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2012 Track Specialists : Which Tracks Favor Which Drivers

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-style tracks in 2012 for fantasy racing success. Here is our breakdown of track specialists to watch closely this season. This analysis is particularly helpful in weekly lineup leagues.

SHORT TRACK SPECIALISTS

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

1. Kyle Busch
Car:
18
Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol1450710
Martinsville140067
Richmond14311112
TOTAL42812429

While Busch raised a lot of eyebrows in 2011, but again fell short of the championship, he made a statement on several levels in the Sprint Cup Series. Again, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota team was the outfit to beat when it come to the circuit's short tracks. Busch picked up another pair of victories (Bristol and Richmond) on these small ovals last season. That brought his winning percentage to a stellar 19 percent on these style tracks. When a driver wins one out of every five starts on a particular style oval, we must take notice. Busch is better than a 50 percent finisher in the Top 5 on short tracks, so that means he's nearly always in contention for the win even when he doesn't take the checkers first. These statistical facts make Busch the driver of choice in weekly lineup leagues on the bullring portion of the circuit.

2. Jimmie Johnson
Car:
48
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol2011611
Martinsville20611418
Richmond203257
TOTAL601042536

Johnson may have seen his championship reign come to an end in 2011, but he didn't see his excellence on the circuit's short tracks cease. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet racked up three Top-5 finishes and four Top-10 finishes in the six short track events of last season. While there were no visits to victory lane, Johnson proved he can still race up front and battle with the leaders at these venues. We expect Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports team to mount a real campaign to get back to the pinnacle of the Sprint Cup Series in 2012, and it would begin with emphasizing Johnson's excellence at the bullrings.

3. Denny Hamlin
Car:
11
Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol120036
Martinsville1342911
Richmond122268
TOTAL37641825

Even after a down season, we have to give tremendous respect to what Hamlin can accomplish at the bullrings. In a slumping 2011 campaign, the Joe Gibbs Racing star still picked up two Top 5s and four Top 10s on the short track portion of the schedule. A great number of drivers would give their right arms for slumping stats like that. With a new season comes new hope, and a likelihood that the No. 11 Toyota team will return to heavyweight status at the short tracks. Hamlin owns four Martinsville grandfather clocks in this trophy case, and we're willing to bet his clock collection grows in 2012.

4. Kevin Harvick
Car:
29
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol2210912
Martinsville2110310
Richmond2221614
TOTAL65411836

Two of Harvick's four victories in 2011 came on the circuit's short tracks. A slip in dominance at the top of this driver list allowed the Richard Childress Racing star to pick up some short track trophies last season. But make no mistake, Harvick's skill was as much to credit for those wins as the short track star's slips. The driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet out-dueled both Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pick up the spring Martinsville victory in a wild, three-way battle late. Harvick ended the regular season with a big statement by dominating the fall Richmond night race. While the veteran driver's career stats on small ovals may pale a bit compared to others in this list, Harvick's accomplishments are fresh and show his skills are at their height on the short tracks.

5. Jeff Gordon
Car:
24
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol38551521
Martinsville38772531
Richmond38251524
TOTAL11414175576

While Gordon's days as the dominant force on the bullring circuit are well behind us, we still have to respect the Hendrick Motorsports elder statesman for his continued excellence on the short tracks. Gordon failed to reach victory lane at these three tracks in 2011, but he did forge four Top-5 finishes and four Top-10 finishes at these facilities last season. He has led a mind-boggling 7,153 laps at these small ovals over his 19-season career. The No. 24 Chevrolet team should continue this style of consistency for a few more years to come. So we expect to see Gordon racing up front at the circuit's short tracks in 2012, with the outside chance of a win or two.

6. Carl Edwards
Car:
99
Owner: Roush Fenway Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol152247
Martinsville150015
Richmond150137
TOTAL4523819

A pole position and a runner-up finish in the spring Bristol race last season set the tone for the entire campaign of the No. 99 team on the Sprint Cup Series' short tracks. Edwards went on to pick up three Top 5s and five Top 10s on the bullrings last season. While he lacks the obvious victories to make him a true heavy weight on the circuit's short tracks, Edwards is gaining respect by the season as an excellent driver and improving in every regard. Short tracks have never been Edwards' forte, but he's gaining ground fast on the very elite of NASCAR in this category.

