Fantasy NASCAR: Silly Season Review

by Eric McClung on February 18, 2013 @ 10:58:39 PDT


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

For 2013, the new Generation-6 car design has been rolled out. In addition to a sleek and unique look on the outside for all three manufacturers, the machines feature more downforce and grip on intermediate tracks for closer racing. In the restrictor plate races, the cars are setup for less downforce to eliminate the two-car tandem. The rear suspensions have also been adjusted in order to squash "crabbing," a popular setup that skewed the rear of the car to the right in order to improve speed off the corners.

BK Racing | Toyota

No. 83 David Reutimann

No. 93 Travis Kvapil

BK Racing was created a year ago from the pieces sold off by the former Red Bull Racing organization. For this season, the team named veteran crew chief Mike Ford their director of competition in hopes of taking the next step.

After failing to agree on a new contract, Landon Cassill is out of the No. 83 car. Reutimann, who drove primarily for Tommy Baldwin Racing last year, takes over, along with veteran crew chief Pat Tryson.

Kvapil scored BK's lone top-10 of 2012 and was the team's best driver, with an average finish of 25.7.

If the enhancements pay off in the garage, Reutimann becomes a lower-tier option to consider on 1.5-mile tracks like Charlotte. In a span of five races from 2009 to 2011, while at Michael Waltrip Racing, Reutimann recorded an average finish 7.8 at CMS.

Brian Keselowski Motorsports

No. 92 Brian Keselowski

Keselowski will attempt to make the Daytona 500 in a one-shot deal using the No. 52 and Hamilton Means Racing. However, the elder Keselowski brother could attempt a few races on his own after missing the show in five of his six attempts last year. He's a non-factor in all fantasy formats.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing | Chevrolet

No. 1 Jamie McMurray

No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya

Unfortunately, the only sparks produced by EGR last year was Montoya's fiery Daytona 500 crash into a jet dryer. In fact, both JPM and Jamie Mac have been off the radar much of the past two seasons.

McMurray won three races in 2010 (including the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400) but has been very inconsistent, even during the best of times. McMurray was a restrictor plate maven at one point, so he's worth a shot at Daytona and Talladega. He's also shown some life at Bristol and Indy.

Montoya made the Chase back in 2009 but is coming off his worst season as a Cup driver. The Colombian managed just two top-10s and finished on the lead lap only 13 times. Over the last four races on road courses, Montoya's typical bread and butter, he has finished outside of the top 20 three times.

Despite two straight disaster seasons in NASCAR, IndyCar wiz Chip Ganassi is sticking with both of his drivers and their respective crew chiefs in what has to be a make-or-break campaign for all involved. However, he now has engines from Hendrick Motorsports under the hood, moving on from Earnhardt-Childress Racing equipment.

FAS Lane Racing | Ford

David Ragan

No. 32 Timmy Hill, Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader

Hill, the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the Nationwide Series, will be running for the same award this year in Cup while competing in 18-20 races.

In three starts with FAS last year, the 19-year-old Hill qualified near the back each time but finished 22nd at Kansas Speedway and 29th at Phoenix International Raceway.

Labonte will run the four restrictor plate races with Schrader suiting up for the remaining dates.

Over the last two seasons FAS-owned cars have made a total of 72 starts with an average finish of 30.2. They've yet to field a car that finished in the top 10.

Front Row Motorsports | Ford

No. 26 Josh Wise

No. 34 David Ragan

No. 38 David Gilliland

Owner Bob Jenkins will keep all three of his drivers from a year ago. However, he wants to get Wise more involved after start and parking for all but one race in 2012.

Gilliland is making his fourth tour of duty with FRW. He has been decent in restrictor plate races and is perhaps a little underrated on road courses.

Two seasons ago Ragan finally showed some of the ability that nearly placed him into the 2008 Chase, but was ultimately let go by Roush Fenway Racing. He landed at FRM last year, finishing seventh and fourth, respectively, at Talladega Superspeedway.

