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2011 Sprint Cup Track Specialists: Sprint Cup Track Specialists

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

The Sprint Cup Series boasts as diverse a set of tracks as any racing series in the world. From intermediate ovals to winding road courses, each track has its own special configuration and special set of characteristics. This lineup of tracks is designed to test the NASCAR driver's ability in virtually every racing condition. From the fantasy auto racing standpoint it helps to know which drivers succeed at certain facilities. Recent historical information gives us an edge, but we also need to be mindful of current trends and past statistical information in context. We've taken a long look at both and come up with the drivers you need to have at certain facilities in 2011 for fantasy racing success. Here is our breakdown of track specialists to watch in the upcoming season.

SHORT TRACK SPECIALISTS

These stats are based on three-quarter mile or less tracks and include: Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Raceway.

1. Denny Hamlin
No. 11
Joe Gibbs Racing
Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol100035
Martinsville1142810
Richmond102256
Career31641621


With a season-sweep of Martinsville and a big victory in the fall Richmond race, Hamlin has established himself as the top driver in the series on the circuit's handful of small ovals. Those three victories lead all drivers in 2010. Bristol is still the No. 11 team's Achilles heel, but Hamlin's recent performances at both Richmond and Martinsville are nearly flawless. The Joe Gibbs Racing star's four wins in the last six events at Martinsville Speedway have bumped Jimmie Johnson from his perch of dominance at that Virginia bull ring. Hamlin is poised to lead the series again in 2011 at these small ovals.

2. Kyle Busch
No. 18
Joe Gibbs Racing
Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol124069
Martinsville120056
Richmond12211010
Career36612125


Busch failed to win a championship again in 2010, but he managed another stellar season on the short tracks. These venues were his most reliable oval track events in 2010. Busch collected his fourth career victory and Bristol in summer with a dominant performance, and he won from the pole at Richmond in the spring to continue an impressive record at that small oval. Despite his inconsistency on the larger tracks, you can depend on the No. 18 Toyota to be a world-beater when the Sprint Cup Series visits these short tracks. Martinsville has been his one weakness on these style tracks, but two of his last three trips to that Virginia short track have yielded Top-5 finishes.

3. Jimmie Johnson
No. 48
Hendrick Motorsports
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol181149
Martinsville18611317
Richmond183256
Career541042232


Johnson used to be the top driver in this category, but the Joe Gibbs Racing boys have knocked him off that perch. However, the No. 48 team hasn't fallen far down the ladder on the bull ring circuit. Johnson managed a win last season at Bristol, which was his first career victory at that Tennessee oval. With over 250 laps led, one win, three Top 5's and five Top 10's in these six events last season Johnson can only be seen as an elite driver of these small ovals. He may have lost a few steps to both Hamlin and Busch, but he still makes a very reliable fantasy racing play at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond.

4.Carl Edwards
No. 99
Roush Fenway Racing
Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol132135
Martinsville130014
Richmond130115
Career3922514


While Edwards' career numbers on the short tracks aren't that impressive, we have to take them more in context to get the true picture. Known more for his intermediate oval exploits for most of his Sprint Cup Series career, Edwards has come to life in the last two seasons on the circuit's short tracks. This is a really good sign of a maturing driver. It takes patience to succeed on these tracks as well as good equipment. Edwards fell short of victory lane at these tracks but he did lead nearly 100 laps and collect five Top 10's in these six races in 2010. We look for much more success at the bull rings for the No. 99 team in 2011. Edwards will be a hot fantasy racing commodity this season.

5. Jeff Gordon
No. 24
Hendrick Motorsports
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol36551420
Martinsville36772329
Richmond36251423
Career10814175172


Gordon's best years in NASCAR are arguably behind him, but we would debate that point. His 2010 campaign on the bull rings lacked the results that we're normally used to. Despite leading nearly 300 laps in these six events, Gordon only came away with a scant two Top-10 finishes. We believe we'll see a re-energized Gordon in 2011. The addition of respected crew chief Alan Gustafson should elevate the No. 24 team back to elite status on these short tracks. Let's not forget that Gordon snapped a gaudy 11-race Top 5 streak at Martinsville last fall, so his success on these ovals is still relatively fresh.

