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 NASCAR 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 up: Geico 400 (Chicagoland Speedway)
Race: 267 laps, 400.5 miles (1.5-mile D-shaped oval)
2012 Winner: Brad Keselowski
A-List (Choose two, start one)
Take that rock you've been living under, slide it out of the way, realize that the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts with Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway and start Mr. Chase himself, Jimmie Johnson. Even with Johnson's four-race slump, it's crazy to think his No. 48 won't be tuned and ready to challenge for title No. 6. He'll start at a track where he's led 211 laps in the last two years and was beat narrowly by Brad Keselowski in 2012. Johnson's average running position (7.2) at Chicago in the last eight events leads the series and betters the second-best by nearly two spots.
There was a different administration in the White House when Matt Kenseth last scored a top-10 finish at Chicagoland. Why, then, should he be a worthy start for this weekend's race? Consider that Kenseth's average running position (10.9) is more indicative of his true success at the track. Two years ago, he ran out of fuel on the last lap and was pushed to the finish by J.J. Yeley, drawing a one-lap penalty. Last year, he broke a shock in the middle of the race after leading. Don't forget he has two wins on 1.5-mile tracks this season similar to Chicago — Kansas Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Also consider: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon
B-List (Choose four, start two)
It's been a tough week for Vickers after being implicated in the Richmond mess caused by team orders from his Michael Waltrip Racing team. A pawn in that fiasco, Vickers will look to change the story this weekend at a track he's found limited success in five starts. He's never finished worse than 14th at Chicagoland and drives a car that was 14th a year ago with Mark Martin behind the wheel. If nothing else, Vickers' average finish of 8.6 is alluring at a point in the season where B-List starting candidates may be running thin.
Kyle Busch hasn't finished two 1.5-mile track races this season (he crashed at Kansas and blew an engine at Charlotte) but he's been pretty decent in the three others. He's notched wins at Atlanta and Texas while finishing fourth at Las Vegas and fifth at Kentucky. Those results are the best indication of expected success at Chicago, a track he's finished in the top-5 three times and scored a win in a late-race duel with Jimmie Johnson in 2008. Busch was fourth at Chicago last season.
Martin Truex Jr.
No one has had a worse week than Martin Truex Jr. (well, maybe Clint Bowyer after facing Ricky Craven’s musice) after forces beyond his control behind the wheel Saturday night first put him in the picture-taking session for Chase qualifiers, and later dumped him out in humiliating fashion. After that, it'd be awful fitting for Truex to improve on his ninth-place finish at Chicago last season. He's another driver who has been remarkably good on many 1.5-mile tracks (he was second at Texas and Atlanta this year) and his percentage of laps in the top 15 at Chicago is third-best among B-List drivers.
Arguably the most under-the-radar driver heading toward the Chase, you've probably not used Edwards' full allotment of starts this season. Chicago should prove good for that considering he finished second and fourth at the track in 2010 and 2011. We're tossing out his 2012 results (17th) because, well, not much in 2012 was good for Edwards anyway. All told, he has three career top-5 finishes at Chicago and two 1.5-mile track top-5 finishes this season.
Also consider: Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
C-List (Choose two, start one)
If you've been following our advice, you're undoubtedly reaching the end of available starts for Allmendinger. If you haven't, this should be a great weekend to pull the journeyman driver out for a C-List start. He's back in the No. 47 for Bobby Labonte this week (still out with broken ribs) and coming off a finish of 14th just two weeks ago at Atlanta. In four career Chicago starts, Allmendinger has three top-14 finishes. The No. 47 is improving with Allmendinger behind the wheel and Chicago should continue that trend.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse, fresh from his first career Sprint Cup top 10 at Richmond, makes his first Cup-level start at Chicagoland. It's a track that has served him well before. Stenhouse won the second Nationwide Series race at the track last season and finished second in the first. The fact that it's a 1.5-mile track is also good news for Stenhouse: He finished 16th at the similar Atlanta two weeks ago and led 34 laps at the nearly-identical Kansas back in April.
Also consider: David Ragan, David Gilliland
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller