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Fantasy NASCAR Predictions: Chicago - Geico 400 (Post Qualifying) (Chase Race #1)

 

Who Will Grab An Early Points Lead After Chase Race #1?

Now that the potential championship winners have been narrowed down to twelve drivers, NASCAR's version of the playoffs are set to start this Sunday at the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. This track has only been raced on for the last ten years by the Sprint Cup Series and only two drivers (Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick) have been lucky enough to visit victory lane multiple times here. On Friday afternoon/evening, two practice sessions were held, and in case you missed them or want to check out the data, click here t.... Matt Kenseth narrowly beat out Paul Menard for the pole on Saturday, and you can find the entire starting lineup by clicking here. Also, in case you want to read my Preview from earlier this week, you can do so by clicking here.

Likely Start and Parks: Michael McDowell (starts 33rd)David Stremme (starts 34th)

Joe Nemechek
(starts 36th)
Robby Gordon
 (starts 37th)

Chase Fantasy NASCAR Game: Don't forget to sign up for the Chase Game over at Racing4Glory.com! It is $20 per team and first place gets 70% of the pot, second place 20%, and third place 10%. All you have to do is pick the two best Chase drivers and two best non-Chase drivers every week. You get points for finishing position only. So head on over and make your picks for the Chase Game and win some money! Pick Six Fantasy NASCAR Game: How good are you at predicting the results of each race? There is a FREE fantasy game being held: all you  have to do is guess the top six finishers of each race, and they don’t even have to be in order! Click here to post your Pick Six picks for the Geico 400. Good luck!
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Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Geico 400:

