Fantasy Talk: Talladega Aaron's 499
If you don't know by now, this weekend the Sprint Cup Series heads to the biggest and scariest track there is. Talladega Superspeedway. You just need to hear those two words as a race fan and images of mayhem enter your brain. It's fast, it's crazy, it's Talladega.
Of course, that craziness makes it really difficult to pick drivers as a fantasy player. There's two strategies for the drivers to employ on the track, and there's two strategies a fantasy player can use. And they're pretty much the same. Do you play it conservative knowing that there's going to be a massive crash, or do you go for it all? Personally, I'm going the conservative route this weekend. But for the sake of this column I'm going to give you the drivers that are the best at Talladega statistically. Stats really don't matter here since literally anything can and usually does happen, but if you're into stats you'll want to continue reading.
A-List Must Haves
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has two career wins at Talladega. He's come close to winning at Daytona a bunch of times as well. He's usually up front at the end of a plate race. He has four top-fives and seven top-10 finishes, but also has three DNFs to go along with that. That all gives him an average finish of 16.1 here.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has turned into a superspeedway ace recently. He won the Daytona 500 last season, won the fall Dega race and was a contender for the win in the other two plate races as well. He also had the strongest car in this year's Daytona 500 before an engine failure put him out. He's been strong all season long. No reason to think he won't be on Sunday.
A-List Wild Cards
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has one career win at Talladega, but he's usually up front at the end of these races. The 2007 Daytona 500 winner is always strong on these tracks. But lately things haven't been going so well for him on the plate tracks. He crashed in this year's Daytona 500, a race in which he was the favorite to win. He also crashed while up front at last year's July Daytona race and last fall's Talladega race. It doesn't matter how good you are on these tracks, because you need a lot of luck to win a plate race and that's something that Harvick has lacked lately.
Tony Stewart: Stewart, like Harvick, had one of the best cars in the Daytona 500 this year but was collected in the same crash that took out Harvick. Stewart has one win, nine top-fives, and 13 top-10s at Talladega. But Stewart is having an incredibly bad year so far. Nothing is going right for the Smoke, and when you're that down, Dega is not a place you want to go to next.
B-List Must Haves
Jamie McMurray: McMurray is almost always a factor on the superspeedways. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner is also a winner at Talladega, and he finished a very close second to Harvick in the 2010 Aaron's 499. He also has five top-fives and six top-10s for an average finish of 20th. McMurray also has one of the best driver ratings at Dega with a 81.7.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Even though Earnhardt hasn't fared too well at Talladega recently he still has one of the best records of any driver there. Earnhardt has five wins, nine top-fives and 13 top-10s for an average finish of 15th. He's definitely worth taking.
Jeff Burton: Burton has the best driver rating of anybody at Talladega with a 91.4. He has five top-fives and 16 top-10s for an 18th place average finish. Richard Childress Racing and their engines are always strong on the superspeedways so that's another reason why taking Burton could play out in your favor.
Kurt Busch: Even though Busch has never won a plate race in the Sprint Cup Series, he's still a fantastic plate racer. At Talladega specifically he has six top-fives and 13 top-10s for an average finish of 16.1. Lately Busch has had trouble finishing the plate races, but if he does he'll be up front.
B-List Wild Card
Greg Biffle: Biffle doesn't have any wins at Talladega, but he has won at Daytona before. He's also been very strong on the plate tracks recently and may be worth taking. He only has two top-fives and five top-10s in his career at Talladega. He also has five DNFs. Another reason why he may not be worth taking is that the Fords weren't all that strong in the Daytona 500 this year.
This weekend you definitely have to watch who you pick because there is a strong possibility that qualifying will be rained out on Saturday morning. Elliott Sadler might be worth taking, but he will be going home should qualifying be rained out.
This is one of those rare occasions where I am advocating picking Danica Patrick. For some reason she has gotten the plate racing deal figured out. She was up front all race long in the Daytona 500 and finished well. It will be interesting to see if she can duplicate that feat this Sunday.
Michael Waltrip will be in the 55 car this Sunday and is locked in the race. He's always strong on the plate tracks and could be worth picking on Sunday.