NASCAR's Silly Season and fantasy racing

by Eric McClung on February 1, 2011 @ 04:12:35 PDT


As it pertains to NASCAR, the Silly Season refers to hectic changes that go on during the second half of each season and spill into the offseason. Teams replace drivers, new sponsors join the sport while old sponsors leave, the schedule is tweaked and rules are adjusted. In particular, the 2010-11 Silly Season was loaded with changes. From a fantasy perspective, it's important to keep up with these changes and how they impact your view on the upcoming season.

Team changes

Hendrick Motorsports

In a multiway crew swap, three of the four Hendrick cars will see a different face atop the pit box. Steve Letarte will move from Jeff Gordon's No. 24 team to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 squad. Alan Gustafson was swapped from Mark Martin and the No. 5 crew to Gordon. Finally, Lance McGrew joins Martin after a disappointing year and half with Earnhardt. The changes don't stop there. After years of Gordon and Johnson sharing a garage, Earnhardt will now be paired with the five-time defending championship. Gordon now splits his shop with Martin.

On the surface, these moves appear to benefit everyone besides Martin. Earnhardt's crew now gets direct insight from the best team in the business and Gordon scores the organization's best crew chief outside of Chad Knaus. That leaves Martin entering his final year at Hendrick with an unpopular crew chief in McGrew. The combination of two lame ducks may not spell success while keeping the seat warm for the 2012 arrival of Kasey Kahne and his crew chief Kenny Francis.

Joe Gibbs Racing

No notable changes.

Richard Childress Racing

After fielding four cars in a rough 2009 season, Childress scaled his program back to focus once again on three rides. The results were outstanding, highlighted by Kevin Harvick's championship run and his stellar 8.7 average finish. Now that the organization will go back to four cars, as Paul Menard comes over from Richard Petty Motorsports, it will be very interesting to see if they can maintain their newfound consistency. Last year, Menard emerged after several forgettable seasons, particularly on intermediate tracks, with six top-10 finishes after only one such finish in 111 starts. Now in elite equipment for the first time, Menard has all the makings of a prime sleeper candidate.

Roush Fenway Racing

For the final nine races of last year, Drew Blickensderfer took over as David Ragan's crew chief. In that time, Ragan recorded two of his three top-10s and three other finishes of 20th or better. With Roush back on track, look for Ragan to return to something closer to his 2008 form, the year he just missed the Chase.

Also, the organization will run the Ford FR9 engine for the entire year for the first time.

Stewart-Haas Racing

A.J. Allmendinger, Richard Petty Motorsports
Allmendinger leads RPM in 2011

No notable changes.

Penske Championship Racing

A lack of sponsorship caused the team to drop the struggling Sam Hornish Jr., who failed to make an impact in Cup after years of open wheel success. However, Hornish will run some Nationwide Series races in hopes of returning to the Cup level at some point. As the lone Dodge team, Penske now only has two cars in which to draw feedback from, one being a second-year driver in Brad Keselowski.

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

No notable changes, but the team Jamie McMurray recently signed a new multiyear contract after a big bounce back season.

Michael Waltrip Racing

No notable changes.

Richard Petty Motorsports

Elliott Sadler, Kahne and Menard are all out, leaving A.J. Allmendinger as the focal point of the organization. Meanwhile, Marcos Ambrose, who was very successful in a Ford as an Australian V8 Supercar driver, joins to team to pilot the second car. In addition to his bigger hands-on role, Petty hopes reducing from four cars to just a pair of vehicles will increase the quality of their equipment. Based on last year's rash of mechanical problems, this would be a welcome change.

Red Bull Racing

After Red Bull made big strides in 2009, including earning their first checkered flag, 2010 was a total disaster. Brian Vickers made only 11 starts before doctors discovered blood clots due to a life-threatening illness. Kahne will join the team for one season before going over to Hendrick after the team began a bitter divorce with Scott Speed.

On the plus side, Vickers will get a legitimate teammate for the first time at Red Bull. Both drivers are at their best on intermediate tracks, and their combined feedback should keep them very competitive on those sites. Although Vickers believes his medication will keep his condition under control, owners in draft leagues or season-long pools have to be slightly worried.

JTG Daugherty Racing

The 2000 Series Champion Bobby Labonte will replace Ambrose at JTG Daugherty in hopes his veteran presence can help the team grow. Over the last two years, Labonte has bounced around from team to team while his performance as understandably declined. He knows what it takes to compete and his previous champion's provisional will ensure a spot on grid most weeks. A stable ride under his feet could provide some limited value.

Furniture Row Racing

Stewart-Haas Racing will train and supply the pit crew for Regan Smith. Coming off their best season, the team entered in and qualified for all 36 races for the first time since they started competing in 2005. In addition to their technical alliance with RCR and new, improved pit crew the team is making small steps towards respectability.

