High Risk/High Reward Drivers

by Tim Piotrowski on February 8, 2008 @ 11:20:01 PDT


High Risk Drivers Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M/Dish Network Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Biffle had some trouble consistently finishing in the top 10 last season. He finished in the top 10 in 11 of the 36 races he participated in, which included his only win in the LifeLock 400. He also finished the year with five DNFs due to accidents and various car malfunctions. One of the things that helped Biffle finish 14th in Cup points was the number of times he finished between 11th and 20th place. He finished in that range 12 times, while he finished 30th or worse eight times. Despite being inconsistent all season, Biffle barely missed the Chase for the second consecutive year after finishing second in 2005. Biffle has been averaging a finish of between 18.5 and 19.8 in four of the last six years, which shows his consistency as a middle of the pack driver. Biffle has proven that he has capable of being among the elite drivers, but until he can consistently produce, he should be considered a No. 2 driver.

Bottom Line: Moderate risk, likely moderate reward

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

After a breakout year in 2006, where Harvick finished with a career-high five wins, he took a step back in 2007, registering only one win. Overall, Harvick's stats took a hit in virtually every category. However, two categories that weren't affected were his winnings and DNFs. He did not register a DNF last season and has only two over the last three. Despite his one victory, as well as sagging overall finishes, he did manage to qualify for the Chase and finished 10th the points standings. Despite the decline in overall stats, he has made the Chase each of the last two years. Harvick is a streaky racer who will come as a high risk if selected any higher than a No. 2 driver for fantasy teams.

Bottom Line: Moderate risk, likely moderate reward

Ryan Newman | No. 12 Alltel Dodge | Penske Racing

After missing the Chase the last two seasons, things could be looking up for Newman with his new crew chief and a new teammate. Newman, who qualified for the Chase in its inaugural season in 2004 and again in 2005, has missed the Chase the last two seasons. Newman hasn't recorded a victory the last two years. Instead, he racked up 12 DNFs during that time, including nine last season, which tied him for first in that category with three other drivers. There is reason to be optimistic for Newman this season, with the new additions. However, Newman's inconsistency on the track could easily have him finish anywhere from fifth to 20th in Cup points. He's one of the riskiest drivers out there and should be considered no higher than a mid-tier No. 2 driver.

Bottom Line: High risk, potentially high reward

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports

Kahne, like Newman, has seen his share of DNFs during his career. He racked up six of them last season and has a total of 28 during his four-year career. He also saw his statistics drastically drop from 2006. Kahne did not win any races and only finished in the top five once in 2007. His 22.2 average finish was the worst in his short career. Kahne has shown he can compete with the elite drivers in NASCAR. Two years ago, he won six races and made the Chase; he finished in eighth place that season. If Kahne can have the same success this year like he had in 2006, then he could become a very good fantasy driver. However, Kahne's upside is limited and should be considered a low-end No. 2 driver.

Bottom Line: High risk, likely moderate reward

Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

McMurray had a pretty decent season compared to some of his previous years, but he still ran into trouble during some races. He had one win last season, which was his first since 2002, and finished 17th overall in Cup points. One downside to his season was the five DNFs he suffered. McMurray has had problems with DNFs, registering 22 over the last four seasons. His average finish of 22.2 last year does not help him with fantasy owners. He has not made the Chase the last four years, missing it in 2004 and 2005 by one and two places, respectively. McMurray is a good driver on a good team but has failed to get it done on NASCAR's biggest stage.

Bottom Line: High risk, likely low reward

Bobby Labonte | No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge | Petty Enterprises

Labonte just might be out of his prime, but the 43-year-old former Cup champion might have enough in the tank for fantasy owners. Prior to last season, Labonte finished 21st and 24th in Cup points, respectively, in back-to-back seasons. During that time he totaled 18 DNFs compared to no wins. In fact, over the last 16 seasons his 18th place finish last season was the worst he had with three or less DNFs. Labonte is still considered a championship caliber driver and with the number of key personnel changes Petty Enterprises has made, Labonte could be in line to contend for the Cup. Fantasy owners might be better off to not let him fall to his average draft position (36.14) and pick him up as a solid No. 3 driver.

Bottom Line: Moderate risk, likely low reward

Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Best Buy/Stanley Tools/McDonald's Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports

Sadler had a relatively uneventful season in 2007. He registered one DNF last season, while finishing in the top 10 twice during the year. His best finish was sixth at the Daytona 500, but managed just one other single digit finish throughout the remaining 35 races. He finished 30th or worse in a race 13 times and has seen a decrease in virtually every statistical category over the past four seasons. He has not won a race since 2004 and only has two top five finishes in the past three seasons. Another bad sign for Sadler is his 25.5 average finish in 2007, which was his worst average in the last eight years. However, Sadler finished 25th in owner points and will be guaranteed a spot in the first five races. He is part of a good racing team and will continue to get an opportunity at reversing the downward trend in his stats.

Bottom Line: Moderate risk, likely low reward

Dave Blaney | No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota | Bill Davis Racing

Blaney was the most successful driver to use a Toyota last season. However, it wasn't smooth sailing for Blaney with the foreign manufacturer's first attempt in stock cars. He finished the season with eight DNFs and failed to qualify for three races. Blaney was only able to finish in the top five once and in the top-10 four times last season. Blaney hasn't won a race in 268 career Cup starts. Toyota has vastly improved their engine package, thanks to the help of Joe Gibbs Racing, and that should benefit all Toyota drivers. Blaney managed to finish 31st in Cup points and will be guaranteed a spot in the first five races, which is a good start for what should be an improved year for Blaney. 

Bottom Line: Moderate to high risk, likely moderate reward

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About Tim Piotrowski

Piotrowski has been a Hot Off the Wire analyst since 2007.

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