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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 9-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: AAA 400 (Dover International Speedway)
Race: 400 laps, 400 miles (1-mile oval)
June 2013 Winner: Tony Stewart
Jimmie Johnson Look at that No. 48 Chevrolet, with driver Jimmie Johnson, silently waiting in the wings of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. After two races, he's third behind Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch and ready to pounce, just 18 points back after the front two have stolen all of the playoff headlines. Don't be surprised when it's Johnson up front late in the going Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway. Remember, it was Johnson in June who looked destined to notch another win at Dover before NASCAR ruled he jumped a late restart. The cost? Johnson finished 17th after leading 143 laps and missed out on his eighth career Dover win.
Why fight it? Matt Kenseth is two-for-two in the Chase. Heck, he's Jimmie Johnson-ing this thing. You have to expect that to continue at Dover — a track where Kenseth's statistics far outrank those at Chicagoland Speedway or New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kenseth is a two-time Dover winner and has 13 top-5 finishes in 29 starts. Kenseth's average running position at Dover in the last 17 races ranks as the second-best in the series (we've already listed the top performer) and he's returning to a track where he led 29 laps in June before his engine expired.
Also consider: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick
Kyle Busch blew an engine at Dover in the spring 2012 race, and that was significant for more than just being another in a long list of Toyota-built issues. That 29th-place finish in 2012 marked the first time since the fall of 2009 that Busch had finished worse than sixth at Dover. In the two Dover races since, Busch has gotten back on track. He was seventh last fall (and would have won without a finish determined by fuel mileage) and ran fourth in June. Oh, and Busch has led 452 of the last 800 laps at Dover. He's a no-brainer start for Sunday.
Greg BiffleThe most unheralded finish in Sunday's race in Loudon was Greg Biffle's third-place run. Biffle had the second fewest top-5 finishes among Chase-eligible drivers before the playoffs began, and used the run to jump to fifth in the standings. He may be able to pair the solid finish with another at Dover where he's been a consistent performer. By career average finish, the Monster Mile is Biffle's fourth-best track — a measure he's proven with two wins and six top-5s. Biffle hasn't been as solid at Dover of late, finishing 15th in June. But he was also 15th in the first NHMS race of the season before his third-place run in the return.
Carl Edwards, like most Roush-Fenway Racing drivers, likes Dover. Like his teammate Biffle, the one-mile track counts as Edwards' fourth best in terms of career average finish. Edwards is also a former winner at Dover, and during his near-miss season in 2011 he led 233 laps in the two Dover races. Edwards was an average 14th at Dover back in June, but he's hard to pass up for Sunday's race among B-list drivers thanks to a career average running position at the track of 10.3. That's good enough for third-best among all active drivers.
Juan Pablo MontoyaUndoubtedly, Juan Pablo Montoya doesn't seem like much of a favorite at Dover. His average running position at the track is quite low among the B-list types (19.7). He's finished worse than 22nd at Dover in five of the last seven races at the track. But Montoya, destined for a return to IndyCar next season after his contract with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing wasn't renewed, was just a couple of laps from winning at Dover earlier this season. A lot went right to get him a second-place finish in July, but it didn't happen with a poor handling car. Combine that result with his third-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway just five weeks ago, and Montoya may be the lucky pick for a team scrapping the barrel for results from drivers with plenty of fantasy starts left.
Also consider: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse quietly ended his two-race burst of top-10 finishes last week with a 24th-place run at NHMS, but that shouldn't leave you wondering if he's back to the often-struggling Stenhouse of early 2013. If you've got starts left for the rookie at this point, he's still the best bet available among C-list competitors. Consider, too, that Stenhouse is making his third-career Dover start this weekend after successful outings of 12th and 13th in his first two. If Stenhouse can work out a similar finish on Sunday, that'll be plenty good for the toughest list to pick in 2013.
The June Dover race brought an unusual number of C-list drivers into the race's top 25 (five in all) and the second-best among them was Casey Mears. Mears was 16th that day, and was actually statistically better throughout the race than Stenhouse who finished just ahead of him. Mears' average running position was 17th, one spot ahead of Stenhouse. That average position number was also Mears' second best of the season (he averaged 16th at the July Daytona race) to date.
Also consider: David Ragan, Ryan Truex
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller