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: AAA Texas 500 (Texas Motor Speedway)
Race: 501 miles, 334 laps (1.5-mile D-shaped oval)
April 2013 Winner: Kyle Busch
A-List (Choose two, start one)
After knocking down his first win of 2013 at Martinsville Speedway last weekend, there’s little doubt that Jeff Gordon is hot. He’s been good enough during this Chase, in fact, that he’s lost just 12 points (Matt Kenseth) and 15 points (Jimmie Johnson) to the drivers who have dominated the majority of the title fight.
Gordon figures to be strong again Sunday at Texas. Consider this: In April, he started eighth and moved to second by the race’s halfway point. Gordon led 15 laps, and scored the third-best average running position of any driver in the field. He racked those numbers out without even finishing the race after he bowed out with 18 laps to go to finish 38th with a wheel hub issue. Otherwise, he was destined for a Texas top 5. Don’t be surprised if that finally comes on Sunday.
Easily the best track in Jimmie Johnson’s repertoire, as you’ll recall from last week, is Martinsville Speedway. For Matt Kenseth, that track is Texas Motor Speedway.
Kenseth played a big role in building a reputation of Roush Fenway Racing always being a contender at the Fort Worth 1.5-mile track. In 21 starts, Kenseth won twice, finished in the top 5 12 times and led laps in all but six of the races. His average finish at Texas (8.5) is his best of any track where he’s made at least 10 starts. Back in April, Kenseth struggled some at Texas, but that race was an outlier — he’s been rock solid at nearly every other 1.5-mile track.
Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne
B-List (Choose four, start two)
Kyle Busch took advantage of late handling problems to swoop by Martin Truex Jr. in the April Texas race and score the win. But it wasn’t just those issues for the No. 56 that led Busch and his No. 18 to victory lane. Busch led a race-high 171 laps in the spring Texas race — the first for the Gen-6 chassis at the track — and also started on the pole. He’ll compete for the win Sunday night thanks to the good setup info his team found during that race and, frankly, thanks to Busch simply being good at Texas. In the last 16 races, he has the best B-List average position (11.2) and the second-most laps led among all drivers (692 laps to Greg Biffle’s 732).
Martin Truex Jr.
Kasey Kahne’s Chase performance may be the biggest competitor to Truex ending 2013 as the driver with the worst luck, but it’s hard to see how a guy who loses heartbreaking races, gets booted from the Chase and loses his ride at season’s end can be topped in the bad luck department. Truex’s heartbreak started in Texas in April when a broken shock late in the race drastically changed the handling of his dominant No. 56 Toyota. Truex led 142 laps and looked to have the race in-hand after the last pit stop until the shock broke. Worse yet, Truex was cited for have a suspension out of spec after the race — likely due to that very broken shock.
Pending the car can be just as good several months later, Truex will someone to watch on Sunday.
If you’re in need of a dark horse candidate for Sunday’s race, Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team could be that candidate. Almirola has shown his strengths in the last two seasons to come on tracks similar to Texas, and back in April Almirola rolled to a seventh-place finish after starting third. Almirola averaged 10th-place during that spring 500-mile race, good for his best performance in that category in all of 2013. But be warned: Todd Parrott was axed as crew chief of the team last week after a failed drug test. Sunday will prove interesting in determining just how much influence Parrott had on the No. 43 on those big intermediates.
Alongside Kenseth and teammate Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards has played the same Roush fiddle at Texas that has so often led to success for the Ford team. Since 2005, Edwards has notched three TMS wins. The last came in 2008, but ever since a dismal streak in 2009 and ’10 (he had consecutive finishes of 39th, 33rd and 19th) Edwards has rallied with three top 5s and four top 10s in the last five races. Back in April, Edwards finished third.
Also consider: Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose
C-List (Choose two, start one)
Trevor Bayne will make just his 10th start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season this weekend in the Wood Brothers No. 21. Bayne, currently full-time in the Nationwide Series, started five of the season’s first 12 Cup races but has just six starts in the 20 events since. Bayne could be a driver to watch — especially on the C-List — thanks to his performance at TMS in the spring. He turned his best average running position of the season at a non-restrictor plate track (19th) and finished 18th.
With Bayne available in a C-List category so void of teams that can sniff the top 15 in an intermediate track race, it’s hard to even suggest another driver for Sunday’s event. But if you’re not feeling Bayne’s credentials or are hoping to score points on a fellow competitor as the close of fantasy season draws near, consider a start of Elliott Sadler for another week in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55. Sadler will be behind the curve in a Cup car at Texas — he crashed out of his only intermediate track race in the Cup series in 2013 and hasn’t started a Cup race at Texas since 2010 — but he is a former winner (2004) at the track. He’ll at least have good setups from MWR to start with.