Furniture Row Racing | Chevrolet

No. 78 Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch turned the career lifeline thrown to him by Phoenix Racing last year and has now supplanted Regan Smith out of the No. 78 car. Busch made the final six starts of 2012 with this team and finished inside the top 10 each of the last three.

Despite taking a big demotion for character issues, Busch still blew up on several occasions last year and served a one-race suspension. His fiery attitude makes him a risky option in a season-long format given the still limited equipment Busch is driving.

Furniture Row is basically a fourth car for Richard Childress Racing. In fact, incoming crew chief Todd Berrier has spent much of his career at RCR.

Germain Racing | Ford

No. 13 Casey Mears

Mears has been driving for Germain since 2010 and has seen his average finish improve slightly each of the last three seasons. After struggling during an abbreviated scheduled in 2010, Mears has made 71 starts with 12 finishes on the lead lap and an average finish of 28th over the last two seasons. The No. 13 car recently made waves during the January test session at Charlotte, placing third on the speed chart among the 33 cars that took the track.

Hendrick Motorsports | Chevrolet

No. 5 Kasey Kahne

No. 24 Jeff Gordon

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

All four of the Hendrick machines will return in 2013 with the same drivers and same crew chiefs as last year. Every HMS driver scored at least one win a year ago, led the Johnson's five victories. Gordon and Kahne each found victory lane twice, while Earnhardt scored one win.

Johnson is an obvious choice, every week in every format. He's the top dog driving for the top team in NASCAR.

Gordon continues to hang on the fringe of elite driver status and just needs to cash in more of his near-wins.

Earnhardt carries a ton of name value but is certainly capable of improvements over last year's solid efforts. He is started so frequently in restrictor plate races that he runs the risk of being overvalued, however.

Opinions vary on Kahne, going as high as possible title contender. Avoiding misfortune and dominating on more than the 1.5-mile tracks is what it will take.

Joe Gibbs Racing | Toyota

No. 11 Denny Hamlin

No. 18 Kyle Busch

No. 20 Matt Kenseth

In addition to locking up Hamlin and Busch with contract extensions, JGR brought in championship pedigree by adding Kenseth. Rather than wait for Joey Logano to develop, the long-time Roush driver will now pilot the No. 20 car. Kenseth won a combined six races in the last two years and should continue to be among the most consistent drivers on the circuit. Last year's average finish of 11.1 is among the best of Kenseth's career.

From 2008 to 2011, Busch totaled 19 wins and scored a minimum of three a year. However, he has missed the Chase each of the last two seasons and won only a single race last year. Rowdy still managed to be one the best performers during Chase and just needs a taste of Kenseth's steadiness to become a championship contender.

After experiencing the championship runner-up curse in 2011, Hamlin won five races last year, recorded a career-best starting position of 11.9 and registered an average finish slightly better than during the near-title run.

JTG Daugherty Racing | Toyota

No. 47 Bobby Labonte

Labonte, the 2000 champion, enters his third year with JTG. The team would like to add a second car at some point, but nothing appears imminent right now, and no driver's name has surfaced.

Under the new qualifying process Labonte's championship provisional makes him a safe, lower-end fantasy option. With JTG he has finished inside the top 15 three times at Daytona and no worse than 23rd at New Hampshire.

Leavine Family Racing

No. 95 Scott Speed

Speed attempted 19 races last year, failing to qualify twice. Other than the two road course races, Speed was a start-and-park driver in all but one other start.

Michael Waltrip Racing | Toyota

No. 15 Clint Bowyer

No. 55 Mark Martin (24 races), Michael Waltrip (3 races), Brian Vickers (9 races)

No. 56 Martin Truex Jr.

The runner-up curse shouldn't apply to Bowyer as he entered the final race of the season fourth in points and didn't think he'd end up where he did. Bowyer is an extremely well-rounded driver and is a contender on every type of track offered on the schedule. Some may view last year as a flux; it's up to Bowyer to prove MWR does indeed produce championship equipment.

