NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Talladega

April 30, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Talladega
Unpredictable track shouldn't have to be a roll of the dice

Picking a winner on one of the restrictor-plate superspeedways is not unlike choosing the right lottery numbers. So many things have to go right to put a driver in position to win, but only one thing needs to go wrong to send a team behind the wall for extensive repairs.

Fantasy Power Average


  Rk

 Driver

Power Avg.

 1.

 Matt Kenseth

10.85

 2.

 Jeff Burton

10.87

 3.

 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11.26

 4.

 Kyle Busch

11.57

 5.

 Clint Bowyer

11.58

 6.

Greg Biffle

13.64

 7.

 Paul Menard

14.09

 8.

 Kasey Kahne

14.18

 9.

Kurt Busch

14.33

 10.

 Joey Logano

14.78

 11.

 Kevin Harvick

15.39

 12.

 Brad Keselowski

15.51

 13.

 Martin Truex Jr.

15.74

 14.

 Denny Hamlin

15.97

 15.

 Aric Almirola

16.13

 16.

 Jeff Gordon

16.68

 17.

 Elliott Sadler

16.83

 18.

 Jamie McMurray

17.74

 19.

 Juan Pablo Montoya

18.32

 20.

 Tony Stewart

18.51

 21.

 Brian Vickers

18.55

 22.

 Regan Smith

19.03

 23.

 David Reutimann

19.30

 24.

 Jimmie Johnson

19.30

 25.

 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20.29

 26.

 Casey Mears

20.50

 27.

 David Ragan

20.69

 28.

 Marcos Ambrose

20.84

 29.

 Ryan Newman

20.99

 30.

 Trevor Bayne

21.84

 31.

 Danica Patrick

22.12

 32.

 Carl Edwards

22.37

 33.

 Michael Waltrip

23.24

 34.

 Mike Bliss

23.75

 35.

 Landon Cassill

25.52

 36.

 Bobby Labonte

27.02

 37.

 Scott Speed

27.14

 38.

 David Gilliland

27.82

 39.

 Dave Blaney

27.87

 40.

 Travis Kvapil

28.27

 41.

 Terry Labonte

29.88

 42.

 David Stremme

35.13

 43.

 Josh Wise

37.33

 44.

 Michael McDowell

37.64

 45.

 JJ Yeley

37.81

 46.

 Joe Nemechek

38.41

• The Power Average is the average finish during the last three years, plus the number of laps spent in the lead, in the top five, and in the top 10 expressed as if they were finishing results on restrictor-plate tracks Daytona and Talladega.

Fortunately, for players of the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, winning is not everything. The game scores drivers in five categories and finishing position is only one of these. The other categories are laps led, fastest laps run, place differential and quality passes. Each week, the relative importance of these categories shifts and it is important to know where the majority of points will be earned. At Talladega Superspeedway, players will earn maximum points in the quality passes category.

A quality pass is a pass for position while a driver is running inside the top 15, so two statistics will be of primary importance. Drivers who spend the most laps racing in the top 15 are eligible for quality passing points and they earn the best average running positions.

The Favorites

At Talladega, Matt Kenseth has consistently been at the top of the charts in terms of average running position. In the past three races, his ranking in this category has been third or better, with a league-leading 3.23 in last year’s edition of the Aaron's 499. Quality passes are not only scored at the finish line, but at one of many scoring loops around the track. As the draft shuffles the leaderboard, even slight variations at the front of the field generate major points. Kenseth has also converted his time at the front of the field into some impressive finishes, with a third in last year’s Aaron's 499 and a victory in the fall Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.

Jeff Burton is coming off an impressive Richmond run and that gives him momentum at the right time. In recent years, he has been one of the top performers on the plate tracks and along with only Kenseth, he swept the top-10 last year. His luck ran out at Daytona this February, but that does not mean it is gone for good. In the 2011 edition of this race, Burton had the second-best average running position to Clint Bowyer and he seems to be more comfortable in the lead pack than mired in traffic.

Likewise, Kurt Busch is coming off a top-10 finish at Richmond and he holds a steady wheel in the draft. From 2004 through 2007 he scored seven consecutive top-10s at Talladega and came close to winning in back-to-back races. His finishes have not been nearly as impressive in recent seasons, but he continues to accumulate points with solid runs at the front of the pack in the middle stages of races. In his last five attempts, he has been ranked in the top five in the average running position category three times.

Dark Horses

Greg Biffle enters the weekend with a four-race, top-15 streak at Talladega. Three of these strong runs were in the top 10 and last spring, he finished fifth in the Aaron's 499. He underscored that strong run with the second-best average running position of 6.2, which means he raced among the leaders for most of the afternoon. In the fall race, he finished sixth despite getting caught up in the last-lap melee and also scored the sixth-best average running position.

Toward the end of his career with Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer was one of the most successful drivers at Talladega. He won back-to-back fall races in 2010 and 2011, which were part of a five-race, top-10 streak. Numbers like that are not accumulated through luck alone and Bowyer posted the best or second-best average running position in three consecutive races. He has not lost any speed with Michael Waltrip Racing, but his strategy seemed to change last year and he spent a little less time with the leaders. Still, dollar for dollar he is one of the best values in the game.

Cap Values

On the plate tracks, players need to spread their money around instead of spending a lot on marquee drivers. Fortunately, there are some great opportunities to manage salary cap because there are always some strong part-time racers entered.

Michael Waltrip was within a straightway of winning last fall’s Good Sam 500 before he was wrecked by an unsuccessful block by Tony Stewart. He had a head of steam and was being ably pushed by Casey Mears, which would have scored not only first-place position points, but would have added 10 place differential points. Waltrip’s price tag this week is $12.50, which means there are only about a dozen cheaper options in the game.

Danica Patrick is worth the risk this week as well. Her performance in the Daytona 500 this February was eye-opening because she managed to stay out of trouble all afternoon. Everyone kept waiting for her to make that one mistake that would either trigger a "Big One" crash or get the No. 10 shuffled out of the draft, and while her lack of experience may have cost a position or two on the final lap, she nevertheless scored a top-10. In NASCAR, lightning occasionally strikes the same place twice.