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: Camping World RV Sales 500 (Talladega Superspeedway)
Race: 500 miles, 188 laps (2.66-mile Tri-oval)
May 2013 Winner: David Ragan
A-List (Pick two, start one)
Ah, Talladega Superspeedway, the home of the much-anticipated unofficial wild card round destined to shuffle the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. That's what most fans are hoping for after the sterling start to the Chase by Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, right?
While the shake up could most certainly happen thanks to the very nature of restrictor plate racing, know this: in 2013's three previous restrictor plate races, Kenseth and Johnson have combined to lead 65 percent of the laps. Things look particularly good for Kenseth as the points leader. He boasts the best average Talladega running position (14.1) and highest percentage of laps in the top 15 (65.2) of A-List drivers.
Brad Keselowski has just over half the starts of most A-List drivers in NASCAR's loop data era (stretching 17 races to 2005), so his results are slightly more skewed to the positive. There's no getting around the fact, however, that Keselowski is a two-time Talladega winner and has been in the right position to finish worse than 15th only once since his 2009 walk-off debut.
Keselowski is also one of just three A-List drivers to finish every lap of restrictor plate racing in 2013 (553 laps), earning him the third-best average finish among the group. Only June winner David Ragan has a better career lead lap finish average (.846) at Talladega than Keselowski (.778).
Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer
B-List (Pick four, start two)
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. has finished less than half of his last 17 starts at Talladega. He's led in the same amount. Why, then, would Truex might have an edge in Sunday's four-hour festival of race-car gambling? Easy: No other driver in the B-List has raced more laps inside the top 15 in 2013. That's important because of how the current rules package tends to boost the importance of track position.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If this were 2004 or so, the fantasy preview of Talladega would simply have Dale Earnhardt Jr. listed repeatedly. In that period, you just knew Earnhardt was going to fare well. But now, Earnhardt is in his ninth year of a Talladega win drought (his last one came in Oct. 2004) and not the threat he once was on restrictor plate tracks. The good news for Earnhardt as he tries to snap that streak is the fact that he's just behind Truex in total top-15 laps in 2013 (66.9 percent) and boasts an average restrictor plate finish this season of ninth. Only teammate Johnson has been better at the checkered flag — but that's no surprise, right?
The Biff has never won at Talladega and scored the only restrictor plate win of his career during a finish based on fuel mileage at Daytona in 2003. Biffle, though, might be a worthy start based on recent Talladega consistency. While he did finish 36th in the May race, the poor run snapped Biffle's run of nine races with a finish of 19th or better — including five top-10 finishes. He's also the B-List leader in average finish of the last 11 races.
Undoubtedly, Talladega will serve as a wasted start for someone in the B-List. Crashes happen, engines blow and unrecoverable losses of position in the final laps of a race can destroy even the best days. Knowing that, riding in to Sunday with Marcos Ambrose as a starter could prove beneficial. He's one of just eight drivers to finish every restrictor plate lap this season and had a car capable of winning at Daytona in July before he was sideswiped and crashed by Jimmie Johnson. At the best, you'll score an expectedly good finish. At the worst, you'll expend a start on a driver you don't need for the final races of 2013.
Also consider: Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton
C-List (Pick two, start one)
Embattled Sprint Cup team owner Michael Waltrip returns to the seat in Sunday's race in the No. 55 Toyota that he's already had moderate success driving in the first three restrictor plate races in 2013. Waltrip is one of three C-List drivers (with Bobby Labonte and Scott Speed) to finish every lap in those races this year, and he's certainly fared the best. Waltrip was 22nd in the Daytona 500, fourth at Talladega in May and fifth in the summer Daytona race. Sunday's race will be his 106th start on restrictor plate tracks and there's little question that he'll be in play to record his 32nd top-10 finish at Daytona and Talladega — just as long as he doesn't notch his 25th career DNF.
Thanks to a late dash to the lead after restarting near 10th in the spring, Ragan shocked the NASCAR world by winning in his Front Row Racing No. 38 Ford after leading just four laps. Unexpectedly, it marked the third consecutive top-10 finish for Ragan and the FRR team at Talladega. Credit some luck for the finish, sure, but also credit Ragan's ability to finish on the lead lap at the track. In 13 starts, he's done so 11 times. Finishing consistency like that at an unpredictable track can lead to positive results. For Ragan, it did.
Also consider: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick