The Frontstretch: Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Talladega "1" Edition by Cami Starr and Mike Neff -- Wednesday April 25, 2007

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Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Talladega "1" Edition

Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday April 25, 2007


This week, the Car of Tomorrow goes back on the shelf while the Car of Now reappaers to race this weekend at Talladega. Whatever car they choose, though, doesn’t change how Sunday's Aaron's 499 is for fantasy players: their worst nightmare. Talladega is perhaps the biggest crapshoot of any track; you can pick the hottest drivers on the circuit on your team, only to have them all wiped out in the blink of an eye in the infamous "Big One." But don't despair; there is hope at the end of the fantasy tunnel this weekend. Just remember, while there is a good chance your drivers will be left in a heap of mangled sheet metal, there is just as good of chance it will happen to the teams you are competing against.

So, which drivers will attempt to give you a leg up in this crazy weekend ahead, and which ones are likely to be doomed from the start? Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:

Cami's Race Rewind:

Jimmie Johnson went two for two in restrictor plate races by winning the rain-delayed Aaron's 499 at Talladega last spring. Johnson made a move on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon with two laps remaining in the race, shuffling Gordon back out of the lead draft and to a 15th place finish. Johnson came across the line just in front of Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers, who was going for his first Nextel Cup victory. Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray rounded out the Top 5 in a race full of the usual multi-car accidents fans are used to seeing at Talladega.

Mike's Keys to the Race:

Talladega is the biggest track on the NASCAR circuit and was repaved last year before the Fall race. The end result was as expected; a ton of grip and a lot of action with marginal cars being competitive for most of their race runs. The key at Talladega is knowing how to work the draft and having cars that can suck up to and hopefully pass other cars. The usual cast of characters is expected to be up front again this weekend, so you'll see Hendrick, D.E.I., Childress, and Gibbs all have cars that compete for the win.

Mike's Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

It's Talladega. Is there any question who’s the favorite? Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the winningest active driver at the track with five victories. He has a 13th place career average finish at the track, and that’s even including two finishes deep in the 40s. DEI is still a force on plate tracks and Junior was half of a lap from the victory last Fall, so chances are he will most likely be right up front again this weekend.

Jeff Gordon has nine restrictor plate victories to his credit. Hendrick won the Fall race with Brian Vickers last year, and Jimmie Johnson was right behind Junior before the last lap crash that Vickers triggered before he went on to victory. Expect Gordon to run up front all day once again, especially since the No. 24 team is on a roll right now.

Sit ‘Em Down:

David Stremme has run two Cup races at Talladega and has finished 34th and 33rd, respectively. While Stremme did have a strong 11th place finish at Daytona, the team has hit some struggles as of late. While handicapping Talladega can be a crapshoot, downward trends tend to continue at these types of superspeedways. As a result, expect Stremme to have another mediocre finish this weekend.

Joe Nemechek has not had very much luck at Talladega. While he has run strong at times, collecting a career best finish of third place at the track back in 2000, he generally finds trouble when running at the big Alabama superspeedway. With an average finish of just 21.9 since 1998, don't look for Front Row Joe to make too much noise this weekend.

Roll The Dice:

Martin Truex, Jr. has won at Talladega before in a Busch car. He’s always been a good drafting partner for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and D.E.I. is always a force on plate tracks in Nextel Cup. Truex has still been inconsistent at this level, but with five restrictor plate starts under his belt, he should be looking to alter recent history. With good power and good aerodynamics underneath him, don't be surprised if Truex notches his first victory this weekend.

Cami's Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Tony Stewart came out pretty strongly against NASCAR this week, raising the possibility that they are "fixing" races with the cunning use of yellow flags. If that's true, you can bet he won't be getting any help at Talladega this weekend from the powers that be; still, I'm picking him anyway. Stewart has been strong in the majority of the races this year and could easily have 2 or more wins by now. He was strong at Daytona and has run outstanding at Talladega in recent years. In the past 16 races, he has six runner-up finishes and ten Top 10s. Look for Stewart to be a force to be reckoned with on the track this weekend.

With all the attention Tony, the Jeffs, and Jimmie have been getting this year, it may have escaped your notice that Matt Kenseth is on a hot streak right now. He has only one finish outside the Top 11 all year and is currently third in the standings. While his name isn’t synonymous with restrictor plate racing, he has finished in the Top 10 in the last three Talladega races. Combine all that with the fact that Kenseth was fifth in the Daytona 500 until the last lap, and you have a recipe for a strong pick this weekend.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Elliott Sadler left Daytona with a Top 10 finish in February, but things have gone downhill since then. That sixth place finish is his only Top 10 in a season full of frustration for Sadler and the entire Evernham team. Looking at Sadler's Talladega record, there isn't much optimism that the team will find a turnaround this Sunday. In the last six Talladega races, Sadler has just one Top 10 and four finishes of 22nd or worse. That really doesn't inspire confidence for a group that needs it in a big way.

