Driver Analysis: Tier C
FANTASY TIP: Vickers finished last season with one top-five and five top-10 finishes. Vickers should be considered a high No. 4 driver for fantasy owners, who does come with some risk. One reason for the risk is the five DNFs he suffered in the 23 races he managed to qualify for. Another would be that he will have a new crew chief (Kevin Hamlin) to work with this season. One final reason would be that the No. 83 is not in the top 35 in owner points, so Vickers will have to qualify for races and there is no guarantee that will happen.
FANTASY TIP: Yeley replaces Tony Raines in the seat of the No. 96 car, leaving Joes Gibbs Racing in the dust. Yeley had a decent 2007 campaign, finishing 21st in the points. He did not win any races but finished in the top five once and in the top 10 three times. For fantasy owners, Yeley would be a terrific No. 4 driver, but he does come with some risks. He failed to finish five races last year because of accidents, which may scare off potential owners. Yeley will be making the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota this season, so there may be an adjustment period for him.
FANTASY TIP: Riggs starts this season with a new racing team, a new car and a new crew chief. He participated in 27 races last season, failing to qualify for the other nine. He did not have a win or a top-five finish and managed just one top-10 finish. He also struggled keeping his car on the track, picking up five DNFs during the season. Riggs is a bit risky, but should be considered a fine No. 4 driver option. The change of scenery should benefit Riggs, who takes over a car that finished 33rd in owner points and guarantees him a place in the first five races.
FANTASY TIP: Kvapil returns to the Sprint Cup series after a successful campaign in the Craftsman Truck Series last season. He will be taking over for Ricky Rudd, who retired after the season. Kvapil has seen marginal success during his limited time in NASCAR's top series. He has only two top-10 finishes in his 70 career races and 13 DNFs during that time. Kvapil is a good mid-level No. 4 driver, who could benefit from the engine alliance Yates has formed with Roush Fenway Racing. However, lack of sponsorship could be detrimental to a team that has been struggling to compete for the last nine years.
FANTASY TIP: Menard started 30 races in 2007 and finished 34th in the final point standings. His best finish of the season came at the Citizens Bank 400, where he finished 12th after starting 38th. However, he failed to finish better than 12th in any race. Before 2007 Menard had only raced in nine Cup Series races. His average finish last season was 26.8, and he had two DNFs. He has yet to prove himself in the Sprint Cup Series; he only has one top-10 finish in his career. The Ginn Racing merger gave Menard additional owner points, so he won't have to qualify for the first five races. He is more of a low-level No. 4 driver on your fantasy roster.
FANTASY TIP: Gilliland has shown improvement on superspeedways. In 2007 he had one top-five finish and two top-10 finishes after having none in 2006, and all came on superspeedways. Gilliland ran the fastest qualifying time at the Daytona 500 last year and started in the pole position but finished eighth. He also had five DNFs in 2007. The California native finished 28th in the final point standings after finishing 42nd in 2006. Due to Gilliland's lack of experience in NASCAR's premier division, he's more of a midlevel No. 4 driver on your fantasy roster. He may be an intriguing gamble on the long tracks.
FANTASY TIP: Smith's rookie season in NASCAR's top division saw him start seven races and post an average finish of 30.0, with no top 10s. His best finish came at the Aaron's 499, where he finished 24th. Smith will need to gain experience. His future didn't seem bright when, after the Ginn Racing merger, he only participated in one other race. This year, though, he has a full-time ride and won't have to qualify early on. That already increases his fantasy value a ton. Due to his inexperience, though, Smith should be considered as a midlevel No. 4 driver on your fantasy roster at best.
FANTASY TIP: Franchitti makes the move from open-wheel racing to a much bigger car in NASCAR. He will attempt to follow in the footsteps of teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who should make the transition a little easier for the current Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion. Franchitti is a fantasy risk considering his lack of experience with both NASCAR and his new team. However, he's a world-class talent with big upside and should be considered as a No. 4 driver.
FANTASY TIP: Hornish is a proven racecar driver after winning the 2006 Indy Racing League championship. In 2007, Hornish started two races in what was then the Nextel Cup Series and had a better finish of 30th. It is uncertain whether he will be able to make the transition to NASCAR's top division. With his experience in the Indy Racing League, he might be an intriguing bet on road courses. Due to his inexperience, Hornish should be considered no more than a low-level No. 4 driver on your fantasy roster, perhaps worthy of spot starts.
