Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Insider: Serving Up A Hot Plate At Talladega

Good luck.

When it comes to making fantasy picks for restrictor plate tracks, you might think those two simple words of advice are all that you need. And for sure, there is some luck involved, but also for sure, there are some guys who seem to have a knack for restrictor plate racing.

That doesn’t mean they like it, as most drivers pretty much aren’t comfortable running about 200mph, while being surrounded by other cars, just foot, or less, away. Or being pushed by somebody when you’re already going that fast and trusting they’ll know when not to push.

Fantasy Insider: Fighting Through The Perils Of Bristol's Thunder Valley

NASCAR heads to one of its marquee tracks this Sunday, the half-mile oval at Bristol Motor Speedway for race number four of 36. Much like Daytona’s restrictor plate circus, just what happens in the bullring can be unpredictable. While that’s great for pure, entertainment purposes it’s a downright panic attack when you’re trying to project your fantasy lineup. How many times has a driver seemed destined for a top 10, or even a top 5 result, in Thunder Valley only to get bumped into the wall during the final few laps and relegated to a 20 or 30-something finish? One fact that is different: at places like Bristol compared to the plate tracks, qualifying really does matter. If you start at the back of the pack there, you’re already about a half lap behind. And since the jury is definitely still out on how well the new Gen 6 cars can pass in traffic, climbing out of a deep hole early could be difficult for even the sport’s short track aces. So drivers that qualify well, in 2013 and those that tend to miss the wrecks will leave you off to a solid start. But even then, know that nothing is fool-proof; last March, an early crash erased good days for Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and several other top stars. Still, here we go, trying to predict the unpredictable… *LOOKING FOR SOME ACES* Of the best drivers out there this week, the first place to look is towards the ones who finished atop the standings last year. *Brad Keselowski* has been steady in these first three races, landing second in points behind *Jimmie Johnson.* But despite scoring top-5 finishes in each, the only driver to have done so Keselowski has expressed his frustration at not scoring a victory. The good news is Bristol’s coming at the right time; he has won two of the last four races there. Roger Penske’s No. 2 car, in particular has dominated this track, transitioning seamlessly from Rusty Wallace, to Kurt Busch, to Keselowski in Victory Lane. Finally, the reigning champ’s average starting spot is 9.5, during the last four races at Thunder Valley and that’s why he’s my pick this week: those who start up front should stay there. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15238.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Even Brad Keselowski is telling the world who to pick this weekend at Bristol; the Blue Deuce will be as hard to handle as ever this Sunday in Thunder Valley.</p></div> Another guy on the “A” list to look at is *Denny Hamlin.* Sure, he’s not happy with the Gen-6 car yet, but he’s also got a recent win at Bristol. And with last week’s criticism, putting him in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons wouldn’t Victory Lane make everything better at the No. 11 car? <div style=\"float:right; width:240px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15541.jpg\" width=\"240\" height=\"300\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Will Denny Hamlin be forced to swallow his pride and pay the fine - or will he prove a point with a win this weekend at Bristol?</p></div> One other top driver you can’t forget about at Bristol is *Tony Stewart.* Sure, he has only one win there, but he’s led 1,355 laps at the track and needs to improve after stumbling out of the blocks in 2013. Speaking of veterans, facing slumping starts there may be no better place for *Jeff Gordon* to break out than Bristol. Gordon has five career wins there and has led 2,637 laps, easily the most among active drivers. Finally, if you’re into streaks, there’s always last week’s winner in *Matt Kenseth.