Start or Park: Masterpiece 400 – Statistically Speaking

Friday, May 11, 2018

Kansas was egalitarian last year with only four drivers sweeping the top 10 in their two races.

The class of the field was Martin Truex Jr. with a pair of victories. Not far behind was Ryan Blaney with a fourth in the spring and third in the fall, but many of the others were more hit and miss. Second in the spring, Brad Keselowski managed only a 13th in the fall. Kurt Busch struggled in the spring to 19th and finished second in the fall.

Other top-10 drivers in the spring fell outside the top 30 in the second race of the year (Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, and Jamie McMurray), so this is a week when fantasy players want to pay more attention to recent momentum than track record.

For the record, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were the other two who swept the top 10.

Level One

Start Kevin Harvick
This week’s top pick in Level One will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the first 11 weeks of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Harvick and Busch are on pace to win 23 of the 36 races this season – and while no one really thinks that is going to happen, there are still several victories remaining in each of these teams. Harvick dominated two of the three similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races this year (Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and if he doesn’t win this week, he will almost certainly earn a top-five

Start Kyle Busch
Busch dominated the other similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track race at Texas Motor Speedway and that kicked off a three-race winning streak. It came in the midst of seven consecutive top-three finishes and while he struggled last week at Dover International Speedway, it was most likely because the team was experimenting with something in the drive train. Busch knows what went wrong. So does the team and with that fixed, it will allow him to battle Harvick for the top spot.

Park Martin Truex Jr.
On its face, waving a red flag over Truex would seem to be a risky proposition. He won both races last year and was the absolute master of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. He has not looked the same this year even though he started out with a fifth at Atlanta and a fourth at Vegas. Truex did not get a chance to show his stuff at Texas because he was involved in an early crash, but that started a four-race slide of results outside the top 10. He rebounded at Dover, but wasn’t particularly happy with his performance. So far at Kansas, he has not shown a lot of speed in terms of either single fastest, or 10 quickest laps in the single marathon practice.

Level Two

Start Chase Elliott
This week, we demoted Chase Elliott to Level Two. He came out of the gates strong, but has not been able to achieve a spot in the Fantasy Power Rankings top 10. If fantasy players manage their expectations, Elliott still has a place on the roster, however. Give up on expecting him to win and then top-10 finishes will make him a good value in games where he is rightly priced. This team was solid on unrestricted, intermediate speedways last year, but the down force package of the Chevrolet Camaro is not as solid as that of the Fords or Toyotas, so the No. 9 is going to have to work hard to get a single-digit result.

Garage Matt Kenseth
We are not going to come right out and say to start Matt Kenseth, but if you are playing the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, he might deserve a spot in your garage. He had a studied approach to practice and landed well down the chart. But this is a track that has been incredibly kind in the past with back-to-back wins as recently as 2012/2013. The team is capable of scoring a finish in the teens; Kenseth can elevate that to put the No. 6 in the top 15 and with a little luck, he could challenge for a top-10.

Park Jamie McMurray
In the best of times, this track has not been overly kind to Jamie McMurray. And these are not the best of times. While he made the headlines most weeks in 2016 and 2017 with consistently strong top-10 runs, McMurray did not perform well at Kansas during the past several seasons. Since the start of 2014, he earned only two top-15s and one top-10. The remainder of his efforts was bad enough to give him an eight-race average finish of 25.25 and frankly, we are not sure he can match that this week.

Level Three

Start Kasey Kahne
Kasey Kahne’s handicap this week is based on a combination of his record as well as that of the No. 95 team. Kahne has a current string of six consecutive Kansas races in which he finished 17th or better – and while those were recorded with Hendrick Motorsports, his current team showed speed on this track last year with a 13th and 18th. Ultimately, Kahne will be the difference maker and should be capable of scoring a top-15.

Start Chris Buescher
Chris Buescher has gotten progressively better at Kansas. That is good news, but it is made even better by the fact that his first attempt there ended in a 24tth in spring 2016. That fall, he finished 21st. Last year, he scored a top-20 in 18th and was the best value in the game during the most recent event at Kansas: a sixth last fall. No one expects him to continue improving, but Buescher is capable of scoring at least another top-20 and that will make him a solid pick in salary cap management games.

Previous Start or Parks

O’Reilly 500 (Texas) 
Pennzoil 400 (Las Vegas) 
QuikTrip 500 (Atlanta) 
Auto Club 400 
AAA 400 (Dover) 

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver

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