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Fantasy NASCAR: Busts and overvalued drivers

By Brian Polking
Edited by Cory J. Bonini

No matter your fantasy sport of choice, there is nothing worse than having a roster saddled by one of the year's biggest busts. This can be especially devastating in fantasy NASCAR because of the small roster sizes and even smaller pool of quality drivers. Keep in mind that only 26 drivers ran all 36 races last year. If one of the drivers on your team underperforms, you are in trouble. If one of those struggling drivers is a big name that you were counting on to anchor your roster, you are basically dead in the water. Unfortunately, there just aren't any free agents or midseason call-ups that will save the day in fantasy NASCAR. In other words, avoiding drivers that could end up being busts is highly recommend for any owner that is hoping to capture a fantasy title in 2013. On that note, here are a few drivers that owners need to be leery of.

Danica Patrick | Stewart-Haas Racing

After cutting her teeth in the Nationwide Series and making a few starts at the Cup level, Patrick will begin her first full-time season as a Cup driver in 2013. It will be the biggest storyline of the season, and there will arguably be more hype and media attention surrounding Patrick than any driver in history. That being said, hype and popularity have never helped win a fantasy league. Patrick's results on the track are all that fantasy owners need to be concerned about, and concerned is the appropriate word.

She ran her first full season in the Nationwide Series last year and actually had a worse average finish than she did in 12 starts in the series in 2011. On the plus side, she did improve throughout the year and posted a 14.2 average finish in the final 10 races. However, those were her Nationwide numbers. In 10 starts in the Cup Series, Patrick posted a 28.3 average finish and cracked the top 20 only once. Yes, she should improve throughout 2013, but she has a long way to go before she becomes anything that resembles a reliable fantasy option.

If anything, Patrick's spot among the potential busts of 2013 is a warning to those owners that like to pick with their hearts instead of their heads. I saw numerous owners stick by Dale Earnhardt Jr. during his down years at the expense of their own fantasy success, and I caution Patrick fans not to do the same. Outside of draft-style leagues where she has some value simply because she has a full-time ride, owners can afford to let her develop and prove herself before they make room for her on their fantasy rosters.

Martin Truex Jr. | Michael Waltrip Racing

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing

After six years of teasing fantasy owners with inconsistent results, Truex finally delivered a solid season from start to finish in 2012. He tied a career high with seven top-five finishes and set a career high with 19 top-10s. Meanwhile, his 12.1 average finish was by far the best of his career. Truex was pretty much a top-10 fantasy option for the entire season, but it could be a bit premature to assume he will repeat his numbers in 2013.

In recent years guys like Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya have all had one strong season, only to return to their typical numbers the following years. Heck, McMurray has been racing 10 years and three of his six wins came in one magical run in 2010. As for Truex, his per-year averages entering 2012 included 2.8 top-five finishes, 9.2 top-10s and a 19.0 average finish. After outperforming those numbers by such a wide margin, simple statistics say a regression to the mean could be coming.

Sure, it's possible that Truex has simply figured things out and is set to become a consistent top-10 driver in the series. That being said, it is just as possible that last year was his ceiling as a fantasy option. After all, this is still a driver with one win in 261 starts and 10 more DNFs than top-five finishes. Don't get me wrong, I fully expect Truex to be a top-15 driver in 2013, but if you are counting on consistent top-10 production from Truex again this season, you are asking for disappointment.

A.J. Allmendinger | Phoenix Racing

Last year was supposed to be Allmendinger's coming out party as steady improvement on the track landed him a ride with Penske Championship Racing. Unfortunately, a failed drug test left him suspended and ultimately cost him the best ride of his career. Allmendinger did complete NASCAR's Road to Recovery program and was reinstated at the end of 2012, but after washing up in a part-time role at Phoenix Racing, the fantasy value of the once promising driver is very much in question.

It is easy to understand why big things were expected out of Allmendinger in 2012. After all, he had improved his average finish, average starting position and number of top-10s in all five years of his Cup career. Not to mention that he was coming off back-to-back top-10s at the time he was suspended. When he returned to the track in October with Phoenix Racing, the results were ugly. He posted a 30.8 average finish in four starts in the No. 51, finishing 24th or worse in all four starts. The equipment at Phoenix racing isn't getting any better, and it is doubtful that Allmendinger's results will either.