The domination of Hendrick Motorsports and Chevy has been a main topic this year, and Kyle Busch has played a strong role in their success. But when it comes to carrying that momentum into Talladega, you should look elsewhere. There is no doubt that Busch is running well; he's just not running well on the faster tracks on the circuit. His three worst finishes this year have come at Daytona, Atlanta, and Texas, all fast tracks. And don't look for Talladega to be a sign of a reversal of fortune; in four starts, he has three finishes of 32nd or worse. Busch has been a good pick this year…just don't use him this weekend.

Roll The Dice:

While Kyle may not be a strong bet this weekend, his brother Kurt Busch gets my vote for a Roll the Dice pick. Like Tony Stewart, Busch was great at Daytona. He has stumbled at times this season, but is starting to turn things around. This weekend at Talladega could prove critical in the No. 2 team's chances at the Chase. A good finish here would do wonders, and he has shown he is more than capable of getting it. He's the only driver with five straight Top 10s at Talladega, and he’s collected nine overall in the 12 races he's run there. While that other beer car will certainly be garnering plenty of attention, be careful not to ignore the Miller Lite Dodge.

Trash Talk:

Mike: I see you went with Tony for Crank ‘Em Up. Do you really think he’s going to have a chance this weekend after bashing NASCAR on satellite radio?
Cami: So, you think he has a point and NASCAR fixes races? I doubt they will do anything that proves his point for him. But regardless of that, he is awesome at Talladega and had the best car at Daytona. Plus, he’s due for a win based on the way he’s been running this season.
Mike: Oh, I think he has a very valid point. Phantom debris cautions have become so commonplace that people don’t even bitch about them anymore. I do believe, if it is purely a race, he’s got a great shot because he was the car to beat at Daytona.
Cami: I noticed you went with the sentimental favorite, and Tony’s drafting buddy, Dale, Jr. this week. You think he can get a win on the old man’s birthday?
Mike: I think it is the Cinderella story that everyone is looking for. It’s the last plate race at Talladega, Daddy's Birthday, plus Junior owns the place. He would have won in the Fall if Vickers hadn’t run into Johnson, so yeah, I’ll stick with the modern king of plate racing.
Mike: You, on the other hand, going with Kenseth on a plate track is a bit of a stretch. I know he was strong at Daytona, and Roush does have the occasional good run on plate tracks…but I don’t know that I’d be picking them to crank up.
Cami: He has three straight Top 10s at Talladega and has been hot since Daytona; I’ll take my chances there. I’d rather have him than Gordon. He’s due for a letdown and hasn’t been up too par at Talladega lately. And can you imagine the beer cans on the track if he moves ahead of Senior at Talladega?
Mike: He is on fire right now; the No. 24 team has been running great in everything they touch this year. You are right, though; if he passes Senior at Talladega, it could cause an international incident, or at least a Southern Rebellion.
Cami: Let’s just say I’m happy I had Gordon last week at Phoenix when he won.
Mike: Yeah, that picked worked out real nicely for you.
Cami: Speaking of solid performances, Dale Jarrett is tops in average finish at this track with a 10.1. But we both avoided him like the plague.
Mike: Well yeah, he’s in a Toyota. Even when he’s the highest finishing Toyota, he’s in the 30s. I am not banking on a Camry anytime soon…I also see that you’re avoiding “Hang Time” Sadler. You think he’s going to take another tumble in Alabama?
Cami: I hope he doesn’t go for a roll, but their whole season has been taking a tumble since Daytona. There is something amiss over at Evernham, for sure. He was OK at Talladega in RYR stuff, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for Sadler to turn their season around this weekend.
Mike: I agree. That’s why I picked Stremme, too. I know he ran well at Daytona, but I still don’t have a lot of faith in Ganassi stuff on plate tracks. I’ll wait until they put a Dodge in the Top 5 three or four times on a plate track before I pick them.
Mike: Nice pick with Kurt Busch, though. I was going to take him for my Roll the Dice until you did. He was strong at Daytona and has a surprisingly good average finish at Talladega. I think he could win there this weekend.
Cami: That’s what I’m hoping for, at least. I was surprised to see what a good record he had there.
Mike: So, speaking of surprises… do you see any others out there that we didn’t pick?
Cami: I think Harvick might be back up there. And I’m almost willing to bet Mikey makes the show this weekend.
Mike: I wouldn’t be that surprised to see Tony Raines end up near the front this weekend, either.

I guess we’ll just have to see how it all pans out.


Season Averages:

Crank ‘em up- 15.4
Sit ‘em down- 21.3
Roll the Dice- 22.0

Crank ‘em up- 12.9
Sit ‘em down- 24.7
Roll the Dice- 21.1

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