Another sign of MWR's legitimacy was the overdue emergence of Truex. After years of underperformance coupled with bad luck, the No. 56 has been a top-10 threat since Chad Johnston came aboard 14 races into the 2011 season. Truex still looks snake bitten at times, so he remains a middle-tier driver with room for improvement.

The No. 55 is split three ways again this year. Martin doesn't do Bristol, Martinsville, Loudon, Talladega or road courses. He also takes part of the summer off so the Daytona race in July is out, as is Kentucky.

Vickers will man all those races, minus the three plate tracks. The former focal point of the defunct Red Bull Racing was very impressive with an average finish of 13.2 in eight races with MWR last year. That figures jumps to 9.0 in seven starts if you rule out the immediate engine failure suffered at Watkins Glen.

Waltrip, the owner, will hitch ride in the Daytona 500 with the No. 30 Swan Racing car. Able to work out successful midrace alliances, Waltrip is as good as any lower-tier driver in plate races.

NEMCO-JRR Motorsports | Toyota

No. 87 Joe Nemechek

Nemechek will likely continue to start-and-park most weeks. He typically fields a second car in the restrictor plate races.

Penske Championship Racing | Ford

No. 2 Brad Keselowski

No. 22 Joey Logano

During last year's title run, Keselowski won five races, including two in the Chase, and registered 10 of his 23 top-10 finishes after qualifying 19th or worse. Keselowski won in a variety of ways on a variety of tracks but is hoping to avoid the title hangover of 2011 champion Tony Stewart.

Despite all the success that came in a Dodge, the Blue Deuce will now be powered by Ford engines from Roush-Yates. Crew chief Paul Wolfe has mastered the fuel mileage game and typically calls a great race. Given how quickly be adjusted from Nationwide to Cup, the new Generation-6 car shouldn't slow him down.

At age 22, Logano enters his fifth season in the Cup series after being let go by Joe Gibbs Racing this offseason. It's too early to think Sliced Bread has already gone stale, but rather than ride through the inconsistences of a young driver JGR opted for a veteran and prior champ, Matt Kenseth.

Logano a middle-tier option, best limited to a handful of tracks. His top sites include Daytona, Charlotte and New Hampshire.

Sam Hornish Jr. will enter a handful of races in the No. 12 car, but that schedule has not been announced. He challenged for top-20s on a consistent basis last year in the No. 22 following A.J. Allmendinger's suspension.

Phil Parsons Racing | Ford

No. 98 Michael McDowell

This car was a start and park much of last year. They did manage to run the distance in both Bristol races, both Charlotte races and some of the restrictor plate races, but still offer no fantasy value.

Phoenix Racing | Chevrolet

No. 51 multiple drivers

The plans that have been announced thus far for the No. 51 car only include the first six races. Regan Smith will drive in the Daytona 500 and Austin Dillon will make a start at Las Vegas. The four other races, Phoenix, Bristol, Fontana and Martinsville, will have A.J. Allmendinger behind the wheel.

Owners playing in a one and done or similar formats should take note of this low-end team given the mix of drivers already involved.

Richard Childress Racing | Chevrolet

No. 27 Paul Menard

No. 29 Kevin Harvick

No. 31 Jeff Burton

In 2011, Menard won for the first time in the Cup series and totaled four top-fives and eight top-10s. Last year, his average finish improved from 18th to a career-best 15.5 despite only scoring a single top-five. While the ceiling remains limited, Menard is a safe, middle-tier selection on the right track.

Harvick is entering a lame-duck season at RCR before jumping to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. He was a very mediocre performer last year, but made the Chase by rarely finishing outside the top 15. In a draft format, Harvick's name value could cause him to be overvalued.

Martin Truex Jr.

Burton, 45 years old, has only managed four top-fives and 11 top-10s over the last two seasons.

Austin Dillon made one start in the No. 33 last year, a 24th-place finish at Michigan, and will get a few more shots in 2013.

Richard Petty Motorsports | Ford

No. 9 Marcos Ambrose

No. 43 Aric Almirola

Ambrose, winner of the last two races at Watkins Glen, is a must-start on road courses but continues to improve on ovals. He's also looked especially good on the concrete surfaces of Bristol and Dover.

