(image credit: Morgan Rhodes)
It all comes down to this, the final round of the 2017 Fantasy IndyCar Challenge season at Sonoma. Hopefully you’ve stayed competitive in your league and are in position to win a fake championship. There are some interesting trends in the past results at Sonoma that make for some picks that might be a little unexpected. Here’s the Stats Helper table for the past three races at Sonoma:
Chevrolet vs. Honda
One thing that immediately jumps out to me in the table is the success of Honda drivers and the lack of success of Chevy drivers in the past three years. Team Penske won at Sonoma four times in a row from 2010 to 2013, and while Pagenaud won here last year, Power and Castroneves have struggled. Some of that was not of their own doing, such as Power getting spun by Montoya in 2015. Still, it’s unusual to see the best Penske driver with an average finish of just 6.67, and their three other drivers with an average finish outside the top ten (Newgarden was with ECR/SFH Racing for those races, and Pagenaud was with SPM in 2014). On the other side of the coin, Sonoma has been very good for Andretti Autosport drivers, who all have an average finish in the top ten (Sato was with A.J. Foyt racing for those races). The Hondas have done well in the most recent road course races, sweeping the podium at Watkins Glen. So the edge for this round goes to Honda.
Top Tier Picks (>$27):
Scott Dixon is tied with Newgarden at $31 for the highest price this weekend, and I think there’s enough winning potential at lower prices that it would be wise to spend your money elsewhere. But of the two, Dixon has had the better results at this track, winning in 2015 and 2014. Newgarden’s history at this track with ECR/SFH Racing may not tell us very much since he’s with Team Penske now. But Sonoma has been a very good track for Dixon, and you never bet against Dixon when a championship is on the line.
Simon Pagenaud has finished in the top five in three of the last four races at Sonoma. He was absolutely dominant in his win here last year, leading all but nine laps. He’s in contention to defend his championship, but he’s probably going to have to win this race to have a chance at doing it. He has raced conservatively this year, but I have a feeling that this Sunday, he won’t hold anything back. He could be a boom or bust pick.
Alexander Rossi’s win at Watkins Glen has bumped his price into the top tier (barely, at $28), but I still really like him this weekend. We all know how well he’s been performing of late, with five top tens in a row, and how well Andretti Autosport has performed at this track. It’s also his home track, and he claimed his first top five on a road course here in last year’s race. All signs point to him being contender to win his second race in a row.
Mid Tier Picks (<$27 and >$20):
Ryan Hunter-Reay has, by far, the best average finish of active drivers at Sonoma over the past three races. In fact, the last time he finished outside the top ten was in 2012, which was his only non-top ten finish in the last seven Sonoma races. He’s had a disappointing season overall, but he has come on strong recently, with top fives in five of the past six races and a third place finish at Watkins Glen. He’s poised to end the season on a high note.
The Stats Helper table is a bit misleading for Graham Rahal, as he has performed better at this track than his average finish would indicate. He battled Pagenaud for the lead in the closing laps last year, but had poor finishes in 2015 and 2014 that were not his fault. He was running well in 2015 until he was spun late in the race by Bourdais (who was penalized for avoidable contact), and led a bunch of laps in 2014 before having to pit for fuel with three laps to go. He’s finished in the top ten in ten of the past twelve races, and I expect that he’ll pick up another top ten this weekend.
Takuma Sato has had good results at Sonoma while racing for A.J. Foyt. Now that he’s with a team with a history of success at this track, it makes sense that he could do very well this weekend. For just $22, he’s a good value pick in the mid tier.
Low Budget Picks (<$20):
Marco Andretti got his first IndyCar win at Sonoma in 2006, but that was a long time ago. But it was the site of his best finish last year. While it was just eighth place, it was his third top ten in the past four races here, with a fourth place finish in 2013. Another top ten isn’t out of the question, which is more than I can say for most of the drivers in this price range.
Charlie Kimball will likely be driving for Chip Ganassi for the last time, the only IndyCar team he’s ever driven for. I have to think he’ll want to finish strong for his team, and he’s performed pretty well at Sonoma in the past, with top tens in the past two races with one podium. He’s also finished in the top ten in the last two races this year. If you need a cheap pick to finish off your roster, you could do worse than Charlie.
Drivers to Avoid or Overpriced:
I hesitate to put Helio Castroneves in this group since it will likely be his last IndyCar road course race, and he’ll surely be eager to go out with a win and a championship. But this is not a favorable track for him of late. He won here in 2008, but he hasn’t finished in the top five since 2012. I don’t think it would be wise to risk $30 on a driver with a history of such mediocre results.
Carlos Munoz has had terrible results at Sonoma in the past three races, despite driving for one of the better teams at this track in Andretti Autosport. Even at just $19, he’s overpriced compared to guys like Andretti and Kimball.
The average speed at last year’s race was the highest for an IndyCar race at Sonoma, due to there being just one caution period for three laps. That was a bit of an anomaly, as the 2015 race had four cautions for fourteen laps, 2014 saw three for eleven laps, and 2013 saw seven cautions for twenty-one laps. I’d look to the 2014 race has being typical for Sonoma, but with a slightly higher average speed due to greater downforce from the aerokits. An average speed in the range of 95 to 100 mph is likely.