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: Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway
Race: 400 miles/400 laps (1.5-mile oval)
2012 winner: Jeff Gordon
A-List (pick two, start one)Note: If you have starts available for Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth, use them this weekend. Otherwise, if you’re like the rest of us, seek these A-List routes.
Kevin Harvick is finishing his final season at Richard Childress Racing in a way that will leave 2013 as his best season yet as a Sprint Cup driver. It’s fitting, really, as Harvick has long been a driver bent on defying predictions of his demise. He’s even got an extremely slim chance of bumping past Johnson and Kenseth for the title if both suddenly forget how to drive Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Of course, fantasy racing awards no points to drivers who win the title. We’re just looking for up-front finishers, and Harvick figures to fit that match. In his last nine Homestead starts, Harvick has eight top-10 finishes and three top 5s. He’s also led laps in two of the last four season finales at the track. All told, Harvick’s average finish of 7.3 — despite being winless at the track — is second only to Carl Edwards in the last nine Homestead races.
Jeff Gordon crossed an achievement off his career bucket list last season by finally taking a Cup Series win at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It scratched his list of series tracks he’s never won at in his career down to just one — Kentucky Speedway. Gordon won the last race of 2012 with a fuel mileage gamble, but was solid throughout. He ran inside the top 10 for much of the final 230 laps.
For Gordon, the win was indicative of the strength he’s shown at Homestead in recent years that had never, to that point, converted to a checkered flag. The win was Gordon’s seventh top 10 in South Flordia in the last nine seasons and it tied him with Carl Edwards for the most top-5 finishes in the same span. The past success combined with stout cars from Hendrick Motorsports this season on 1.5-mile tracks could be a recipe for Gordon to again handle the secondary celebration at Homestead. This time, though, it appears HMS teammate Johnson will be hosting the bigger party.
Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth
B-List (pick four, start two)
Carl Edwards Edwards is THE no-brainer pick for Sunday afternoon. The two-time Homestead winner has five top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes in his last nine Homestead starts. He also has a total of 466 laps led at the track in the last five races — including 119 on point during his just-short bid for the 2011 series title. Need more? Edwards leads all active drivers with 235 laps per race on average inside the top 15. That’s also good for a series-best 7.1 average running position at Homestead.
If you’re low on available Edwards starts but still like the prospects of a Roush-Fenway Racing team at Homestead-Miami, jump on the Greg Biffle bandwagon this weekend. Biffle swept wins at Homestead three straight times from 2004-06 and corrected a recent downward trend at the track with a fifth-place finish in last year’s race. Be warned, though: Biffle has finished 12th, 16th, 13th and 16th in the four races on 1.5-mile tracks in the 2013 edition of the Chase.
Martin Truex Jr. Truex’s hellish finish to the 2013 season finally ends Sunday at Homestead-Miami when he makes his final start in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56. A non-Chase participant, it’ll be a decidedly quiet conclusion to a relationship and partnership that looked unbreakable no less than 10 weeks ago. However, Truex’s past Homestead performances could make the parting of ways a little bit easier. Truex has finished 11th or better in his last six Homestead starts, and most recently has finishes of sixth and third. He’s led laps in each of last three races at Homestead and holds the second-best average running position (8.2) among all series drivers in the last seven years at the track.
So often the season-finale produces a race winner that either seems a bit unexpected or a winner that finally cashes a trip to victory lane in the season’s final chance. Why can’t that be Kurt Busch on Sunday in Homestead? We’ve talked all year about how close he’s gotten to winning with Furniture Row, and Homestead figures to be a decent race for the No. 78 bunch. A year ago, Busch was ninth for the Chevy team and has three top-5 finishes on the track’s current layout. Take the prediction with a grain of salt, however. We’ve only been thinking Kurt could break the streak since February.
Also consider: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch
C-List (pick two, start one)
Allmendinger hops back in the JTG-Daugherty No. 47 for the first time since an Oct. 6 start at Kansas and stands to be one of the best C-List picks for Homestead. Consider: since August, he’s scored four top-20 finishes in six starts for the No. 47; meanwhile the team has four more in 28 other starts this year. Allmendinger also made Homestead one of his best tracks, scoring four top-15 finishes in four career starts.
After 35 races and a desolate crop of team performance in the C-List, Kligerman swoops in for the final race to at least give you hope of points scored in the category one final time. Kligerman is a good choice thanks to his handling of his first Cup start at Texas two weeks ago. That day, Kligerman drove a Swan Racing car — he said on Twitter that the car was built in 2008 by Chip Ganassi Racing — to an 18th-place finish. That run propelled him to his second start Sunday at Homestead where C-List players will be watching him closely. Team owners, too.
Also consider: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Elliott Sadler