You can almost smell the fumes and feel the rubber from 43 cars whizzing by you at the Daytona International Speedway.
That's right, NASCAR fans—it's time to get out your notes and do your calculations — it's Fantasy Racing time!
Last year, Jimmie Johnson went on to win his third consecutive championship in the Sprint Cup Series, however, it was "Cousin Carl" Edwards who took home the most Fantasy points.
As the season approaches, here is a look at which drivers were wildly inconsistent last year, which ones might break though, whom you need on your roster, and whom to stay away from.
Several drivers on the NASCAR circuit are consistent at one thing—being inconsistent week in and week out.
1. Kasey Kahne — Go ahead and call him the most inconsistent driver when it comes to Fantasy points in NASCAR. During the 2008 season, Kahne managed 17 top-10 finishes.
The problem—after eight of those races, he finished outside the top-15, with finishes of 28th, 17th, 22nd, 31st, 33rd, 15th, 14th, 19th, and 33rd.
That's 47 percent of the time that he follows up a top-10 with a 15th or worse showing 47 percent of the time.
After a top-five finish, it's even worse. Kahne had seven finishes inside the top-five last year, and after three of them, he finished lower than 31st.
For the entire season, Kahne averaged a 16th place finish—the same average held for all of the 2006 campaign. In 2007, Kahne posted an average of 22nd position.
Jury's Decision: Kahne is simply not a good pick-up for a Fantasy team. He gets good points with a couple of top-fives and top-10s, but he follows it up with a bunch of bad finishes and will drive an owner crazy.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 17th.
2. Jeff Gordon — I'm sorry Gordon fans, but here is another driver who will aggravate owners this season.
After a top-10 showing, Gordon had finishes of 39th, 35th, 11th, 43rd, 15th, 14th, 11th, 29th, 15th, 14th, 38th, and 41st.
So as you can see, while six of them were 11th through 15th, six of them were also 29th or higher.
To start the season, Gordon had finishes of 3rd, 39th, 3rd, 35th, 5th, 11th, 2nd, and 43rd.
In the last three seasons, Gordon has averaged a finish of 14th twice ('08 and '06) and 8th once ('07).
Jury's Decision: He may be an inconsistent driver, but he still puts up big numbers in the Fantasy points, so he may be a driver worth keeping around. He may give an owner some headaches throughout the season, but chances are, he will make up for it sometime during the year. Besides, Gordon is due a great season in '09.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 5th.
3. Kyle Busch — It may be a surprise to have Busch on the list of inconsistent drivers, but anyone who watched his collapse in the 2008 Chase knows why he is here.
Busch was a huge pick-up for any owner early in the season. With 17 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races (65 percent), it seemed like he would coast any owner to a Fantasy League championship.
After those 17 races, he finished outside the top-10 seven times, or 41 percent of the time.
He did, however, give an owner eight wins and brought home a lot of points. Things were looking good for Busch owners, until the Chase started.
A 34th, 43rd, and 28th-place finish to start the 10-race playoff killed most owners' chances of winning the championship.
Jury's Decision: Busch will still be a popular pick in drafts for the upcoming season and will likely bring owners a lot of points. However, an owner may also be pulling his/her hair out come September when Busch enters the Chase and falters again.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 3rd.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — June Bug—probably the most popular draftee on any Fantasy roster.
Earnhardt is another racer who can drive an owner crazy. In 2008, he started the season with wins in the Budweiser Shootout and his Duel Race. Over the course of the first 19 races (Shootout and Duels included), Earnhardt managed 14 top-10 finishes.
Things were looking good and fans were pleased to have him on their rosters.
During that stretch, he only had five finishes outside the top-10. However, the second half of the season is where Earnhardt owners lost their points—and any shot at a championship.
Optimism was high at the start of almost every race last year—and then, just like a light bulb—the switch would turn dark and Earnhardt would begin to fade farther back in the field and owners had to watch their points drop like a rock.
In the second half of the season, Earnhardt managed just six top-10 finishes. Following those six races, he finished outside the top-10 five times.
Jury's Decision: As tough as it is to resist the urge, only pick up Earnhardt during the early part of the season. He typically fares well during the first half, and struggles during the second half.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 7th.
5. Martin Truex Jr. — Truex Jr. catapulted to stardom when he took home back-to-back championships back in 2004 and 2005 in what was then the Busch Series.
Since his arrival at the Cup level, he hasn't fared so well.
Truex is another one of the popular draftees for a Fantasy roster. He draws a lot of fans, but is he worth the pick?
