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Getting to Victory Lane
1. Clint Bowyer had to wait several minutes to be told he was the race winner following a wreck with a white flag that required NASCAR officials to review their scoring systems. After the short delay, Bowyer celebrated his second Chase win of the season and the first without his crew chief and car chief. Their suspension will be lifted starting this week at Texas Motor Speedway, the final 1.5-mile cookie cutter destination remaining on the schedule. Unlike most of the recent restrictor plate winners, Bowyer did it by running up front all day instead of hiding deep in the field. His Average Running Position of eighth was the best of the day, which was aided by qualifying on the outside pole. Bowyer and his RCR teammates having been running great all year making each a threat to win any given week.
2. Kevin Harvick didn't get the ultimate treat he wanted for Halloween, but should be satisfied with the next best thing. Plate races are supposed to be wild and unpredictable, although you wouldn't know it by looking at Harvick's results this year. In the four races held at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, he picked up two wins and finished no worse than seventh as the only driver to finish in the Top 10 each time out. On cookie-cutter tracks, Harvick has finished 11th or better in four of the five races which bodes well for his odds at Texas. He's had mixed results at Phoenix, but has been stellar at Homestead with three Top Five finishes in the last four. Consistency has made Harvick the safest play in the field, so owners in allocation formats need to make sure they leave nothing on the table when it comes to starting Happy.
3. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified on the pole for the second time in his career at Talladega and finished third for the second time this season at the site. Of the remaining dates on the schedule, Montoya's best remaining track is Phoenix. He finished a career-best fifth in the desert back in April with 104 laps led and matching a race-high ARP of third. Montoya is also a smart provisional selection in formats that reward qualifying efforts. Since winning the pole at Loudon, Montoya owns an Average Start of 7.2 and has started in the first two rows seven times in 17 races.
4. David Reutimann continues to play well with others in restrictor plate races. Sunday marked his second Top Five in a plate race this season and makes him one of only two drivers to finish inside the Top 15 in all four events this season. When it comes to bump drafting, Reutimann is among the best pushers in the field which rewards him with frequent trips to the front of the pack and happy competitors that race him clean. Cookie-cutter tracks have been a strength for the Double Zero. Back in April at Texas, he finished 37th after an engine failure, but held an ARP of 11th and was running in the Top Five at the midway point. In the last four starts at the site, Reutimann's ARP has ranged between fifth and 11th. He will be one of best values again this week.
5. Joey Logano recorded a race-high 85.6 percent of laps running in the Top 15 en route to earning Top 10 finishes in three consecutive races for the first time in his young Cup career. While his short resume at Texas doesn't offer much confidence, Logano's stout history at Charlotte, a very similar track, suggests he'll extend his streak. In four starts in NASCAR's capital, he's never finished or held an ARP worse than 13th. The kid they call Sliced Bread has never run better and is among the top sleeper picks at Fort Worth.
From the spotter's tower
Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin got what they needed, Top 10 finishes, keeping the three-horse race for the Sprint Cup Championship in full force with just three dates remaining. After biding his time, as his ARP of 24th illustrates, Johnson got a push all the way to the front thanks to teammate Jeff Gordon, who developed an engine problem as a result. As Gordon faded, Johnson was left out to dry. However, a caution would allow both Hendrick cars to stay out and finish seventh and sixth, respectively.
Hamlin, ARP of 25th, was so conservative he lost the draft at one point and went a lap down. A push by teammate Kyle Busch on Lap 157 of 188 would help him finish ninth. Time is running out to catch Johnson. Hamlin won at Texas earlier in the year, but Johnson was the runner-up. Prowess on flat tracks makes Hamlin a great pick at Phoenix, but Johnson owns four wins in the last six starts there in addition to eight straight Top Fives.
Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth were the first to employ the two-car breakaway, but leading early didn't get either driver in the Top 15 at the end. Burton got the worst of it after aggressive bump drafting by Dale Earnhardt Jr. ruined both of their days. Earnhardt and Burton were running first and second at the midway point of the race, but finished 39th and 41st due to the damage each sustained.
