Fantasy NASCAR Rankings: Toyota/Save Mart 350

by Brian Polking on June 21, 2014 @ 18:22:00 PDT

 


"It's not where you start, but where you finish," is one of the oldest adages in NASCAR, but this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, where a driver starts has historically had a lot to do with whether or not the finish in victory lane. The road course has hosted 25 Sprint Cup Series races, and 23 of them have been won by a driver starting inside the top 15. In fact, 18 races at Sonoma have been won by drivers that have qualified in the top 10 with eight winners starting on the front row.

Marcos Ambrose, NASCAR
Ambrose blooms on road courses

The trend makes a lot of sense when you take into account how difficult it is to complete a pass at a road course and the relatively short number of laps (110) in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350. Not surprisingly, I put a little more emphasis on qualifying results than I typically do when determining my final driver rankings this weekend.

Yes, practice times still factored heavily into the equation, and no starting spot is going to save a driver from an ill-handling car. That being said, you also can't ignore the fact that drivers starting in the top 15 have won 92 percent of the races at Sonoma. If you end up struggling to decide between a couple of drivers with similar practice times and similar resumes at Sonoma, their starting spots should make a pretty good tiebreaker.

The top 3

1) Jeff Gordon

He is having the type of weekend you would expect from a driver that has been the most consistent performer at Sonoma over the years. Gordon ranked ninth and 11th in the two practices Friday, and he qualified in the top 15 Saturday. He currently leads all drivers with five wins and an 8.2 average finish at Sonoma, and he has finished in the top 10 in his last eight starts at the track. Gordon was the safest pick for fantasy owners coming into the weekend, and nothing has changed.

2) Kurt Busch

Busch jumps into the No. 2 spot in the final rankings after topping the charts in the first practice Saturday and qualifying in the top five. Strong performances at Sonoma have been the norm for Busch in recent years anyway, and he has finished first, third and fourth in his last three starts at the track with all three starts coming for different race teams. Busch also ranks among the top three in most scoring loop categories, and he should make a great centerpiece to a lineup in any format.

3) Clint Bowyer

He was undoubtedly the most impressive driver during practice this weekend, ranking second on the charts in the opening session and pacing the field in Happy Hour. The fast speeds continue Bowyer's recent run of dominance at Sonoma. He has three straight top-five finishes at the track, including a win in 2012, and five top-five finishes in his last seven starts. Meanwhile, his 9.1 average finish at Sonoma is the second best in the series. Feel free to use Bowyer as the anchor of a lineup in any format.

Value picks

14) Brian Vickers

In two starts at Sonoma with Michael Waltrip Racing, Vickers has finishes of fourth and 13th. After ranking third in the first practice and eighth in Happy Hour Friday and qualifying in the top 15, he appears headed to another solid run at the track with MWR. Meanwhile, Vickers has actually finished 16th or better in five of his last six starts at Sonoma overall so he should be one of the safer value picks this weekend.

16) Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is the defending winner of this weekend's race, and while his overall numbers at Sonoma still aren't great, it's hard to call his win last season a fluke after the speed he has shown this weekend. He ranked fourth and seventh in the two practice sessions Friday, and he qualified in the top 20. At the very least, he is a high-upside sleeper pick.

19) Paul Menard

He has been taking baby steps at Sonoma, but Menard does have three straight top-20s at the track, including a career-best 14th-place run last year. Meanwhile, he cracked the top 10 in both practice sessions Friday, turning the second-fastest lap in Happy Hour. Menard will start 9th Sunday, and he could be a sneaky top-10 option this weekend.

Sleeper special

20) Kyle Larson

The rookie doesn't have much of a background in road racing. In fact, he is entering the K&N Pro Series race at Sonoma this weekend just to familiarize himself with the layout before making his Cup debut at the track Sunday. Despite the lack of experience, Larson ranked fifth and sixth on the practice charts and qualified third. Of course, replicating those speeds in traffic for an entire race is going to be even tougher, but if you are willing to gamble a bit, Larson has enormous upside this weekend.

Big names outside the top 10

22) Matt Kenseth

He has been a mediocre driver at Sonoma throughout his career, and another uninspiring performance appears to be on tap. Kenseth ranked 25th and 18th in the two practice sessions. In 16 previous starts at Sonoma, Kenseth has managed just one top-10 to go along with a 20.7 average finish. A top-20 looks like the best-case scenario this weekend.

