Race Weekend Central

2013 NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Old Favorites And Diamonds In The Rough

*Come back every Thursday, to the website to get Jeff’s advice on who to pick for your team, all season long and see if you can beat your favorite staff members! More special announcements about this league to come.*

Daytona is just around the corner, so it’s time to rev up that NASCAR fantasy engine again. When it comes to playing fantasy sports, we all like to think we have some inside secret, or maybe some unique idea that can shoot us to the top. We like to think we know more than the other people we’re playing against.

But having played in many a fantasy league in many a sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, NASCAR) more often than not, having success is more about not making the huge mistake than coming up with a sleeper pick who comes up big consistently. So whether you are in league that limits drivers to a certain amount of races for the 36-race season (Yahoo gives drivers nine) or a where you have drivers for an entire season, one of the key factors is to not mess up that early “sleeper” selection.

Fantasy Insider: Sunday’s Championship Contenders Could Help YOU Win A Title

It’s often thought of as a bad idea in fantasy NASCAR to pick championship contenders in the last race of the season. It can be a poor choice for two reasons:

1) By the last race, most point leaders are usually coasting to the finish line. They don’t battle other cars for position and run very conservatively. These teams are in the prevent defense, and just like it is not going to win a football game, it isn’t going to win a race either.

2) If the championship battle is tight, the pressure put on the contenders can sometimes be too much to bear.

Fantasy Insider: Phoenix’s Surface Has Changed, But Leaderboard Shouldn’t

Some fantasy owners tabbed Talladega as the wild card, or biggest unknown in the 2011 Chase. Others labeled it as Martinsville. They all may have been wrong because this year it could be Phoenix. The second-to-last race in The Chase will not only be intriguing this season because of the championship battle brewing between *Tony Stewart* and *Carl Edwards*, but also because of the reconfiguration of the track.

The frontstretch was widened, the dog-leg on the backstretch was pushed out and variable banking was added in the resurfacing project among other things.

The new track surface and variable banking in the corners are the most significant change. It was done to promote better side-by-side racing, but will that be the case Sunday? The biggest question for fantasy owners is will the drivers who dominated Phoenix before the changes still be at the top of the leaderboard after them? I suspect they will. There have been a number of changes to the facility, but it still a relatively flat 1-mile track. There is an unknown about Sunday’s race, but remember it is still Phoenix. Don’t set your lineup strictly by test and practice speeds. Rely on guys who have past success in the desert.

Fantasy Insider: Study Intermediate Trends To Help At Texas

The best fantasy owner is always on the lookout for the latest trend. It has been a difficult season to spot these tendencies because of fuel and tire strategy deciding the outcome of many events. Luckily the good folks at NASCAR (can you sense the sarcasm?), have eleven 1.5-mile circuits on the 2011 calendar. Two out of the final three races on the schedule will be at these cookie-cutter tracks, including Sunday’s race at Texas.

While each intermediate track varies slightly in layout, drivers that usually perform well at one, perform well at another (See *Carl Edwards* below). Take advantage of this by studying the nine races at 1.5-mile layouts before this weekend. Chances are it won’t only assist you on Sunday, but it will help you set your lineup for the final race of the season at Homestead as well.

Fantasy Insider: Don’t Let Chase Standings Impact Your Lineup

The biggest wild card in The Chase for the Sprint Cup is in the rearview mirror. Fantasy owners are breathing a sigh of relief this week as the series goes from one of its biggest and fastest ovals to one of its smallest and slowest. However, one constant remains: close racing. With tight racing comes impatient drivers and that means more bumper tag. Chase contenders *Kyle Busch* and *Kevin Harvick* were victims at Talladega. There is no telling who it will be at Martinsville.

Much like at Talladega, there isn’t a way to play it safe at Martinsville. Only three Chase drivers ended up in the top-10 last Sunday (*Brad Keselowski*, *Tony Stewart*, *Denny Hamlin*). Your best bet is to ignore the standings heading into the weekend and only put drivers in your lineup that have had past success at Martinsville. For example, *Carl Edwards* and *Matt Kenseth* have been the best two drivers in The Chase thus far, but they have sub-par results (see below) at the short track.