It's been a rough stretch for Allmendinger, and it is going to take a huge toll on his fantasy value. In fact, it is worth questioning whether not he will even be useful in certain formats. In deeper leagues, he has some value simply because he will make a decent amount of starts and isn't a start-and-park driver. However, his production is going to be minimal in a season that will likely be his worst since a 17-race introduction to the Cup Series in 2007.

Kevin Harvick | Richard Childress Racing

In many ways, Harvick was his typical steady self in 2012. He made the Chase, posted 14 top-10s and compiled a 12.1 average finish. That being said, something was missing. After finishing third in the points in 2010 and 2011 and appearing to be on the verge of a championship, he was never much more than a 10th-place driver last season. Combine his slight regression in performance with his impending departure from Richard Childress Racing after the 2013 season, and the groundwork for a disappointing year is in place.

Give Harvick credit. The RCR equipment didn't seem as strong as it has been in years past, but he still managed a solid season. He finished outside the top 20 just three times all season, and two of those finishes came at Daytona and Talladega. However, Harvick did see a decline in his top-five finishes, top-10s and average finish for the second year in a row. Granted, Harvick has the talent to reverse the trend, but trying to do so as a lame duck driver won't be easy.

His boss-to-be Tony Stewart can tell him about life as a lame-duck driver. After announcing that he would be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to become an owner/driver for Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2008 season, "Smoke" went on to have one of the worst years of his career. He failed to win multiple races for the only time, tying a career low with 16 top-10s and posting a career-worst 14.9 average finish. Guys can talk about focus and teamwork and finishing strong all they want, but at the end of the day, it is hard for a driver to give 100 percent and hard to get 100 percent back from a crew when both parties know their futures are elsewhere.

At the end of the day, Harvick is still going to be an above average fantasy option. His ability to stay out of trouble and pile up top-20 finishes ensures his final numbers will be decent. However, owners have to come expect much more out of Harvick than decent numbers, and the difference between perception and reality could be costly for those that still think of him as an elite option. His numbers have been slipping anyway, and his situation in 2013 is far from conducive to having a successful season.

Clint Bowyer | Michael Waltrip Racing

His first year with Michael Waltrip Racing proved to be a special one as Bowyer enjoyed the best season of his career in 2012. His three wins, 10 top-five finishes, 23 top-10s and 10.9 average finish were all career bests, and his 23 top-10s put him just one shy of the series lead. Bowyer also finished a career-high second in the final standings, edging Jimmie Johnson by a single point. Unfortunately, recent history says that by being last year's runner-up, Bowyer has set himself up for trouble in 2013.

Beginning with Jeff Gordon's runner-up season in 2007, every driver that has finished second in the standings has taken a big step back the following year. In fact, Denny Hamlin is the only driver in the last five seasons to win a race in the year following his runner-up effort. Including Bowyer's numbers from last year, the average season for the last six second-place drivers equates to 5.3 wins, 16.2 top-five finishes, 24.2 top-10s and a 10.6 average finish. The following season that stat line slips to 0.2 wins, 6.6 top-five finishes, 14.2 top-10s and a 15.3 average finish. The drop-off is staggering, and it has to be disturbing if you are a fantasy owner.

Granted, there are reasons to believe Bowyer won't be affected by the Runner-up Curse. For one, his second-place finish didn't come in heartbreaking fashion. He was always lurking in the shadows as Brad Keselowski and Johnson battled it out, and he only snuck into second place after Johnson suffered a mechanical failure in the season finale. Not to mention that MWR seems to be an organization on the rise as a whole, and the equipment Bowyer is driving could be even stronger in 2013.

In the end, there is no guarantee that the statistical trend that has plagued the last five runner-ups will continue. However, there is also no guarantee that it won't, especially since Bowyer exceeded his career averages by a wide margin in 2012. Yes, he was a top-five fantasy option last year, but assuming he is going to deliver a repeat performance is a recipe for disaster.


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