The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. checks in at No. 7 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:
“Dale Jr., for me, is a lot like Matt Kenseth. And they’re close friends. Junior is getting better as he gets older, also,” a former crew chief says.
“I think what has benefited a lot of these drivers as they get older is that we’re in a new era where the best organizations have four cars. In other words, you look at Joe Gibbs (Racing) and they’ve got four cars now. Hendrick (Motorsports) has four cars. And when Junior looks at his teammates, they’re all health freaks,” a former driver says. “Even Jeff Gordon last year, he was 44 and he’s got the same damn body frame that he’s had for years. Unfortunately, (Gordon’s) back is a little weaker than most. But the point is that when Dale Jr. looks around him, it’s motivated him to get a lot better because he’s surrounded by better people. And that’s going to make him better for longer.”
“He’s another driver getting up in the 40s and he’s running better,” a former crew chief says. “He has surrounded himself with the greatest teammates in NASCAR history, and they’re all physically fit. He’s also another guy who has found true love off the track, and I think he’s a lot like Kyle Busch there. His health is better, but men also can change for the better with true love and happiness. … It makes for a better man — and a better driver, too.”
Seeing the air: Earnhardt’s former restrictor plate magic has returned over the past two seasons. Following in the footsteps of his father, Junior now has 10 combined victories at Daytona and Talladega. Last season he posted two victories, an average finish of 1.8 and did what most viewed as impossible: miss the “Big One” four times.
Intermediate Excellence: He didn’t score a victory on them last season, but Earnhardt has never been better on NASCAR’s most raced-on tracks: 1.5 to 2-mile “cookie-cutter” ovals. Here were his results on them, in chronological order: 3rd, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 21st, 10th, 12th, 28th, 21st, 6th, 40th. Using him early and often at tracks such as Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana bodes well for your fantasy hopes.
No Brickyard glory here: Earnhardt has just one career top-5 finish at Indianapolis (4th in 2012). It’s a good race to bench him.