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To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its Sprint Cup Series driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s nine-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
Next: Bank of America 500 (Charlotte Motor Speedway)
Race: 501 miles, 334 laps (1.5-mile track)
May 2013 Winner: Kevin Harvick
A-List (pick two, start one)
Kasey Kahne After Kasey Kahne's opening to this version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a fantasy start of NASCAR's most popular blue-eyed wheelman may seem laden with danger. Kahne has crashed and generally struggled in the first four races of the postseason battle. He's all but out of the running for the 2013 title.
But those struggles should have no bearing on his weekend at Charlotte. Kahne is flat good at the 1.5-mile track. A four-time Charlotte winner, Kahne has finished no worse than eighth in his last four starts. He won the Coca-Cola 600 last year and, save for a poor restart with 10 laps to go this year's 600, would have made it two straight wins in the prestigious race. Kahne ultimately ran second to Kevin Harvick after leading 161 of 400 laps. Don't be surprised if he does it again.
Matt KensethLet's be clear: picking Jimmie Johnson this weekend is a smart move. He's a six-time Charlotte winner and needs to lead just 30 laps led Saturday night for his Charlotte total laps led number to surpass the total laps led Jamie McMurray in his entire career.
But Matt Kenseth may actually be the safer pick based on more recent results. Johnson has finished worse than 21st in four of the last seven Charlotte races including in May when struggled and spun during the race. Kenseth, meanwhile, has scored top-15 finishes in each of the last nine Charlotte events including his 2011 win. More, Kenseth's 15th-place finish in the May race was a complete misnomer to the strength of his car. After leading 112 laps, Kenseth got caught by a late yellow flag while pitting that trapped him two laps down for the final 100 laps. Judging how well Kenseth has fared at other 1.5-mile tracks (excluding Kansas last week thanks to the curveball new tire) he should stand as a great pick Saturday night.
Also consider: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson
B-List (pick four, start two)
The medicine of revenge often induces free flowing adrenaline in the human body which, for Kyle Busch, can have varied effects. He can make bad outings worse by driving past his limit (see: Kansas) or he can nail a restart and hold down hard chargers behind him to take the win (see: Watkins Glen). We're likely bound to get one form of that Kyle Busch this weekend thanks to his miserable, Chase-dampening race in Kansas and his desire to finally knock down a Charlotte Cup win. He came close in May with a car that led 65 laps before losing an engine. A top 5 would mark his sixth in his last eight Charlotte starts.
Kurt Busch The May race actually presented nice opportunities for both Busch brothers to leave Bruton's crown jewel with the shine of a Coca-Cola 600 trophy. Kurt, unlike brother Kyle, managed to finish in the May race and placed third after leading eight laps and averaging an on-track position of fifth throughout the event. Kurt's key to success Saturday night will be his qualifying acumen. In May, that put him second and gave him an excellent pit stall. Last week, he crashed in practice and started at the tail-end of the field. With a car prepared to run up front, Busch could make some noise.
The B-List is full of drivers just wanting to be picked in hopes of scoring an unexpected win or top-3 finish. Carl Edwards could certainly be that guy Saturday night at Charlotte. Edwards has finished 11th or better in his last four Charlotte starts, and in May pulled down the race's sixth-best average in-race running position. More, Edwards has become one of the series' better late-race drivers at Charlotte. He's averaging 3.9 spots gained from the race's halfway point to the end. Only Joey Logano, in nine Charlotte starts to Edwards' 17, is doing better. So if you pick Edwards, don't lose hope on him at halfway — he’ll close well.
Martin Truex Jr.A disappointing September and the unsettled future of Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 56 has obviously caused a bit of unrest for his Michael Waltrip Racing team. Truex is busy looking for a ride in 2014 and his crew chief just asked for a release from the team at the end of the season. Fortunately, Charlotte seems like a reasonable spot for the whole crew to mesh and find a balance suited to Truex's liking. Truex finished ninth at Charlotte in May and has been noteworthy in many of his other 1.5-mile track appearances this season. All told, Truex has finished 12th, 10th and ninth in his last three Charlotte starts.
Also consider: Jeff Burton, Joey Logano
C-List (pick two, start one)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
There's a lot to like about Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Charlotte beyond the fact that he was the top C-List driver at the track in May. He was 14th in that race after starting 30th and actually made a big charge at the end to score the top-15 run. But Stenhouse's success at Charlotte expands beyond May performance. In a one-off start during his rookie season in 2011, Stenhouse scored an 11th-place finish for the Wood Brothers team. He hoped to back it up last year but lost an engine after just 190 laps.
Gilliland was by no means strong in May at Charlotte, but he was consistent enough in the 600-mile event that hopes of a repeat performance of a solid C-List finish seem possible. Gilliland finished 20th in the race after starting 26th and running no better than 19th the whole night. By average running position, the race was Gilliland's sixth-best of the 30-race season to date.
Also consider: David Ragan, Danica Patrick
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Actions Sports, Inc.