The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Talladega, Alabama, this week for the Aaron’s 499. This will be the first trip back to a superspeedway since the Daytona 500.
The race last spring at Talladega was filled with wrecks and rain delays. The way this season has gone so far, it may be the same type of race this Sunday. Carl Edwards was on his way to Victory Lane when the two cars front Front Row Motorsports (David Ragan and David Gilliland) made the pass for the win. Ragan’s win in the No. 34 car proved that every driver has a chance to win at Talladega.
Picking the winning driver at Talladega is harder than doing so for any other race on the schedule. One wreck could take out half of the field, eliminating many of the teams with good cars.
This will be the week to take a gamble on some drivers you have not used much this season. Since being at the right place at the right time determines most races at Talladega, every driver in the field has a legitimate chance of winning.
Drivers in Fantasy Live earn one point for every position they finish the race ahead of where they start. Since it is very easy for a driver to go from the back to the front at Talladega, fantasy teams should choose drivers who will start in the back. If you are lucky enough to pick the right combination of drivers starting in the back and finishing up front, your team will finish at the top of your league point standings.
Racing for the Win
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt had a great car at Daytona and should have the car to beat this week. He started ninth and led 54 laps on his way to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500. When people think about restrictor-plate racing at Talladega, the first name to come up is usually Earnhardt. He has won five races at the race track and learned at lot from his father, who visited Victory Lane 10 times at Talladega. Earnhardt will add another win to his 2014 resume this week.
2. Jeff Gordon: Gordon has six wins and 19 top-10 finishes in his 42 career starts at Talladega. He is one of the best in the business at restrictor-plate racing. This could easily be the race track where he wins his first race of the season and adds his name to the list of drivers with a secure spot in the Chase.
3. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is much better at Talladega than he is at Daytona. His average finishing position at Daytona is 20.2 and his average finishing position at Talladega is 14.2, including two wins. The Penske Racing cars will figure out how to draft-qualify Friday night, allowing Keselowski and Joey Logano to start up front. Keselowski knows how to stay up front and will be one of the drivers racing for the win Sunday.
4. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin may have had the best car at Daytona. He won the Sprint Unlimited race, won the Budweiser Duel race and finished second in the Daytona 500. Do not be surprised if he wins his first race at Talladega this week.
5. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson dominated the restrictor-plate races last season. He won both races at Daytona and finished fifth in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. Johnson has become one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in the series. But although he has a great chance for a top-five finish, it would be wise to save him for a race track that is less unpredictable.
6. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has a series-best driver rating in the last four races at Talladega. He finished three of the four races inside the top 10 and led 280 laps. Kenseth started third and finished sixth in the Daytona 500. He will have the same type of results this week.
7. Kyle Busch: Busch is a risky driver this week. He is very good at restrictor-plate racing, but he seldom brings the car home in one piece. If you want to select a driver who will race up front for most of the race, Busch is your guy. Can he finish the race without being involved in the big wreck? If he can, he will easily finish in the top 10.
8. Kevin Harvick: Kevin "Where Did He Come From” Harvick is another good restrictor-plate racer. He usually rides around the back of the field trying to avoid wrecks. Once the laps come to an end, Harvick makes his way to the front. This strategy has allowed him to win three restrictor-plate races. He may not lead many laps Sunday, but he will make his way to the front at the end of the race.
9. Tony Stewart: Stewart had a rough day at Daytona in February, starting 21st and finishing 35th. It was his first race back from a long absence, though, so he deserves a mulligan for that race. Stewart has finished 13 of his 29 starts at Talladega in the top 10. He would be a safe pick for your fantasy team this week.
10. Carl Edwards: Edwards started on the pole and finished third in this race last season. He is a driver who is either up front or in the back at Talladega. Edwards has finished five races in the top 10 and has five DNFs in his 19 career starts at the race track. It may be wise to save him for a more predictable race track in fantasy games that restrict the number of times you can use a driver.
11. Clint Bowyer: Talladega is one of Bowyer’s best race tracks. He has two wins and has finished eight of his 16 career starts in the top 10. Bowyer has not had a great season so far this year, so I would not expect him to be as strong as he was in the past at Talladega. He should finish near the top 10.
12. Kurt Busch: Busch was one of the best drivers at Talladega when he drove for Penske Racing. In his nine races with the team, he finished six in the top 10. Since he left the team, he has not finished inside the top 15. Stewart Haas Racing will provide Busch a car similar to what he had at Penske Racing. He will finish inside the top 15 for the first time in seven races at the race track.
