- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Sunday's wild race at Dover was all about avoiding mishaps and bad luck. In the end, Carl Edwards was the luckiest guy on the track, as he notched his third win of the 2007 season. Edwards overcame some early problems that required minor repairs, but ultimately proved to be the best of the six cars that finished on the lead lap.
Edwards' luck didn't last too long, though -- he failed the post-race inspection. That is only a minor deterrent to his fantasy owners, who have enjoyed his solid and sometimes outstanding performances of late. Edwards has two wins and three top-2 finishes in the past five races, and he has placed in the top 10 in five of the past seven races. He overcame a brief bump in the road -- a 42nd-place finish at Richmond two races ago -- and has bounced back with a 12th-place showing at Loudon and Sunday's win. He didn't have the best car on the track Sunday, but he avoided major complications (at least until after the race).
Steering clear of bad luck is a prime factor during the Chase, and fantasy owners need to be able to depend on consistent finishes from their drivers. Edwards, who has only two DNFs this season, showed that consistency at Dover. Early on, it appeared he wouldn't challenge for the win. Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth (who led 192 laps) had the dominant cars, and Clint Bowyer also looked stronger as the race progressed. But it was Edwards who was able to persevere, thanks in no small part to crisp, quick pit stops.
Kenseth was felled by engine troubles late in the race and finished 35th, a major disappointment for his fantasy owners. Kenseth owners no doubt were encouraged by the strong run after watching him finish in the top five only once in the previous eight races. But in the end, it was Kenseth's aggressive race to the front, rather than his consistent top-10 style, that might have done him in. He looked strong, which is a good sign but his owners needed (and need) a better finish from him.
Hamlin qualified third and was riding the momentum of winning Saturday's Busch race. He grabbed the early lead and seemed ready to trade the lead with Kenseth all day. A controversial wreck with Kyle Petty, though, brought Hamlin's hopes crashing down. He finished 38th, putting a big damper on his Chase hopes. Hamlin has kept his fantasy owners near the top of their standings all season long, but they need him to turn things around quickly.
Bowyer started 42nd, but he was able to carry on the momentum of last week's win to surge toward the front of the field. However, he also got caught up in the Hamlin/Petty scrap, costing him a top-10 finish. Unlike Kenseth and Hamlin, Bowyer was able to salvage a respectable 12th-place showing, which keeps him right in the thick of the championship picture.
In the end, it was luck that rewarded Edwards' owners. Edwards was able to avoid any major issues, and he displayed the form that makes him a dark horse for the Nextel Cup title. With eight races remaining, there's still a lot of racing to do (and good and bad luck to run into), and the championship is very wide open. Keep that in mind as you assess your run for your own title.
Down at Dover
A few other Chase contenders had forgettable afternoons and/or were not true challengers for a win at the "Monster Mile." Kurt Busch wrecked late in the race and finished 29th, his third straight finish outside the top 20. His owners have to be at least a little concerned about that. But it's worth noting he did have a contending car, and he likely will show more of a sense of urgency this week at Kansas. Tony Stewart struggled much of the day, but he did manage a ninth-place finish. You can figure he'll run well over the final eight races. Jeff Gordon had trouble cracking the top 10 at Dover, but he still finished 11th and remains atop the Chase standings. Gordon should be a top contender at Kansas. Jimmie Johnson had a tire problem that hurt him early, yet he finished 14th. He, too, is not someone you should be concerned about. Kevin Harvick battled multiple car problems and finished 20th. His up-and-down nature makes his chances of winning a championship seem remote.
Around the Track
• Mark Martin appears to have regained his early-season form, finishing fourth and leading 22 laps at Dover. It was his best finish since he placed fourth at Chicago back in July. Martin is expected to run at least five of the final eight races and still can be a very good bargain if he sustains the momentum.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third and now has three top-5 finishes in the past five races. He is driving with a lot of pride, and you should bank on him winning at least one of the final eight races.
• Casey Mears quietly had another strong run. Mears placed sixth at Dover, his best run since he finished fifth at Chicago. He has delivered two consecutive top-10 finishes and is a great value driver right now. Quietly, Mears has made a solid adjustment to the Hendrick Motorsports team in 2007.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
9dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information