The fantasy wild card weekend that is Talladega looms on the horizon. The Big One, which happens more times than not, can take out a player’s entire fantasy team in one fell swoop – or, it could cause a player’s team to sweep into the top 10 when most of the other competition is taken out. Some drivers who have been struggling this year may benefit from this type of restrictor-plate weekend, while others who have exceeded expectations could be brought right back down to Earth. On a track that’s so unpredictable, how can you turn the odds in your favor? Read on to see who the Frontstretch fantasy experts feel will tiptoe around the wrecks in their latest edition of Fantasy Insider.
By the Numbers
Kyle Busch was a disaster waiting to happen at Talladega… until he arrived at Joe Gibbs Racing. After posting only one top 15 at the track in his tenure with Hendrick’s No. 5 car, Busch scored a win and two top 15s there last season, leading double-digit laps in both races. The defending champion of the spring race here, Busch won at ‘Dega with aggression carried over from Daytona – where he had arguably the fastest car in the 500 but failed to win. Does that scenario sound familiar? – Bryan
Jeff Gordon is going to be running a special Pepsi paint scheme at Talladega this weekend. In the past five races with that special scheme, he’s won twice and also scored an eighth-place finish at this track. Gordon leads active drivers with six wins at the speedway, becoming arguably the best restrictor-plate specialist of his generation not named Earnhardt. Hendrick cars always run up front on plate tracks, and Gordon will most likely be working with fellow plate power Dale Earnhardt Jr. to stay near the front all day. Count on a strong finish from the No. 24 on Sunday. – Mike
Kurt Busch had scored six consecutive top 10s at Talladega before last season, where he failed to crack the top 20 in either race. That, however, was not indicative of his performance in the No. 2 car. Penske Racing has become a force to be reckoned with on plate tracks and nearly won the spring race at Talladega in 2008, with Ryan Newman being bumped out of the draft while running in the top five with less than three laps to go. With Newman gone, Busch is the pony to bet on out of Penske’s stable. – Bryan
Earnhardt Jr. won four races in a row at Talladega once upon a time, but he hasn’t won there since way back in 2004. Still, Junior is feeling the pressure to perform since the other three cars in the Hendrick stable have won the last three races. With the confidence gained by a career’s worth of plate success, expect him to be up on the wheel just that little bit more this weekend to make it four in a row for Hendrick. And don’t be surprised to see his old drafting partner Stewart pushing him to the win, either. – Mike
Regan Smith won the fall race at Talladega, only to have the win stripped because he was ruled below the line when he passed Stewart coming to the checkered flag. Smith has shown, in his brief career, that he is a pretty good plate racer – and he’s driving a car that won the pole at this track last season with Joe Nemechek. Add in the bitter taste of being relegated to 18th by some rule interpretation last fall, and you have the makings of a surprise winner brewing in the pot. Furniture Row has proven they have the speed to make it into the race in the past, so don’t worry about Smith qualifying… and since the driver’s yet to record his first DNF in the series, he’s as good a bet as any to deftly avoid the Big One as well. – Mike
Reed Sorenson has been a quiet contender on the plate tracks the last few seasons, with back-to-back top 10s in the last two Daytona 500s. At Talladega, Sorenson’s results have not been as pretty… but that’s largely due to multiple engine failures. When racing at the speedway, Sorenson has cracked the top 25 in his last three Talladega starts made where the engine survived. He’s a fantasy steal waiting to happen. – Bryan
The Last Word
Talladega is a moving freight train at nearly 190 mph with 40 cars running in a single pack. The drivers who guess right will move forward… and the ones who guess wrong will move backwards. Depending on whether your fantasy drivers are forward or backward, when (or if) the huge wreck happens will determine how well your team does this week. It’s all about survival, and if you’re lucky enough to have all of your drivers finish with competitive cars, you should do quite well.
Results from our experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games
Game of Tomorrow
Hat Dance Dynasty
Bryan 13.4 (in the garage)
Mike 15.4 (in the garage)
Since both pundits are in the garage and will not be scored in the game, you will not see these standings until a new segment starts.