NASCAR Fantasy Blog


NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Talladega

October 16, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

Restrictor-plate races a game of chance, which makes this a tough fantasy week

Related: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live

Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" can sound a lot like advice from a veteran driver at one NASCAR's hardest tracks. "If you can make one heap of all your winnings // and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss // and lose, and start again at your beginnings // and never breathe a word about your loss..." you will have survived Talladega Superspeedway

There are a lot of "ifs" surrounding this week's race: If a driver can avoid the seemingly inevitable "Big One" crash. If a driver can keep from getting shuffled out of the draft. If a driver's engine survives all 500 miles. And if he and the pit crew are perfect during green flag pit stops. Then, he may have a chance to win -- if he has track position on the final lap.

Restrictor-plate superspeedway races are often a game of chance, and a fantasy player's job this week is to determine which drivers hold the winning dice. There are so many unknowns surrounding the Camping World RV Sales 500 that is does not make sense to overspend on any single driver, but there is also little incentive to drop an expensive driver if he was purchased under his current value. David Ragan may have the same odds of winning this week as Matt Kenseth, but the corollary of that is Kenseth can earn maximum points as well.

Rank

Driver

Avg Finish

1.

Matt Kenseth

8.60

2.

Clint Bowyer

10.95

3.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11.18

4.

Kyle Busch

12.78

5.

Brad Keselowski

14.04

6.

Paul Menard

14.22

7.

Martin Truex Jr.

14.35

8.

Kurt Busch

14.36

9.

Jeff Burton

14.37

10.

Kasey Kahne

14.93

11.

Joey Logano

15.23

12.

Greg Biffle

15.47

13.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

15.97

14.

Aric Almirola

16.56

15.

Jamie McMurray

16.82

16.

Marcos Ambrose

16.88

17.

Denny Hamlin

17.14

18.

Kevin Harvick

17.45

19.

Jeff Gordon

18.06

20.

Jimmie Johnson

18.14

21.

Austin Dillon

18.22

22.

Sam Hornish Jr.

19.61

23.

Casey Mears

20.16

24.

Danica Patrick

20.17

25.

Juan Pablo Montoya

20.84

26.

Ryan Newman

21.15

27.

Michael Waltrip

21.35

28.

David Ragan

22.06

29.

Carl Edwards

22.08

30.

Trevor Bayne

22.21

31.

David Reutimann

23.24

32.

Dave Blaney

26.71

33.

David Gilliland

26.95

34.

Bobby Labonte

27.65

35.

Landon Cassill

28.13

36.

Travis Kvapil

28.14

37.

Terry Labonte

30.19

38.

JJ Yeley

34.20

39.

Josh Wise

35.36

40.

Tony Raines

36.19

41.

Michael McDowell

36.86

42.

Joe Nemechek

38.29

43.

Cole Whitt

38.86

The Favorites

For all the unknowns surrounding plate racing, some drivers seem to have a knack for racing in heavy traffic and managing the draft. Ragan's victory was surprising, but it should not have been. That was his third consecutive top-10 on this track, which means he stayed out of trouble in 2012 to score seventh in the spring and survived the last-lap accident that swallowed up over half the field in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 to finish fourth. In that race, he literally punched his way through the wreckage and kept enough speed to cross the finish line.

While Talladega is not prone to streaks, six drivers swept the top 10 last year, but only two of them kept their streak alive with a third strong run this spring. Kenseth finished third in last year's Aaron's 499 and won the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 before finishing eighth this spring and in doing so proves just how democratic Talladega is. Drivers with enormous resources race alongside those with modest means and often need their help to stay in the front of the pack. 

Jimmie Johnson has been a top-five fantasy value in every Chase race and as a result, he will be on a majority of fantasy rosters. There is also a strong likelihood that players renegotiated his salary at the end of the regular season when his cap dropped after finishing outside the top 35 in four consecutive races. He will not get any cheaper next week even if he crashes because success or failure on the plate tracks is not predictive of how a driver will run elsewhere. There is also the not-so-little matter of his plate record in 2013, which has been stellar. He is the only driver to sweep the top 10 in all three plate races -- in fact, he has swept the top five and won both Daytona International Speedway events.

The majority of points this week will be earned in the quality passes column and there are some surprisingly good values there. Jeff Burton has earned the most quality passes on average since NASCAR Statistical Services began compiling this information. He surges past 258 cars running in the top 15 during a typical race. Kurt Busch's 242 and Kenseth's 233 may not come as much of a surprise, but those drivers are followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 220, Brad Keselowski with 216 and Trevor Bayne with 215 --a trio that is much more affordable. 

Dark Horses

Dark horses abound at Talladega, from the occasional entrants like Trevor Bayne and Sam Hornish Jr., to inexperienced drivers who have yet to compete in a full season like Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Several years ago, Keselowski was racing in an abbreviated schedule for Rick Hendrick and James Finch when he refused to allow Carl Edwards to push him out of bounds at Talladega. The resulting crash still makes highlight reels, but Keselowski survived the contact to win in only his fifth Cup start. Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 in only his second career start. Those drivers had one other thing in common: They were racing for teams with strong records on plate tracks in excellent equipment, so fantasy players who want to roll the dice on a dark horse need to pay attention. Dillon will be racing Tony Stewart’s No. 14 this week and he has the personality to stay out of trouble. Allgaier will be behind the wheel of what is essentially still the organization that was put together by Finch and has been so successful on the big tracks.

If a player hangs on to Kenseth and Johnson, they have limited opportunities to gamble on dark horses. Wait until practice to make that final determination and watch to see who is the most patient in the draft. After those sessions are in the books, be decisive. Make a choice and do not second guess it. There will be ample opportunities to wonder if the right judgment was made once the green flag waves.

Underdogs

Just as there are drivers who understand the draft and can use it to their benefit, there are others who cannot get out of harm's way in those tight confines. Marcos Ambrose was involved in three separate incidents during the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola. He was part of two accidents in the Aaron's 499, and that has been a pattern since the end of his rookie season in 2009. That season got off to a relatively strong start with two top-10s in his first three attempts, but he crashed at Talladega in the fall and has survived only one of his last 16 attempts on this track type. The damage is not always severe enough to cause him to fall off the lead lap, but he has not cracked the top 10 since.

Juan Pablo Montoya is another star-crossed driver on plate tracks. He enters the weekend with crash damage in 12 of his last 13 attempts -- and the one race in which he failed to crash, he blew an engine 30 laps from the end of the Good Sam 500 and failed to finish. NASCAR's stock cars are durable and, despite suffering damage, Montoya finished third in the 2010 Amp Energy Juice 500, but that has not been his pattern in recent years. He has not scored a top-20 on a plate track in his last eight attempts.