Kenseth was able to finish in one piece and was fifth on the final restart, but lost Paul Menard, his drafting partner, and faded to finish 16th. Going forward, Burton has the equipment to challenge for that elusive first win of the season, but keeps experiencing late-race problems. Kenseth has been a vanilla option nearly all season and offers very little value.
Elliott Sadler had the best Average Finish in plate races in 2009, but did not experience that kind of success this year despite an ARP of 14th or better in all four plate races. On Sunday, he finished 14th, his best plate finish of the season, and led a lap for a 16th consecutive race at Talladega. Sadler will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011 and his plans are still up in the air. It's possible Sadler could become a full-time Nationwide Series driver, but would be among the best values in plate races should he land a Cup ride.
The starting grid
Despite the aforementioned ability to collect qualifying bonus points, Montoya (3.24 percent ownership) remains dead last in the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game when it comes to A-List ownership. With only three races to go, owners should plan now on spending their remaining starts for Texas, Phoenix and Homestead giving the second spot to Montoya in hopes of capturing more of those useful bonus points.
Tony Stewart (24.66) was fourth in ownership, but looks too risky to start at the moment. He has a win and another Top Five in the Chase, but has finished outside the Top 20 in the other five events. Stewart came from two laps down to get the free pass on Lap 181 for the final restart, but wrecked and finished 31st, his worst result in the Chase thus far.
On the B-List, the best values were turned in by Logano (25.50) and Reutimann (17.50), as they finished eighth and 10th, respectively. As previously mentioned, both are strong sleeper picks for Texas. Their low ownership levels make them a great one-two punch for owners playing catch-up as the season winds down.
With many owners in need of a C-List solution, it's a wonder Regan Smith (13.98) sits just fifth in ownership. The No. 78 ride has a Hendrick engine under the hood and has finished 13th or better in three of the last four starts. Most owners are running low on Paul Menard (41.12) and A.J. Allmendinger (36.73) starts, which is why Sam Hornish Jr. (42.74) has been sitting atop the Driver Distribution chart lately. With Hornish's knack for finding wrecks, Smith is a better play, the low ownership numbers are just a bonus.
Mark Martin finished 11th with an ARP of 21st after starting 30th and spending just 20.2 percent of the race in the Top 15. Martin had never been keen on using bump drafting until a test session earlier this year. Martin has finished inside the Top 15 in six straight races. Those looking for a value among the top-tier drivers know where to look. Martin has an Average Finish of 7.2 in his last five starts at Texas and three straight Top Fives at Phoenix, including a win from last year's spring race.
Kyle Busch finished 25th with an ARP of 19th and 42.6 percent of laps in the Top 15. Busch was a victim of circumstance during the final restart. Rowdy lost the draft and got trapped on the bottom while losing numerous positions. Look for a big bounce-back performance at Texas with Busch's four straight Top Fives on cookie-cutter tracks this year.
Kasey Kahne finished 26th with an ARP of 14th and 55.9 percent of laps in the Top 15.
Kurt Busch finished 30th with an ARP of 10th and 83.5 percent of laps in the Top 15. Like his younger brother, Busch lost a ton of spots after losing the draft on the final restart. Prior to spinning out at Charlotte, the Blue Deuce had an Average Finish of third in the first four cookie-cutter races of the season. Texas offers big brother a great shot at redemption.
Marcos Ambrose finished 34th with an ARP of 19th and 40.4 percent of laps in the Top 15. Ambrose was leading on Lap 120, only to be wrecked 21 laps later to spoil what had the makings of a solid day. Keep him in the garage until next year for the road courses, assuming RPM is still in business.
Jamie McMurray finished 36th with an ARP of 21st and 41.5 percent of laps in the Top 15. Jamie Mac fell to the back of the field on purpose when the green flag dropped, but was running fourth at the midway point of the race. Late contact with Burton would require repairs and put him multiple laps down. McMurray won the most recent race at Charlotte and is among the better middle-tier choices for Texas. A crash back in the April race ruined a possible Top 10.
Around the corner
Texas is a 1.5-mile cookie-cutter track that is setup very similar to Atlanta and Charlotte. With a total of five races to pull data from, owners should have plenty of confidence in their selections.
*All stats up-to-date as of 11/1.
Contact Eric at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ericmcclung.
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