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As fantasy owners it's dangerous to try to crawl inside a driver's head and assume we know what's going on in there. That's why we usually err to the side of being stats-driven in our advice.
But was it motivation that caused Martin Truex Jr. to put on one of his best performances of the season in what was a very difficult week for him and Michael Waltrip Racing?
It sure seemed that way after he led 98 laps, which was his second-best output of the season. (He led 142 laps before finishing second at Texas this year. In his one win, at Sonoma, he led 51 laps.) To make a football analogy, Truex Jr. looked like the Colts' Ahmad Bradshaw (111 total yards, 1 TD) after the team traded for Trent Richardson: in other words, highly engaged in the task at hand on Sunday.
The 49 points for laps led at New Hampshire contributed to Truex Jr. joining race-winner Matt Kenseth as the only drivers to produce 100-plus fantasy points this week. Truex Jr. also scored 28 points in quality passes and fastest laps.
So even though he lost five points in place differential after finishing 10th, he still wound up being a fantasy beast.
That leads fantasy players to wonder whether Truex Jr. is using the final races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as a showcase for his talents, either to draw attention from potential sponsors or from another team looking to give him a ride.
It makes sense to connect those dots, but again, it can be dangerous territory when fantasy owners try to base their decisions on hunches and other intangibles such as motivation.
So, what do the numbers say about Truex Jr. at Dover International Speedway?
As his fans know, Dover was the site of one of Truex Jr's. two Sprint Cup Series wins. Plus, he has the 10th-best driver rating there, according to NASCAR Statistical Services. ??So it wouldn't be a stretch to see him play well this weekend in the AAA 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN). But at $25.75 Truex Jr. is no bargain, so let's hope the stats can back up the mind games at the "Monster Mile."
Key Fantasy Moment: Jeff Gordon's streak of top-10 finishes ended at four after his car slid over the line and he had to back up into his pit stall on Lap 202. Gordon held the lead at the time but lost it and had to restart in the 22nd position. He managed to work his way back up to a 15th-place finish, but by then his fantasy day was toast. A minus-12 in place differential hurt Gordon, who started third. He ended with the 12th-best fantasy score, but that put him only seventh among Chase drivers. Not worth the $25 that fantasy owners paid for him.
Biggest Bargain: Brian Vickers was the only driver who pulled double duty in Kentucky and New Hampshire and carried a certain amount of risk in fantasy leagues. He also had to start 29th on the grid after Kenny Wallace qualified the No. 55 for him. But Vickers managed to improve 22 spots on a track where it's difficult to make up ground. Vickers tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the seventh-highest fantasy output of the week, but cost just $20.50 compared with $26.25 for Junior.
Biggest Bust: Kasey Kahne had a decent run going until he got loose on Lap 252 and slid and made contact with the infield wall on the frontstretch. He went to the garage for good after that and finished 37th. That led to a minus-35 in place differential that took his fantasy score from top-10 potential down to 31 out of 43 drivers. Fantasy owners got to experience all that misery for $25.25, meaning their other drivers had to be perfect picks in order to salvage the day.
Tip to take to next week: Brad Keselowski hasn't let not qualifying for the Chase affect his performance. After a seventh-place finish at Chicagoland, the driver of the Blue Deuce turned in an 11th-place showing at New Hampshire. Racking up 26.5 fantasy points on quality passes pumped up Keselowski's score to the third-best output on the day. Although Keselowski's driver rating is ranked only 13th at Dover, it's hard to deny his current hot streak. And at $24.75 is priced just beneath some other second-tier fantasy drivers such as Kahne, Gordon and Greg Biffle.
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