Comments: Fantasy NASCAR: Drivers on the Rise
With the summer fast approaching and the track surfaces getting hot and sticky, it is time to take a closer look at the drivers that seem to be heating up along with the weather. Not only are the changing temperatures having an impact on which drivers are running well, but the simple fact that teams have had more time to work with and dial in the new “Generation 6” cars will inevitably have an impact on the action on the track. In order to accurately gauge which drivers appear to be benefiting the most and are poised to help fantasy owners in the coming weeks, I have focused on the last four races. Not only does this four-race stretch include a nice variety of tracks, but it also excludes the spring race at Talladega. After all, plate tracks are the most unpredictable on the schedule, and as a result, they tend to be the worst predictors of a driver’s performance overall. Without further ado, here are a few drivers that have been running well recently and should be finding their way on to fantasy rosters in the coming weeks.
1. Kevin Harvick: After flying under the radar early in the year, Harvick has caught fire in his final year with Richard Childress Racing. In fact, his 158 points in the past four races are the most of any driver in the series. During the stretch, he also leads all drivers with four top-10s and a 5.8 average finish. With top-15 finishes in every start in 2013 with the exception of the two plate races, consistency has been Harvick’s strength all season. However, he has found another gear in recent weeks. Seeing as how he is one of the safest fantasy options to begin with, owners will definitely want to take full advantage of him during his hot streak.
2. Tony Stewart: It appears that talks of Stewart’s demise were a bit premature yet again. After being mired outside the top 20 in points after 10 races with just one top-10 finish, “Smoke” has begun his typical summer surge. His 6.8 average finish in the last four races is the second best in the series, and his 154 points scored are the second most. Stewart hasn’t finished outside the top 15 during the stretch, and he has finished seventh or better in each his last three races, including a win at Dover. He has no doubt disappointed fantasy owners thus far, but Stewart is in the process of making amends. Owners will probably want to jump on his bandwagon sooner rather than later because 37 of his 48 career Cup wins have come after the 14th race of the year.
3. Kurt Busch: Busch got off to a bit of an uneven start in his first full season with Furniture Row Racing, but he appears to have really gelled with his new team the last few weeks. He has clicked off four straight top-15 finishes, posting a 9.0 average finish during the stretch. He has also logged a 9.0 average starting position so he has been running well from start to finish. More importantly, Busch has tallied the third-most points of any driver in the series in the past four races. Yes, Busch has had a rough couple of years, be the former series champ seems to have turned a corner and found a stable situation where he can thrive again. For now, it appears that top-10s and top-15s have become the norm, and fantasy owners need to capitalize.
4. Juan Pablo Montoya: Let’s face it. Montoya has been so bad for the past year that he basically been unusable from a fantasy standpoint. However, there has been some light at the end of the tunnel lately, and he has started to show flashes of his 2009 form that made him a regular in fantasy lineups. Montoya has accumulated the sixth-most points in the series over the past four weeks, posting a tidy 10.5 average finish during the stretch. He has also cracked the top 10 twice, including a second-place effort at Dover. Granted, it takes some guts to trust a guy with a history of being unreliable, but fantasy owners willing to take the risk could be rewarded with top-10 production.
5. Denny Hamlin: Since returning from his back, Hamlin has wasted little time getting dialed in. He has finished eighth or better in three of the last four races and has logged a pair of top-five finishes during the stretch. His line blemish in the four starts was the result of a mechanical issue at Dover in a race that Hamlin actually led for 41 laps. Missing four races earlier in the year has him buried outside the top 20 in points, but he has been reminding everyone that he is a top-10 driver when he is behind the wheel. Fantasy owners that forgot about him during his absence need to welcome him back to their rosters with open arms.
6. Joey Logano: His up-and-down 2013 season has been a microcosm of his career, but Logano appears to be starting one of his hot stretches. He has been the seventh-most productive driver over the past four races and has an 11.0 average finish during the stretch. Perhaps more importantly, Logano has cracked the top 10 in each of his last three starts. His tendency to run hot and cold can give fantasy owners headaches, but Logano can always be kicked to the curb when he shows signs of slowing down. In the meantime, he can be a sneaky source of top-10 finishes.
7. Ryan Newman: Much like his boss Tony Stewart, Newman seems to be hitting his stride as the weather warms up. He ranks in the top 15 in points scored the past four races and has notched three top-10s during the stretch. Newman has also finished sixth or better twice in the four starts, which is a very encouraging sign for a driver that traditionally doesn’t pile up top-five finishes. History says his hot streak won’t last all that long, but as long as he is logging top-10s, Newman can provide plenty of help for fantasy owners.
8. Jeff Burton: Burton’s days of being a fantasy stud are well behind him, but he has quietly been a serviceable fantasy option lately. He has posted a 13.8 average finish in the last four races, and while he doesn’t have a single top-10 finish during the stretch, he does have three finishes inside the top 12. Granted, those numbers aren’t going to carry a fantasy team, but when it comes to finding the one or two solid options to round out a roster, Burton deserves to be on the list of potential candidates these days.