1. Matt Kenseth – Starts 1st – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 10.3 (six wins)
**Chassis selection: no. RK-741 (same chassis from August race at Michigan where Kenseth started 2nd and led 15 laps before finishing 10th)**
**
Change from my preview: +6 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
I'm not going to go into my usual spiel about Kenseth and his good qualifying efforts, as you should know the story by now and have heard it many times. At Chicagoland, Matt has made ten career starts and owns an 11.4 average finish and four top 10s. He has two runner-up efforts here, but I expect Kenseth to finally break through and get to victory lane at this 1.5-mile race track on Sunday. He ended up 9th on the average speed chart and had the 4th-best ten-lap average during first practice. Kenseth followed that up with the 9th-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour. If this race starts out with a long green flag run, expect the #17 Ford to grab a huge lead and never look back from there. His less-than-expected finishes at these "cookie cutter" tracks has to stop eventually, right?
2. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 12th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 11.2 (three wins)
**Chassis selection: no. 681 (same from Indianapolis race in July where Johnson finished 19th)**
**
Change from my preview: no change — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
In nine career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Jimmie Johnson owns five top 5 finishes and has led 326 laps. While he has never visited victory lane here, "Five Time" has led at least 15 laps in seven of his nine efforts here and has ended up runner-up on two separate occasions (2004 and 2008). This #48 Chevrolet wasn't incredible on paper during the two practice sessions on Friday, but it's Chase time and you know Johnson will be up there when it's all said and done. The last two "cookie cutter" races (Atlanta and Michigan) have ended with "The Champ" in 2nd place.
3. Kurt Busch – Starts 3rd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 10.0 (two wins)
**Chassis selection: no. PRS-756 (same from Loudon race where Kurt finished 10th)**
**
Change from my preview: +3 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Look for Kurt Busch and this "Double Deuce" team to make it three straight top 5s when it's all said and done Sunday. This #22 Dodge will roll off the grid in 3rd tomorrow afternoon and I expect the elder Busch brother to stay around there for the entire duration of the race. Kurt was 8th on the average speed chart and has been good on the intermediate tracks this year, with top 10s at Atlanta, Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, and Las Vegas. Also, you can't go against this little hot streak he is on, and this entire Penske organization has been firing on all cylinders for the last two or three months. He doesn't look like a sure-fire pick going into the race, but I think Kurt Busch will be up there with the leaders once the checkered flag waves on Sunday.
4. Jeff Gordon – Starts 23rd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 14.7 (two wins)
**Chassis selection: no information available**
**
Change from my preview: -4 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
This is Gordon's worst qualifying effort since his first start at Chicagoland Speedway, but I don't expect that to make much of a difference come Sunday. This team is red-hot right now and we should see the #24 Chevrolet make its way through the field with ease once the green flag waves to start the Geico 400. In ten career starts here, Gordon has six top 5s and one of those was a victory (back in 2006). His average finish of 8.6 is good enough for the best in the series at Chicago and it makes it Jeff's third-best track on the circuit (statistically). Gordon had the 4th-best ten-lap average during the Happy Hour practice session.
5. Brad Keselowski – Starts 6th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.5
**Chassis selection: no. PRS-760 (brand new chassis)**
**Change from my preview: +5 spots. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
Coming into this week, I expected BK to start his fizzle out and back to his normal self, but now that practice and qualifying is over with, I think this Blue Deuce has a real shot at a top 5 finish on Sunday. This brand new Dodge will roll off the grid in 6th once the green flag waves--so Keselowski already has track position--and in Happy Hour this car was 6th on the ten-lap average chart after ending up 8th on the same chart during first practice. Keselowski was 17th on the overall average speed chart but he also ran more laps than anybody (115). He finished 18th here last season, but I expect Brad to easily best that on Sunday. The reason I have him as "High Risk" is because of the engine issue in practice and the high amount of laps ran. Keselowski is pretty much dominating the Nationwide race as I type this, for whatever that is worth.
6. Carl Edwards – Starts 5th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 16.6
**Chassis selection: no. 788 (brand new chassis)**
**
Change from my preview: -2 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
It's hard to get a handle of what kind of car Carl Edwards has on most weekends because they run such few laps in practice, but this is the kind of race track that he loves and with a top 5 starting spot, chances are Cousin Carl will once again be a solid pick on Sunday. He is a bit hit-or-miss at this track, though, so keep that in mind before locking your roster(s) in. Over his six career starts at Chicagoland, Edwards has a 2nd and 3rd-place finish to his name, but his four other efforts have ended in either 14th-place or worse. He didn't run ten consecutive laps in either practice session on Friday but Carl had the 10th-fastest lap in Happy Hour.
7. Kevin Harvick – Starts 30th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 11.5 (two wins)
**Chassis selection: no. 738 (brand new chassis)**
**
Change from my preview: no change. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
If only he qualified better... It seems like "Happy" has a pretty good Chevrolet this weekend--as he was 4th on the overall average speed chart Friday--and, as noted before, Harvick has won twice at this race track. He has stumbled in the last two races here but before that, Kevin has three straight top 5s at Chicagoland. This team has been just decent at the intermediates this year, but Harvick did win at California and finished 7th at Atlanta earlier this month. I'm going against what I said in my Preview about Harvick ("unless he looks slow in practice and doesn’t have a very good qualifying effort, Kevin Harvick should be a good pick at Chicago this year") which is part of the reason why I have him as "High Risk".
8. Ryan Newman – Starts 4th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 9.5 (one win)
**Chassis selection: no information available**
**
Change from my preview: +4 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Earlier in the year, "The Rocketman" really surprised fantasy racers by being a pretty good pick on the "cookie cutter" tracks, and so far this weekend, it's looking like he may be a solid choice once again. Newman qualified well (of course) and will start the Geico 400 in 4th place on Sunday. In practice, he ended up 7th on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour and was 18th on the overall average speed chart for the two sessions combined. In nine career starts at Chicagoland, Newman has one win and five top 10 finishes. His four other results were outside the top 20, though, so you could consider Ryan a bit of a hit-or-miss driver here. With his qualifying effort on Saturday as well as this team's consistency over the last three months, though, I think Newman will be a "hit" driver on Sunday.
9. Kyle Busch – Starts 9th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.1 (one win)
**Chassis selection: no. 326 (brand new chassis)**
**
Change from my preview: -6 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I'm not sure what it is this weekend, but I'm as high on Kyle Busch as I usually am (or on the entire Gibbs stable, for that matter). "Rowdy" is pretty much hit-or-miss at Chicagoland: he won here from the pole in 2008 and finished 3rd in 2006, but his three other starts at this track have ended with Busch in 14th, 13th, 33rd, and 17th. In practice on Friday, Kyle ended up 22nd on the average speed chart--which is quite normal for him--and 11th in ten-lap average during the Happy Hour session. I'm giving him a top 10 nod due to his starting position, but if this car ends up mired back in traffic in the first 100 or so laps, I could see Busch finishing in the teens.
10. Paul Menard – Starts 2nd – Yahoo! Fantasy C Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 16.0
**Chassis selection: no. 326 (same from Michigan race in June where Paul finished 4th)**
**
Change from my previewwasn't ranked. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
Last year at Chicago, while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Paul Menard qualified 9th and put a full race together (which was rare for him last season) and came away with a solid 10th-place finish. On Sunday, he will start the race from the outside of the front row, and I think he has a shot to make it two top 10s in a row at this 1.5-mile race track. Menard was 10th on the average speed chart and after having the second-best ten-lap average during first practice, he ended Happy Hour 8th on that board. Don't forget, this is the same car Paul ended up 4th with at Michigan in June. His 10th-place effort in 2010 at this track has been Menard's only finish better than 26th in four career starts, though.
11. David Ragan – Starts 15th – Yahoo! Fantasy C Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.9
**Chassis selection: RK-777 (same from August Michigan race where Ragan finished 12th)**
**
Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
With last week's top 5 at Richmond, David Ragan comes into his best type of race track with a little momentum, and I think he could steal a top 10 on Sunday if the cards fall right. He was 11th on the average speed chart and had the third-best ten-lap average during first practice. In four career starts at Chicagoland, Ragan has two top 12 finishes (which have happened in 2010 and 2008) but also two 25th-place efforts, which have occurred in 2007 and 2009. Since this is an odd year, David may end up outside of the top 20 and keep that little streak alive, but I don't see that happening.
12. A.J. Allmendinger – Starts 18th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.4 (one win)
**Chassis selection: no. 783 (brand new chassis)**
**
Change from my preview: -1 spot. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
The Dinger didn't blow anyone out the water in practice but I still think he will be good for a solid top 15 finish on Sunday. At Chicagoland, A.J. has made three starts and has finished either 13th or 14th in all of them. As you probably know, this team is on a five-race streak of top 12 finishes, and I think once the race is over, it will be a six-race streak (although I don't think this Ford as that good going into the event). A.J.'s most recent intermediate track performances have been a 10th at Atlanta and an 11th-place showing at Michigan.
13. Denny Hamlin – Starts 27th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 17.2
**Chassis selection: no information available**
**
Change from my preview-4 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
This #11 team has been a solid top 15 at almost all intermediate tracks this season and I don't see that changing on Sunday. Hamlin will start a little worse than mid-pack (27th) when the green flags waves on Sunday, but I think we should see the #11 Toyota creeping toward the top 15 once the first long, green-flag run is over with. Denny came in at 14th on the average speed chart and had the 14th-best ten-lap average during Happy Hour. The last two races at Chicagoland Speedway have ended with Hamlin in the top 10.
14. David Reutimann – Starts 29th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.1 (one win)
**Chassis selection: no information available**
**
Change from my previewwasn't ranked. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
Going into qualifying, I thought Reutty had the potential to steal a top 5 on Sunday if he started up front. As you can tell, though, this car was off on Saturday afternoon. However, I think that was more due to an over (or under) adjustment by the team after practice because this Toyota was wicked fast on Friday. Reutimann had the best ten-lap average during the first session and the second-best ten-lap average during Happyt Hour. Overall, Reutty ended up 3rd on the average speed chart. However, will this team be able to overcome their bad starting spot and not make any mistakes for an entire race? That's the exact reason I have Reutimann as such a risky pick this weekend. He is the most recent winner at Chicagoland, though, and has three straight top 15 finishes here. Unless the #00 gets wrecked during the race, I think Reutty will make it four straight after Sunday.
15. Clint Bowyer – Starts 21st – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.0 (one win)
**Chassis selection: no. 371 (brand new chassis)**
**Change from my preview-2 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Overall, Chicago has been kind to Clint Boywer in his five starts here. Four have them ended with him inside the top 10 and the other was a 22nd-place effort back in 2008. For the second week in a row, Clint looked pretty fast in practice: he was in the top five in terms of ten-lap average for both practice sessions and ended up 13th on the average speed chart. As long as he doesn't drive like a jackass for the second weekend in a row, I think Bowyer's #33 Chevrolet will be a solid top 15 car when it's all said and done on Sunday.

Stay Away From These Drivers For The Geico 400:

Kasey Kahne - He laid down a fast lap in practice and was 6th on the average speed chart, but I really can't trust this #4 team right now. It seems like week in and week out they look to have a very fast car only to finish outside of the top 20 either because of a terrible race car or an accident. Kahne has two straight top 10s at Chicagoland Speedway but his average finish here is 22.3.  Greg Biffle - The Biff put his #16 Ford in 7th during qualifying, but during the races at the intermediate tracks this season, it's been the same old story for him: look decent at the beginning, staying near his starting spot, before slowly fading into the mid-teens. Recent “cookie cutter” races have ended with Biffle in 12th (Atlanta), 20th (Michigan), 21st (Kentucky), and 15th (Michigan). At best, Biffle is a top 15 car this week, so there are obviously better, less risky picks than him. If that still doesn't scare you away, just look at his track record here: one top 10 in eight starts with an average finish of 17.9. I'll pass.
Bobby Labonte - His qualifying effort this weekend (11th) really surprised me and may have fantasy racers excited for a "sleeper" this Sunday. Don't jump the guns, though. Labonte wasn't even good here when he was in top equipment and in top form, and he hasn't finished better than 20th at Chicago since 2006. If he can stay on the lead lap, I think Bobby could end up with a surprising top 20, but when you look at his intermediate track performance this season, you'll understand that Labonte will probably end up in the mid-20s. He did pilot this #47 Toyota to a 15th-place finish at Michigan one month ago, though... 

My (Tentative) Fantasy NASCAR Picks:

OnPitRow.comFavorite – Matt Kenseth Darkhorse – Marcos AmbroseYahoo!: A-List: Matt KensethB-List: Brad Keselowski & David Reutimann, C-List: Paul Menard
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann, Landon Cassill

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