Jeff Wolfe · Thursday March 7, 2013
The Sprint Cup Series makes its only in-season trip to Las Vegas this week and now that we’re into Week 3 of the 36-race season, the decisions on who to pick for your NASCAR fantasy team can start to get a bit tricky, especially if you’re in a league with pick limits.
So if you’re off to a good start in your league, you may want to save some key guys for the 10-race Chase. If you’re not off to a good start, it’s not time to panic yet, but for sure, you want to have a good week. So, hopefully we can find some drivers who can offer you success, but not burn up a week of eligibility that you will regret later.
Looking For Some Aces
This is getting old already, but of the top drivers this week it’s just impossible to ignore Jimmie Johnson. Yes, you may have to pick and choose just exactly what weeks to play him, and for sure, you want to save four or five races in the Chase for him — but the fact remains, his numbers in Las Vegas are pretty much off the charts. He has an average finish of 9.82 in 11 races with four wins and two other top 10 finishes. Johnson is again my pick to win this week. Yes, I know I said it last week, too, so go ahead, put out a news bulletin if you wish.
Another top driver with a pretty good record at Las Vegas is Matt Kenseth. In 13 races there, he has two wins, and four more top 10 finishes. He also has led 471 laps led, second most in the series. Which brings us to . . .
Tony Stewart is the defending champion of this race and has the most laps led at the track with 482. Stewart also has five other top five finishes and three more top 10 finishes in his 14 races at Las Vegas. He had the 2011 event won as well, before a botched late pit stop saw him hand the win to Carl Edwards.
And take this for what it’s worth, too. One premium driver to avoid this week may well be Brad Keselowski. In four career starts at Vegas, he has an average finish of 30.50. He’s of course capable of turning that around, and he has back to back fourth place finishes to start the year, but BK looks like a pretty risky pick here compared to these others that are available.
Middle of The Roadsters
Last week I gave you Carl Edwards as one of the possibilities in this spot, and he came through with the win. Edwards can be a bit streaky in his career, both on the good side and bad, so if you’re really thinking his team has things figured out now, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to pick him this week as well. He does have two wins in eight races at Las Vegas and an average finish of 10.25.
If you’re a believer that Jeff Burton is having, or can have, a rebound season after last year’s disaster, Las Vegas isn’t a bad place to spot him. Burton has two wins in 15 career starts and an average finish of 10.93. He also has six other top 10 finishes there. If it’s a sleeper pick you’re questioning, a guy who will be a must pick on only the road courses, look no farther than Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose. He was 18th at Phoenix last week and has an average finish of 12.75 in four races at Las Vegas, including one top five finish.
And lest we forget, there is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in this group, too. He very easily could have won the first two races, with just a little better luck in the draft at Daytona and on exiting pit road at Phoenix. Junior does have six top 10 finishes in 13 races, including two top fives, for an average finish of 16.31.
The Dark Horses
Just because these drivers aren’t respected by fantasy leagues, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In fact, you can make a case they are more important because if you score a top 10 with one of these picks, then you’re likely in for a good week.
The two obvious ones in each week in this group are rookies Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. But if you are on a nine race limit, that means there are 18 races where you have to pick at least two other drivers. You can probably choose a road-course specialist for the Sonoma and Watkins Glen races as well, so that leaves you with 16 open spots.
The other option when he runs is Trevor Bayne, who is running a limited schedule again for the Wood Brothers. That being said, here’s some good news: Bayne is entered to drive in the No. 21 car in the Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas this week. The problem here is that Bayne, Patrick and Stenhouse have not driven a Sprint Cup car at Vegas.
That’s also the case with former Truck Series champion Austin Dillon, who is entered to be the third driver in three weeks for the No. 51 car owned by James Finch. Driving that car has been a good thing for the first two races, where it finished 11th at Phoenix with A.J. Allmendinger behind the wheel and seventh at Daytona with Regan Smith driving.
So, knowing that Patrick and Stenhouse will be available to pick all year, this may well be the week to look at Dillon or Bayne.
The Rear-View Mirror
The top scorer in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues last week was the team Hurtubise, most likely named after late Indycar great Jim Hurtubise, with 359 points. That team had race winner Carl Edwards, then a third place from Denny Hamlin, a fifth by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and an 11th by A.J. Allmendinger. That’s tough to beat in this format. So good picking there and obviously there wasn’t a case of beer in the engine compartment when these picks were made (that’s an inside joke for us old IndyCar fans. Go look it up. It’s a great story).
Since the Frontstretch leagues have the lucky dog scoring provision, throwing out the worst score, the season total reflects the best score between the two races this season. So if you have a bad week and see that your score didn’t change, just remember it’s already been thrown out.
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