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ADAM ANSELL'S TOP 25 FOR TALLADEGA
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt Jr. is doing exactly what he didn't do for most of 2010 - drive with some consistency. He's recorded six straight Top 12s since finishing 24th at Daytona. In 22 starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Junior has five wins, eight Top Fives and 11 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 15.1. Four of his five wins came in succession (2001-03), and his Average Finish from 2001-04 was 1.3. He's led at least three laps in 20 starts and at least eight laps in his last 10 starts. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Junior ranks second in Driver Rating (92.7) and third in Average Running Position (14.3). He leads all competitors with 1,496 Laps in the Top 15. He won't come at an added value in any format, but he will produce high-end results. Plug him into all lineups.
2. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's buried in the Cup standings (20th). Just one Top 10 through seven events will do that to a driver. Hamlin's given many Fantasy owners a bad case of the "sposda's," because he's supposed to be better. If he's going to turn his 2011 mediocrity around, this is it. In 10 Talladega starts, Hamlin has three Top Fives and four Top 10s with an Average Finish of 18.3. He posted fourth and ninth-places finishes last season. He's led at least one lap in all 10 starts. Hamlin is a prime buy-low candidate in Salary Cap and Snake Draft formats. The guy didn't just forget how to drive, and his crew didn't forget how to change tires and pump gas. The No. 11 team will work through this funk and turn their season around. He leads all competitors in DR (93.0) and ranks fourth in ARP (14.9).
3. Kevin Harvick: Harvick already has two wins this season, and is one of the hottest Cup drivers so far in 2011. In 20 starts at the site, Harvick has one win (2010), five Top Fives, nine Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 14.8. In five events from 2007-09, Harvick finished no better than 20th with an Average Finish of 24.6. He went from that to first and second-place finishes at Talladega last season. He's led at least one lap in six of his last seven starts and in 13 starts overall. Harvick has four superspeedway wins overall. Harvick ranks 16th in DR (78.6) and 15th in ARP (18.2). Forget his soul crushing 42nd-place finish at Daytona. His luck, and yours, will be better on Sunday.
4. Clint Bowyer: After a disappointing start to 2011 (Average Finish of 23.5), Bowyer has three straight Top 10s and has led at least one lap in each event. In 10 starts at Talladega, Bowyer has one win (2010), two Top Fives and four Top 10s with an Average Finish of 19.4. In his Halloween victory last season, he posted a 123.4 DR, 8.4 ARP and led 19 laps. He's led at least one lap in three starts. Bowyer has picked up some of that pre-2010 Chase form, and as his momentum builds, so will his ownership in Tiered/Grouping formats. Fantasy owners should be more concerned with results than value this early in the season, and should roll with Bowyer in all formats.
5. Juan Pablo Montoya: When everyone is on one particular bandwagon, you need to hop off. Last season too much hype surrounded Montoya, and he crumbled. With no one paying as close attention this season, he has an Average Finish of 11.3 through seven events. In eight starts at the site, Montoya has three Top Fives and two poles with an Average Finish of 14.8. He's led at least one lap in his last six starts, including 18 a season ago. He's posted back-to-back third-place finishes. Those two poles have come in his last four Talladega starts, and he also has a pole (Auto Club) in 2011. Montoya ranks seventh in DR (85.9) and second in ARP (13.8). He's become a very versatile driver, and has bonus point potential in the form of qualifying and laps led written all over him.
6. Jeff Gordon: In 36 Talladega starts, Gordon has six wins, 13 Top Fives, 17 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 16.4. His latest wins came in a 2007 sweep. The No. 24 car has an Average Finish of 24th in six starts since the sweep. He also has eight DNFs overall. He's led at least one lap in 29 starts. Gordon ranks ninth in DR (84.8) and 14th in ARP (17.8). He's having just an average season through seven starts but with Gordon Fantasy owners know exactly what they're getting regardless of recent performance. He's a solid Tiered/Grouping format start with upside.
7. Kyle Busch: Busch doesn't have the best track record at Talladega, but he's shown flashes of brilliance and we know he can win anywhere, anytime. In 12 starts at the site, Busch has one win (2008) and two Top 10s with an Average Finish of 23.3. Despite an Average Finish of just 17.8 with just one Top 10 since his 2008 win, he's led at least four laps in each start. He's led at least one lap in seven straight starts and in eight of his last nine. Busch ranks 15th in DR (79.3) and 16th in ARP (18.7). His Tiered/Grouping format starts are extremely valuable, but if you're in the mood to flip a coin, starting Busch is a calculated risk.
8. Jimmie Johnson: In 18 Talladega starts, Johnson has one win (2006), four Top Fives, eight Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 17.2. He's led at least one lap in 15 of his last 16 starts. He does have seven DNFs in 18 starts. Johnson ranks 11th in DR (82.5) and 13th in ARP (17.4). The nature of restrictor plate races make starting Johnson an unnecessary risk, but when they zig, you should zag. Johnson will be riding the pine in a lot of Tiered/Grouping formats and starting him will come at a nice value. It's an interesting strategy that could pay huge dividends.
9. Kurt Busch: If you buy into the heavily scientific theory that Busch does well every other year at Talladega, this is the year to start him. Since 2009, he's finished sixth, 30th, eighth and 30th. In 20 starts at Talladega, Busch has six Top Fives and 13 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 13.7. He's led at least two laps in his last five starts and at least one lap in 15 of his last 17 starts. Busch ranks eighth in DR (85.4) and sixth in ARP (15.7). He has zero wins in 59 career superspeedway starts, but he does have 32 Top 10s. As long as your expectations are tempered, Busch will prove to be a quality start in all formats.
10. Tony Stewart: In 24 starts at the site, Stewart has one win (2008), nine Top Fives and three Top 10s with an Average Finish of 15.5. In 10 starts leading up to the win, he had an Average Finish of 13.1 and led at least one lap in every event. In four starts since the win, his best finish is 16th (2010) and he's led one lap in each of those two starts. Smoke ranks 10th in DR (84.7) and seventh in ARP (16.4). He's easily the most versatile driver in NASCAR, so a few bad starts shouldn't deter Fantasy owners from starting him.
11. Carl Edwards: One Top Five and three Top 10s in 13 Talladega starts; finished second at Daytona in February. 66.9 DR.
12. Jamie McMurray: One win (2009), five Top Fives and six Top 10s in 17 Talladega starts. 82.5 DR.
13. David Ragan: Two Top Fives and three Top 10s in eight Talladega starts. 87.7 DR.
14. Brad Keselowski: One win (2009) and three Top 10s in four Talladega starts. 81.0 DR.
15. Mark Martin: Two wins, 11 Top Fives, 23 Top 10s and two poles in 46 Talladega starts. 66.2 DR.
16. Jeff Burton: 87.8 DR.
17. Matt Kenseth: 82.2.
18. Brian Vickers: 89.6.
19. Joey Logano: 89.1.
20. Kasey Kahne: 67.5
21. Martin Truex Jr.
22. Paul Menard
23. Ryan Newman
24. A.J. Allmendinger
25. Greg Biffle
Adam was a 2010 Fantasy Sports Writers Awards Association nominee for Racing Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @RotoExpertsAA.
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