Spin the Black Circle: Pepsi 500
Yeah, the new "rivalry" between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards might mostly be the creation of a thirsty media that hasn't gotten a fresh Paris Hilton scandal in two whole months. But you know what I say about Sunday night's race in Fontana?
Wreck each other, boys.
Don't get me wrong: I think what happened at Bristol last weekend was actually quite understandable from both sides of the issue. Edwards was frustrated that he could get to Busch's back bumper but couldn't pass, and so he chunked the No. 18 aside with a hard, nonwrecking jolt. Busch was frustrated that he got bumped, which happens all the time late in Bristol races but is frustrating, especially when you feel like a sitting duck. He was ticked off, as most racers would've been, and gave Edwards a few post-race door-slams to express his anger. It's also understandable why Edwards would come back at Busch and spin him out after those slams. I'm not sure why NASCAR felt it had to put both drivers on six-week notice for future bad behavior because worse stuff has happened this year. But whatever.
The larger point is that, while I don't believe for one instant there's this intense mano-a-mano thing between Edwards and Busch (it's more like: everyone against Kyle Busch, who acts like a jerk in about 95 percent of his public life), I find it pretty fun. I mean, otherwise, Sunday night's race would be kind of a snoozer. As has happened in each of the past two events, I expect Edwards and Busch to separate themselves from the field and chase one another deep into the night. One guy will lead a lot of laps; the other guy will spend the night improving his car and chasing. Normally: yawn, especially when it's the same two guys.
This time around, though, we do have the added attraction of what might happen when the chaser finally gets to the chasee's back bumper. Granted, Fontana is a huge, wide-open two-miler, compared to Bristol's tiny cramped corridors. Still, that'll be must-see TV.
"Given To Fly" (Featured Elite Drivers)
(Michigan Race: Matt Kenseth, 5th; Jimmie Johnson, 17th)
You guessed it: I'm suggesting you use both Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Edwards won at the rain-delayed Fontana event back in February (after Busch had dominated the race on Sunday before the rains came), part of his early-season streak that came about because of some technical tricks the No. 99 team learned in a couple pre-Daytona test sessions. Then Edwards came back and won at similarly-configured Michigan just two weeks ago. That makes him Sunday's favorite in my book. Meanwhile, it almost doesn't matter which track style Busch runs on; he's a great fantasy play almost no matter what (unless you happen to be racing at Pocono). It's worth spending the high fantasy dollars on one or both of these guys just about every week right now because they're the most consistent cats around.
(Michigan Race: Brian Vickers, 7th; David Ragan, 3rd)
This is going to sound awfully familiar from the Michigan race, but you should tab Brian Vickers and David Ragan yet again as your midrange fantasy drivers. Now, Ragan's fantasy value is starting to catch up with his terrific results, and if the No. 6 makes the Chase, it'll be mighty hard to get away with calling him "undervalued" any longer. But for the moment, I think it's fair, and Ragan finished third at Michigan just a couple of weeks ago, the best finish of his career. I'll say this: the kid had better do well at Fontana this weekend, a place where Roush typically excels, because Richmond is going to be a much steeper challenge next week.
And yes, I'll also take Vickers again, though it might be just about the final time this season. Whereas Ragan has built his Chase contention out of consistent finishes almost everywhere, Vickers really has been mostly limited to the more massive tracks. After posting a fourth and a seventh at the two Michigan events in the Car of Tomorrow this season, and finishing 11th at Fontana in the COT back in February, Vickers looks like a real top-10 contender Sunday. I just won't count on him being all that near the front for most of the rest of the year.
"Not For You" (Beware Of This Driver)
(Michigan Race: Clint Bowyer, 20th)
This section of STBC is devoted to finding the guys who, statistically speaking, don't excel on the present week's track and/or track style. I'm not definitively predicting a guy will stink at this week's race; rather, I'm saying there are more consistent fantasy options elsewhere. This week, I'm staying away from Denny Hamlin. There's no real reason Hamlin shouldn't be strong this weekend, but let's face it, he's just struggled some at this track type this year. It's hard to hold his crash-induced 39th at Michigan a couple of weeks back against him, but Hamlin was 14th the first time around at Michigan and 41st at Fontana in February. I'm not going to be shocked to see the No. 11 be strong Sunday night because he needs two more good finishes to secure his Chase position. But there are much safer expensive fantasy options on the board.
"Nothing As It Seems" (Weekly Sleepers)
(Michigan Race: A.J. Allmendinger, 28th; Paul Menard, 24th)
Scott Riggs finished 21st the first time around at Fontana and was a strong 15th at the second Michigan race, so while he's not traditionally all that great at these big two-mile tracks, I'm going with the No. 66 to post a surprise top-20 Sunday night. We know that Riggs has some extra motivation coming from Tony Stewart's side of the ledger: Smoke is hoping against hope that Riggs can keep his ride in the top 35 in owner points for the rest of this year, which would mean that both Stewart and Ryan Newman would basically be guaranteed spots in next year's Daytona 500 while driving for Stewart Haas.
I'll also give a nod to David Gilliland, who finished 17th at the first Fontana race back in February. Say what you will about the fall of Yates Racing, but the fact that both Gilliland and Travis Kvapil are safely ensconced inside the top 25 in driver points is one of the season's underrated stories. Each guy is expected to return to his ride in 2009; if you'd have taken odds even on that proposition back in February, you'd be a wealthier individual today.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.
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