Fantasy NASCAR Rankings: Aaron's 499

by Brian Polking on May 3, 2014 @ 15:44:48 PDT

 


Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR driver
Should be all smiles for Junior

If anyone had forgotten how unpredictable the racing at Talladega can be, Brian Scott's surprise pole-winning run should be the perfect reminder. Scott scored his first-ever Cup Series pole in NASCAR's first-ever group qualifying session at a restrictor plate track The unique qualifying format brought out a variety of strategies from teams, and while Scott, Casey Mears and Danica Patrick were among the drivers that took advantage to secure rare top-10 starting spots, big names like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne were among that opted to play it safe and will start very deep in the field.

Of course, track position doesn't exactly mean a lot at Talladega. Thanks to the draft, drivers can move from the back to the front and vice versa in just a couple of laps, and many drivers will choose to intentionally run at the back of the field early in the race with the hope of avoiding any early wrecks that may erupt. With that in mind, I didn't let qualifying results or practice times impact my rankings as much as I normally would, especially when it comes to those drivers that have a history of success at the superspeedways.

The top 3

1) Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He chose to play it very safe in practice and qualifying, but given the unpredictability of the plate tracks, Junior's consistency makes him the obvious choice for the top spot in the final rankings anyway. Not only is his 8.4 average finish at the plate tracks since 2012 the best in the series, but it is also a full four spots better than any other driver. Meanwhile, Junior is the only driver to finish on the lead lap in all nine races during that span, and his four top-five finishes and six top-10s are tied for the most in the series.

2) Matt Kenseth

In his last three starts at Talladega, Kenseth has finished eighth or better three times, winning the fall race in 2012. Meanwhile, no driver has been better at leading laps at the plate tracks recently. His 506 laps led over the past nine plate track events are 301 more than any other driver, and he has led 280 of those laps at Talladega.

3) Greg Biffle

Without any driver really standing out in practice or qualifying, I bumped Biffle up into the No. 3 spot in the final rankings mainly because of his consistency both at Talladega and the plate tracks in general. He ranks third in the series in points scored at plate tracks since 2012, and in his last 10 starts at Talladega, he has nine top-20s, including six finishes of 11th or better.

Value picks

7) David Ragan

He was quiet in qualifying, but Ragan did turn the third-fastest lap of any driver in the first practice when drivers spent most of the time in the draft. With that in mind, the defending race winner remains in the top 10 of the driver rankings heading into Sunday's race. Granted, I get that it's tough to trust a guy sitting 31st in points, but his success at Talladega has been more than just one fluke run. Ragan is riding a streak of four straight finishes of seventh or better at the track entering this weekend's race, and his 14.2 career average finish at Talladega is tied for the best among active drivers.

12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Although Ford drivers in general struggled during qualifying, Stenhouse's solid practice times suggest that he has his car working well in the draft. Of course, that wouldn't exactly be a surprise given his performances at the plate tracks. Dating back to last season, he has five straight finishes of 13th or better in plate races, including a third-place run at Talladega last fall and a seventh-place effort at Daytona earlier this year. In those five races, his 9.2 average finish ranks third in the series.

16) Paul Menard

He qualified on the outside of the front row for Sunday's race, and while I don't put a ton of stock into a driver's starting spot at Talladega, getting a good pit stall certainly won't hurt Menard's chances this weekend. Meanwhile, he has piled up eight top-20s in his last 12 starts at Talladega, including seven top-15s.

Sleeper special

21) Austin Dillon

For the second time this year, Dillon had a strong showing in qualifying at a superspeedway as he followed up his pole-winning run at Daytona with a fifth-place effort at Talladega. Dillon parlayed the strong starting spot into a top-10 finish at Daytona so he definitely has some potential this weekend.

Big names outside the top 10

25) Joey Logano

Although it's worth noting that Logano failed to advance to the final stage of the knockout qualifying round for the first time all year, his recent record at Talladega is the main reason he is ranked so low this weekend. Logano has failed to crack the top 15 in his last five starts at the track, and he has four finishes of 24th or worse during the same stretch.

