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Fantasy NASCAR: Aric Almirola has flipped the switch
During the past month, only one driver has managed to finish in the top 10 in all four races, and it isn't a name you would expect. Believe it or not, Aric Almirola has strung together four straight top-10 finishes, and the Richard Petty Motorsports driver is officially enjoying the best stretch of his career. As far as his future is concerned, the hot streak couldn't come at a better time as he tries to show that he has the potential to become a force in the Cup Series and deserves a long-term contract. From a fantasy standpoint, his recent stretch has him looking like a potential breakout candidate in just his second full season at the Cup level.
It's tough to ignore his recent four-race tear, especially when you consider that Almirola has actually scored the fourth-most points in the series during the stretch. However, his fantasy value extends well beyond this impressive stretch. After all, the season is already 10 races old, and Almirola is sitting eighth in overall standings. Not to mention that in addition to already tying his top-10 total from all of last year, Almirola has just a single finish outside the top 20 this season.
Perhaps more importantly, his body of work in 2013 seems to suggest that he has staying power because of what Almirola was able to accomplish in the Chase at the end of last season. He closed 2012 with eight top-20 finishes in the final 10 races, including four straight finishes of 16th or better. Throw in the first 10 races of this season, and Almirola suddenly has a 20-race sample that looks pretty darn inviting if you're a fantasy owner searching for a driver that can help solidify your roster. Take a closer look in the chart below.
Almirola's Stats Comparison
While Almirola isn't going to finish in the top 10 on a weekly basis for the rest of the year, it is clear that he has made huge strides as a driver and that things are starting to click. The momentum he established during the Chase last year has carried over into this year and then some. His hot streaks now include top-10 finishes instead of top-20s, and his bad runs are now top-20s instead of finishes outside the top 30.
From a fantasy owner's perspective, Almirola's value has taken a sizeable leap thanks in large part to the reliability factor. Early in his career, the bad finishes were so frequent and the solid ones so rare that the risk that came with Almirola always seemed to outweigh the potential reward. The opposite is true these days, and if you aren't at least considering making room on your roster for him on a weekly basis, you should be. Expect Almirola to be a steady source of top-15s and top-10s the rest of the way as he continues the transformation from sleeper to starter in fantasy circles.
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