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Fantasy NASCAR: Reversing the curse

By Brian Polking

Prior to last season, I wrote an article detailing a disturbing pattern that has been developing with the drivers that finish second in the Sprint Cup standings. I affectionately titled it the Runner-up Curse, and the theory is pretty straightforward. Basically, every driver that has finished second in the final series standings since the start of the 2007 season has endured a dramatic decline in performance the following season, and after what happened to Carl Edwards last year, it's tough not to be a believer.

Clint Bowyer

For those that need a refresher, Edwards was on the losing end of a tiebreaker for the Sprint Cup title in 2011. However, he did lead the series with 19 top-five finishes, 26 top-10s and a 9.3 average finish. Last year, his numbers plummeted. He finished the year with just three top-five finishes, 13 top-10s and a 15.6 average finish. All told, it was actually the worst statistical year of his career, and Edwards was the biggest bust in fantasy NASCAR.

Not only was Edwards' 2012 season a nightmare, it also marked the second time he has been victimized by the curse. He is now the only two-time member of a list that also includes Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin. That being said, there is a silver lining. As Edwards already knows from previous experience, the Runner-up Curse seems to only stick around for one year. In fact, cursed drivers tend to bounce back nicely in the following season.

Just last year, Hamlin reversed the curse in the big way. One year after managing just a single win and five top-five finishes, he tied for the series lead with five wins and was second with 14 top-five finishes. Edwards' own rebound from his first bout with the curse was solid, as well. After going winless in 2009 with a 15.1 average finish, he made two trips to Victory Lane in 2010 and improved his average finish to 11.8.

Although Martin was an exception as his numbers remained stagnant between 2010 and 2011, Gordon enjoyed a strong turnaround in 2009. Six DNFs marred Gordon's 2008 campaign as he went winless and compiled a 14.2 average finish. Fast forward to '09, and he had just a single DNF while notching 25 top-10s. He also improved his average finish to 10.2, which was the sixth-best average of his 20-year career.

Looking at the numbers a bit closer, the drop-off in performance between a driver's runner-up season and the following year is definitely real. However, the subsequent rebound two years removed from the second-place finish is just as legitimate. Here is how the numbers stack up.

Average Season Comparison from 2007 to 2012

Avg. Finish
Drivers in their Runner-up Season
Same Drivers in their Cursed Season
Same Drivers in the Following Season

For fantasy owners, all the data basically means one thing - don't expect another dud of a season from Edwards. The guy has basically been a lock for 10-plus top-five finishes and around 18 top-10s throughout his career, and those numbers are right on par with what the trend says to expect from him with a year to forget about the disappointment of missing out on the title in 2011. In other words, feel free to use Edwards like a top-10 fantasy option again in 2013. On the other hand, use 2012 runner-up Clint Bowyer at your own risk.


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