30) Kyle Larson

The sample size for Larson is small when it comes to plate track racing. He has never made a Cup start at Talladega, and his 38th-place run in the Daytona 500 earlier this year remains his worst finish of the season. A driver as talented as Larson is bound to figure out plate racing sooner rather than later, but I'll take a wait-and-see approach with the rookie this weekend.

Overall rankings

Rk
Driver
Car
Make Sponsor Team
Pos
1
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
88
Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew Hendrick Motorsports
30
2
Matt Kenseth
20
Toyota Dollar General Joe Gibbs Racing
21
3
Greg Biffle
16
Ford 3M Roush Fenway Racing
35
4
Kyle Busch
18
Toyota M&M's Joe Gibbs Racing
19
5
Brad Keselowski
2
Ford Miller Lite Team Penske
13
6
Kevin Harvick
4
Chevrolet Budweiser Stewart-Haas Racing
8
7
David Ragan
34
Ford Taco Bell Front Row Motorsports
38
8
Carl Edwards
99
Ford Fastenal Roush Fenway Racing
10
9
Jimmie Johnson
48
Chevrolet Lowe's Home Improvement Hendrick Motorsports
20
10
Clint Bowyer
15
Toyota 5 Hour Energy Michael Waltrip Racing
27
11
Jeff Gordon
24
Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger Hendrick Motorsports
11
12
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17
Ford Best Buy Roush Fenway Racing
25
13
David Gilliland
38
Ford Love's Travel Stops Front Row Motorsports
39
14
Jamie McMurray
1
Chevrolet McDonald's Chip Ganassi Racing
32
15
Martin Truex Jr.
78
Chevrolet Furniture Row Furniture Row Racing
43
16
Paul Menard
27
Chevrolet Menard's Richard Childress Racing
2
17
Tony Stewart
14
Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops Stewart-Haas Racing
12
18
Brian Vickers
55
Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing
18
19
Ryan Newman
31
Chevrolet Caterpillar Richard Childress Racing
6
20
Denny Hamlin
11
Toyota FedEx Joe Gibbs Racing
34
21
Austin Dillon
3
Chevrolet Dow Energy Richard Childress Racing
5
22
Kurt Busch
41
Chevrolet Haas Automation Stewart-Haas Racing
9
23
Aric Almirola
43
Ford Smithfield Richard Petty Motorsports
15
24
Michael Waltrip
66
Toyota Motorcraft Robinson Racing Team
28
25
Joey Logano
22
Ford Shell/Pennzoil Team Penske
16
26
Kasey Kahne
5
Chevrolet Farmers Insurance Hendrick Motorsports
42
27
A.J. Allmendinger
47
Toyota Clorox JTG Daugherty Racing
3
28
Marcos Ambrose
9
Ford Stanley Black & Decker Richard Petty Motorsports
26
29
Trevor Bayne
21
Ford Motorcraft Wood Brothers Racing
23
30
Kyle Larson
42
Chevrolet Target Chip Ganassi Racing
29
31
Danica Patrick
10
Chevrolet GoDaddy.com Stewart-Haas Racing
7
32
Brian Scott
33
Chevrolet Little Joe's Auto Circle Sport
1
33
Justin Allgaier
51
Chevrolet Brandt HScott Motorsports
38
34
Reed Sorenson
36
Chevrolet Golden Corral Tommy Baldwin Racing
22
35
Casey Mears
13
Ford GEICO Germain Racing
4
36
Michael Annett
7
Chevrolet Pilot Flying J Tommy Baldwin Racing
17
37
Terry Labonte
32
Ford C&J Energy Go FAS Racing
37
38
Alex Bowman
23
Toyota Burger King BK Racing
33
39
Ryan Truex
83
Toyota Borla Exhaust BK Racing
24
40
Michael McDowell
95
Ford Jordan Truck Sales Leavine Family Racing
14
41
Landon Cassill
40
Chevrolet CRC Brakleen Hillman Racing
40
42
Josh Wise
98
Chevrolet Phil Parsons Racing Phil Parsons Racing
36
43
Cole Whitt
26
Toyota Scorpyd BK Racing
31

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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 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.

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