by: Daniel Dobish
We all know that Jimmie Johnson dominates the Sprint Cup Series, regardless of the track, regardless of the competition, and pretty much regardless of anything. Overall in those Fantasy formats that actually use a drafting format, he is obviously the clear-cut No. 1 driver unless you’re in some kind of Bizarro league where park-and-ride guys rule the roost.
However, in weekly salary-cap or tiered formats, sometimes Johnson isn’t necessarily to top pick. And some Fantasy providers limit your use of a driver to a certain amount of tracks, like Yahoo! Sports, which will allow you to use a driver just 9 times in a season before he exhausts his eligibility. So you need to choose wisely.
So we have done some track analysis. Personally, it’s one of my favorite pieces, and it delves a little deeper into the statistics and data to help you set a better lineup each week. It certainly isn’t foolproof, and you’ll want to keep an eye on qualifying and other extraneous factors before making a final determination. However, use this as a quick reference piece throughout the season to get a leg up on your competition.
SUPERSPEEDWAYS (Daytona, Talladega)
Among active drivers, you won’t find a better restrictor-plate driver than Hendrick Motorsports’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. He leads all active drivers with a 14.21 Average Finish Position in 56 races. While he has just seven wins, he has managed a stellar 20 Top 5s, 30 Top 10s and 40 Top 20s with 1,171 laps led. He has eight DNFs during the span, but we all know superspeedway races have “The Big One”, and it is frequent that drivers get collected in the mess now and again. In fact, his percentage of DNFs to starts is actually pretty good.
Earnhardt’s teammate, Jeff Gordon, has always been a great restrictor-plate driver, and he has 12 career checkered flags between DIS and Talladega. What might be more impressive is that he has 27 Top 5s, 38 Top 10s and 52 Top 20 finishes with only 15 DNFs in 84 career starts at restrictor-plate tracks, and 1,464 laps led. His Average Finish Position is 16.4, so he is always a threat to win on the fast tracks.
Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer is also one to watch on the superspeedways. He has just a pair of wins in 32 career starts between Daytona and Talladega, but his 15 Top 10s are impressive, and he has finished outside of the Top 20 just nine times.
On the flipside, Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray is a little more risky for Fantasy owners. Yes, he has four career wins in 45 starts between Daytona and Talladega, but “The Big One” always seems to find him. He has 11 DNFs, which is nearly 25 percent of his starts at the superspeedways. And another guy who is even more risky is Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. MTJ will be running with inferior equipment to what he has had in the past, and even with a good motor and chassis, he didn’t do much at superspeedways. Truex Jr. has managed just one Top 5 finish in 35 career restrictor-plate starts, and he has a dismal 21.8 Average Finish Position with 12 DNFs. If you break that down, that’s 34.3 percent of his races at Daytona and Talladega which have ended up in the infield care center and garage. Not good.
Lastly, Stewart-Haas Racing driver/owner Tony Stewart (leg) has been a feast or famine driver on the superspeedways. For whatever reason, it’s always famine in the opening race of the season, as that ultimate victory at the Daytona 500 has eluded him to this point of his career. He finished as the runner-up in 1999, and in third place in 2008, but Smoke has been unable to break through. He has won at Daytona International Speedway, claiming a win in the Nationwide opening race at the track last season in February, and he has four wins in the summer run at DIS. However, for the Daytona 500, unless you’re a real gambler, Stewart is best avoided. At Talladega, he hasn’t been much better. He has 29 career starts at the Alabama run, but just one win with an Average Finish of 16.1. In fact, statistically, at tracks he has at least 12 career starts, he has been worse at only two other tracks (Daytona – 16.5 AFP, Bristol – 18.1 AFP).
The second stop of the season will be at Phoenix International Raceway, so we’ll take a look at the flat tracks of Indianapolis, New Hampshire, Phoenix and Pocono next.