* He’s led 922 laps at Bristol with two wins and an average finish of 12.08 in 26 races. *MIDDLE OF THE ROADERS* This second group is filled with a Busch-ell of possibilities. Easily at the top of this list is *Kyle Busch* especially if you are in a race limit league. He has five wins in 16 career races at Bristol and has 1,374 laps led. What’s most impressive about those statistics is he has done so with an average start of 19.3. Armed with the right balance of patience and aggressiveness, he’s young enough where endurance is not an issue and may be one of the few that can work through traffic after starting mid-pack or worse. Then, there’s Kyle’s brother *Kurt Busch,* no slouch at the bullrings himself. Owning five wins at Bristol, while he’s not in a top-tier ride anymore, driving the No. 78 for Furniture Row he’s had enough success to be considered. He’s led 840 laps in his 24 races there. If you’re looking for a sleeper from this group, plus someone who’s not available to select every week, then you have to look at *Brian Vickers.* He seemed to find his niche there last year and will be in the No. 55 on Sunday. Mark Martin drove this car in the first three events and the No. 55 is a strong sixth in owner points. One last look from the middle-tier candidates also presents us with *Martin Truex, Jr.* In the last four races at Bristol, he’s had two top-5 results and has an average finish of 8.75. Truex has also led 112 laps in those events. *DARK HORSES* As usual, this group is full of intriguing, seemingly low-priority options that can shine. When it comes to these short track races, one of the priorities is to try and find a driver who can stay on the lead lap for a big chunk of the event, dodging bullets while earning a good finish through attrition. The full-season choices here, leading this category at the moment are *Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.* and *Danica Patrick.* They are each competing for Rookie of the Year honors as well as Bristol bragging rights. Only one of them, though will be a solid pick for Sunday. After the restrictor plate race at Daytona, Patrick hasn’t shown the ability, the car, or whatever you want to call it to compete inside the top 10 on a weekly basis. That makes her a tough pick at Bristol. In her lone start there last year, she finished 29th, albeit after contact with Regan Smith ended a fairly decent run. On the contrary, this race might be a good place to use Stenhouse, Jr. He ran in the top 10 at times at Las Vegas despite bouncing off the Turn Two wall, and he seems to be learning the more powerful Cup cars quickly. One possible pick, comes from a driver who won’t be a regular on the circuit but will be driving the No. 51 at Bristol in *A.J. Allmendinger.* In his last three races there, he has an average finish of 20th and has led 54 laps. Most would probably take a 20th-place finish out of their final spot at Bristol, and it’s possible the No. 51 can do better. After all, this single-car effort is sitting seventh in owner points this season. So even though James Finch has limited funding, his team has produced so far in 2013. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14944.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Take a good look - and possibly one of your last. A.J. Allmendinger appears to be headed back to open wheel in the not too distant future. Pick him now and cash in if you are in a tiered league.</p></div> *THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR* The top performer of the week in Frontstretch’s two fantasy leagues was the team _JJs #14_ with 334 points. The selections of Keselowski in third, Kyle Busch in fourth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.in seventh and Stenhouse in 18th was two points better than the _NASCAR Forever_ team entry. The overall point leader for this segment is _Team Hurtubise_ with 657 points, ahead of the _6_99RFR entry,_ which has 647. Want to see which Frontstretch player’s ahead? \"Click here\":http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com/auto/group/11132 to find out and join in the fun of our growing fantasy league. *Connect with Jeff!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/jeffwolfe206\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Jeff Wolfe\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37938/

