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Talladega Fantasy: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Quick: Ricky Bobby or Carl Edwards? Photo: Getty Images

Of course, right!?

I had to make some stereotypical reference to that stereotype-fulfilling movie!

Although, while some NASCAR purists might have felt it made a mockery of the sport, it did a lot to bring auto racing into the living rooms of Americans.  Plus, it was Carl Edwards that, two years ago in this race, suffered a horrific crash on the last lap and legged it out on foot to the finish line, à la Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard.

However, like in the movie when Bobby and Girard were disqualified for leaving their cars and Cal Naughton Jr. was awarded the race, if you're prepping this weekend's fantasy team, you're probably more concerned with who will cross the finish line first...by vehicle!

Since this is the first time I've done a fantasy preview, let me give a quick overview of how it works.  I play Fantasy Auto Racing on Yahoo! so all references to specific rules will reflect that format.

In Yahoo!, drivers are separated into an A-list, B-list and C-list.  Most of the Cup contenders tend to be A-listers, but there are always some B-list bargains.  The C-list is comprised mainly of start-and-parks, save a few ringers.  The caveat, however, is that each driver is only allowed to make nine starts in a season.

There are 36 races, so I can't just roll Paul Menard out as my C-lister each week.

I pick two A-list, four B-list, and two C-list drivers, and start one A, two Bs and a C, while the other four selections are simply on the "bench."  Similar in setup to Cup Standings, points are awarded based on finish and bonus points are given out for "Laps Led" to all active drivers (although the bench can pick up qualifying bonuses).

This is my third season playing Fantasy Auto Racing.  I have a strong memory and a certain affinity for stats, which is probably why I play things like Fantasy Auto Racing (and Golf) in the first place.  However, it also lends into my knowledge for whom to start on specific tracks.  I will always glance at Yahoo!'s "Preview" for confirmation, but, in my third campaign, I usually tend to be on the same page as the "Preview" already.

Ok, now that we got the nitty-gritty out of the way, let's actually take a look at my Talladega picks.  I'll give some options for drivers to "start" and some drivers that you should certainly "park."

Talladega strategy: The superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega) have the reputation of having "The Big One."  While the new two-car drafting system might change the pack mentality that eats cars like a vending machine eats your quarters, it's still best to be wary of field-clearing pile ups.  For this reason, I avoid all of the marquee options that I expect to start nine times this year, because I'd hate to waste an allocation on one of the few races that I can't anticipate a top 10-15 finish.

A-List

Start

#14 Tony Stewart - Stewart hasn't looked that good lately, but I view him as one of the best pure drivers on the circuit.  In the case of a restrictor plate race, where cars speeds are regulated, I'm always looking to give the nod to a great driver, since his skill and smarts could be what determines success, as opposed to the hardware under the hood of the car.

#17 Matt Kenseth - He's been racing really well this year and after his win in Texas last week, he's due for a hot streak.  It's unlikely most people have started Kenseth very much and also unlikely you'll use all nine of his starts.  He's a good choice this week.

#29 Kevin Harvick - The 29 was racing well until a 20th in Texas last week.  Even so, there are some weeks that just don't go a driver's way and for Harvick, those seem to be few and far between.  Assuming you haven't used him too much already, this would be a good time to roll out one of the stronger cars in early 2011.

Park

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Jimmie posts an average finish of 17.2 at Talladega and 17.9 on superspeedways; that's a far cry from his 11.7 career average finish.  Figure that, along with that you'll want to give him nine starts, and you won't want to waste one this week.

B-List

Start

#1 Jamie McMurray - After he took Talladega in the fall of 2009 and Daytona in the spring of 2010, I've been riding the McMurray bandwagon at superspeedways.  He seems to perform well at the most prominent tracks (he also won the Brickyard last year), and there's just no way anyone in their right mind is going to end up starting him nine times.

#2 Brad Keselowski - He's won here and finished in the top-10 in three of four tries.  Like McMurray, he's not the strongest driver in the group and could be worth a shot based on his past success in Alabama.

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya is noticeably stronger at 'Dega, where he finishes an average of 14.8, compared to a 19.4 career.  He needs to be on your team this week.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior finishes an average of nearly two spots better at Talladega than he does overall.  He's been much better so far this spring than in recent years, and most people believe it's only a matter of time before he makes an overdue trip to Victory Lane.  This is the best chance he'll have.

Park

#39 Ryan Newman - Newman has been the best B-list driver so far, so similar to Jimmie Johnson, save him for another day, you'll need the allocations.  He doesn't have a history of racing well here and is best left in the garage.

#43 AJ Allmendinger - Don't even consider him.  Allmendinger has finished 30th or worse in four out of five goes (the fifth was a 19th place finish).

C-List

Start

#21 Trevor Bayne - Bayne's quickly fallen back in line after his upstart win at Daytona in February.  However, he proved he can race a superspeedway and can race in the two-car draft system.  In a C group that lacks too much depth, he's worth the risk this week.

#47 Bobby Labonte - While he hasn't been overwhelming this season, Labonte's only had one stinker (38th in California) and consistency goes a long way in the C group.  He also finished fourth in Daytona, proving he's been around long enough that he can adapt to whatever the race strategy dictates.

#78 Regan Smith - Be wary of Smith, as he's posted four 30th or worse finishes in the first seven races.  However, he did finish seventh at Daytona.  He's a high-risk play, but if you're using up Labonte allocations too quickly and aren't feeling Bayne, the 78 is worth consideration.

Park

#6 David Ragan - Ragan is quickly emerging the vice president in this group to Paul Menard (below).  He's the only C-driver (other than Menard) in the top-20 of the standings.  The 6 could have won Daytona if it weren't for a restart penalty and has two consecutive top-10 finishes, but you know my strategy at Talladega: save your best drivers for a non-restrictor plate race.

#27 Paul Menard - No way, no how should you start Menard this week.  He's the only driver in the C-list with much of a shot at the Chase and his nine allocations are a guarantee to get used up.  Don't burn one this weekend!

My preliminary roster (subject to change, based on qualifying)

A - HARVICK (9), Kenseth (9)

B - EARNHARDT JR. (7), McMURRAY (8), Keselowski (9), Montoya (8)

C - BAYNE (9), Labonte (8)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

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Lastly, while we're on the subject of "Fantasy," be sure to circle April 23rd on your calendars for the FANtasy Drive Open House.  Gates open at 9 am and admission is free, plus anyone that purchases a ticket to any of the major events (NASCAR or IndyCar) will get a chance to drive their car on the track.  How cool is that!?

-JS