Looking back at 2008, Truex had 11 top-10 finishes.
Here is the shocking news: Following 10 of those races, he finished no better than 14th.
No back-to-back top-10s is a scary statistic when you are thinking about drafting a driver for your Fantasy roster. Most of those finishes, however, were not bad: 15th, 37th, 14th, 17th, 17th, 24th, 16th, 20th, 15th, and 43rd.
So statistically, Truex averaged a 22nd-place showing the week after a top-10.
For the season, he averaged an 18th-place finish, down two spots from his 2007 stats, but up from a 21st-place average in 2006.
Jury's Decision: Sorry, Truex fans, this is one driver you may want to stay away from. Sure, he might get you a couple of top-10s, and his finishes afterwards aren't horrible, but 100 percent of the time he finishes outside the top-10 the week after? That's too risky.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 18th.
Breakout Inconsistent Driver: Of the above five drivers, the one who could break out this season has got to be Gordon. Going winless in 2008 was a shot to his pride, and I feel this team will come out with a vengeance to not only win a race, but win multiple races.
It's amazing that this team comes out of the same stable as Johnson, yet struggles on so many of tracks that Johnson excels at.
High-Reward Drivers: While 41 of the 43 drivers could really be classified as "high-risk," there are two in particular that I think almost everyone would agree are "high-reward" drivers—in other words, they will finish most races in the top-15 and give an owner plenty of points throughout the season.
Let's face it, Edwards is the pre-season favorite to win the '09 championship and reigning top-ranked Fantasy driver from '08.
Last season, Edwards put together 29 top-10 finishes. Out of those 29 races, he only finished outside the top-10 the next week seven times—a measly 24 percent of the time. That in itself is an impressive number.
His streak of top-10 during the year included: two in a row (once), three in a row (twice), five in a row (once), six in a row (once), and eight in a row (once).
If that doesn't get a drafter's attention, I don't know what would.
Edwards averaged a ninth-place finish in 2008, up from a 13th-place average in 2007 and 15th in 2006.
Notice the trend?
Jury's Decision: You, as an owner of a Fantasy team, would be crazy not to try and get "Cousin Carl" on your team. He collected the most fantasy points in '08, and is expected to do the same in '09.
Instead of calling him "Cousin Carl," maybe his nickname should be "Consistent Carl."
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 1st
2. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson may have nudged Edwards aside en route to his third straight championship, but the champ still lagged just a bit behind Edwards in the average finishes.
In 2008, Johnson had 22 top-10 finishes. However, he finished outside the top-10 in the next race nine times.
He also had strings of top-10s such as: three in a row (twice), four in a row (once), and seven in a row (once).
Heading into 2009, Johnson may not be the "favorite" to win the championship, but he certainly doesn't like the idea of being the underdog either.
And let's face it, the field doesn't need Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus to have any additional motivation to win a fourth championship in a row.
Johnson averaged a finish of 11th in 2008, one spot below his average in '07, and two places worse than his ninth-place average in '06.
Again, notice the trend?
Things could go sour for Johnson in '09 with a 12th-place showing.
Jury's Decision: Johnson will still be a favorite draftee for any owner, and rightfully so. He has proven over the last three years that the No. 48 team can get it done when it matters most, and '09 should be no different. Johnson will be a great pick up for any Fantasy roster.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 2nd
Dark Horse Driver: One driver to look out for this season could be David Ragan. Sure, the kid is just entering his third season in the Cup Series, but he showed vast improvement in 2008 and could be even better in 2009.
Last season, Ragan managed 16 top-10 finishes. Following those races, he finished 11th or higher eight times.
While that number may be alarming to some potential owners, Ragan is poised to have a great season in '09.
It's the last year that Roush-Fenway is allowed to have five teams, and someone has got to go—thus creating the greatest rivalry between all five teams.
If you want a driver that many may not have, but could still land you some serious points, pick up Ragan in your draft.
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 9th.
Stay Away From Driver: On the flip side, one driver enters into '09 season with the nickname "Sliced Bread." Unfortunately, owners should stay away from Joey Logano in his rookie season.
It may be enticing to go with a kid who everyone has declared to be the next great star in NASCAR—he may be, but not in '09.
Logano had mediocre showings in his few Cup starts last year.
Before you say it, I know, he was in the No. 96 car and will have some growing pains this year.
Logano may be a good pick up next season, but for '09, stay away!
Fantasy Points Prediction for '09: 32nd.
So there you go. Let's go racin'!
(Editor's Note: Finishes from the Budweiser Shootout and Duel Races were included in the top-fives and top-10s.)