6. Ryan Newman
No. 39
Stewart-Haas Racing
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol1802110
Martinsville180369
Richmond1811511
Career54161230


Newman has been a steady hand on the short tracks for many years. He's not a major threat to win at these small ovals, but his consistency is a safe fantasy racing play most weekends. Newman racked up three Top 10's in the six short track events of 2010, and would have made it four were it not for some bad luck in the fall Martinsville race. The driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet only finished outside the Top 20 once at these short tracks last season, and that is a measure of safety you can depend on. Newman is better known for his Daytona win and Atlanta Motor Speedway poles among the NASCAR fan base, so take advantage of him in weekly lineup leagues on the series' short tracks.


ROAD COURSE SPECIALISTS

Although road courses are a small percentage of the overall schedule, they can be a huge factor in a fantasy racing championship. The circuit's road courses include: Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

1. Tony Stewart
No. 14
Stewart-Haas Racing
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Infineon122148
Watkins Glen1250710
Career24711118


Smoke didn't have the best season in 2010 on the winding road circuits. Still, he managed to forge a pair of Top 10's at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. That combined with his past success on these two road courses helps him to retain the #1 spot in our list of specialists. We expect the owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet to rebound in the upcoming season. Stewart has won four of the last seven events at the Glen, and based on that fact alone he makes a powerful fantasy racing asset when the Sprint Cup Series visits these two tracks.

2. Marcos Ambrose
No. 9
Richard Petty Motorsports
Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Infineon30012
Watkins Glen30033
Career60045


Ambrose has steadily climbed the road course ladder since coming to NASCAR three seasons ago. This year could be a perfect storm of sorts for the Australian. He takes over the No. 9 Ford that Kasey Kahne drove for seven years. More importantly, this same team collected one pole, one win and two Top 5's in the last three visits to Sonoma with their former driver. As you can see from the table above, Ambrose's talent on road courses is well established. To this point in his brief Sprint Cup Series career, he's only been missing the right team to get him to victory lane at one of these two tracks. The missing piece of the puzzle may now be in place for 2011.

3. Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 42
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Infineon41014
Watkins Glen41023
Career82037


While last season was a down year for Montoya as a whole, he did continue to build on his stellar road course resume. The driver of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevy marched to his second career win with a dominant performance at Watkins Glen during the summer. He led 74 of the 90 laps run that day and made the win look easy. Montoya could be inconsistent again in 2011 from a whole season standpoint, but his world-class driving ability on the winding circuits makes him a safe fantasy play at these facilities.

4. Jimmie Johnson
No. 48
Hendrick Motorsports
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Infineon91034
Watkins Glen90134
Career181168


Road course racing hasn't come easy to Johnson. He wasn't a natural and didn't produce numbers earlier in his career on these tracks. But as the 34-year-old has shown after five championships, Johnson is a much more well-rounded driver later in his career. The recent stats at Sonoma clearly indicate this. He has one win and two Top-5 finishes in his last two starts at the California road course. Johnson has had his struggles of late at the fast circuit in Watkins Glen, New York, but results from earlier in his career show that the reigning Sprint Cup champion can navigate the Glen to Top-10 finishes.

5. Carl Edwards
No. 99
Roush Fenway Racing
Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Infineon60002
Watkins Glen60135
Career120137


Similar to his surprising climb of the short track list, Edwards too has been steadily climbing the road course list. The Roush Fenway Racing star is building an impressive resume on these tracks, in particular the one at Watkins Glen. Edwards won the pole and finished a brilliant fifth-place in his last start at the Glen, and that built on a five-race string of Top 10's that he has at this facility. While the No. 99 team has been inconsistent at Infineon Raceway, we feel that the huge potential he has for the upcoming season will get him back to Top 10 form at Sonoma.