Fantasy Insider: Chasing That Talladega Lineup – How To Use The Title Contenders

Talladega provides a bigger challenge for fantasy owners than any other race in The Chase for the Sprint Cup for one reason: unpredictability. Some drivers have caught on to the two-car draft faster than others, but that still leaves 25 to 30 possible winners and with 88, 87 and 88 lead changes in the last three races, it is impossible to predict who will cross the line first. Not to mention, that there have been eight different winners in the last eight races at Talladega and last lap passes for the win in eight of the last 12 trips there.

Despite all of these staggering numbers, there is still some strategy that can be used in setting your lineup for Talladega. I suggested at the start of the 10-race playoff to map out your Chase. With five of the 10 races down, it is time to re-evaluate how many picks you have left with each driver and where you are going to use those selections. If you have been leaning on hot fantasy drivers such as *Carl Edwards*, *Brad Keselowski* and *Regan Smith*, it might be best to keep them out of the lineup this weekend. Use your top drivers where you know for sure they will be good.

Fantasy Insider: Perfect Time To Take Risks On Saturday Night

There are only six races left in the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season. Hopefully, fantasy owners have positioned themselves to make a run at the title. With so few races left on the calendar, it might be time to make a fuel-only pit stop with 50 laps to go, or in other words, take a risk to score big points.

There is no better place, except Talladega of course, than Charlotte to take a gamble on some drivers that probably didn’t get you to where you are this season, but could be worth a look in these final races (See *Joey Logano* and *David Reutimann*, below).

Fantasy Insider: Look Back To The Spring For Kansas Success

Fantasy owners who stuck with the strategy of selecting the fastest drivers got rewarded last Sunday at Dover. The wheelmen who were supposed to finish at the front, both in top-level and mid-level categories followed through: *Jimmie Johnson* was second, *Carl Edwards* was third, *A.J. Allmendinger* was seventh and *Marcos Ambrose* was ninth. The Johnson/Edwards combo led over half the race, enjoying success while second-tier RPM backed up their Monster Mile performances from this Spring.

Sure, picking the fastest cars each week sounds simple enough, but it is easy to overthink decisions when the majority of races in 2011 have been won by a pit strategy call in the final 50 laps.

Fantasy Insider: Don’t Be Discouraged by Strategy Races

Strategy has always played a role in the outcome of Sprint Cup races, but in 2011, it’s more important than ever. The first two races of The Chase have both been won on strategy. And while *Tony Stewart* had one of the fastest cars, at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, the rest of the finishing order behind him was jumbled to say the least.

This phenomenon has been increasingly frustrating for fantasy owners who are selecting the fastest drivers but losing fantasy points on late-race strategy moves. For example, *Matt Kenseth*, *David Ragan* and *Carl Edwards* finished sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively on Sunday, but they ran around 20th position most of the day. None of these drivers have solid track records at New Hampshire and picking them would seem like a regrettable move, but owners that made that mistake reaped the reward. Meanwhile, with two laps to go, *Clint Bowyer* ran out of fuel while leading the race. Bowyer, a smart fantasy pick at New Hampshire, came home 26th.

Fantasy Insider: Playoffs Must Equal Momentum… Who To Keep In Your Lineup

Fantasy NASCAR is all about picking the right drivers at the right times. It has been harder than ever to that this year. *Tony Stewart* not only became the 16th different winner in 27 races at Chicagoland Monday, but he also has cemented as the newest fantasy stud. This was a driver who couldn’t buy consecutive top-10 finishes in the first two-thirds of the season. Over the last three weeks, he put together three straight top-10s for the first time in 2011.

Every driver hits their stride at a different point in the season. *Brad Keselowski* was mired around 25th in the standings after the first one-third of 2011. Over the last eight races, Keselowski’s average finish is 4.8.

When drivers hit on something, take notice. The fantasy owners who notice momentum changing directions will have a leg up on the competition in the final nine races.

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