NASCAR Fantasy Insider: Are You Ready To Roll The Dice In Las Vegas?

The Sprint Cup Series makes its only in-season trip to Las Vegas this week and now that we’re into Week 3 of the 36-race season, the decisions on who to pick for your NASCAR fantasy team can start to get a bit tricky, especially if you’re in a league with pick limits. So if you’re off to a good start in your league, you may want to save some key guys for the 10-race Chase. If you’re not off to a good start, it’s not time to panic yet, but for sure, you want to have a good week. So, hopefully we can find some drivers who can offer you success, but not burn up a week of eligibility that you will regret later. *Looking For Some Aces* This is getting old already, but of the top drivers this week it’s just impossible to ignore *Jimmie Johnson*. Yes, you may have to pick and choose just exactly what weeks to play him, and for sure, you want to save four or five races in the Chase for him – but the fact remains, his numbers in Las Vegas are pretty much off the charts. He has an average finish of 9.82 in 11 races with four wins and two other top 10 finishes. Johnson is again my pick to win this week. Yes, I know I said it last week, too, so go ahead, put out a news bulletin if you wish. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15453.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"200\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Apparently, this guy is good at driving or something. Guaranteed top-2 finisher every week if the current trend is to be continued.</p></div> Another top driver with a pretty good record at Las Vegas is *Matt Kenseth*. In 13 races there, he has two wins, and four more top 10 finishes. He also has led 471 laps led, second most in the series. Which brings us to . . . *Tony Stewart* is the defending champion of this race and has the most laps led at the track with 482. Stewart also has five other top five finishes and three more top 10 finishes in his 14 races at Las Vegas. He had the 2011 event won as well, before a botched late pit stop saw him hand the win to Carl Edwards. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15374.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Who could say no to a face like that? Smoke won at Las Vegas last year, and should have won in 2011. Go ahead and pick him now – no need to wait until later in the season.</p></div> And take this for what it’s worth, too. One premium driver to avoid this week may well be *Brad Keselowski*. In four career starts at Vegas, he has an average finish of 30.50. He’s of course capable of turning that around, and he has back to back fourth place finishes to start the year, but BK looks like a pretty risky pick here compared to these others that are available. *Middle of The Roadsters* Last week I gave you *Carl Edwards* as one of the possibilities in this spot, and he came through with the win. Edwards can be a bit streaky in his career, both on the good side and bad, so if you’re really thinking his team has things figured out now, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to pick him this week as well. He does have two wins in eight races at Las Vegas and an average finish of 10.25. If you’re a believer that *Jeff Burton* is having, or can have, a rebound season after last year’s disaster, Las Vegas isn’t a bad place to spot him. Burton has two wins in 15 career starts and an average finish of 10.93. He also has six other top 10 finishes there. If it's a sleeper pick you're questioning, a guy who will be a must pick on only the road courses, look no farther than Richard Petty Motorsports driver *Marcos Ambrose*. He was 18th at Phoenix last week and has an average finish of 12.75 in four races at Las Vegas, including one top five finish. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14120.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Why is this man smiling? Jeff Burton's three-year long spiral into obscurity may be over with the advent of the Gen-6 car.</p></div> And lest we forget, there is *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* in this group, too. He very easily could have won the first two races, with just a little better luck in the draft at Daytona and on exiting pit road at Phoenix. Junior does have six top 10 finishes in 13 races, including two top fives, for an average finish of 16.31. *The Dark Horses* Just because these drivers aren’t respected by fantasy leagues, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In fact, you can make a case they are more important because if you score a top 10 with one of these picks, then you’re likely in for a good week. The two obvious ones in each week in this group are rookies *Danica Patrick* and *Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.* But if you are on a nine race limit, that means there are 18 races where you have to pick at least two other drivers. You can probably choose a road-course specialist for the Sonoma and Watkins Glen races as well, so that leaves you with 16 open spots. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/13768.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Wondering why you haven't picked Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. yet? So is he. A 12th and a 16th to start the year is rather respectable for a rookie – even if he has won two Nationwide titles back-to-back.</p></div> The other option when he runs is *Trevor Bayne*, who is running a limited schedule again for the Wood Brothers. That being said, here’s some good news: Bayne is entered to drive in the No. 21 car in the Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas this week. The problem here is that Bayne, Patrick and Stenhouse have not driven a Sprint Cup car at Vegas. That’s also the case with former Truck Series champion *Austin Dillon*, who is entered to be the third driver in three weeks for the No. 51 car owned by James Finch. Driving that car has been a good thing for the first two races, where it finished 11th at Phoenix with *A.J. Allmendinger* behind the wheel and seventh at Daytona with *Regan Smith* driving. So, knowing that Patrick and Stenhouse will be available to pick all year, this may well be the week to look at Dillon or Bayne. *The Rear-View Mirror* The top scorer in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues last week was the team Hurtubise, most likely named after late Indycar great Jim Hurtubise, with 359 points. That team had race winner *Carl Edwards*, then a third place from *Denny Hamlin*, a fifth by *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* and an 11th by *A.J. Allmendinger*. That’s tough to beat in this format. So good picking there and obviously there wasn’t a case of beer in the engine compartment when these picks were made (that’s an inside joke for us old IndyCar fans. Go look it up. It’s a great story). Since the Frontstretch leagues have the lucky dog scoring provision, throwing out the worst score, the season total reflects the best score between the two races this season. So if you have a bad week and see that your score didn’t change, just remember it’s already been thrown out. *Connect with Jeff!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/jeffwolfe206\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Jeff Wolfe\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37938/