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is my sleeper pick this week. He has finished the last two races at restrictor-plate tracks inside the top 10. He has two career starts at Talladega in the Sprint Cup Series and has finished both inside the 15. He would be a great selection for your team if you want to save a start with one of the more popular drivers.
14. Greg Biffle: Biffle was great at Talladega in 2012, finishing both races in the top six. Last season, he finished the spring race outside the top 15 and the fall race in the top 10. He is a safe pick this week if you want a driver who will avoid the wrecks and finish up front.
15. Austin Dillon: Dillon was one of the surprises at Daytona. He won the pole for the Daytona 500 and finished ninth. I doubt he will be that good again this week, but a top-15 finish is within reason.
16. Joey Logano: Logano has only finished three of his 10 starts at Talladega in the top 10. His last top-10 finish came in the fall race of 2010. Logano has been good this year, but there are better race tracks to use him at.
17. Jamie McMurray: McMurray won the last race at Talladega in October. It is hard to imagine that he will be back in Victory Lane Sunday. McMurray has an average finishing position of 19.3 at Talladega and will be closer to his average than to Victory Lane this week.
18. Ryan Newman: Newman has been much better in the fall races at Talladega than he has in the spring races. In the last two fall races, Newman finished inside the top 10. He finished the last two spring races outside the top 30. He may not be that bad this week, but there are safer picks for your team in the field.
19. Michael Waltrip: Waltrip will be driving the No. 66 car this week. Whenever he drives the car at a restrictor-plate race track, it is wise to select him for your team. It gives you an opportunity to save an allocation with another driver, and Waltrip is pretty good at restrictor-plate racing. He finished fourth in this race last season.
20 Brian Vickers: Vickers has not raced at Talladega since 2011, but I doubt he forgot how to get around the race track. He has finished six of his 14 career races inside the top 10 at the track. He may not finish that high this week, but a top-20 finish should be achievable for the No. 55 team.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Aric Almirola: Almirola may be worth a sleeper pick this week. He probably will not win the race, but he probably will not finish outside the top 25 either. His average finishing position at Talladega is 19.8. He is a safe pick for your team Sunday.
22. Martin Truex Jr.: It is hard to trust Truex this season. He has decent stats at the restrictor-plate race tracks, but he finished last in the Daytona 500. Truex may finish in the top 10, but it is too risky to select him for your team. Use one of the drivers from the major organizations.
23. Kyle Larson: Larson had a rough day at Daytona, starting 16th and finishing 38th. He has proved to be one of the better drivers on the short race tracks and tracks where the groove is near the wall. Talladega does not fall into either of those categories.
24. Casey Mears: Mears has finished three of the last four races at the restrictor-plate race tracks inside the top 25. He will not race up front this week, but he is a safe pick to finish inside the top 25.
25. Paul Menard: Menard finished fourth at Talladega in October. His average finishing position at the track is 21.5. He is usually much better when he has Harvick pushing him around the race track, but Menard does not have Harvick as a teammate this season.
26. AJ Allmendinger: There is nothing special about Allmendinger at Talladega. His average starting position is 21 and his average finishing position is 25.7. He is a safe pick to finish inside the top 30, but it would be a surprise to see him inside the top 10.
27. Kasey Kahne: Kahne is one of the best drivers at finding wrecks at restrictor-plate tracks. He has a streak of finishing six consecutive races at restrictor-plate tracks outside the top 30. His luck has to change at some point, but I would not suggest letting your fantasy team’s fate ride with him this week.
28. David Ragan: Ragan surprised everyone with his victory at Talladega last May. He backed it up with a sixth-place finish in the fall. Ragan would be a great pick for Fantasy Live this week because of his success at the race track and his price in most games.
29. David Gilliland: Gilliland is at his best at the restrictor-plate race tracks. He finished both races at Talladega last season inside the top 10. He would be a great sleeper pick for your team this week.
30. Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose is much better at qualifying at Talladega than he is at racing. Last season, he started both races in the third position and finished them outside the top 10. Save Ambrose for the road course in June.
Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon
Group B: Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Group C: Michael Waltrip, Austin Dillon
Fantasy Live Picks
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Michael Waltrip, Reed Sorenson
Fox Fantasy NASCAR Picks
Captain: Brad Keselowski
Driver 2: Tony Stewart
Driver 3: Kurt Busch
Driver 4: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Driver 5: Jamie McMurray
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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