ROAD COARSE SPECIALISTS

Although road courses are a very 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. Marcos Ambrose
Car:
9
Owner: Richard Petty Motorsports
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon40023
Watkins Glen41044
TOTAL81067

With his first career win at Watkins Glen last season and his Top-5 finish at Sonoma, Ambrose has risen to the top of the series in road course racing expertise. Despite the one career victory, the statistics are near-flawless for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver. Ambrose has led well over 70 laps at these two racing facilities in his brief NASCAR career. The 75 percent Top 5 rate and 88 percent Top 10 rate at these winding circuits indicate a clear dominance that rises above the rest of the drivers in the series. Ambrose should pick up some more hardware on these tracks in 2012, and should certainly add to his Top 5 totals.

2. Juan Pablo Montoya
Car:
42
Owner: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon51014
Watkins Glen51024<
TOTAL102038

A down season in 2011 won't dampen Montoya's value or skill on these road courses. Despite a poor campaign this past year the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver was able to pick up yet another Top 10 at Watkins Glen International and elevate his Top 10 rate on these tracks to 80 percent. No driver in the series has led more laps at these two race courses the last two seasons than Montoya. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has had the point for 80 laps in those last four events. While the appropriate finishes and wins have not come to a certain extent, Montoya still wields a dominant car on these weekends. He should be a driver to watch closely on the road courses in the upcoming season.

3. Tony Stewart
Car:
14
Owner: Stewart-Haas Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon132148
Watkins Glen1350710
TOTAL26711118

Smoke didn't have the best season on the road courses in 2011 despite winning last season's Sprint Cup Series crown. Stewart's career numbers are impressive enough to keep him in relatively high standing on this list. The driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet put on a display of dominance at Watkins Glen for the better half of the last decade, so we simply can't discount that. During one stretch Stewart won four of six events at the New York road course. Despite having his worst career season on the road circuit last year, we believe the defending series champion will rebound in 2012. Stewart is one of the most successful drivers on the active list in road course victories.

4. Jimmie Johnson
Car:
48
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon101035
Watkins Glen100135
TOTAL2011610

With a pair of Top-10 finishes at Sonoma and the Glen last season the Hendrick Motorsports star continued his steady record at these facilities. The single victory in 20 starts at these tracks tells us all we need to know. Don't expect to see Johnson in victory lane at these tracks, but by the same token he won't be far off the lead. The 50 percent Top 10 rate is a respected mark on the winding circuits among any of his peers. Johnson will be on the trail of getting the Sprint Cup Series trophy back in 2012, so we can easily expect his performance on these road courses to remain consistent if not improve.

5. Jeff Gordon
Car:
24
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon19551215
Watkins Glen194269
TOTAL38971824

Gordon revived some of his past glory on these race tracks with a brilliant runner-up finish at Infineon Raceway last summer. It was the 11th time in his career that he finished in the Top 3 at the California road course. While Gordon's less impressive 13th-place finish at the Glen later in the season fell short of expectations, it was still good enough to warrant fantasy road racing praise. The Hendrick Motorsports star is one of only a handful of drivers to crack the Top 10 in three of the last four NASCAR road races. While Gordon's days of dominating and winning on these tracks are long since gone, the old man can still navigate these tracks well and finish in the Top 10.

6. Kevin Harvick
Car:
29
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon110034
Watkins Glen111026
TOTAL2210510

Harvick doesn't have the pedigree that some of the other drivers in this list have at road circuits, but he seems to be making gains each season. The Richard Childress Racing star picked up a pair of Top 10s at these tracks in 2011 and added to his budding totals at the Glen and Sonoma. In just the last two seasons alone, Harvick has picked up three of his 10 career Top 10s at these tracks and he's finished no worse than 11th during that span. Considering that the driving and competition has gotten rather rough at these two facilities in recent seasons, those numbers scream consistency in all that beating and banging.