Robby Gordon Motorsports

With Robby Gordon focusing his efforts on rally racing, a planned Indianapolis 500 run and a new energy drink brand, seat time in the No. 7 car will open up for other drivers as was the case a year ago. Gordon himself is likely to participate again in the two road course events, the only sites he offers much value.

Front Row Motorsports

Both Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland will return, but the third car operation will be scraped, although the organization will field a ride for Robert Richardson Jr. in the Daytona 500. The team recently purchased cars from Richard Petty Motorsports but is still unlikely to offer much fantasy value.

Germain Racing

Casey Mears finished last season with Germain Racing and will return for 18 races this year.

Phoenix Racing

Veteran driver Bill Elliott will run a part-time schedule of least 18 races. Elliott carries the previous champion's provisional, but the operation was a start-and-park team at times last year, and that fact severely limits his value.

Tommy Baldwin Racing

Bill Elliott, Phoenix Racing
Elliott has limited value

A start-and-park operation for much of year last, the team plans to attempt qualifying runs for all 36 races and run at least 16 to completion with driver Dave Blaney behind the wheel. Unless sponsorship can be found, the team will once again call it quits early for the remaining 20 races.

NEMCO Motorsports

Veteran driver Joe Nemechek will likely remain a start-and-park driver for 2011. For Daytona, he'll field a car for Kevin Conway and ExtenZe Racing in hopes of adding additional races as the season goes on.

Whitney Motorsports

Driver J.J. Yeley returns in a likely start-and-park role. The number of races they'll attempt is unknown.

Prism Motorsports

Plans for 2011 are still unclear. Last year, Prism was a start-and-park operation that used several drivers to field as many as two cars per race.

Wood Brothers Racing

The team will return for a 17-race schedule, focused around intermediate tracks, with 19-year-old Trevor Bayne. After years of partnering with Elliott, the organization recorded a 17th-place result in Bayne's first ever Cup start at Texas Motor Speedway last year and will continue to stick with the up-and-comer.

Gunselman Motorsports

The struggling park-and-start organization will field a car for Todd Bodine at Daytona, but their plans beyond that are unknown.

Keyed-Up Motorsports

For the first five races of 2011, Scott Riggs will attempt to qualify and run the No. 90 car.

Stavola Labonte Racing

The organization ran two races with Bobby Labonte last year and will switch to his older brother and team co-owner Terry Labonte for 2011. They hope to run 14 or 15 races, but admit that will be difficult unless they can attract sponsorship soon.

Rusty Wallace Racing

The team purchased owners points from the defunct No. 77 Penske Racing car and would be locked into the field for the first five races, if they elect to run beyond the Daytona 500, their only scheduled race. Nationwide Series regular Steven Wallace will make his Cup debut at Daytona in a car fielded by his father and former Cup champion, Rusty Wallace.

Leavine Fenton Racing

This new team will attempt six races on various intermediate tracks with 43-year-old driver David Starr, known primarily for his decade-plus of driving in the Truck series.

Schedule changes

There a several minor alterations to the order of the race schedule, but here are the major ones to be aware of:

  • Phoenix International Raceway's first date has been moved to the second week of the season and returns to a 500K distance. It was also be run entirely during the day for the first time.
  • Auto Club Speedway will no longer host the second race of the season or a Chase event. Its single 400-mile affair will be held in late March, the fifth race of the season.
  • Kansas Speedway will gain a second date while Kentucky Speedway makes it Cup series debut.
  • Atlanta Motor Speedway also loses a race but will continue to host the Labor Day Weekend event.
  • Chicagoland Speedway will now open the Chase.
  • The spring race at Texas Motor Speedway will mark the sites first night race.

Rule changes

The biggest rule change for the upcoming season is the recent overhaul of the points system.

  • Drivers will be award points in one-point increments. Race winners will earn 43 points, plus three bonus points. One point will be earned for leading a lap with another point going to the driver that leads the most laps, making the maximum points a race winner can score is 48 points.
  • All other drivers in the finishing order will be separated by one-point increments.
  • Following the 26th race of the season, the top 10 in points will earn Chase berths. The remaining two spots will go to non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20 in points.
  • The top-10 Chase drivers will once again be seeded based on wins, with each win worth three bonus points. The wild card drivers will not receive bonus points for wins and will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively.
  • The qualifying order will now be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds. If qualifying is canceled due to bad weather cancels, the grid will be set by practice speeds instead of points.
  • Most fantasy owners won't be impacted by these changes, but be sure to review the game rules just to make sure. Those in custom leagues and pools will also want to bring these matters to the attention to their league manager or commissioner for clarification on any potential impact.
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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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