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: Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (Watkins Glen International)
Race: 221 miles/90 laps (Track: 2.46 miles)
2012 Winner: Marcos Ambrose
A-List (Pick two, start one)
The defending Cup Series champion rolled to a sixth-place finish at Pocono Sunday in a red car, hopefully capping a streak of generally bad races and bad luck that all started when Keselowski first raced the alternate paint scheme at Richmond in May. Those who have grown hesitant to use the Blue Deuce (and yes, it'll be blue at The Glen) in recent weeks might want to pull him up for Sunday.
Keselowski nearly scored a win at The Glen in 2012 in the melee of a finish that saw Kyle Busch wreck off his nose and Marcos Ambrose beat Keselowski to the line in a frantic last-lap dash. Sunday is his fourth Cup start at the New York track where he has an average finish of eighth. A restart crash plagued his finish at Sonoma earlier this season.
Don’t expect a dominant Jimmie Johnson Sunday at Watkins Glen, but the statistics say — in Tony Stewart’s absence due to his broken leg suffered Monday night at a sprint car race in Iowa — Johnson figures to be toward the front. Of course, you already knew that.
Johnson has yet to win at Watkins Glen, but he did score a third-place finish last season and has an average running position of 9.8 in the last eight races there. That’s good for second-best among A-List drivers and third overall only behind road course prodigies Stewart and Marcos Ambrose. Johnson also has another thing going for him: He’s completed nearly 80 percent of the last eight Watkins Glen races in the top 15. Believe it or not, without a Tony Stewart around, Johnson might the most consistent and reliable pick.
(Also consider: Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon)
B-List(Pick four, start two)
If there's a way to start Marcos Ambrose more than once in your lineup Sunday, you should probably investigate the possibility. It's this simple: In five career Watkins Glen starts, the total of his finishing positions is 10. For those counting at home, that's an absurd average finish of second. Second!
Ambrose has won the last two Cup Series races at Watkins Glen, and has a worst finish of third (2008, 2010). Last year, of course, Ambrose took advantage of the crazy finish and oil on the track to skate past Keselowski and Busch for the win. Still, he was in position to take another top-3 finish. Don't get too worried, either, if Ambrose doesn't lead a bunch. He's led just 46 of 452 laps he's raced at Watkins Glen. He’s at the front when it counts.
There was steam coming from the radiator of Kyle Busch's car by the time he finished the wild 2012 race at Watkins Glen, and it was a perfect visual metaphor of what Busch was feeling inside the cockpit. The confluence of NASCAR not throwing a yellow and Brad Keselowski's contact meant Busch, who led a race-high 43 laps (including at the white flag) wound up eighth and wrecked by the time the smoke cleared.
Busch should be back with a vengeance this weekend. His average running position in the last eight Watkins Glen race is tied for fourth among all drivers and second among B-List candidates.
Martin Truex Jr.
Remember when Martin Truex Jr. won at Sonoma in June and seemed so convinced that race wins were ready to come to his team in hordes? Well, the Cup Series has raced five times since then and Truex has a single top 10 amid falling four spots in the point standings.
The Glen, though, could be where he at least shows a decent rebound. Obviously, Truex has a stout road course program behind him (Michael Waltrip Racing has won two Sonoma races in a row) and Truex personally has an average Watkins Glen finish of 13.7 in his last seven starts. That's good enough for fourth-best among B-List drivers.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Sunday's outing at Pocono Raceway felt a lot like old times for Juan Pablo Montoya, mainly in that he was too aggressive too early and caused an unnecessary wreck. Old times, then, might be good for the Colombian in the series' return to a road course. Montoya is the most recent Cup Series Watkins Glen winner not named Marcos Ambrose (2010).
Last season, Montoya set the Watkins Glen track record in qualifying and started from the pole. But a broken lower control arm sent him to the garage, ruining a shot at a second win and fifth-straight top-10 finish. Even with two Watkins Glen DNFs, Montoya has spent 80 percent of his laps at the track in the top 15.
(Also consider: Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers)
C-List(Pick two, start one)
Consistency and performance in the C-List is certainly no given, but you've got to like what Casey Mears will bring to the table Sunday. For starters, Mears was the top-finishing C-List driver in June on the Sonoma road course. More importantly, Mears has been modestly consistently over his career transitions from Hendrick Motorsports to Richard Childress Racing and now to Germain Racing. In the last five Watkins Glen races, Mears has finished between 15th and 20th and always on the lead lap. What more do you want from a C-List driver?
Allmendinger has been a heavy pick on this list in 2013 despite his part-time role, and he's occasionally laid an egg like he did with his DNF at Pocono Raceway. Sunday at Watkins Glen promises to be different, however. Allmendinger is back in JTG-Daugherty's No. 47 for the weekend in lieu of Bobby Labonte and actually got to test with the team at Watkins Glen just last week. That should fair well with Allmendinger's ninth-place average finishing position in four career Sprint Cup races at the track.
(Also consider: David Stremme, Travis Kvapil)
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter:@GeoffreyMiller
Photos byActions Sports, Inc.