The start of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is a little over a week away. As the teams prepare for the 56th running of the Daytona 500, fantasy NASCAR players prepare their teams for the upcoming season.
Drivers who are good in fantasy NASCAR are not necessarily the drivers who finish at the top of the NASCAR point standings. To win, the championship drivers must perform well during the last 10 races of the season. In order to be the best in fantasy NASCAR, the driver must perform well throughout the season.
The usual drivers will be at the top of every fantasy NASCAR list, but finding the breakthrough drivers for the 2014 season will be the key to winning your league.
Matt Kenseth was expected to be a top-10 fantasy driver in 2013, but no one expected him to be the best driver in fantasy NASCAR. In 2012, Brad Keselowski came out of nowhere to be one of the most valuable fantasy drivers. Each season, a driver exceeds expectations and finishes up front in the standings.
The 2014 season will be exciting because of the new Chase for the Championship format. Drivers will have to take more risks, because they will be rewarded for winning races.
Here are the top 20 fantasy NASCAR drivers for the 2014 season.
Austin Dillon will be a driver to watch in 2014. Dillon proved that he can drive by winning the Camping World Truck Series championship and the Nationwide Series championship. Now, he must prove he can run with the best in the business.
Last season, Dillon competed in 11 races and had an average finish of 23.1. He performs the best on the intermediate and restrictor plate race tracks. The 23-year-old may not win a race in 2014, but he should win a pole and finish at least eight races inside the top 10.
Dillon is also one of my sleeper picks for the Daytona 500.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did not have the rookie season he was hoping for. He finished the 2013 season with three top-10 finishes and one top-five finish. He should do much better now that he has some experience.
Stenhouse is at his best on the intermediate and restrictor-plate race tracks. He finished eighth at Chicago and third at Talladega.
Last season Roush Fenway Racing did not have the cars to compete with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. That should change this year. Look for Stenhouse and his Roush Fenway Racing teammates to perform much better in 2014 than they did in 2013.
Ryan Newman was released by Stewart Haas Racing and found a new ride at Richard Childress Racing, where he will drive the No. 31 car, previously driven by Jeff Burton.
Newman will not have the equipment at his new team that he had at Stewart Haas Racing, but he will still be a strong candidate to win multiple pole positions in 2014.
Newman is at his best on the flat race tracks of Pocono, New Hampshire and Indianapolis. He finished both races at Pocono last season in the top five and won the race at Indianapolis.
He is also a sleeper pick on the restrictor-plate race tracks. He was the winner of the 2008 Daytona 500.
Jamie McMurray is one of the most underrated drivers in fantasy NASCAR. He does not win many races, but he consistently finishes in the 20 and rarely wrecks his cars. Last year, McMurray was one of the only drivers who finished every race. That kind of consistency can really help your fantasy team.
McMurray is at his best at the short tracks, road courses and the restrictor-plate race tracks. Last season, he won the race at Talladega.
He is a good driver to fill out your fantasy team.
If you want to know what to expect from Greg Biffle, just look at his performances in the past. What you see is what you get with him. Biffle will dominate some races and then the next week look completely lost on the race track.
He's at his best at Michigan and California. He has won two of the last four races at Michigan and finished the last two races at California in sixth place. He is also a good sleeper pick on the restrictor plate race tracks.
Roush Fenway should improve this year, but Biffle will likely continue to be a driver who shows up at the race track with the best car only to find trouble before the end of the race.
Martin Truex Jr. will be the new driver for the No. 78 car for Furniture Row Racing. While some fans may look at this move as a downgrade for him from his spot last season at Michael Waltrip Racing, it may be a good fit for Truex.
Furniture Row Racing is all about speed. The team will do everything it can do provide Truex the fastest cars possible.
The problem with the team is maintaining the cars throughout the races. Last season, Kurt Busch often had the fastest race car, but he lost a lot of track position on pit row. The same could happen to Truex in 2014.
Truex is best on the intermediate and road courses. Last season, he won the race at Sonoma and finished third at Watkins Glen.
Clint Bowyer has the ability to be one of the top fantasy drivers this season, but Michael Waltrip Racing may be on the decline.
Bowyer was on his way to a top finish in the 2013 point standings, but the controversial spin at Richmond set the team back. He finished the season seventh in the standings.
Bowyer performs well on every type of race track, but the short tracks are his best. Take away his spin at Richmond and his average finishing position on the short tracks was 5.2.
He should probably be higher on this list, but Michael Waltrip Racing has too many questions that need to be answered going into the season. Do not expect a top-10 fantasy season from Bowyer in 2014.
Joey Logano came on at the end of the 2013 season. He finished the last three races in the top 10 and will look to carry that success over to the 2014 season.
Logano has the ability to be one of the top fantasy drivers in the sport, but is he ready to make the leap to the top this season? If he can learn to dominate races the way he did at Michigan last year, he will be a serious threat to the title. In that race, Logano qualified on the pole and led 51 laps on his way to Victory Lane.
Logano is at his best on the intermediate and flat race tracks.
Kasey Kahne has all of the tools to succeed in NASCAR, but so far, he has been unable to put all of the pieces together to become one of the top fantasy drivers in the sport.
Kahne is one of the best drivers on the intermediate and flat race tracks and at Bristol. He won the spring race at Bristol and finished second in the August race.