SUPERSPEEDWAY SPECIALISTS

As with the road courses, the superspeedways 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 superspeedways include Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

1. Kevin Harvick
Car:
29
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona212159
Talladega2211610
TOTAL43321119

The Richard Childress Racing star has really carved out a reputation for the thrilling on the superspeedways. He's led close to 200 career laps at Daytona and owns victories in both the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400. Harvick's Talladega stats are no less impressive with one victory and three Top 5s in just his last four races at the mid-Alabama speedway. We expect the status quo to remain safely intact this season for the No. 29 Chevrolet team. NASCAR is making rules to force more multi-car pack racing at these two large ovals, and that should play just fine to Harvick's liking. His two career Daytona wins came when the racing style was much the same.

2. Jeff Gordon
Car:
24
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona38631219
Talladega38621418
TOTAL761252637

The winningest active driver on restrictor-plate tracks checks in at No. 2 on our list. Gordon collected many of his wins in his early years racing on these two superspeedways and hasn't seen victory lane at either track since 2007. Still, the Hendrick Motorsports legend is a very competitive and races with the lead pack when he often visits Talladega and Daytona. The No. 24 Chevrolet team racked up a pole position and two Top 10s racing at these big ovals in 2011. That's a very high level of performance when compared to the field of Sprint Cup Series drivers. Gordon's near 50-percent Top-10 rate at these tracks for two decades of racing is nothing short of awesome. We expect the NASCAR icon to continue racking up Top 5s and 10's at these facilities in 2012, but don't look for any wins.

3. Clint Bowyer
Car:
15
Owner: Michael Waltrip Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona120026
Talladega122046
TOTAL2420612

With one win and two Top 5s in 2011, Bowyer checks in as one of the most dominant drivers in the series on these restrictor-plate race tracks. The victory came in the fall Talladega race, and he finished runner-up in the spring installment at that huge Alabama oval. Bowyer has been one of the more successful and competitive drivers on these superspeedways the last few seasons. His move from Richard Childress Racing to Michael Waltrip is the primary reason for not ranking him higher in this list. The loss of RCR horsepower is a downgrade, but Bowyer's experience and expertise in navigating the draft at these ovals places him among the elite in the Sprint Cup Series.

4. Carl Edwards
Car:
99
Owner: Roush Fenway Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona140046
Talladega150014
TOTAL2900510

With a runner-up finish in last season's Daytona 500, Edwards served notice that he would be a force to reckon with on the restrictor-plate race tracks. The Roush Fenway Racing star went on to collect sixth- and 11th-place finishes in both Talladega races, but his return to Daytona in the summer fell short of expectations due to being caught up in an accident. Last season's accomplishments bolstered Edwards's career totals on these superspeedways. They're still not eye-popping career stats, but figure most of these good finishes have happened in the last three seasons, and you can clearly see that the No. 99 Ford team is getting better each time they visit Daytona and Talladega.

5. Kasey Kahne
Car:
5
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona160026
Talladega160023
TOTAL320049

So his career stats are less than impressive, but don't let that fool you about the potential for this driver and team in 2012. Kahne absolutely tore up the superspeedways last season. In his last campaign with Red Bull Racing, he and longtime crew chief Kenny Francis picked up forth- and sixth-place finishes at Daytona and Talladega in the second half of the season. Kahne even led 19 laps in the summer Daytona race and was a big player in that event. The veteran driver now moves to a Rick Hendrick Motorsports team that is long on experience and high on equipment performance. Kahne should pick right up where he left off in the Daytona 500.

6. Paul Menard
Car:
27
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona90102
Talladega110001
TOTAL200103

The surprise driver in this list has to be Menard. However, don't discount the Richard Childress Racing driver. In his first full season with RCR Menard put up great numbers on the restrictor-plate race tracks. The No. 27 team led 20 laps in the four super speedway races and collected finishes of ninth-, 12th-, eighth- and 12th-place at Daytona and Talladega. Sometimes the equipment can mean as much as the driver and the move to RCR has really been a boon for Menard. While he's not the type of driver to likely steal a win at these huge ovals, he will turn solid laps, race in the Top 10 and more often than not finish there.