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FANTASY: Time to Define the Season

Friday, May 4, 2012
Bowyer is in like "Clint" when it comes to Talladega. (Getty, 2010) Photo: Getty Images

Aaron's 499 Fantasy Preview

The Talladega Superspeedway will do anything but separate the cars on the track, but it will be a crucial separation of contenders from the pretenders in the Sprint Cup Series.  As the 10th race of the season, the Aaron's 499 is far enough into the season that most teams should be able to take stock of what they need to contend for the title.

Some teams are sitting pretty.  Some are clinging loosely to a Chase spot.  Some need to find a way to make up ground before the Race to the Chase goes into the critical stretch and leaves them behind.

It's not too late to make up significant ground, but a track like Talladega won't do any favors.  The restrictor-plate race is notorious for big wrecks and it's likely that at least one team still hopeful for the Chase will get put into a big hole this weekend.

While it's too early to start projecting the Chase's final 12, it's possible that this year the two Wild Cards might have more impact than last year (when the top-12 coincidentally made the Chase anyway).  Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski can't count their chickens yet, but sitting in 11th and 13th (respectively) both are looking in a good shape thanks to race wins.

Meanwhile, drivers like Carl Edwards (ninth) and Clint Bowyer (12th) are sitting on the cusp of the Chase, but the lack of a win forces them into a difficult position.  On one hand, the drivers want to make sure they continue to finish well with the hope that they can finish in the top-10 for an automatic bid.  However, safe consistent finishes were what ultimately cost Edwards the championship last year. (He had just one win despite 19 top-fives.)  The other option is to go hard and try to win no matter the cost, but that price tag could mean elimination.

Then, there are preseason contenders like Jeff Gordon (17th), AJ Allmendinger (21st) and Kasey Kahne (23rd).  For these struggling drivers, it's simple: win then try to win again!  There's no need to play it conservative or put the focus on coming home in one piece, anything short of a win or two and these drivers aren't relevant in the Chase.

The beauty of Talladega is that its right about the time where most of the drivers know what they need to make a postseason push and that lends itself to an exciting race.  The pack-style of racing gives most drivers the chance to push for a win, but it also means that a stupid move can result in a pile up.  Simply put: "boys take a nap" should return to the fan-preferred "boys have at it" this Sunday.

In the fantasy auto racing world, team owners are in the same situation.  All the bums that set their rosters in Week 1 and haven't checked it since have finally run out of allocations and will no longer collect points.  After Week 10, you should have a good idea of where you stand against managers that plan on checking their teams the rest of the season.

Strategy: I suppose it depends if you feel like you're a Denny Hamlin-lock in your league or a Kasey Kahne-longshot.  My recommendation is to remember that the Fantasy NASCAR season is all 36 weeks. You won't win your league this weekend, but you can do a lot of harm.  Take note of how many starts you have left for your biggest name drivers and be careful before using them this week.  If they vastly underperform, those are points you won't get back later.

A-List

Start

#2 Brad Keselowski - Despite a race win at Bristol, there haven't been many times that Keselowski has been in the discussion this year.  The A-List has a lot of strict competition, but this is a good weekend to consider him.  He has four top-10s in six Talladega starts, which includes a win.

Gordon is no stranger to 'Dega's
Victory Lane. (Getty, 2007)
#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon has had a rough go this year, but six wins at Talladega suggest that it might be a chance for him to turn it around.  Still, it's a difficult track to head to when things aren't going right.

#29 Kevin Harvick - Harvick's 15.1 average finish here trails just Keselowski's 15.0 on the A-List.  He's one of the winless wavering around the Chase's cutoff for automatic bids and is the opportunistic driver thats bides his time and takes a late lead; that's perfect for this track.

Park

#18 Kyle Busch - Let's nip the momentum flower in the bud on this one.  He does have a win here, but just a single other top-10 in 14 starts and an average finish of 24.9.  It's unlikely he goes back-to-back.

B-List

Start

#1 Jamie McMurray - After following up a fall 2009 win at Talladega with a win in the Daytona 500, McMurray became a restrictor plate race favorite, especially when he finished second at 'Dega later that spring.  He finished both races in the 20s last year, but keep in mind that was during the love bug season of two car tandems.  Expectations should be tempered, but riskier owners might want to consider him.

#15 Clint Bowyer - While you have to take all statistics with a grain of salt at Talladega, the last three races at this track, Bowyer has won twice and finished second the other time in what tied for the closest margin of victory in Sprint Cup Series history.

#20 Joey Logano - Logano has four top-10s in six starts at this track.  If you're looking for a mid-list driver to save you allocations on the big names, he's a great option.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Normally, this top of the B-List guy is the type I'd recommend skipping on a track like this.  However, he has five wins at Talladega and is desperate to visit Victory Lane.  With a comfortable spot in the standings, I expect him to push it at this track.

Park

#16 Greg Biffle - Do not start Biffle here!  His track record is middling at best and there are so many great opportunities to start him that this would be a significant waste.

#51 Kurt Busch - I'm intrigued by the idea of restrictor-plate races leveling the playing field and allowing a good driver in a poor car, like Busch, to do well.  However, this team has struggled so much this year that I'd rather let someone else take the chance on him.

C-List

Start

#21 Trevor Bayne - When he's entered in a race, he should be on your lineup.  He proved he could race superspeedways by winning the Daytona 500 last year and is the aspirin to the headache that is the C-List.

#38 David Gilliland - The driver of the No. 38 has four top-15s in nine Talladega starts.  That's not a bad stat from a guy you probably won't start elsewhere.

Park

#43 Aric Almirola - You have nine allocations per driver, and you have 36 races per season.  Why use up a start on the only C-Lister worth starting at one of the four biggest Wild Card races of the season?  The math doesn't add up.

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The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.

You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com.  If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.