The question on the minds of many NASCAR fans is when will Jeff Gordon’s resurgence translate into a long-awaited victory? The drought has now reached 47 Sprint Cup events.
Fantasy players, however, aren’t looking at anything but the bright side. Gordon may have not won yet in 2009, but he is keeping his owners atop their league standings early, and they will continue to ride his wave of early-season success, even if victories seemingly continue to slip through his grasp.
Gordon has led the Cup series in Top fives (four), Top 10s (five), Driver Rating (119.6), Average Running Position (5.4) and Fastest Laps Run (191) throughout the first six events of the ’09 season.
Yet Texas Motor Speedway is only one of two tracks at which he has never been in Victory Lane. His DR of 86.9 is only 12th best among active drivers in the past eight races dating back to 2005.
He has eight Top 10s and six Top fives at the site in 16 starts. So while Gordon is a fine choice in any format this week, past stats indicate he isn’t likely to challenge for a win at Texas.
A sentimental choice would be Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the first event of his career at Texas, and will surely spur some warm memories for his fans. Submitting a solid fantasy lineup, though, is not in line with emotions, as any experienced player knows.
Earnhardt should deliver a strong finish, based on what Loop data outlines. Since 2005, he leads all active drivers in Laps in the Top 15 (2,223, or 82.9 percent) and Quality Passes (308 – passes of cars in the Top 15 while under green-flag conditions).
His DR of 96.0 is sixth-best. Earnhardt should push for a Top Five finish, but don’t expect any heroics.
Carl Edwards swept both Texas events in 2008, so he’s going to be a very popular pick this week. However, he has yet to show the ability to make a strong bid for a win this season, so I wouldn’t overrate him as a one-week selection in salary cap-style and tiered games.
If Edwards wins again, it gives you more license to start using him as a fantasy team anchor again, but based on his somewhat disappointing start to the season, I would not plug him in over other top-rated drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Gordon.
Edwards has won three times in Texas, but has not finished in the Top 10 in any of his other eight starts at the site.
He does lead in Fastest Laps Run (254) at TMS since ’05 and is fourth in DR (102.3), so he should certainly land in the Top 10 and will challenge for a Top 5.
It’s hard to not like anyone but Jimmie Johnson as the outright top choice for Texas, based on his recent results. Johnson has eight Top 10s and five Top 5s in 11 TMS starts. Since ’05, he leads all drivers at TMS in DR (104.7) and Average Green Flag-Speed (172.797 miles per hour).
Kyle Busch (94.9) ranks only seventh in DR (94.9), but after a disappointing outing at Martinsville, Busch is a significant threat to rebound in a major way at Texas. He has finished sixth or better in four of his past five Texas starts.
Loop Data also indicates Matt Kenseth has a good chance to bounce back this week, but keep him out of your lineup until you actually see him revisit the top of the field. For those who have no choice but to go with Kenseth in leagues that used straight or snake drafts, past results are encouraging.
He has eight Top 10s in 13 TMS starts. Since ‘05, he ranks second in DR (104.2), Average Running Position (9.6) and Lapis in the Top 15 (2,115, or 78.9 percent).
Tony Stewart is not a top-tier driver in some formats, making him a prominent “bargain”. Stewart has performed very respectably in his first season as an owner/driver. He has eight Top 10s in 13 Texas starts. Since ’05, he leads all drivers in Average Running Position at TMS (9.5), and is third in DR (103.1).
Denny Hamlin has five Top 10s in seven TMS starts, so you should keep him locked in this week as well.
Martin Truex Jr. ranks eighth in DR since ’05 at Texas (94.6), but he has been virtually invisible so far this year and should not be in your lineup yet. Greg Biffle (91.9) is ninth, but he has been unreliable early in the schedule, and should only be used if you have no other reasonable alternatives.
Clint Bowyer (90.8) ranks 10th, and should continue to build on a rather surprisingly strong start in ’09. Many “experts”, including myself, didn’t see Bowyer making such as smooth transition to a new team so quickly.
When looking for lower-ranked drivers, you must stick with David Reutimann, who finished 10th in the second Texas event in 2008. Casey Mears has a DR of 83.2 at TMS, but it’s obvious he can’t be counted to build on that.
Jamie McMurray has a DR of 81.9 and six Top 10 finishes in 10 TMS starts, so he is a must-have among the mid to lower-range guys. McMurray finished third in the second TMS race last year. Juan Pablo Montoya has four Top 15 finishes already in ’09, and his DR of 77.7 is 19th.
Bobby Labonte has an average finish of 24.1 at TMS, and is a good option when you are looking for the biggest sleepers this week. Labonte, a Corpus Christi native, was inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame this week.
For more in-depth analysis on the upcoming Cup race, plus my Top 25 for Texas, click for the deluxe preview here.