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Fantasy NASCAR Rankings: GoBowling.com 400
Prior to the June race at Pocono Raceway, I mentioned that I put a little more emphasis on qualifying results when I finalize my rankings because of the importance of track position at the Pocono. For the most part, the trend held true as seven of the top 10 finishers started in the top 15. In fact, every driver that finished in the top five started in the top 10, and no driver that started outside the top 20 finished in the top 10. Needless to say, I put plenty of stock in qualifying results again this weekend while still taking into account how the drivers performed in race trim during Saturday's practices.
Fortunately for fantasy purposes, many of the pre-race favorites have been living up to expectations. Four of the drivers that qualified in the top five are former winners at Pocono, and June winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will start in the top 10. Granted, rookie Kyle Larson is on the pole, but he did manage a top-five finish in his Pocono debut less than two months ago so was already on the fantasy radar even without an extensive resume at the track. Meanwhile, former Pocono winners Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski topped the two practice sessions Saturday. Overall, it looks like there are plenty of strong options to choose from when finalizing fantasy lineups for Sunday's race.
The top 3
After leading the most laps and finishing second at Pocono in June, Keselowski appears to have one of the strongest cars again this weekend. He qualified third, and he cracked the top five in race trim in both practices Saturday, topping the charts in the final session. In addition to his runner-up effort earlier this year, Keselowski won at Pocono in August 2011, and he has three finishes of sixth or better in his last four starts at the track. He looks primed to deliver another dominating performance and is worth building around in any fantasy format this weekend.
2) Jeff Gordon
Gordon has been one of the most reliable options at Pocono throughout his career, and he currently leads all active drivers in wins, top-five finishes and top-10s at the track. He also owns a 5.8 average finish in his last four starts at Pocono, and in he has finished second and first in his last two starts in the August race. Gordon will start fifth Sunday with a car that cracked the top 10 in both Saturday practice sessions, ranking second in Happy Hour. He is one of the safest options to anchor fantasy lineups with this weekend.
3) Kurt Busch
I bumped Busch up to third in the final rankings after he qualified fourth and paced the field in the first practice session Saturday. Of course, he has also been on a tear at Pocono lately, logging five finishes of seventh or better in his six starts at the track. During the stretch, Busch has posted four top-three finishes, including back-to-back third-place runs. All signs point to another stellar showing for Busch this weekend.
11) Kyle Larson
Larson has boosted his stock throughout the weekend, winning his first-ever pole award Friday and ranking in the top 10 in Happy Hour Saturday. In June, Larson started 14th and worked his way up for a fifth-place finish in his debut at Pocono. Starting up front, he has a chance for an even better run. He may be a rookie, but Larson's top-five potential is tough to pass up.
12) Ryan Newman
Although he qualified a disappointing 21st this weekend, Newman jumped up to second on the charts in race trim during the morning practice Saturday and was 11th in the final session. Meanwhile, he was able to move forward in the June race, starting 15th and finishing seventh. Overall, Newman has been one of the steadiest performers at Pocono, posting 12 straight top-15 finishes, including four straight top-10s. Despite the lackluster qualifying run, a top-15 still seems likely, and Newman should be a solid addition to rosters in most formats.
15) Jamie McMurray
His recent solid stretch at Pocono has continued so far this weekend as McMurray qualified in the top 10 and ranked in the top 15 during the first practice Saturday. In fact, McMurray has looked better this weekend than he did leading up to the June race when he finished 10th. He has managed to finish 17th or better in his last five starts at Pocono, logging three top-15s over the span. McMurray should at least provide a top-15 finish this weekend, and he could even be a sneaky source for a top-10.
19) Austin Dillon
The rookie has quietly hit his stride in recent weeks, and has finished 17th or better in the five races leading up to Pocono. Dillon also finished 17th in his Pocono debut in June, and just like in that race, he will start 11th Sunday. At the very least, Dillon looks like a safe bet to crack the top 20 this weekend, and don't be surprised if he improves his result from the June event now that he has some experience on his side. Keep Dillon in mind when you are rounding out fantasy rosters this weekend.
Big names outside the top 10
20) Matt Kenseth
Pocono has been a house of horrors for Kenseth lately, and there is little reason to be optimistic about his chances Sunday based on the speed he has shown so far this weekend. He qualified 18th, and he failed to crack the top 15 in either practice session Saturday, ranking outside the top 20 in the morning practice. Meanwhile, Kenseth has gone 16 races without a top-five finish at Pocono and has finished outside the top 20 in his last four starts at the track.
21) Greg Biffle
His numbers at Pocono are actually solid, but Biffle seems to have missed the setup this weekend. He qualified 25th, and he ranked 20th in both of the practice sessions in race trim Saturday. Biffle is a former winner at Pocono, but just like in the June race when he finished 16th, a top-20 finish is probably his ceiling this weekend.
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