Nothing can destroy a fantasy racing team fast than a driver who has a bad year and doesn't live up to expectations. If you are drafting a team, you simply can't afford to miss on a pick and hope to contend because of the lack of available replacement options. Even in leagues that allow weekly driver changes, it can take a few weeks to realize that a driver simply isn't getting the job done, and by then, you will be working out of a sizeable hole.
Knowing which drivers have the potential to underwhelm before the season even starts is a great way to avoid saddling your fantasy NASCAR roster with an always-dreaded bust. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that fantasy owners should be leery of heading into the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season.
Although road racing is always going to be his bread and butter, Ambrose had been showing signs of becoming a better all-around driver. Unfortunately, his progress abruptly halted last year, and Ambrose saw his production fall off dramatically. Now, he heads into the 2014 season with serious questions about his fantasy value and his future in the Cup Series.
Ambrose began to emerge in 2011, when he tallied a career-high five top-5s and 12 top-10s to go along with an 18.3 average finish. He had fewer top-10s in 2012, but he also finished a career-best 18th in the standings while compiling a career-best 17.9 average finish. Then came last season when he finished outside the top 20 in the standings and failed to finish in the top five in a single event for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, his six top-10s and 19.9 average finish were both the second-worst totals of his five-year Cup career.
It was just a couple of years ago that Ambrose was a popular sleeper option in fantasy leagues, but it seems increasingly unlikely that he will ever develop any sort of consistency at oval tracks. He can still be counted on for strong results at the road course events at Infineon and Watkins Glen, but as a one-trick pony, his value is limited to leagues that allow weekly driver changes. In a season where several strong rookies are set to join the series, Ambrose is only going to move further down the pecking order.
While Menard may be a big name, he is still a driver that fantasy owners need to be cautious about heading into the 2014 season. At the very least, he is one driver in particular that has drastically different value depending on the format. On one hand, he has averaged a top-20 finish in each of the past four seasons and has finished at least 16th in point in three straight seasons. On the flip side, he has never had more than four top-5s in a year, has never had double-digit top-10s, and has never led more than 82 laps.
Menard is a top-20 driver and nothing more. He keeps his nose clean and finishes races, but he offers zero upside otherwise. If you play in a league that bases scoring on driver points alone, Menard can be a serviceable option to round out a roster. If you play in a league that factors in laps led, top-5s or any of the other scoring loop categories, Menard's value plummets. Perhaps more importantly, fantasy owners need to think long and hard about choosing Menard over a younger driver with more upside, because he has already reached his ceiling.
Despite being a sport built on cars going 200 mph, the number of major injuries that drivers in the Cup Series suffer is minimal. As a result, fantasy owners usually don't have to factor in whether or not a driver is injury prone before deciding whether to draft them, but Vickers might be the exception. Blood clots that sidelined him for most of the 2010 season reoccurred last year, forcing him to miss the final five races of the season. All reports are that Vickers will be ready for the start of the 2014 season, when he will take over as the full-time driver for the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 team, but it is more than fair to wonder whether he will make it through the entire season.
In addition to the medical concerns, there is also reason to be concerned about his on-track production. After posting an impressive 13.3 average finish in eight races in 2012, Vickers saw that average plunge to 18.9 in 17 starts last year. Yes, he won at New Hampshire last year, but he also finished outside the top 20 in five of his final nine starts of 2013. Keep in mind that in Vickers' best full-time season, he had 13 top-10s and a 17.3 average finish. For his career, he has a 20.6 average finish in 280 starts.
For the most part, Vickers has been a strong plug-in option the past couple of years while running a part-time schedule, but fantasy owners expecting the same type of production spread out over 36 races are asking for disappointment. His numbers already came back down to earth after his schedule jumped from eight races in 2012 to 17 last year, and his career totals suggest that he is only a top-20 driver rather than a consistent challenger for top-10s. With the blood clots looming, Vickers is a risky pick in fantasy drafts. In all formats, fantasy owners need to temper expectations.
After putting together a strong 2012 campaign, Biffle's production declined significantly in 2013. Granted, he won a race and made the Chase, but he managed just four top-5s and ranked outside the top 10 in a majority of the scoring loop categories. More concerning is the fact that Biffle's mediocre numbers seem to be becoming the norm and, heading into 2014, his days as a top-tier fantasy option could be numbered.
His four top-5s last year marked the third time in the last four seasons that he has failed to log double-digit top-5 finishes. It was also the second time in the last three seasons that he failed to even reach five top-5 finishes. Meanwhile, he also logged fewer than 15 top-10s in 2013 for the second time in three years after reaching the total five times in six years, from 2005 to 2010. On the plus side, he has continued to average a top-15 finish, but Biffle just hasn't looked the part of a title-contender for quite a while.
It wasn't all that long ago that Biffle could be counted on for multiple wins, plenty of top-5s and a definite top-10 finish in the standings. While he may still be able to sneak into the top 10 thanks to his consistency, the high-end finishes simply haven't been there. In 2014, Biffle is much more likely to be a top-15 fantasy option than a top-5 option.