Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
We don't want to make it seem like Burton will be a terrible fantasy option in 2010, but we think his best years are behind him. He is one driver that made the Chase in 2010 that we could see missing out in 2011. We still think he will be a top-15 driver this year but will underperform the expectations of most fantasy owners.
While his Richard Childress Racing teammates became better as the year progressed, Burton regressed. He ended the year with a solid 15.1 average finish, but that average fell to 18.7 during the final 15 races, 21.4 average finish in the Chase, and 27.2 in the final five events. Burton is better than those numbers indicate, but at this stage in his career, he isn't going to experience a sudden boost in performance.
A look at his numbers the last two years seem to suggest he is on the decline. From 2006 to 2008, he averaged a seventh-place finish in the standings, 8.3 top-five finishes and 18.7 top-10s. In 2009 and 2010, he averaged a 14.5-place finish in the standings, 5.5 top-five finishes and 12.5 top-10s. His average finish from 2006 to 2008 was 13.5, but it fell to 16.8 in the last two seasons.
It's not a huge decline, but it is a decline nonetheless. He hasn't won a race the last two seasons, and even top-five finishes are becoming rare. Burton still has some top-10s and top-15 finishes left in him, which means he still has plenty of fantasy value. That being said, his value isn't going anywhere but down.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Truex's first season with Michael Waltrip Racing did have some high points, but the overall results were unimpressive. He finished 2010 with just one top-five finish, seven top-10s and an 18.8 average finish. Another offseason with MWR should help the cause, but there are no indications that the ceiling is high for Truex.
Although he may have complained that the equipment and chemistry at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing were the reasons for his struggles, his numbers with MWR mirrored his career averages. Not to mention the fact that the driver that replaced him - Jamie McMurray - won three races in 2010. Compared to his last season with EGR, Truex only managed one more top-10 finish and finished just one spot higher in the final standings.
At some point, Truex has to shoulder the responsibility for his performance on the track. The fact is that in five full seasons at the Cup level, he has never recorded more than 14 top-10 finishes. Despite all his success in the Nationwide Series, fantasy owners are going to have to accept the fact that he just isn't going to reach the same level in the Cup Series.
Truex will have his moments, but at the end of the year, don't expect much more than 10 top-10 finishes and a few top-fives. Anyone hoping for a dramatic boost in performance in his second season with MWR is going to be disappointed. He simply isn't a top-10 driver in the Cup Series, and that isn't going to change no matter what team he is driving for.
David Ragan | No. 6 UPS Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Calling a spade a spade
After another forgettable year last season, his 2008 campaign is looking more and more like a fluke. In 2010, he failed to record a single top-five finish for the second straight season. His 21.3 average finish was better than his 2009 mark, but it was still well off the pace of a useful fantasy option.
Ragan has now had four full seasons in the Cup Series. He grabbed the attention of fantasy owners with a 2008 season that ended with a 13th-place finish in the final standings and saw Ragan notch 14 top-10s as well as compile a 15.6 average finish. In his other three seasons, he has combined for just eight total top-10s.
That one incredible season put Ragan on the fast track to stardom, but he has been unable to come close to living up to those numbers since. It is time for fantasy owners to accept that Ragan may never threaten for a spot in the Chase again. At this point, he may just be keeping the seat of the No. 6 car warm for Trevor Bayne.
Although he will manage a few top-15 finishes in 2011, his results are too unpredictable to garner any serious fantasy consideration. Ragan remains a legitimate option at superspeedways, but his value is minimal otherwise. It's time for fantasy owners clinging to dreams of resurgence from Ragan to turn elsewhere.
Travis Kvapil | No. 34 Long John Silver's Ford | Front Row Motorsports
Kvapil was fortunate enough to be named a driver for Front Row Motorsports despite the team's decision to scale back to just two cars. Even though he has a full-time ride, 2011 will likely be a long year for Kvapil. FRM is still a long ways from being a power in the Cup Series, and Kvapil doesn't have the talent to overcome mediocre equipment.
Fantasy owners had a taste of that first hand in 2010. Kvapil made 34 starts, compiling a 29.4 average finish and finishing no higher than 18th. That 18th-place effort was his lone finish inside the top 20 last year. To make matters worse, he seemed to struggle even more as the season progressed. During the Chase, Kvapil compiled a 33.4 average finish.
That's not to say Kvapil doesn't have some upside. In 2008, he compiled a 23.3 average finish. Unfortunately, the equipment issue comes into play. FRM fielded three cars in 2010, and not a single driver managed a top-10 finish. Downsizing to two cars should allow the organization to pool its resources, but Kvapil would need astronomical improvement to become a useful fantasy option.
He does have some value in the draft and play game simply because he will be in the field all 36 races. Kvapil is locked in the show for the first five races, and even though he struggles, he is still good enough to stay in the top 35. That being said, he will be spending a lot of time deep in the field in 2011.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP Energy Drink/Army National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
For the second straight year, Junior is No. 1 on one of our lists. Unfortunately, he is getting slapped with the title of top bust once again. Nobody has done less with more than the last two seasons than Junior, but his popularity keeps him on the fantasy radar.
Sadly, his three top-five finishes, eight top-10s and 18.6 average finish in 2010 were actually an improvement from his 2009 numbers. Still, he has finished 25th and 21st, respectively, in the standings the last two seasons, compiling five top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. Heck, he should be doing that and then some every single season.
Rick Hendrick did another complete overall of the No. 88 team in the offseason in attempt to jumpstart Junior's performance. Crew chief Steve Letarte left Jeff Gordon to join Junior, and the No. 88 team will now share a garage with Jimmie Johnson. Hendrick did a less drastic overhaul prior to the 2010 season with minimal success. It's hard to see these extreme changes doing anything by setting Junior back as he transitions to his new personnel.
Junior's merchandise is going to continue to fly off the shelves, but popularity doesn't translate to fantasy points. He is still a huge name in NASCAR, but the results just aren't there. It doesn't matter how much fantasy owners like Junior. If he performs like he has the last two years, he is a third-round pick in Draft and Play leagues and isn't worth a roster spot on a regular basis in salary cap formats.
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