Fantasy NASCAR: 2012 bust drivers

by Brian Polking on February 14, 2012 @ 13:26:43 PDT


There is nothing more devastating to a fantasy owner than drafting a driver in the early rounds, only to have the pick turn out to be a bust. Unfortunately, it is almost a guarantee that several drivers will have unexpected down years and end up frustrating owners and costing them a shot at a championship. Talk to anyone that owned Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray or Jeff Burton last season, and they could probably give a good description of the type of impact owning a bust can have on a fantasy team. In the hope of saving more owners the headache that goes along with drafting dead weight, here are a few candidates for bust material in 2012. 

Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing

Busch's qualification as a bust is completely dependent on the perception fantasy owners have about the 2004 champ. Washing up at Phoenix Racing is a major downgrade for Busch in terms of resources and equipment. Owners expecting him to perform like the same driver that regularly made the Chase and won races for Penske Championship Racing are going to be disappointed. He is a big name, but in his current situation, big results are going to be tough to come by.

Let's face it. Busch threw away a great ride because he couldn't control his temper. The good news is that there is a chance that the experience could mellow him out. On the other hand, he's Kurt Busch. He has made a career out of verbally abusing his crew chiefs, crew members and basically anyone else he has had to talk to. He is overdramatic and complains about an eighth-place car like he is struggling to stay on the lead lap. Now, he is joining a single-car, under-funded organization that is going to struggle to compete consistently. How long before Busch gets tired of being mediocre and the fireworks begin?

There will probably be some bright spots for Busch. Phoenix Racing has had success at the superspeedways in the past, and Busch is one of the top plate track drivers in NASCAR. However, outside of Daytona and Talladega, Busch is going to find life tough. He has been a hot and cold driver throughout his career as it is, and that tendency is only going to get worse without the backing of a powerhouse race team.

As long as fantasy owners are expecting Busch to be a top-20 driver with occasional bright spots, he should deliver passable results. However, he is going to underachieve compared to the numbers he has put up throughout his career. Best-case scenario for Busch: He behaves all year, has a few good runs, and ends up landing a better ride in 2013.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Junior is overhyped

Junior pleased his many fans last season by returning to respectability and making the Chase. However, making the Chase and being an elite fantasy option are two totally different things; confusing the two is a recipe for disaster. Granted, Junior did make some improvements in 2011, but fantasy owners can't let his popularity cloud the truth about his numbers.

His time with Hendrick Motorsports has been marked by disappointment and underachievement. He has just one win in four seasons with the organization, and he has gone winless in three consecutive seasons. Even more disturbing is the fact that Junior has just nine top-five finishes in the last three years combined. If he were really a top fantasy option, he should be getting nine top-fives and then some on a yearly basis. The bottom line is that he doesn't win races, he doesn't run near the front that often, and his last impressive season came in 2006.

Even last year, Junior's numbers didn't overwhelm. He had just four top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes. For the record, that is the same number of top-10 finishes as Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose, and the fewest of any driver that made the Chase. To his credit, Junior stayed out of trouble and consistently finished in and around the top 15. Still, his lack of elite finishes leaves little room for error and hurts his fantasy value dramatically in rotisserie leagues. 

Owners have to take personal bias out of the equation when drafting a fantasy team. A lot of people love Junior, and he has a closet full of Most Popular Driver trophies to prove it. From a fantasy perspective, he is a sometimes solid but rarely spectacular option. Junior Nation may want to believe that he is a top-10 driver, but his results just don't back that up.

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing

Truex entered the Cup Series in 2006 with plenty of credentials. He had won back-to-back Nationwide Series championships, and he was enjoying the popularity that comes with being friends with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seven years later, he remains a case of unrealized potential, and even a move to Michael Waltrip Racing hasn't been able to jumpstart his career. People keep wondering if the next year will be his breakout year, but at some point, it is time to accept that Truex just is who he is.

For fantasy owners, the real Truex isn't all that attractive of an option. His career average finish is a pedestrian 21.9, and he has never averaged better than a top-16 finish in a single season. He has just 17 career top-five finishes, and in the last four seasons, he has combined for just eight top-fives. During the same stretch, Truex has failed to finish 16 races. He has never had more than 14 top-10 finishes in a year, and he accomplished that back in 2007.

The problem that fantasy owners encounter is that Truex always seems to close out seasons on a high note. He runs well at New Hampshire, his lone win came in the fall event at Dover, and his best track statistically is Homestead Miami Speedway - the site of the season finale. All three tracks mentioned appear in the final 10 races of the year, creating the illusion that Truex is improving and is primed for a breakout campaign the following season. The reality is that he has a few strong tracks, and they happen to be grouped together at the end of the year.

Coming off a third-place run in the 2011 finale, owners could fall into the same trap heading into 2012. However, there is nothing in his history that suggests he will ever be anything more than a driver that gets around 10 top-10 finishes with few top-fives. Plain and simple, Truex is a top-20 driver and nothing more. Expecting anything more is going to leave owners disappointed.

Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing
An offseason team change isn't encouraging

Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing

Although Bowyer has never quite made the jump to an elite fantasy option, he has been just a notch below for the last several seasons. During the past five years, Bowyer has averaged at least a top-15 finish and has recorded at least 16 top-10s. He wasn't always flashy, but he was consistent and reliable, making him a staple of fantasy rosters. Unfortunately, and offseason move to Michael Waltrip Racing could provide a serious blow to his value.

Bowyer is leaving behind Richard Childress Racing, and even in the organizations down years, its driver produced better results than MWR's stable ever has. RCR has made Kevin Harvick a perennial title threat and put Bowyer and Jeff Burton in the Chase. Heck, the organization even put Paul Menard in Victory Lane last season. It's hard to envision that leaving behind the resources, personnel and equipment of one of the power teams in NASCAR for a MWR team that is still trying to establish itself is going to have a positive impact on Bowyer's numbers.

On the plus side, Bowyer will be MWR's top option. He is the best driver the organization has had, and he will be given every possible opportunity to succeed. There is a chance that Bowyer could be the missing piece for MWR, and the combination will help Bowyer and his new team to take the next step. The more likely scenario is that Bowyer takes a step back. MWR has a lot of moving parts, with Bowyer and Mark Martin coming on board, and chemistry doesn't develop overnight.

The situation seems eerily similar to the Martin Truex Jr. saga. He wanted to leave Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing to become the top driver for MWR. He received his wish, but his numbers haven't improved at all. Granted, Bowyer has proven to be a better driver, but he is also leaving behind a better race team. Throw in the growing pains that often come with joining a new team, and a regression seems natural. Fantasy owners that draft Bowyer based on his performance that last five years probably aren't going to get a good return on their investment.

David Reutimann, Tommy Baldwin Racing

The 2011 season was a forgettable one for Reutimann. After winning races in 2009 and 2010 and establishing himself as a top-20 driver, he completely fell off the map. Reutimann finished 28th in the final standings, managing just one top-five finish and three top-10s. He was so bad that Michael Waltrip Racing released him after the year, and even though he landed a ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing, it could be a very long year for Reutimann.

There is a big difference between a full-time ride and a good ride. Tommy Baldwin Racing is a small organization trying to make it in a world of powerhouse teams. While the attempt is admirable, it isn't a situation conducive to making a driver a stud in fantasy circles. After all, TBR's current goals are to finish in the top 35 in owner points and attract sponsorship. Winning races and running in the top 10 aren't even in the picture yet.

Reutimann's sponsorship is still a mystery for this season, and even with the organization committed to a full year, limited funds are going to take a toll for a team that was facing an uphill fight to begin with. It's a bit sad because a couple of years ago, the questions surrounding Reutimann were whether or not he would win more races and make the Chase. Now, the only real question for fantasy owners is whether or not he should even be drafted or used in fantasy leagues.

In an offseason that has featured a lot of new hires, firings and driver movement, Reutimann's move may be the most impactful from a fantasy standpoint. Moving to TBR transforms a driver that was a perennial sleeper with MWR to borderline irrelevant. He may have landed a ride, but Reutimann shouldn't be landing on fantasy teams this year.

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About Brian Polking

Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.

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