Fantasy NASCAR: Who’s Hot
The Sprint Cup Series season is nine races old, and now that teams have had a chance to visit just about every type of track on the schedule, it has become a lot easier to tell which drivers have an early feel for the new Gen-6 car. Of course, there is still plenty of time left in the season for other teams to figure things out, but fantasy owners can let those drivers play catch-up someplace other than their rosters. For now, fantasy owners need to be focusing on and taking advantage of the drivers that are dialed in and getting quality results right now. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that have been getting the job at high level during the past five races.
Aric Almirola, #43 Smithfield Foods, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
5. Believe it or not, Almirola is actually tied for the series lead in top-10 finishes during the last five races. More importantly, he ranks sixth in the series in points scored during the stretch and has compiled an 11.4 average finish. Plain and simple, Almirola is thriving in his second full season in the Cup Series, and if fantasy owners thought he peaked with his streak during the Chase last year, he is reaching new heights with his performances lately. Granted, I’m not sure he will be a top-10 option for the entire season, but that is exactly what Almirola is right now. Fantasy owners should feel free to take advantage of the rising young star, especially while he is having the best stretch of his career.
Jeff Burton, #31 Caterpillar/Cheerios, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
7. The veteran is 19th in the standings this year, but in the last five races, he has tallied the 13th-most points in the series to go along with a 16.2 average finish. Granted, those numbers are far from outstanding, but during the stretch, Burton has outscored the likes of Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. No, he still isn’t the type of driver that will carry a fantasy team, but he has been putting up serviceable numbers lately. For fantasy owners that play in deeper leagues that require them to venture outside the big names when setting their roster, Burton should make a respectable addition to any lineup at his current pace.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
3. During the past five races, only four drivers are averaging a top-10 finish, and Edwards is one of them. His 176 points scored in the five races put him among the top-three scorers, and his three top-10s tie him with a group of several drivers for the most during the stretch. What separates Edwards from a lot of other drivers is his consistency; his 9.0 average finish since Bristol is the third best in the series. Historically, Edwards has never been a driver that wins a ton of races, and even during this recent hot streak, he has led just 19 laps. Still, Edwards has shown he can score a ton of points without leading laps, and when he is finishing in and around the top 10 on a weekly basis like he is now, he makes an excellent addition to any fantasy roster.
Kevin Harvick, #29 Budweiser/Rheem, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class A]
4. His win last weekend at Richmond was vintage Harvick as he came seemingly out of nowhere in the closing laps to win. Granted, he doesn’t usually win a ton of races, but when he is at his best, he is the type of driver that pulls out a solid finish despite flying under the radar for the entire race. Harvick has been doing exactly that lately, and despite just one top-10 finish in the last five races, he ranks third in the series in points scored and boasts a 10.4 average finish. If you play in fantasy leagues where leading laps and winning races have added importance, Harvick isn’t an ideal option. However, if total points are all that matters, he is piling them up as well as any driver in the series right now.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Johnson won the Daytona 500 to open the year, and he hasn’t slowed down since. In the last five races, he leads all drivers with a 6.8 average finish, and his 192 points scored are by far the most in the series. There is a reason that Johnson has been able to amass a 43-point lead in just nine races, and it has nothing to do with a few good races. He has been a fantasy owner’s dream this year, combining reliability with the ability to pile up top-five finishes and win races. Johnson shows no signs of slowing down, and fantasy owners shouldn’t stop using him until he does.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Pay no attention to the fact that Kenseth ranks 15th in the series in points scored during the past five races. The 50-point penalty NASCAR slapped him with is the reason for the modest ranking, but unless you play in a very serious league, penalties that NASCAR dishes out after races rarely impact fantasy scores. Without the penalty, Kenseth would rank second in the series in points scored during the past five races, and his 8.2 average finish during the span would also be second best. Meanwhile, Kenseth leads all drivers with 409 laps led in the last five races, adding to his series-leading total for the year. He has pretty much had a car capable of winning every week so far, and he has been an elite fantasy option recently.
Paul Menard, #27 Menards, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
6. Menard has spent most of his career dealing with the criticism that he is only in the Cup Series because of his father’s funding, and in fantasy circles, he has often been overlooked because he doesn’t log a lot of top-10 and top-five finishes. Well, he still isn’t racking up top-10s, but Menard has quietly become one of the steadiest performers in the Cup Series. During the past five races for example, he has finished in the top 20 in every start. More importantly, Menard has compiled a 13.4 average finish, has completed every lap and ranks eighth in the series in points scored. At the end of the day, top-10 finishes look nice on the stat sheet, but a driver that produces points at a top-10 rate is just as valuable, and Menard has been doing just that these last few weeks.
FFToolbox Fantasy NASCAR Writer since 2011
I grew up in a racing family, and I spent my childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky. NASCAR became a passion of mine at an early age as well, and I have been following the sport ever since I can remember. While I earned my degree in journalism at Ohio State University, I began writing about NASCAR for several Web sites in 2005. I became head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com and FantasyCup.com in 2008 and was a finalist for the Fantasy Sports Writer's Association NASCAR Writer of the Year in 2009. My knowledge of NASCAR stems from my lifelong love of the sport, and I believe that passion shows through in every article I write.