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Wednesday, October 8, 2003
UAW-GM Quality 500 Fantasy Preview

By Bryan Van Stippen

Many are hoping for a more satisfying conclusion this time around at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The season's first event at the track ended in controversy as NASCAR called the race due to rain -- although it was not raining at the time -- giving the win to Jimmie Johnson. This time around, competitors expect to run all 500 laps around the 1.5-mile track with 24-degree banking. Lowe's is considered to be the sister track to Atlanta Motor Speedway -- the fastest track on the circuit. Some drivers run better on the superspeedways, giving them an advantage this weekend.

With his controversial win, Johnson posted his third top 10 in three tries at the track. Johnson won the pole in his first trip to Lowe's and has averaged a fourth-place finish at the track. Johnson has been solid on the superspeedways this season and has the ability to sweep both races.

When NASCAR officials ended the event earlier this season, Matt Kenseth had to be the most disappointed driver. Kenseth led the most laps and was getting stronger as the race wore on. He posted his first career win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's in his rookie season (2000). He also has a pair of runner-up finishes at the track but did lose an engine -- a problem that has plagued Roush Racing again this season -- last year in this event, dropping his average finish to 11.1. Kenseth needs a good run after a pair of finishes outside the top 30 cut his point lead in half. He should bounce back this weekend.

Some may have already forgotten, but rookie Jamie McMurray does have a win on the Winston Cup circuit. Last season, subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin, McMurray brought the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge across the finish line first in just his second career start - he had never even won a race in two years in the Busch series. As an official rookie this season, McMurray and his team are getting better and better in the second half of the season. He is consistently running up front, posting six top 10s in the second half and running strong on the superspeedways. Don't be surprised if he comes home in the top 10 again this weekend. Speaking of the No. 40 car, expect Marlin to have a good run at Lowe's. Marlin is a former winner of this event and has averaged a finish of eighth in the last four races at the track. Marlin problems this season aside -- he's still looking for his first top 5 -- four of his seven top 10s have come on superspeedways.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart have been strong at Lowe's. Labonte gets the edge over Stewart, as he has seen the checked flag at Lowe's whereas Stewart has not. Despite just one win at the track (2000), Labonte is averaging the best finish of any driver on the circuit over the last 11 races here -- seventh with seven finishes in the top 5. Stewart is not far behind Labonte, with an average finish of 10th since 1999. Stewart had troubles early this season, with a 40th place finish dropping him behind Labonte statistically, but he does have five top 5s in 10 career races at the track.

Ricky Rudd is one driver who has not produced on the superspeedways this season. At Lowe's and Atlanta he finished outside the top 30, and has finished outside the top 20 nine times in 12 events held on tracks longer than 1.5 miles (excluding restrictor-plate races). He is averaging a 23rd-place finish over the last five years at Lowe's, with seven finishes of 20th or worse. He will have a tough time overcoming those statistics this weekend.

A second driver you will want to stay away from is Ricky Craven. Craven did finish third in the Coca-Coal 600 in 2002, but he has placed outside the top 30 in every other event at the track since 1999. He is averaging a 32nd-place finish at the track, which is better than just three other drivers on the circuit -- all of whom are rookies this season.

A dark horse candidate for this weekend is Roush Racing's Mark Martin. Martin has been very good at Lowe's throughout his career, winning four times, the first in 1992. More recently Martin won the Coca-Cola 600 last season, his lone victory of the year. Martin ranks second only to Labonte over the last 11 races, with an average finish of eighth at the track and eight top 10s. Martin has had his problems this season -- he is without a top 10 in the last eight races -- but has the experience to run up front this weekend.

Bryan Van Stippen is the ESPN fantasy racing correspondent and senior staff writer for Email any questions or comments to