Regardless of what fantasy sport you play, knowing when you can get maximum production out of a particular player is the ultimate trump card.
This is an especially valuable skill in fantasy NASCAR because of the variety of different tracks that make up the schedule and because of the variety of fantasy formats that exist. Let's face it. Anyone can get a top-five finish out of Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski or Kyle Busch these days, but being able to get solid finishes out of the drivers that aren't as consistent from week to week separates average fantasy players from championship-caliber ones.
With that in mind, I have highlighted a couple of drivers for several of the main track types that fantasy owners need to take advantage of going forward.
1.5-Mile Tracks (Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicagoland, Homestead-Miami, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas & Texas)
Martin Truex Jr.: After underachieving for much of his career, Truex has turned things around the last year or so, especially at the 1.5-mile tracks. In fact, he has been the best driver in the series in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks. Truex has a series-leading 372 points scored during the stretch to go along with a series-high nine top-10 finishes. Granted, he hasn't won a race during his hot streak, but his 6.6 average finish and hefty point total speak for themselves. Until he slows down, Truex deserves to be on fantasy rosters whenever the series visits a cookie-cutter track.
Kasey Kahne: After a slow start to his career at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne has emerged as a fantasy stud. He has been particularly valuable at 1.5-mile tracks, posting five top-five finishes and six top-10s in the last 10 races at the cookie-cutter ovals. During the stretch, his 10.1 average finish is the fourth best in the series, and his 343 points scored are the sixth most. Kahne doesn't have a win during the 10-race span, but he does have three second-place finishes. Yes, he can make a solid fantasy option almost anywhere, but his bread and butter are the 1.5-mile tracks.
2.0-Mile Tracks (Auto Club & Michigan)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Plain and simple, Junior has been phenomenal at the 2.0-mile ovals since the start of last season. He has finished in the top five in all four races during the stretch, piling up a series-leading 172 points along with a series-best 2.5 average finish. Not to mention the fact that his 120 laps led are the second most during the span. Junior has salvaged his fantasy value the last couple of years by becoming one of the more consistent drivers in the series, but at the 2.0-mile tracks, he has been at another level. He may not be an all-around elite option, but he is a must-start driver at the 2.0-mile tracks right now.
Greg Biffle: Since the start of the 2012 season, Biffle is one of two drivers that have finished in the top 10 in all four races at 2.0-mile tracks. He has been dominant from start to finish in the races, posting a 5.5 average starting position and a 4.2 average finish. His average finish is the second best in the series during the stretch, and the same goes for his 164 points scored. Biffle also has a win during the four-race span and hasn't finished worse than sixth in any start. When the series heads to a 2.0-mile track, Biffle should be heading to your fantasy roster.
Short Tracks (Bristol, Martinsville & Richmond)
Clint Bowyer: His move to Michael Waltrip Racing prior to the start of last season has improved his numbers pretty much across the board, but he has seen a serious boost in production at the short tracks. In fact, Bowyer has nine top-10 finishes in nine short-track starts since joining MWR. During the stretch, he leads all drivers with six top-five finishes and an impressive 4.8 average finish. Not to mention the fact that his 360 points scored during the span are by far the most in the series. When it comes to short tracks these days, nobody has been better than Bowyer.
Brian Vickers: He has been a part-time driver the past two years, but Vickers has been delivering big-time results at short tracks. Since the start of the 2012 season, his 12.7 average finish at the short tracks is the fifth best in the series, and in seven starts during the stretch, he has four top-10s and two top-five finishes. It's a shame that fantasy owners haven't been able to enjoy a full season of production from Vickers in a while, but when he gets behind the wheel at a short track, make sure to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Restrictor Plate Tracks (Daytona & Talladega)
Matt Kenseth: No matter what numbers you crunch, Kenseth is the current king of the plate tracks. Since the start of last season, he leads all drivers with two wins, four top-five finishes, five top-10s, 227 points scored and an 8.8 average finish in six plate races. Kenseth has been flat out dominant during the stretch, leading a series-high 473 laps. For comparison's sake, he has led 363 more laps than the next closest driver. As unpredictable as the plate tracks tend to be, fantasy owners will want to take full advantage of Kenseth for as long as this hot streak continues.
Bobby Labonte: During the six plate races that have been run since the beginning of 2012, Labonte has quietly been a major fantasy asset. Despite just one top-10 finish and five laps led, his 16.3 average finish is the sixth best in the series, and he ranks seventh with 167 points scored. The secret to Labonte's success has been sitting back and avoiding the big wrecks. Only Dale Earnhardt Jr. has completed more laps than Labonte in the last six plate races, and while his style isn't going to produce many great finishes, it has led to consistent top-20 finishes. Considering all the big names that Labonte has outscored at the plate tracks lately, playing it safe might not be such a bad idea.
Road Courses (Infineon & Watkins Glen)
Marcos Ambrose: No driver has been better at a particular track type than Ambrose has been at road courses. In the last three seasons, he leads all drivers with two wins, four top-five finishes and six top-10s in six road course starts. His 4.0 average finish during the stretch is by far the best in the series, and the same goes for his 495 points scored. In fact, Ambrose has scored 69 more points in the six races than the next-closest driver. Plain and simple, Ambrose needs to be universally rostered whenever the Cup Series heads to a road course.
A.J. Allmendinger: During the past three years, Allmendinger ranks sixth in the series in points scored at road courses, and he has actually been even better than that. Allmendinger missed the race at Watkins Glen last year so he has accumulated his point total in just five starts. Had he run at The Glen and posted at least his average point total from the other five road races, Allmendinger would be have the third-highest point total. As it stands, he has posted three top-10s and a 9.4 average finish in the five road course events he has run since 2010, and in terms of fantasy value, he has been a top-five driver.
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 Fanball.com. 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.