6. Jeff Gordon
No. 24
Hendrick Motorsports
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Infineon18551114
Watkins Glen184269
Career36971723


Gordon's success on the winding road circuits has grown a little bit stale, but his career numbers are nothing short of awesome when you take them into full scrutiny. The NASCAR icon hasn't won at either of these tracks since 2007, but he has managed to maintain a high level of performance on them. Gordon has two Top 10's in his last four visits to the Glen and a string of five-straight Top 10's at Infineon Raceway. Considering that we believe this will be a better season for the No. 24 team, there's no reason to believe that Gordon can't return to his winning ways on these road courses.


SUPER SPEEDWAY SPECIALISTS

As with the road courses, the super speedways represent a small portion of the overall schedule. However, these tracks are raced twice a season, so the stakes are much higher. The circuit's super speedways include: Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

1. Kevin Harvick
No. 21
Richard Childress Racing
Chevrolet
RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona192158
Talladega201125
Career3932713


The overall statistics may not be that impressive, but when you realize that Harvick has compiled most of those wins and Top 5's in just the last couple seasons you can understand just how dominant the No. 21 team has been on the plate tracks recently. Harvick won the 2007 Daytona 500 and he won the Coke Zero 400 this past summer from the pole. He's been equally impressive at the track in Talladega. Harvick won the Aaron's 499 in the spring and then returned in the fall to finish runner-up in a photo-finish with teammate Clint Bowyer. The Richard Childress Racing star is the king of the hill on these oversized ovals, at least for the time being.

2. Jamie McMurray
No. 1
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona162034
Talladega171056
Career3330810


McMurray has been the biggest threat to Harvick's dominance on the super speedways the last couple seasons. The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver won the 2007 Pepsi 400 and this past season's Daytona 500. He also picked up a trophy at Talladega in the fall of 2009. Where McMurray hasn't won, he's not usually been too far behind Harvick at the checkered flag. The two driver's duel to the finish line in last year's Aaron's 499 is a good example. We don't see this team's restrictor-plate program falling off their excellence in 2011, so McMurray should remain a top threat on these style tracks.

3. Clint Bowyer
No. 33
Richard Childress Racing
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona100026
Talladega101024
Career2010410


Any driver that can maintain a 50 percent Top 10 rate at these fickle, DNF-riddled race tracks is worthy of fantasy racing consideration, and Bowyer fits that description. However, beyond the Top 10's Bowyer served notice in last fall's AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega that he could race with the best and beat them on these super speedways. His photo finish victory over teammate Harvick at Talladega was his first career restrictor-plate track win, but we have the feeling it won't be his last.

4. Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 42
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona80002
Talladega80233
Career160235


Not only has Montoya become a better oval track driver since joining NASCAR, but he's become a pretty good restrictor-plate racer. The excellence of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing equipment doesn't hurt either to this end. Montoya had most of his success of 2010 on the plate tracks. With one pole and a pair of third-place finishes at Talladega and a Top 10 in the Daytona 500, he set career highs at these large ovals with last season's results. It remains to be seen how Montoya will perform overall in 2011, but we're willing to bet he keeps his restrictor-plate racing performance at a high level in the upcoming season.

5. Denny Hamlin
No. 11
Joe Gibbs Racing
Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona100011
Talladega100034
Career200045


Don't be fooled by the lack of hardware or stats for Hamlin on the plate tracks. There is a bit of the old "big one" bad luck that has factored into those numbers. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has started to show some flair on the large ovals. His pair of Top 10's at Talladega Superspeedway last season is the biggest indicator. Hamlin has had dominant cars the last couple seasons at these two tracks, but the results have not followed as of yet. Now that he's a real championship contender it's just a matter of time before the wins and Top 10's start to pile up for Hamlin at these facilities.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No. 88
Hendrick Motorsports
Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona2220813
Talladega2250811
Career44701624


Despite being mired in a two-season slump at Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr. cannot be overlooked when the series visits the superspeedways. His seven career wins came earlier in his NASCAR career, but he still manages to lead laps and race up front at these large ovals. Earnhardt led 36 laps in these four races in 2010 and collected a pair of Top 5's at Daytona. With the new season brings renewed hope to the No. 88 team. When Earnhardt gets it turned around, you'll see him contending for wins once again on these style race tracks.