Brett Poirier · Thursday March 3, 2011
After an unpredictable Daytona 500, Phoenix was expected to be the real start of the fantasy season. Then lap 67 came of the Subway Fresh Fit 500k, and along with it a 13-car accident taking out a host of fantasy contenders, including many fantasy owners’ top driver, Carl Edwards.
On top of that, one week after Trevor Bayne went to victory lane in his second career race, Jeff Gordon won for the first time in 67 races (at a track where he had only scored one previous victory).
So much for predictability.
From a fans perspective, 2011 has provided a lot of excitement, but as a fantasy owner it hasn’t been a walk in the park. Barring any 13-car pileups, Vegas should provide an opportunity for fantasy owners who have struggled in first two weeks to get on track.
Before the race in Phoenix, Gordon went 66 races without a win. I’m betting he won’t go another 66 races before reaching victory lane. In fact, I’m putting him in my fantasy lineup this weekend at Las Vegas. Gordon may not have the wins to prove it, but nobody has been better in the last two years in Vegas than the four-time champ. Gordon has led more than double the laps in the last two events (236) than his next closest competitor Jimmie Johnson (110).
Johnson is also a pretty safe pick at Las Vegas. He won there in 2010 and has four wins total in just nine starts. Johnson also has the third best average finish (10.0) among active drivers.
Johnson’s average finish of 10th trails only two drivers, Joey Logano and Jeff Burton. Logano has only run two races, but was 6th at Las Vegas last season and has vastly improved on intermediate tracks. For an added incentive to pick Logano, the No. 20 is currently 31st in the owner points after bad luck in the first two weeks. The pressure will be on the young driver to put up a strong performance to get away from the top-35 bubble.
Despite being behind Logano in average finish, Burton’s stats in Vegas are even more impressive. He has two wins and five top 5s in 13 races there. The new layout in Vegas hasn’t hurt Burton either. He has finished 3rd and 11th in the last two races in Nevada. Burton’s teammate Clint Bowyer would also be a good choice. Other than Gordon, Bowyer is the only driver to score top 10 finishes in both races since the track was repaved.
David Ragan’s chance at redemption was ruined last week in Phoenix after he was involved in the 13-car mess. However, he will get another chance at Las Vegas, a traditionally strong track for Roush-Fenway Racing. He is a worth a look in bottom-tier groups.
It’s tempting to go with a hometown kid at Las Vegas, especially when he has top 10 finishes in the first two races of 2011. However, stay away from Kurt Busch this weekend. Despite winning the pole last season, Busch’s best finish since Vegas was repaved is 23rd, and he didn’t have much success before the change. In his career, he has just two top 10s in 10 starts at his home track and an average finish of 21.9.
Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team have certainly improved their intermediate track program in the past year, but Hamlin is a poor fantasy choice in week three. Hamlin is 19th and 22nd on the new track surface. His career average finish at the track (12.6) is sixth overall among active drivers, but there are better choices in a top-tier group than Hamlin.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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