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: GoBowling.com 400 (Pocono Raceway)
Race: 400 miles/160 laps (2.5-mile track)
June 2013 winner: Jimmie Johnson
A-List (Pick two, start one)
Jimmie Johnson If you’re scared to use Jimmie Johnson again — you’re likely nearing his nine-race limit at this point — I understand. But choosing to not use Johnson Sunday at Pocono will end up burning you.
It was less than two months ago that Johnson and the No. 48 team led 128 of 160 laps at the first race of 2013 at Pocono Raceway en route to the win. Only Ryan Newman’s alternate pit strategy kept Johnson from leading about 20 laps more. The most frightening part about Johnson and his return to Pocono — aside from Johnson’s ominous claim after the first Pocono race that his team had found “clarity” with the Gen-6 car — is knowing he’ll likely race the same car that dominated so handily last time out. That car should have won the Brickyard last weekend, too, but wound up second after a blown final pit stop.
Tony StewartSmoke has the fourth-best average finish in the last 17 races at Pocono Raceway among A-List drivers, but he’s a great choice this weekend for fantasy teams looking to spread starts among the ultra-competitive A-List. Stewart finished fourth in June at Pocono, stretching a top-5 finish streak at the track to three races. In fact, he’s been plenty good at the Tricky Triangle for a long while. Stretching to the second Pocono race of 2005, Stewart has finished worse than 11th just twice.
Also consider: Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne
B-List (Pick four, start two)
Kurt Busch Busch left Indianapolis plenty frustrated with his 14th-place finish. The weekend had started promising — his Furniture Row Racing No. 78 was fast in practice and qualifying — but fell apart when the team lost the handling in the car as the Brickyard 400 worked to conclusion. All isn’t lost for Busch’s season and his dream bid to score a Chase berth for the previously unheralded team. Pocono could be just the medicine, as it’s a track where Busch was both won before (2005, 2007) and where he landed a sixth-place finish in June. His average Pocono running position (10.9) leads all B-List drivers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Another driver looking for a turnaround, albeit from a larger perspective, is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yes, he was sixth at Indianapolis. Yes, he’s a virtual lock in the Chase. But Earnhardt has just one top-5 since he took the Sprint Cup points lead briefly after the spring race at Auto Club Speedway. That top-5? It came, of course, at Pocono where Earnhardt finished third behind Johnson and Greg Biffle. Tie that with all four Hendrick cars running in the top seven at a similar Indianapolis track, and Earnhardt seems to be locked in for a high finish among B-List drivers.
Greg BiffleBiffle left Pocono in June with a runner-up finish, and spoke afterward about how the result was a bit of an inflated example of Roush-Fenway Racing’s overall strength in 2013 to that point. Naturally, he won the series’ next race at Michigan. Biffle, immensely confident heading to Indy, then stumbled to a 24th-place run one lap down at the Brickyard. The team needs a weekend of “back to what we know” and Pocono should handle that demand well. Biffle has the fourth-best average running position (14.4) at Pocono among B-List contenders.
Buoyed by both his Indianapolis success and the sudden demand to find a suitable Sprint Cup team in 2013, Ryan Newman and crew chief Matt Borland might be on the beginning side of a successful roll to the Chase. Newman’s impressive run at Indianapolis — both in the race and in qualifying — should undoubtedly transfer to the similar Pocono track. That’s good news for fantasy teams counting on Newman’s 11th-place average Pocono finish to buoy the middle of the lineup.
Also consider: Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin
C-List (Pick two, start one)
A few fantasy teams are probably starting to run low on available Allmendinger starts, a fact that seems incredible based on his piecemeal part-time Sprint Cup ride situation. Allmendinger pilots James Finch’s No. 51 again this weekend at Pocono a week after leading the C-list at Indianapolis with a 22nd-place finish.
Travis KvapilI’m certainly not expecting BK Racing’s Travis Kvapil to drop the hammer on the racing world at Pocono, but he seems a good choice for fantasy teams needing to try a different route this weekend. Kvapil, 31st at Indianapolis, scored his best non-road course and non-restrictor plate finish of the year in June at Pocono when the blue No. 93 finished 20th. Also telling of his potential this weekend is an extremely strong average race position improvement of 10 spots from start to finish. Sure, his average Pocono finish is 24th, but he’s doing that when he’s starting around 34th.
Also consider: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Casey Mears
Follow Geoffrey on Twitter:@GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.