We're down to the home stretch, folks. Just as Dario Franchitti and Will Power are locked in a monster battle for the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship, many fantasy racing leagues are neck-and-neck coming into the final triad of races: Motegi, Kentucky, Las Vegas. What happens on those tracks--and the decision IICS fantasy racing owners make--will be deciding winners, losers, and most importantly, bragging rights during the off season.
Most league rosters might be running on fumes--only the most conservative of owners will have top drivers such as Franchitti or Power left to use. But that doesn't mean you need to fade over these last three races. There are still plenty of points to be earned, even if you used Dario or Will for the sixth time about three races ago. Here's this month’s installment of the fantasy racing mailbag, which just might take the sting out of figuring out those remaining picks:
I don't know much about the Motegi road course. Thoughts on who to start or sit for the last trip to Japan?
-Cale in Terre Haute
That makes two of us, Cale. Obviously, with a new course, going with Penske/Ganassi or a team that seems to figure out things quickly such as Newman/Haas would be a good pick. Of course, we'll assume the Penske/Ganassi options are a bit scarce for you right now, so let's look a bit deeper. I know he's had a rough season, but Mike Conway is also usually pretty solid on a new course, his issues at Baltimore notwithstanding. Sébastien Bourdais will also be in his last race of the year for Dale Coyne Racing, and I think he'd be a very good pick (you can't blame him for the mechanical issue at Baltimore, after all).
I believe you said Ed Carpenter's best race might be Kentucky. Any other suggestions for drivers I might not have considered starting? I don't have many good picks left. What about Vitor, or was Baltimore a fluke?
-Wayne B. (Indianapolis, IN)
Yes, if you're set on picking Carpenter this year, Kentucky should be a good track for him. He's come close there before, and I know the Sarah Fisher Racing team likes the track as well. Don't leave out Panther Racing and JR Hildebrand; they've always been excellent at Kentucky, coming close to the win last year in a performance that added to their slew of Top 10s and Top 5s at the track. If you've got Marco Andretti left, it might be worth a gamble; he usually runs well there, though his Jekyll-and-Hyde season has to give anyone a bit of pause.
As for Vitor Meira, he's a talented driver who has come agonizingly close to winning races on multiple occasions. When he finishes well, it's no fluke. That said, he used to finish very well at Kentucky with Panther racing (3 Top 10s in 3 tries), and finished P2 here in 2005 with Rahal Letterman Racing. However, he finished 23rd there in 2010 after contact with Ryan Briscoe, and AJ Foyt Racing's results here have been middling at best in recent years. Consider him likely a mid-grade pick for that one.
After Indy, I was so mad at the Andrettis I didn't start any of their cars again until New Hampshire. As a result, I still have uses left for each Andretti driver. Would you use all of them for the Vegas final?
By the way, I was at Baltimore on Friday and Saturday (was out of town Sunday). I had a great time and am looking forward to the end of the year!
-Greg (Dover, DE)
You can't hold grudges in fantasy racing, Greg! Gotta let bygones be bygones and all that.
If you've stayed competitive in your league while benching Andretti, you've got a nice opportunity over the last three events. As for the Las Vegas finale, I'd say Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, and Hunter-Reay as good picks. RHR and Marco have won on ovals already, though Marco seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Patrick should be good on the ovals, and don't forget her performance in the Homestead finale last year--I'd bet she goes out strong (and finishes in what should be a busy, crowded field). Conway's less of a sure bet, and if the race were this week, I'm pretty sure I could find a better pick. Of course, I'd wait until a little bit closer to see who's hot and who looks lost out there before making up my mind completely. Glad you had fun at Baltimore--it looked like a blast from here in Indy!
PS-Any hope for starting Charlie Kimball again?
-Greg (Dover, DE)
Charlie's a tough one to figure out. He's shown some speed now and then, but the finishes just aren't there. Honestly, if I were going to pick him again as a dark horse, I'd do it at Motegi (although his best finish in 2011 is an oval with a P9 in New Hampshire). Ovals are somewhat more unforgiving of rookie mistakes during a race. It's a risk-to-reward ratio, and this year's, he's got 8/15 races where he finished P20 or worse. I wish you the best if you do it, but just recognize the potential risks that come with such a move.
That wraps up this fantasy mailbag. If you have an INDYCAR fantasy racing question or comment you'd like featured, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org; or the Twitter address below. Thanks for reading. Remember, you don't have to be a hardcore fan or insider to win at fantasy racing; you just have keep your ears open, take a minute to look at your lineup, and make your picks. Good luck, have fun, and happy racing!
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com , which features regularly-update INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate .