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: Brickyard 400, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Race: 400 miles/160 laps (2.5 mile track)
2012 winner: Jimmie Johnson
A List (pick two, start one)
Without fail, you'll hear a lot about Tony Stewart and his personal connection to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the local boy from Indiana. Broadcasters can't help but repeat it. Fortunately, they'll be discussing a driver that has a high probability of success at the track he knows and loves. The two-time Brickyard 400 winner has sported a 7.1-average finish in his last eight starts at Indianapolis, with an A-List best 11.7 average position ranking. Stewart has also proven to be a remarkable passer at a track that often makes swapping positions a tedious process. In those last eight races, Stewart has gained an average of 12 spots per race — the best among A-Listers.
But you don't need to know all of that rationale. Just remember: It's Tony Stewart at Indianapolis.
Along the same lines as Stewart, picking Johnson, now a four-time Indianapolis winner after his dominating performance there last season, seems to be a no-brainer. Some of Johnson's statistics in the last eight races at Indy are just gaudy: Most fastest laps (12.39 percent), most laps led (229) and highest driver rating (106.3). Making matters worse for the competition, Johnson put those numbers forward with three Brickyard finishes of 19th or worse. Sunday, just like every NASCAR race at Indianapolis, will be a show of who can best maintain track position. Speeds are going to be much higher than last season, and track position will gain even more importance. In a race like that — should Johnson qualify well — it's hard to pick against the No. 48. A win would break a tie for the most NASCAR wins at the track with teammate Jeff Gordon.
B List (pick four, start two)
Mark Martin has bitten fantasy players in a few of his most recent races, so I understand a hesitancy to use him at Indianapolis. But consider this: Martin has the very best average running position of any current driver at Indy (that includes the likes of Stewart and Johnson in the A-List) during the last eight seasons. Still, Martin has never won at Indianapolis. Perhaps watching the co-driver of the No. 55 take their shared Toyota to victory at Loudon will be an impetus for Martin to grab his first kiss of the bricks.
Something about Indy — whether it's the constant battle to maintain track position or the way Roush Fenway Racing's power trains hook up to the track's long straightaways — seems to fit Greg Biffle well. He's another driver with a better average running position in the last eight years at Indianapolis (10.2) than anyone in the A-List. Though also never a Brickyard winner, Biffle holds the distinction of the best average finish of any driver during the last four races at the legendary oval. It's been six years since he's finished outside the top 10, and he's completed every lap. Going with Biffle seems like a smart, solid play.
Kyle Busch has never won at Indianapolis, which, if you look at his overall record in eight career starts, is a bit surprising. Busch has had one truly bad race at Indy — he hit the wall in 2009 to finish 38th — but he has otherwise notched six top-10 finishes and seven top-15 runs. Based on Busch's returns at tracks that teams often say carry similarities to Indianapolis (he was sixth at Pocono and second at New Hampshire), it stands to figure that he'll be in line to defend the second-place run he had there last year. At the very least, a fourth-consecutive Indy top-10 seems possible.
Juan Pablo Montoya
If you're strictly looking at statistics for the Brickyard, you're going to miss Montoya. After all, why would you pick a driver that has an average finish of 23rd in the last four races at the 2.5-mile oval? It just wouldn't make sense on the surface. But Montoya could finally be the diamond in the rough of this weekend's fantasy picks. Montoya's unraveling in the 2009 and 2010 races remain some of the biggest disappointments of his NASCAR career. In those races, he led a total of 192 laps (remember, one race at Indy is only 160 laps) before pit road blunders left him out of contention. He's finished 28th and 21st in the two 400-milers since, but seems to have a better all-around package this season. Regardless, he'll be an interesting story to follow throughout the weekend.
C List (pick two, start one)
There's a low probability you've come close to using up David Stremme's starts this point, so why not try him at Indianapolis? In three of his four Brickyard starts, Stremme has finished on the lead lap. He's also carried an average finish of 23.1 during the span, including a 24th-place finish with his current team, Inception Motorsports, last season. Also, the team is flying (relatively) high after tying its best non-restrictor plate finish of the season at Loudon in 20th.
I know, I know — you're surprised to see Joe Nemechek make this list. Admittedly, I'm a bit surprised too. Nemechek is making my list of picks for the Brickyard more due to the recent "hot streak" he's been on in the Sprint Cup Series than his IMS acumen. In two consecutive races, Nemechek — who likely counts as a success story of the start-and-park strategy now that he's running a majority of races to their full distance — has recorded two consecutive finishes of 27th or better. The last time he did that? Nemechek was driving Furniture Row Racing's No. 78.
He probably won't do that well Sunday. A top 30 would be decent. But for a driver that has been able to pull his self-owned team to a level where it can finish on the lead lap, that's impressive. Here's a tip of the hat, Joe.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter:@GeoffreyMiller
Photos byActions Sports, Inc.