His problem is that he is not very good on the other types of race tracks. Fortunately enough for Kahne, though, the majority of the schedule is raced on intermediate and flat race tracks. This makes him a good option for your fantasy team, even if he struggles on the restrictor-plate tracks and road courses.
Does Jeff Gordon have any more great seasons left in him? I do not think so.
He will be good and finish the season with at least one win and multiple top-five finishes. But I do not think he will dominate the season like he did earlier in his career.
Gordon can win at any type of race track. It all depends on his car. He drives for the best team in the sport, so showing up at the track with good equipment should not be a problem.
The addition of Ray Evernham to Hendrick Motorsports should also benefit him this season. When the two were together during the Rainbow Warrior days, they were almost unbeatable.
Expect Gordon to win a race on the flat race tracks like Phoenix and another at a short track like Richmond.
Kurt Busch had a great season in 2013. He was able to take a single-car team all the way to the Chase. This season, he will be driving for Stewart Haas Racing with Hendrick Motorsports engines.
That means he'll likely be better than last year, right?
The reason Busch is ranked No. 10 on this list and not higher is because of the risks associated with him and his temper. It will almost be a miracle if he makes it through the entire season without any conflicts with new teammates Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Both drivers are as outspoken as Busch is.
If Busch can keep his cool, he could be a top-five fantasy driver this season. He can win at any race track, but make sure he is on your team at the flat tracks. He usually drives well at Phoenix and Pocono.
How well will Tony Stewart bounce back from his leg injury? The answer to that question will determine how good he is in 2014.
Stewart is the type of driver who is either on a hot streak or a cold streak. When he gets hot, he is almost unbeatable. If Stewart can return to the driver he was in the past, he could easily dominate a portion of the season.
Stewart is another driver who can win at any race track. When using him on your fantasy team, make sure you have him on the flat racetracks and in the Daytona night race.
Brad Keselowski has the talent to be one of the best drivers in fantasy NASCAR. The problem last season was that Ford was way behind the other manufacturers.
Ford should catch up with the other manufactures this season, but Penske Racing has a lot of work to do to leapfrog Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports this season.
Keseloski can win at any type of race track, but he is a great sleeper pick at Watkins Glen.
Will this be the year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a championship? I doubt it, but he will be good enough to be one of the top fantasy drivers in the series.
Earnhardt had a career-high 22 top-10 finishes in 2013. If he can find a way to win more races, he could be one of the best fantasy drivers this year. He has the consistency, he just needs the bonus points for winning races.
Earnhardt is the best restrictor-plate driver in the sport. He must be on your team at Daytona and Talladega. He is also a contender at the flat and intermediate race tracks. Avoid him on the road courses.
Carl Edwards is one of my sleeper picks this season. After two season of finishing outside the top 10, he will bounce back with a strong 2014 season.
Edwards' strength is his consistency. He finishes the majority of the races inside the top 15.
He has the ability to win on any type of race track, but he is a sleeper on the road courses. Last year, Edwards finished third at Sonoma and fourth at Watkins Glen.
Expect him to win multiple races in 2014.
Based on last year’s results, Matt Kenseth should be higher on this list. Oftentimes, though, the great drivers fall back in the pack after having a career year. I expect that will happen with Kenseth in 2014.
Kenseth won a series-high seven races last season. If he can win half that many races this season, he will justify his top-five ranking.
Kenseth has his entire team back from last year. It is hard to imagine him winning seven races again, but he will be a contender each week.
The only race tracks that he struggles on are the road courses. Luckily for him, there are only two on the schedule.
This will be a bounce-back year for Hamlin. When he is healthy, he is one of the best drivers in the sport.
Hamlin finished the 2013 season on a high note. He won the race at Homestead and will look to carry that momentum into the 2014 season.
Hamlin can win at any race track, but his best tracks are the flat tracks and the short tracks. Make sure he is on your team at Richmond and Martinsville.
This is the season for Kevin Harvick to become a dominant driver. I predict that he will have the same success with his new team that Matt Kenseth had with Joe Gibbs Racing last season.
Harvick will have the best cars he has ever had in his career. And the cars that he'll drive will be feature the engines that Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne use.
Harvick ended the 2013 season with four wins and 21 top-10 finishes. More importantly, he finished every race but two.
He can win on any type of race track, but his best are the restrictor plate tracks, the road courses and the flat race tracks. It would be a good idea to save Harvick on the road courses. He only has one win in his career on such tracks.
Kyle Busch finally looks like he is maturing as a driver and is ready to become a serious threat to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
In 2013, Busch won four races with 22 top-10 finishes. He also led the third-most laps (1,227) and had a series-high 16 top-five finishes. If he progresses at all in 2014, he should be the best fantasy driver in the sport.
Busch is a monster at every race track except Kansas. For some reason, he has terrible luck in the Heartland.
If I had first pick in a fantasy NASCAR draft, I would have a hard time choosing between Jimmie Johnson and Busch. It is that close.
This ranking would not be realistic if Johnson was not at the top of the list.
Johnson has been the most consistent driver over the past eight years. He wins races, leads the most laps, wins poles and avoids trouble on the race track. What else do you want from a fantasy driver?
He is also great at every race track. That said, if you are in a league that allocates starts, save Johnson on the restrictor plate race tracks. Although he won both races at Daytona last year, the risk is not worth the reward at a race track where the driver has little control over his or her fate.
Johnson is the best fantasy driver in the sport, and it does not look like that is going to change any time soon.
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