FANTASY TIP: A fifth-tier driver, Reutimann's draft value is largely derived from running only 26 races in 2007. Oddly enough, Dale Jarrett will be the one to dictate Reutimann's value in 2008. Jarrett will utilize his past champion's provisional to guarantee UPS gets their car into the first five races. Meanwhile, Reutimann will bide his time in the No. 00 Aaron's Toyota, which he will have to qualify to begin the season. If Jarrett can get the No. 44 into the top 35 in points, Reutimann will be guaranteed a starting spot as long as he can keep it there. If Reutimann runs all 36 races, he will deliver significant upside to his owners.
FANTASY TIP: Waltrip starts the season outside the top 35 in points, meaning he will have to qualify on time for at least the first five races of the season. In the same position last year, Waltrip struggled to qualify and started only 14 races. When Waltrip did race, he was competitive, averaging a 25.0 finish with five finishes of 18th or better. If Waltrip can get off to a fast start - a possibility given Waltrip's success at Daytona – and winds up running all the races, he could deliver third-tier value at a fifth-tier price.
FANTASY TIP: Carpentier gets a full-time ride in 2008 after impressing Evernham with a second place run in the Montreal Busch race and by leading seven laps at Watkins Glen. Both races were on road courses. The No. 10 is not in the top 35 in points, so Carpentier will have to qualify on time, which could result in several missed races. Still, it is hard not to like a fifth-tier driver with a full-time ride. Carpentier should be an excellent sleeper play at road courses and could finish in the top 35 in points if he gets off to a good start.
FANTASY TIP: There are no major changes for the No. 84 in 2008. Allmendinger, crew chief Ricky Viers and the Red Bull team are being given the opportunity to mature. Unfortunately, the team has a long way to go. Allmendinger qualified for only 17 races in 2007 and finished better than 30th in just five of them. Overall, he finished 43rd in driver points. Allmendinger is still young enough, 26, to make a leap forward, especially if Toyota works out its kinks in 2008. As a fifth-tier driver, Allmendinger is a low-risk fantasy option who could surprise.
FANTASY TIP: Owner-driver Petty begins his 30th year in NASCAR. He barely finished in the top 35 in owner's points last season, which means he is guaranteed to start at least the first five races of 2008, but he may struggle to qualify for races after that. With only one top-five finish last season, Petty is a driver most fantasy owners would want to avoid if possible, but he usually produces one qualifying surprise each year. Otherwise, he has very little upside.
FANTASY TIP: Former Formula One world champion Villeneuve joins the NASCAR Sprint Cup series in 2008. His promise as a driver has been demonstrated in every series he has ever driven, including NASCAR. He qualified seventh in his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck series race and qualified sixth in his first Sprint Cup series start. With what appears to be a strong Toyota package, Villeneuve could be the surprise of the season, challenging for rookie of the year honors. However, due to the uncertainty of sponsorship and team ownership, most fantasy owners should look for him only as a fifth driver. He has upside and presents relatively little risk.
FANTASY TIP: Nemechek will have Hendrick Motorsports engines in 2008. While the engines are strong, Nemechek finished 2007 outside the top 35 in points. He will have to qualify on speed for at least the first five races, which could make it difficult to break into the top 35 guaranteed starting positions for the remainder of the season. Crew chief Jay Guy has joined the team and will call the shots in 2008. With competition to make it in races so tight, it would be best to keep Nemechek in reserve on your team as a fifth driver.
FANTASY TIP: The 2008 season will feature another limited schedule from Elliott. He will attempt to qualify for 17 points races. While the team thinks it has made progress with the Car of Tomorrow under new crew chief Gene Nead, the driver situation is still a rotation. Fantasy owners will want to avoid relying on Elliott. He is not running a full season, and he has to qualify, so his value is not what it once was.
FANTASY TIP: When Dale Jarrett retires in March, McDowell will take over driving duties of the No. 00 Toyota. He essentially will be a full-time driver with strong Toyota engines and unwavering sponsor support. From March 30 onward, McDowell could be a decent driver to have in reserve. His potential is great if his team can qualify for races. McDowell finished second in the ARCA RE/MAX series in 2007 behind eight-time champion Frank Kimmel. That was just his rookie season. He has talent mixed with the Toyota name makes him look strong. If you are willing to gamble, McDowell should be on your list.
C.J. Radune, Fraser Lovat, Jeffrey Price, Richard Garcia, Tim Piotrowski contributed to this report.
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