Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Banquet 400 Fantasy Preview
By Bryan Van Stippen
Kansas Speedway, one of the newest venues on the circuit, is a 1.5-mile track that has seen as many cautions as the likes of Bristol and Martinsville. In the 2001 inaugural race, nearly half the field was either involved in a wreck or suffered a mechanical failure. In the 2002 event, things did not get any better as 16 drivers failed to finish the race. Kansas does provide for some exciting racing, especially for those drivers adept at handling the superspeedways. Despite the short tenure at Kansas, statistical history is a useful tool.
The ideal fantasy lineup for last week's race at Talladega consisted of DEI and RCR drivers. This weekend's ideal fantasy lineup is just as easy to select, as Jeff Gordon has won both races at Kansas Speedway. Gordon dominated last season's race, leading the most laps. Gordon has a pair of fifth-place finishes in the last two events and is looking for just his second win of the season. He has at least two wins in each of the last nine seasons and will is trying to keep that streak alive. While Gordon has won the past two races at Kansas, Ryan Newman has taken the runner-up position. Although a rookie last season, Newman ran a handful of races in 2001, including Kansas. Now in his second full season on the circuit, Newman has been on a tear with five wins in the last 12 races and will looks for his series leading eighth victory of the season.
Aside from the dominant performances by Gordon and Newman, there are not many drivers who have run well at Kansas. Two exceptions are Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart. In the two races at the track, Wallace has finished third and fourth, respectively. After four consecutive races with finishes outside the top 35 (Watkins Glen through Darlington), Wallace has rebound with four consecutive top 10 finishes. Wallace is looking to end a 91-race winless streak and has a strong shot to do so at Kansas. It should also be noted that Wallace last won at California, a 1.5-mile track very similar to Kansas.
The only other driver to have a pair of top 10s at the track is Stewart, who has a pair of eighth-place runs. Stewart, however, has not led a lap at the track. Stewart has won at least three races in each of his four full seasons. He will have a difficult time keeping that streak alive this season. Since his only win of the season at Pocono 15 races ago, Stewart has just five top 10s, including a third-place run at Talladega last weekend. Stewart has struggled to put together solid runs in consecutive races, recording back-to-back top-10 finishes just twice this year.
The remaining top competitors have run well one year with a poor finish in the other at Kansas. Drivers that ran well in last year's event include Bill Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who all overcome problems in the inaugural event to finish in the top 10 in 2002. Elliott lost an engine in 2001 but took a top 5 last season, making the biggest jump of any driver. Kenseth overcame plenty of headaches in the 2002 event, taking home a seventh-place finish - the only Roush Racing car to finish the event after engine troubles took Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, and Kurt Busch out of contention. Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, won the pole for the race and finished sixth. In 2001, Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth were involved in a wreck that put both drivers behind the wall. All three have been running well as of late and will be looking for strong runs this weekend.
Leading the way for the have-nots at Kansas is Ward Burton. Burton has finishes of 41st and 43rd in the two races, by far the worst of any driver on the circuit. An accident in 2001 and an engine failure in 2002 ended his days prematurely. Finishing the event would be an accomplishment for Burton this season. Still, with the difficulties he had in the past and the troubles he has been having this year -- zero top 5s this season -- keep Burton out of your lineup.
Some other drivers to stay away from include Dale Jarrett, Michael Waltrip, and Johnny Benson. Jarrett has not been running at the end of either race at Kansas, thanks to engine problems last season and an accident in 2001. On top of that, he has just one top 5 this season, a win at Rockingham in the second race of the year. Waltrip has had just as many problems as Kansas as Jarrett, although he did at least finish the race last season -- 28 laps down. In the two events, Waltrip has been involved in a wreck both times, finishing no better than 26th place. Like Jarrett, Benson has not been running at the end of either race.
Kevin Harvick cannot really be a dark horse, as he has been one of the most dominant cars in the last nine races, but he has not been strong at Kansas. He was the last car on the lead lap in 2001 and last season was the second car a lap down -- although he did lead a lap in that race. He is looking for his first top 10 at the track and seventh in the last nine races. Harvick's teammate Robby Gordon could also surprise this weekend. Gordon has avoided the problems that have eliminated many of the contenders but does not have a top 10 at the track. Gordon has been not been running well as of late, without a top 10 run in the last six races. He needs a good finish to stay in contention for a top 10 points finish.
Bryan Van Stippen is the ESPN fantasy racing correspondent and senior staff writer for www.fantasygms.com. Email any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.