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: Sylvania 300 (New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Race: 300 laps, 317 miles (1.058-mile oval)
July 2013 Winner: Brian Vickers
A-List (Choose two, start one)
Jimmie Johnson Yeah, we're picking him again. It's the Chase — wouldn't you? Johnson finished fifth Sunday night at Chicago for a solid start to the Chase, and now heads to New Hampshire where he owns the second-best average running position (9.9) among all drivers. He's spent a whopping 82 percent of his last 17 races inside the top 15. More, Johnson has finished worse than ninth at NHMS just twice (2010, 2011) since the start of 2007 season. Don't lose sight of the fact that Johnson was disqualified from qualifying in July and was forced to start 43rd. In the relatively short race for NASCAR standards, he worked his way to a sixth-place finish.
Prior to July, slotting Matt Kenseth as a driver-to-watch at New Hampshire would have bordered on a funny joke. In 26 starts, he had never won and had only finished in the top 5 on four occasions. From 2009-12 in Roush Fenway equipment, he finished better than 13th only once. But now Kenseth has the benefit of Joe Gibbs Racing's equipment and setups at the track. The result in July was Kenseth finishing ninth after leading 33 laps — 21 more than the entirety of his New Hampshire starts since 2003. Kenseth ranks last among A-list drivers at New Hampshire in terms of average running position, but much like his rejuvenated season at JGR, nothing for Kenseth is like it once was.
Also consider: Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer
B-List (Choose four, start two)
The reality of Kurt Busch being a driver capable of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup started to come in to focus in the July New Hampshire race when he led 102 of the race's first 225 laps. But Busch was caught in an accident with Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne and finished 31st. With another strong qualifying effort (he started second in July) Busch figures to be a factor and could finally put Furniture Row Racing back in victory lane just two weeks after earning the team a Chase bid. Busch has three wins and 11 top 10s at New Hampshire in 25 starts.
Kyle BuschThe younger Busch brother started the Chase for the Sprint Cup Sunday night at Chicago with a near-miss on his fifth win of 2013. He might not have to wait longer. Busch was the runner-up to Brian Vickers in the July race, leading 53 laps along the way. It was the third consecutive race he's led at NHMS, and the fourth straight he's started inside the top 10. A Sunday win would be his first since 2006 at the track.
Burton is infamous for being the last Sprint Cup driver to lead every lap of a New Hampshire race back in 2000, but he's also had a pretty sterling record at the track otherwise. Of the last 17 races at NHMS, Burton owns the sixth-best series average running position and owns a total of four career wins there. This isn't just old hat, either — Burton finished third in the July race.
Brian Vickers Strike while the iron is hot, right? Brian Vickers surprisingly became the most recent Sprint Cup driver to win at New Hampshire. If you think he'll be just competitive this weekend because of his performance at the track two months ago, then he's a worthy pick. But if you think Vickers will revert to his career norms at New Hampshire (17.9 average finish, 16.5 average running position) then you might look elsewhere.
Also consider: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola
C-List (Choose two, start one)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Cowboy Ricky is on a roll! Two weeks ago, Stenhouse didn't have a top-10 finish in the Sprint Cup Series. Now, he has two. The rookie had to have made some fantasy owners happy with those runs, and he's likely one of the best picks again at New Hampshire — especially if his girlfriend doesn't wreck him this time. Stenhouse finished the July race 27 laps down but still had an average running position of 22nd.
There's no way you have overused Gilliland at this point in the season, which means you might be hurting for someone — anyone — to fill a C-list starting position. Gilliland might be a decent pick if he can back up the 18th-place finish he had at New Hampshire in July. That finish was Gilliland's best on the flat track in 13 starts.
Also consider: David Ragan, Dave Blaney
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.