Almirola posted a respectable average finish of 20th in his first full-time campaign in the Cup series last year.

Robby Gordon Motorsports

Owner-driver Robby Gordon has his hands in many other endeavors, and his Cup plans for 2013 are unknown, including a car number and manufacturer. It's possible he shows up for one or both of the road course races.

Roush Fenway Racing | Ford

No. 16 Greg Biffle

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

No. 99 Carl Edwards

Biffle is coming off his best season since winning six races back in 2005. In fact, last year's average finish of 10.2 marked a career best, as was his average starting position of 9.9. With the departure of Matt Kenseth and Edwards' sudden disappearance in performance, The Biff now appears to be the focal point at RFR.

Stenhouse won the championship in the Nationwide Series each of the last two years. He'll move to the Cup series as a full-time driver to replace Kenseth and will continue to work with crew chief Scott Graves. The pair made four starts last year with mixed results. Stenhouse placed 20th in the Daytona 500 and 12th in the Chase event at Dover but ended the year with two DNFs. His lone threat for Rookie of the Year honors is girlfriend Danica Patrick.

Edwards is coming off his worst season as a full-time driver and showed no improvement in the second-half after longtime crew chief Bob Osbourne was replaced. The No. 99 team is now in the hands of Jimmy Fennig, Kenseth's former crew chief. Even though Edwards has only won three races over the last four years, he's too good to struggle for two straight seasons and is a prime bounce-back candidate.

Stewart-Haas Racing | Chevrolet

No. 10 Danica Patrick

No. 14 Tony Stewart

No. 39 Ryan Newman

Patrick will run the entire Cup schedule for the first time after a respectable showing in the Nationwide Series and 10 disappointing Cup starts. She was a consistent top-15 threat in NASCAR's top developmental series and finished 10th in points. Patrick crashed in two of her Cup races and finished a career-best 17th in her final start of the year at Phoenix.

Stewart was an all-or-nothing driver for much of 2012 and is now fielding three cars for the first time as an owner. Smoke won three races with 12 top-fives, yet finished outside of the top 20 11 times. Winning the 2011 championship showed Stewart is able to make sudden turnarounds, so don't undervalue him heading into the season.

With Kevin Harvick signed for 2014, Newman is entering a pivotal contract year. If he misses the Chase for the third time in five seasons at SHR, Newman could be looking for work. Newman has won a race each of the last three years and is strong on most intermediate tracks, plus some of the flat tracks, but is another otherwise mediocre performer.

Swan Racing | Toyota

No. 30 David Stremme

Stremme will take over for the rest of the schedule after Michael Waltrip runs the No. 30 in the Daytona 500. Stremme start and parked this car last year under the Inception Racing banner. New owner Brandon Davis stated that under his watch the team will run the distance each week but still makes Stremme a bottom-tier driver with minimal expectations.

Tommy Baldwin Racing | Chevrolet

No. 7 Dave Blaney

No. 36 J.J. Yeley

The No. 7 replaces the No. 36 as the primary car at TBR and uses the points from last year's No. 10 machine that was driven primarily by David Reutimann and Danica Patrick. Blaney will begin his third stint as a full-time driver for TBR.

Last year, Yeley was a start-and-park driver for another team and has performed that duty often in recent years.

Each car has limited sponsorship so the degree of their limited fantasy values will hinge slightly from week to week.

Wood Brothers Racing

No. 21 Trevor Bayne

Bayne has sponsorship for at least a dozen races, some intermediate tracks, the two plate tracks and Indy. The team was able to run 17 races in 2011, 16 last year, and will add more once again if sponsorship can be found. In those starts, Bayne managed three top-10 finishes. His lone top-five was a victory in the 2011 Daytona 500.

Status unknown

No. 19 Humphrey Smith Racing

No. 37 Max Q Motorsports

No. 44 Xxxtreme Motorsports

No. 74 Turn One Racing

No. 79 Go Green Racing

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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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