The Fantasy NASCAR offseason is short, reducing your time for preseason preparation. Making things tougher on Fantasy owners is the busy period between seasons, where a lot happens in a short span. So to bridge the gap and make the road to the Daytona 500 and beyond smoother, here are some Tips to help you kick start the 2013 season.
Historically this column gives a number of tips that correspond to the champ. Well since the champ dons the No. 2, we will have to revert back to the 2011 winner – Tony Stewart’s No. 14.
1. Pick the league that is right for you. Salary Cap style formats will suit novice Fantasy owners best. They are challenging, but you can compete at a higher level more quickly and own top drivers that make you feel comfortable. More experienced owners should take on formats that make you choose between a few similarly ranked drivers every week. If you are very confident in your knowledge, straight/snake drafting or auction drafting can be a lot of fun with other experienced owners. Such leagues are not for the newbie, as you must execute a very solid draft to have a real shot at contending all year long. There is little room for trades or free-agent movement in many of these leagues during the season.
- a. Like in all Fantasy games, know your complete scoring system. NASCAR recently simplified its points system, and most Fantasy leagues will be based around this system. It’s also important to know the type of game you’re playing in, if values change every week, be cognizant of how your lineup approach will be affected and the amount of wiggle your room you have for transactions, if any.
2. Kurt Busch spent the 2012 in NASCAR exile. Banished from Penske Racing, Busch was forced into the ill-funded No. 51 Phoenix Racing ride where he posted just one Top 5 (Sonoma).
- a. After he moved into the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing ride, Busch ended 2012 with three straight Top 10s (Texas, Phoenix and Homestead). It would appear he’s been humbled and will enter 2013 as a premier value pick across the board.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a 143-race winless streak with a dominant performance in the June event at Michigan. During his streak I harped on the fact it was being totally blown out of proportion, and considering he was a Fantasy force leading up to the win, I was right. Wins are just a small piece of the Fantasy Racing puzzle.
- a. Notable winless streaks heading into the 2013 season:
i. Martin Truex Jr. (203)
ii. Jeff Burton (149)
iii. Mark Martin (117)
iv. Juan Pablo Montoya (86)
v. Jamie McMurray (77)
vi. Carl Edwards (69)
vii. Kurt Busch (43)
- b. Truex Jr. may not have won a race in the last few years, but that doesn’t mean he’s not Fantasy relevant. Wins aren’t the only stat that cashes checks in Fantasy NASCAR. If you have a gut feeling on a driver and his particular stat begins to deter you, trust your gut.
4. Get to know what NASCAR’s Driver Rating is, and make it your best friend. It’s the ultimate guideline in Fantasy NASCAR – a stat that is very similar to quarterback rating in football, yet is even more accurate. In my weekly Picks and Points Previews, you’ll get the lowdown on which driver has the best rating at each track. NASCAR’s Driver Rating combines the following categories: Wins, finishes, Top 15s, Average Running Position while on lead laps, Fastest Laps Run, Average Speeds under green-flag conditions, Laps Led and lead-lap finishes. The best part of the formula is that it eliminates factors like accidents, pit gaffes and any other potential mishaps. The DR formula includes the Loop Data that truly mirrors how a driver and a car performed in a particular race or over a full season. A perfect Driver Rating is 150 points and can be accomplished in a single race. You just need to know who has the highest ratings from last year and overall at each track every week.
- a. If you play with a salary cap, it’s all about sticking with hot drivers and knowing who performs the best at each track. Driver Rating will be a major key for you each week, and fitting road course specialists and other bargains will make the game fun and challenging.
- b. If you stick with the same drivers all season, full season Driver Ratings from 2012 will be your paramount guiding statistic. You can rotate the final guy in your lineup every week, so track-by-track DRs will be more important for you to find, and we’ll supply the best sleepers every week.
- c. If you’re not playing in a salary-cap league, do all the preparation you possibly can for the draft or initial selection process. You live and die by the draft as there isn’t much turning back or restructuring after draft day. Trading is essentially a non-factor, and the free agent list is sure to be bare. Plan ahead and be ready to roll with the same team all season.
- d. RotoExperts will provide you with a lot more than just Driver Rating each week. We’ll go fully through NASCAR’s Loop Data, its unique set of statistics that help you make sound lineup decisions regularly.
5. Jimmie Johnson finished five races (Daytona, Talladega, Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix) with a Driver Rating worse than 80.0 in 2012. That number is down from six in 2011 and 2012. Even though he’s had to suffer through two championship-less seasons (poor him), he’s still the face of Fantasy NASCAR’s elite.
