his first career Cup win, and Mears has been pretty solid here over the past few seasons, logging one 10th-place finish and a series of finishes right around 20th. What pushes me over the edge, of course, is that the other three Hendrick cars have just been so incredible in these COT events, an excellence which (you'd think) simply has to spill over onto Mears at some point. Doesn't it?
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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