News & Media

Fantasy Preview: Martin's temperament makes him a favorite

June 29, 2011, Dan Beaver, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Menard is one of three with sweep of top-15s during advent of two-car tandems

In the past, wild-card races were limited to a select few tracks. This year, it seems they are everywhere one looks.

That harsh reality might actually give fantasy owners a little comfort this week, because while they should be able to pick a winner on unrestricted, intermediate speedways, no one expects the same kind of certainty on the traditional wild-card-track types -- short courses and restrictor-plate superspeedways, which allows them to take risks without the accompanying angst.

The rules for fantasy owners keep changing on the plate tracks as NASCAR searches for the perfect balance of safety, equality and competition. Gone for the moment is the massive drafting pack that constantly wielded Damocles' sword over the field; they have been replaced with two-car tandems.

That has not improved the predictability on this type of track, though since these dynamic duos are equally matched with one another. The past three restrictor-plate superspeedway races, dating back to the Amp Energy Juice 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway last fall, have resembled high-speed games of leap frog. Even if fantasy players were allowed the opportunity to change their lineup on the last lap, picking the top five would be an uncertain bet, and that means that prophesying from this remote distance in time is a near impossibility.

The recent troika of plate races bears the most similarity with one another to the exclusion of all events in previous years, but even narrowing the focus to these races is of little help. None of the drivers in the field have earned three consecutive top-10s on this track type. Because of that, nearly half of the entrants this week have scored at least one strong run in that span, which is precisely the kind of parity that NASCAR wants and that gives players so much gray hair.

The Favorites

While no one has been able to record consecutive top-10s in the races that have been defined by two-car drafts, three drivers have finished 15th or better in each event and two others have come close. Fantasy owners should look closely at this shallow pool of drivers for their favorites. Predicting a winner is a bit like selecting lottery numbers, so this week's effort should go into selecting solid performers who are most likely to stay out of trouble and be in position to score respectable top-10 finishes.

Because of his temperament, Mark Martin gets top billing this week for the Coke Zero 400. The two-car tandems allow him to stay out of dangerous situations like those that occur in multi-car drafts, and this spring's race at Talladega is a good example of what that means. For most of the Aaron's 499, he was content to push Jeff Gordon and that allowed the pair of Hendrick teammates to ride in relative safety until the final laps. If not for contact with another driver in the tri-oval, he might have pushed his tandem to the lead, but fantasy owners were content with his eighth-place finish instead. That was his third consecutive result of 11th or better on the plate tracks, making him one of the most consistent racers under the new circumstances.

Clint Bowyer narrowly missed adding his name to the list of drivers with three consecutive top-15s by finishing 17th in this year's Daytona 500, but his results in the past two Talladega races makes him a driver to watch closely this week. He won on the 2.66-mile track in Alabama last fall and came within a bumper of repeating this spring. His last Daytona outing was not as impressive as it could have been, but that was the first time in three years that he failed to earn a top-five in the Great American Race, which suggests that his skill is equally great in Florida. His fourth-place finish at Infineon doesn't hurt matters either since it gives him additional momentum heading into this week.

NASCAR's search for parity means that the third favorite for the Coke Zero 400 comes from a third different organization. Carl Edwards is the points leader for a reason: he has managed to stay out of trouble almost every week and that is a trait that should serve him well at Daytona. Patience certainly played a role there in February when he was seemingly content to push fellow Ford driver Trevor Bayne to his career-first victory. He also knows when it is time to mash the accelerator and make a bold move. Fantasy owners should replay the last lap of the Aaron's 499 at Talladega when the No. 99 kicked up marbles along the wall in an unsuccessful attempt to take the lead at the checkers. He might not have won, but he had enough to finish sixth, which was his eighth consecutive result of 17th or better on this track type.


Our experts pick the studs and duds for this week.

Dark Horses

Paul Menard is one of the three drivers with a sweep of the top 15 during the advent of the two-car tandems, but he gets pushed out of the top three because of his relative inexperience compared to Martin, Bowyer, and Edwards. Bayne proved that plate tracks are often equalizers and rookies can run just as strong as veterans, but it is hard to handicap them with certainty because mistakes are more often made by drivers with fewer laps under their belts. Menard had a great start to the season and part of that momentum was achieved at Daytona in February with a ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 12th at Talladega in April. Menard finished 13th on that same track last fall and this style of racing has been consistently kind to him.

Regan Smith rounds out the list of three drivers with a perfect streak of top-15s in two-car drafts. And in his case, the turnaround from the old style of racing was the most dramatic. In the four races on this track type prior to last fall's Amp Energy Juice 500 at Talladega, he crashed twice and blew an engine twice to finish well inside the 30s each time. Since then, he's finished 12th, seventh, and 15th, which makes him one of the best values in the game with a relatively modest salary cap.


Often, one of the most useful tools at a fantasy owner's disposal is NASCAR's Driver Rating, but that isn't always true on plate tracks. By the numbers, Tony Stewart is one of the best in class at Daytona -- in fact, he has the best rating of 100.6 on this track among drivers with more than one start, but he hasn't been able to play his cards right and earn a top-10 since winning the 2009 edition of the Coke Zero 400. His past three attempts on this track have produced a best result of 13th and an average of 20th. It appears he might need to wait one more week before he gets the bad taste of last week's accident at Infineon out of his mouth.

Fantasy Power Ranking

Superspeedways (past three years)
2.Kyle Busch8.9618.Mark Martin17.5433.Scott Riggs28.30
3.Kurt Busch10.5019.Brian Vickers18.0434.Marcos Ambrose28.67
4.Clint Bowyer11.8820.David Reutimann18.4235.David Gilliland28.70
5.Kevin Harvick12.6021.Kasey Kahne18.5636.Landon Cassill30.56
6.Jeff Burton12.6422.Paul Menard18.7037.Terry Labonte30.61
7.Juan Montoya13.2723.Brad Keselowski18.8138.Dave Blaney31.09
8.Matt Kenseth13.8524.Jamie McMurray19.0939.Mike Skinner31.86
9.David Ragan13.8725.Greg Biffle21.0640.Joe Nemechek34.04
10.Denny Hamlin14.5726.Casey Mears22.0641.Andy Lally34.81
11.Trevor Bayne15.2627.Regan Smith22.8342.Tony Raines36.73
12.Jeff Gordon15.3228.Bobby Labonte23.6443.J.J. Yeley36.96
13.Martin Truex Jr.15.7329.Ryan Newman24.6444.Kevin Conway37.32
14.Jimmie Johnson15.9130.A.J. Allmendinger24.7945.Michael McDowell37.52
15.Joey Logano16.0331.Robby Gordon26.3346.Geoff Bodine40.50
16.Carl Edwards17.07

Kyle Busch has the second-best rating at Daytona among drivers with more than one start and he was able to parlay that into a top-10 in the Daytona 500, but he is equally capable of running into major trouble on plate tracks. In 13 starts at Daytona, he has one victory and four total top-fives, but that is counterbalanced by six results outside the top 20. The two-car tandems should allow Busch to avoid trouble, but that was not the case at Talladega this fall when he crashed out of the Aaron's 499 on lap 144. His go-for-broke attitude pays dividends on occasion, but it can also be costly and Busch has experienced crash damage in 12 of 26 plate races, which is an underwhelming percentage of 46 percent of his attempts.