23) Denny Hamlin

Hamlin has compiled a dismal 32.3 average finish in his last four starts at Sonoma, and all signs point to another lackluster showing at the road course this weekend. After ranking 27th in the first practice session Friday, Hamlin slid to 34th in Happy Hour. He should be avoided in just about any format if possible.

Overall rankings

Rk
Driver
Car
Make Sponsor Team
Pos
1
Jeff Gordon
24
Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger Hendrick Motorsports
15
2
Kurt Busch
41
Chevrolet Haas Automation Stewart-Haas Racing
5
3
Clint Bowyer
15
Toyota 5 Hour Energy Michael Waltrip Racing
25
4
Kevin Harvick
4
Chevrolet Budweiser Stewart-Haas Racing
6
5
Tony Stewart
14
Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops Stewart-Haas Racing
21
6
Marcos Ambrose
9
Ford Stanley Black & Decker Richard Petty Motorsports
23
7
A.J. Allmendinger
47
Toyota Clorox JTG Daugherty Racing
2
8
Joey Logano
22
Ford Shell/Pennzoil Team Penske
10
9
Jimmie Johnson
48
Chevrolet Lowe's Home Improvement Hendrick Motorsports
22
10
Kyle Busch
18
Toyota M&M's Joe Gibbs Racing
20
11
Carl Edwards
99
Ford Fastenal Roush Fenway Racing
4
12
Greg Biffle
16
Ford 3M Roush Fenway Racing
19
13
Brad Keselowski
2
Ford Miller Lite Team Penske
13
14
Brian Vickers
55
Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing
8
15
Ryan Newman
31
Chevrolet Caterpillar Richard Childress Racing
7
16
Martin Truex Jr.
78
Chevrolet Furniture Row Furniture Row Racing
18
17
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
88
Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew Hendrick Motorsports
17
18
Jamie McMurray
1
Chevrolet McDonald's Chip Ganassi Racing
1
19
Paul Menard
27
Chevrolet Menard's Richard Childress Racing
9
20
Kyle Larson
42
Chevrolet Target Chip Ganassi Racing
3
21
Kasey Kahne
5
Chevrolet Farmers Insurance Hendrick Motorsports
30
22
Matt Kenseth
20
Toyota Dollar General Joe Gibbs Racing
14
23
Denny Hamlin
11
Toyota FedEx Joe Gibbs Racing
16
24
Casey Mears
13
Ford GEICO Germain Racing
12
25
Danica Patrick
10
Chevrolet GoDaddy.com Stewart-Haas Racing
11
26
Aric Almirola
43
Ford Smithfield Richard Petty Motorsports
29
27
Austin Dillon
3
Chevrolet Dow Energy Richard Childress Racing
26
28
David Gilliland
38
Ford Love's Travel Stops Front Row Motorsports
27
29
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17
Ford Best Buy Roush Fenway Racing
24
30
Justin Allgaier
51
Chevrolet Brandt HScott Motorsports
35
31
Boris Said
32
Ford C&J Energy Go FAS Racing
41
32
Alex Kennedy
33
Chevrolet Little Joe's Auto Circle Sport
36
33
Michael Annett
7
Chevrolet Pilot Flying J Tommy Baldwin Racing
42
33
Michael McDowell
95
Ford K-LOVE Radio Leavine Family Racing
28
34
David Ragan
34
Ford Taco Bell Front Row Motorsports
31
35
David Mayhew
44
Chevrolet All City Leasing Xxxtreme Motorsport
39
36
Reed Sorenson
36
Chevrolet Golden Corral Tommy Baldwin Racing
40
38
Timmy Hill
40
Chevrolet Carforsale.com Hillman Racing
37
39
Josh Wise
98
Chevrolet Phil Parsons Racing Phil Parsons Racing
33
40
Cole Whitt
26
Toyota Scorpyd BK Racing
32
41
Ryan Truex
83
Toyota Burger King BK Racing
34
42
Tomy Drissi
66
Toyota LandCastle Title Robinson Racing Team
43
43
Alex Bowman
23
Toyota Burger King BK Racing
38

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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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