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Fantasy NASCAR: Undervalued and overvalued roto league drivers

By Brian Polking
Edited by Cory J. Bonini

The electronic scoring loops that have been installed at every track on the Cup Series schedule have given us access to an unprecedented amount of data. Well, the loop data as it is called is starting to work its way into the world of fantasy NASCAR in the form of rotisserie-style leagues. While traditional leagues base scoring simply on the points that drivers earn during each race, roto leagues break the scoring down into categories, ranging from points scored and wins to laps led and average finish.

The scoring system in these leagues is obviously more complex, and as a result, certain drivers are more valuable in roto leagues than they are in traditional formats. On the flip side, there are some drivers that are considered above average options in traditional leagues that just don't provide the same punch when the loop data categories are factored in. If you plan on trying out some rotisserie fantasy NASCAR in 2013, here are a few undervalued drivers to target and a couple of overvalued drivers to avoid on draft day.

Undervalued drivers

Kyle Busch: During the past five years, Busch has finished 10th, 13th, eighth, 12th and 13th in the final standings. Based on those numbers alone, Busch appears to be nothing more than a fringe top-10 driver in fantasy leagues. However, the rest of his numbers tell a different tale. During the same stretch, Busch's 20 wins are the second most in the series. He also ranks sixth or better in top-five finishes, top-10s and average finish and has led at least 1,157 laps in all five seasons. Last year alone, he posted the second-best driver rating and led the second-most laps. He also finished sixth or better in quality passes, fastest laps run and average running position. In traditional leagues, Busch can take owners on a roller coaster ride of hot and cold stretches. In roto leagues, he posts elite numbers in enough categories to put him just behind Jimmie Johnson in terms of value.

Jeff Gordon: As Gordon has tried and failed to secure a fifth championship in recent years, his reputation as an elite driver has diminished. In some ways the criticism is warranted as he has cracked the top five in the final standings just once in the last five years. However, many of Gordon's other numbers beg to differ. During the same stretch, when he has struggled to crack the top five in the standings, he has posted the second-most top-five finishes in the series and has led an average of 736.6 laps per season. He also ranks third in top-10s, third in average starting position and fifth in average finish during the span. There is no sign that he is slowing down, either, as Gordon ranked seventh or better in just about every loop data category in 2012, including third or better in fastest laps run, quality passes and green flag speed. His days as a championship-winning driver could very well be over, but he is still more than capable of helping fantasy owners win titles, especially in roto leagues. If you play in a league that uses the loop data as scoring categories, pencil Gordon in as a top-five option.

Kyle Busch

Brian Vickers: Given his limited schedule, no driver has a bigger discrepancy in their value between traditional leagues and roto leagues on draft day. He made just eight starts last year, and as a result, he ranked 35th in points scored. However, he did post three top-five finishes and five top-10s in those eight starts, putting him 18th and 21st in the series, respectively. He also ranked in the top 15 in the series in average finish, average running position and driver rating and ranked 21st or better in fastest laps run and laps led. Vickers is slated to make nine starts this season, which means he is still a bench driver, at best, if you are drafting in a traditional league. However, he is a borderline top-20 pick in roto leagues because of his ability to produce better numbers in several categories in his limited starts than many drivers can in a full season.

Overvalued drivers

Ryan Newman: In his four years with Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman has finished in the top 10 in points twice while averaging a top-15 finish and 15 top-10s per year. In otherwise, he has been rock solid. That being said, he hasn't exactly been a mainstay at the front of the field. Newman has just three wins during the stretch and is averaging just six top-five finishes per year. He has led less than 200 laps per year during the span, as well. While he did rank in or around the top 15 in several loop data categories last season, Newman ranked outside the top 20 in laps led and fastest laps run. Don't get me wrong, Newman is still a useful option in any fantasy format, but while he is a safe, surefire top-15 pick in traditional formats with the potential to approach the top 10, he is a top-15 pick at best in roto leagues because he just doesn't dominate races or pile up elite finishes.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Last year, Junior finally showed signs of recapturing his glory days. His 10.9 average finish was the third best in the series, and he was well on his way to ranking in the top five in total points scored until a concussion cost him a pair of races at the end of the year. Based on those numbers alone, fantasy owners could justify making him a top-five pick in 2013. In traditional leagues, he might even produce at a top-five level again. The same cannot be said for roto leagues. Even in his best season in almost a decade, Junior still ranked 10th or a bit worse in a majority of the loop data categories. Granted, he was rock solid in all of the categories and more than worthy being considered a fringe top-10 pick in roto leagues, but while some drivers are more useful than their finishes suggest, the opposite is true about Junior.


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