6. How good is Johnson? He posted six DNFs in 2012 and still came up just short of winning his seventh Sprint Cup title.
7. Paul Menard led all drivers in Percentage of Laps Completed (99.66%) in 2012. He may not be a flashy name, but that kind of reliability has a lot of value in Fantasy circles and may be a stat most owners overlook.
8. Patience is a virtue. In non-salary cap-style formats, there are limited roster maintenance duties and Fantasy owners can afford to be patient. Don’t get frustrated if your season starts slowly. One quarter of the way through the 2012 campaign, Brad Keselowski was 13th, Jeff Gordon was 17th and Kasey Kahne was 23rd in the Cup standings. All made the Chase. One won it all. Never overreact. Nothing stays the same in Fantasy NASCAR for long.
9. Fourteen different drivers won a Sprint Cup event in 2009. Thirteen difference drivers won a Sprint Cup event in 2010. In 2011, 18 different drivers won a race. In 2012, fifteen different drivers took a Checkered Flag. Don’t get mesmerized by the standings and don’t be afraid to make a gutsy call. Playing it safe all the time won’t win your league.
- a. Tony Stewart has at least one win in 14 straight seasons. That streak is tops in NASCAR and is likely to continue. The streak signifies Stewart will be relevant to Fantasy owners for a full season whether or not he’s at the top of his game.
- b. If you’re new to the game, get to know the different types of tracks. I’ll break down the tracks for you each week in my weekly Picks and Points Previews. For newcomers, you can learn the game as you go along and still be very competitive. Again, there’s only one Cup race per week, and we do a lot of the research for you.
10. Denny Hamlin missed the Chase and probably had a hand in ruining more than a few Fantasy seasons in 2011. But he ranked in the Top 12 in Driver Rating (11th), Average Running Position (10th), Fastest Laps Run (ninth), Fastest Green Flag Speed (10th), Laps in the Top 15 (seventh), Quality Passes (ninth) and Laps Led (eighth). He bounced back in a big way in 2012, headlined by his five wins. This is further proof that Loop Data tells the real story most of the time. Don’t buy into expectations and perception. Trust the numbers.
11. Don’t get frustrated if your driver doesn’t qualify well. While qualifying does count towards bonus points and are nice, finishes are what truly count. The very best drivers can easily make their way up from the back of the field and finish strong. Just one driver took a Checkered Flag from the pole in 2011 (Ryan Newman at Loudon). In 2012, it happened three times (Joey Logano at Pocono, Jimmie Johnson in back-to-back weeks at Martinsville and Texas).
- a. Jeff Gordon has at least one pole in 20 straight seasons. The vet has been doing it at a high level for 20 years. The perception from last year is that he’s lost a step. That couldn’t be further from the truth and Fantasy owners need to take advantage of that perception by getting great value on the No. 24 driver.
12. Think of Fantasy NASCAR as a Fantasy fusion between baseball and football. Like baseball, you can rely heavily on past stats, and it becomes fun to scrutinize the numbers. Like pro football, there is only one Cup event per week, so you don’t have to feel overwhelmed in preparation. There’s even less weekly prep with limited free-agent pickups. So sit back and watch your drivers roll!
- a. It becomes a challenge when the NFL and NASCAR seasons converge. If you’re going to take this game seriously, watch the 15 minute (approximately) Race Rewinds on NASCAR.com to get caught up.
- b. If you also play Fantasy Baseball, Fantasy NASCAR won’t interfere with your roster management very much. Just make sure your NASCAR lineups are locked in every Friday or Saturday night.
13. Defending Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will run his first full Cup season, helming the No. 20 JGR Toyota. He had a 12th-place finish at Dover (his best in four Cup starts) and will be a vital Fantasy piece to round out snake draft teams, or to add to star-studded auction or salary cap squads.
- a. Fantasy owners must pay attention to more than just the overall standings or jostling for Chase positioning. Keep an eye on battles to stay in the Top 35 in owner’s points and the race for Rookie of the Year. During the first five races on the schedule, pay close attention to who must qualify based on time and who will be vying to stay in the Top 35.
- b. Take time to watch qualifying and practices, or at the very least check in on the results. Don’t over-analyze the performances, but the more you can eyeball drivers, the more confident you will be in making weekly selections and collecting qualifying bonus points.
14. Marcos Ambrose proved 2011 was no fluke and that he’s not a one-trick pony, racking up two more Top Fives at non-road course events (Michigan and Bristol) in 2012.
- a. Add a road course specialist and stash him on the reserve list. You won’t use him more than twice, but it’s nice to have Robby Gordon or Boris Said on your roster when Infineon and Watkins Glen appear on the schedule.