Surprise, surprise. The No. 48 tops the active drivers with an Average Finish of 9.27 in 81 career flat track starts, posting 14 victories and 73 Top 20s. That means he has finished 21st or worse in just 9.9 percent of his starts on the flat surface, with of those eight runs ending in DNFs. In other words, J.J. is generally Fantasy Gold on the flat tracks, with Gordon (10.32 AFP) as his nearest competition. Gordon has 15 victories in 130 career flat track starts with 56 Top 5s, 87 Top 10s and 110 Top 20s. He has led an astounding 3,250 career laps on the flats, and a lot of his success has been due to qualifying. He has 12 career poles on the flat surface. Johnson is slightly less dominant at Pocono and NHMS, winning thrice at Long Pond with 23 Top 20s in 24 career starts and an Average Finish of 8.8. At Loudon, J.J. has finished 9.2 on average in 24 career runs, with three wins and 22 Top 20 finishes. If you should avoid him at a flat, it’s Indianapolis, where he is a very regular 15.6 on average, with four runs in 12 career starts, but also three DNFs.
Stewart is also dominant on the flats, posting eight wins in 97 career starts with an Average Finish position of 11.01. He has failed to finish just four times while leading 2,242 career laps and 77 runs of 20th or better. And you’ll always want a place for Indiana boys Stewart and Gordon when the circuit returns to the Brickyard in July. Stewart has two wins in 15 career starts in Indy, topping all active drivers with a 7.9 Average Finish. In fact, he has been outside the Top 20 (lowest finish – 23rd) just once in 15 starts. Gordon is closely on his heels with an Average Finish of 8.75 in 20 career runs at Indy, posting four wins, 11 Top 5s and three poles. He leads all drivers with 488 career laps led at Indy.
Don’t sleep on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, either. He has seven career victories in 57 starts on the flats, and he has been particularly dominant at Pocono Raceway, or ‘The Tricky Triangle’. In 16 starts since 2005, he has four wins, eight Top 5s, 10 Top 10s and an Average Finish of 12.6 in Long Pond. He has been even better at New Hampshire, picking up two wins with 10 Top 10s and zero DNFs. In fact, he has just two DNFs all-time (both Pocono) in his 57 flat track starts. And at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin rules the roost. He has two wins in 16 career starts, with seven Top 5s and non DNFs while leading all active drivers with a 9.0 Average Finish at NHMS. Johnson is second there with a 9.2 Average Finish, with Gordon and Stewart right after him.
Roush-Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards has also been a friend to Fantasy players on the flat tracks, particularly at PIR, where he has two career wins in 19 starts with seven Top 5s, 11 Top 10s and 15 Top 20s and an Average-Finish Position of 12.3 and only one DNF.
You’ll want to avoid Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard any time the circuit stops at the flats. He seems to spin his wheels more so than usual on the flat surface. In 49 career starts on the flat surface, he has just one win, only five Top 5s and an Average Finish of 22.3. Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola is also one to avoid on the flats, as he has zero wins in 19 career starts with only one Top 5 and an Average Finish position of 20.3. Among the more established drivers, McMurray has also struggled with only one win in 76 career flat starts and an Average Finish of 20.3.
Lastly for Part I of the track analysis, we’ll take a look at the road courses. This can be a little tricky for Fantasy owners, as often times lesser teams will bring in ringers, or road course specialists.
However, as far as regular Fantasy drivers are concerned, you’ll want to save Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose for the road courses, especially Watkins Glen, which has been his best track by far. In six career starts at the New York track, he has both of his Sprint Cup Series checkered flags, and he has been Top 5 in five of those six starts with one DNF. His Average Finish Position is 6.8 at Watkins Glen. At Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, Ambrose is also a stud, with an 11.8 AFP in six career starts with five Top 10s, and again, one DNF.
Surprisingly, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski has been good at The Glen, posting a 6.5 Average Finish Position in four career races with three Top 5s. Stewart is also a stud at The Glen, posting five wins in 14 career starts with a 7.9 Average Finish Position.
Among road course “ringers”, Boris Said generally finds a ride, but he hasn’t been that great, at least at Watkins Glen. In 13 career starts, he has no wins, just one Top 5 and an Average Finish Position of 24.2. And Earnhardt Jr. has struggled mightily in western New York, posting a 23.2 AFP in 14 career starts. He isn’t much better at Sonoma, with no Top 10s and a 21.5 AFP in 14 career starts. Hamlin also has difficulty at Infineon, posting a 22.9 Average Finish in eight career runs at the California track.