- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Has the magic worn off? Do Jeff Gordon's fantasy owners need to begin worrying about their superstar driver? Saturday night's race at Bristol was supposed to produce another terrific finish for Gordon, but instead, he delivered his third consecutive disappointing outing. Gordon is locked into the Chase for the Cup, but a 19th-place showing was his second consecutive finish outside of the top 10.
Such performances are alarming to Gordon owners, who have become used to excellent finishes. Gordon had finished in the top 10 a total of 20 times entering the race at Michigan last week. Gordon should have won at Watkins Glen before he spun out late, and then suffered another mishap after making contact with Matt Kenseth at Michigan, causing him to finish 27th. On Saturday, Gordon found himself a lap down after a late pit stop, and then he got caught up in a late wreck.
Gordon ran up front early in the race and challenged for the lead. He looked like he was on his way to another strong showing for a good portion of the race. Gordon's finish did not ultimately reflect how well he ran early. He had quickly managed to join the top of the field after starting in 18th. Despite another frustrating finish, Gordon doesn't appear to be taking things too hard.
"I am not a big believer in luck," Gordon said on his Web site. "I think you have to make your own luck."
Gordon added that he was happy with how he started well, but his car started to change as the track changed. "I asked for some adjustments and I kind of wish I hadn't of done that because, I think if we would have left it alone, we would have been a lot better off. This car is not very well suited for this track."
Those who are leaning on Gordon to anchor their fantasy squads should not worry that their string of good fortune is running out. Gordon has now gone 10 events without a victory, but he has driven a car fully capable of winning the past three races. Let's not forget Gordon took the poles at Watkins Glen and Michigan. He has come through with 14 top-5 finishes and looked like was headed for another for much of the first half of Saturday's race.
Not only did Gordon not meet expectations Saturday, but neither did the race itself. The event was deemed to be less exciting than usual, and the drama that usual makes races at the site so riveting was missing. The rest of the field spent most of the night chasing two drivers.
Soon, all will return to normal in the Nextel Cup Series. The next two races before the Chase begins are sure to be thrilling, especially the event at Richmond on Sept. 8. Gordon will quickly bounce back and return to the top five, and another trip to Victory Lane should be just around the corner. Gordon's owners can still count on him to lead them to fantasy championship glory. His three-race string of frustration will soon be forgotten. Gordon remains the most dependable driver in fantasy racing.
Don't forget about Carl
Over the past few weeks, the buzz has been primarily about Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. On Saturday, however, Carl Edwards reminded fantasy players not to overlook his season. If you're one of those fantasy players who owns Gordon or Stewart, it won't be an easy ride to the league championship without some true competition. Edwards has come on strong recently, and fantasy squads that are anchored by him must be taken very seriously. Edwards now has two wins this season and a total of 10 finishes in the top 10. He has finished eighth or better in the past three races and five of the past seven Nextel Cup events. Edwards was unreliable earlier this year, but he is catching fire at a crucial point of the schedule and his owners will surely benefit during the remainder of the season.
Time for a turnaround?
Kasey Kahne won the Busch race on Friday, and then set out to win from the pole on Saturday and complete a weekend sweep. Kahne looked much more like he did in 2006; he led for 305 laps and it seemed he had a good chance to earn his first victory of 2007. Ultimately, Kahne could not hold off Edwards, but his second-place finish was easily his best showing of the season. Kahne's owners, however, should not be too hopeful after only one good outing. The finish was Kahne's first in the top five this year and only his third top-10 outing. Wait at least one more race to see if he can build on the momentum before you consider locking him back into your lineup.
Around the track
• Jimmie Johnson can't steer clear of bad luck. He came into Bristol riding a wave of three consecutive top-5 finishes and appeared to be poised to reassert himself as a top contender. Johnson was never a major force at Bristol, though, getting caught up in a wreck and finished 21st. Johnson simply isn't looking like a championship driver right now.
• Juan Pablo Montoya started second, but couldn't sustain his positive momentum. He ultimately fell a lap down and finished 17th. Montoya looked more patient and poised early in the race, but he has not been able to manage a top-15 showing in the past four races and remains a very unreliable fantasy driver.
• Kurt Busch was never a factor in terms of winning Saturday's race, but he did provide his owners with another strong outing. Busch finished sixth and will run very well over the next two races as he nails down his spot in the Chase field.
• Bobby Labonte finished eighth, his second consecutive top-10 showing. Labonte has only three top-10s this season and no top-5s, but he proved last week's good run at Michigan was no fluke, and he is a terrific bargain driver right now. You can't lean on him consistently the rest of the way, but keep him in your lineup and enjoy the good runs even if they only last for a short period.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
Scott Engel notes the struggles of Jeff Gordon and wonders if he'll bounce back prior to the Chase.