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2013 Sleepers & Busts: A Look at the Undervalued and the Overvalued

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.

Of all the articles that make up the NASCAR draft kit, this is probably the most important. Surprise drivers in both the positive and negative sense can make or break fantasy racing seasons. We all know what Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski can do, so there's little risk associated with those drivers, but it is the drivers that come out of nowhere to have huge seasons can take you to fantasy racing glory. Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Mark Martin and Brian Vickers likely helped many to win their leagues last season. While drivers like Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch most likely ended your fantasy racing championship hopes by midseason. Identifying those drivers who will break out and have career seasons, and those who are headed in the other direction for whatever reason is the key in fantasy racing success. Let's look at some of the drivers in 2013 you should make every effort to get, and those you should avoid at all costs.

SLEEPERS

1. Kyle Busch
Car:
No. 18
Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010363210188th
2011354 1141812th
20123612132013th
Total107853756

Busch missed making the field for the Chase for the second time in the last four seasons in 2012. It was another campaign of unrealized expectations for the Joe Gibbs Racing star. However, the late-season indicators for the No. 18 Toyota team were pointing North in a big way. Busch scored six Top-5 finishes in the last seven races of last season, and led a whopping 514 laps over this span. He was one of the hottest drivers of the Chase but didn't get much media attention being outside of the championship field. After three full seasons together, Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers seem to have finally figured things out. The duo put together performances on the Chase tracks that Busch has never enjoyed. We see these gains carrying forward into 2013. Busch is a notorious fast starter to the season, and he's never come off a year with this much momentum down the stretch. He could rebound from one-win form to five or six-win form and contend for the championship.

2. Carl Edwards
Car:
No. 99
Owner: Roush Fenway Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
201036239194th
2011361319262nd
2012360131315th
Total108373158

The 2012 season can only be described as puzzling for Edwards and the No. 99 Ford team. The Roush Fenway Racing star is coming off his worst season in his eight years of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition and his 13 Top 10s were a career low. Chad Norris replaced Bob Osborne atop the team's pit box at midseason but it didn't seem to help matters at all. The bright side is that Edwards and Norris have had 17 races to get acquainted with one another and build some chemistry. We would tend to think this is rock-bottom for the wildly talented driver and there's nowhere else to go but up from this point. Do we believe that Edwards will rebound to championship form in 2013? Probably not, but it's not unreasonable to expect a rebound into the Chase for the Cup field and one or two victories. A return to 16-18 Top 10s would also be a reasonable assumption. If Edwards' fantasy value takes a hit in your league's drafts/auctions, be poised to take advantage.

3. Joey Logano
Car:
No. 22
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010360171616th
201136024624th
2012361221217th
Total108151334

The new driver at Penske Racing is looking to break out for the first time in his brief Sprint Cup Series career. This could be the surprise driver that everyone is looking for in 2013. Logano spent his first five years at Joe Gibbs Racing and only tallied two victories in his first 147 Cup starts. With no finish greater than 16th in the driver standings during that time, Logano failed to live up to the gigantic hype that surrounded him as a rookie at JGR. Still a very young 22-year-old, it's hard to realize that he's on the precipice of 150 starts at NASCAR's top level. There were signs last year that Logano was about to figure it all out and get into the “zone” of high performance. But the mid-summer victory at Pocono was merely a head fake and the big leap forward never materialized. The fresh start at championship stable Penkse could be just what the doctor ordered for this young driver. It would not surprise us at all to see Logano win one or more events in the upcoming season and make his first Chase for the Cup field as well.

4. Kurt Busch
Car:
No. 78
Owner: Furniture Row Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010362291711th
2011362381611th
201235001525th
Total107451838

Busch is coming off easily the worst campaign of his 13-season career. After being exiled from Penske Racing at the end of 2011, the veteran driver spent most of last season struggling at small racing team Phoenix Racing. Busch only collected two Top 10s vs. six DNF's in his first 30 races of last season. It all culminated with another Busch meltdown and being parked at Talladega. Late in the year he got a fresh start with the Furniture Row Racing team in the No. 78 Chevrolet. Busch took to the opportunity like a duck to water. He quickly developed chemistry with crew chief Todd Berrier and finished the season with three straight Top 10s at Fort Worth, Phoenix and Homestead. Will we ever see Busch racing for championships again? Not likely, but the equipment and resources of the No. 78 FRR team can catapult Busch back into the mid teens in the driver standings and somewhere around 12-14 Top-10 finishes.

5. Aric Almirola
Car:
No. 43
Owner: Richard Petty Motorsports
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
20098000046th
20109001148th
201236011420th
Total530125

It's hard to realize but last year was Almirola's first full season of competition in the Sprint Cup Series. The 28-year-old has been around the top level of NASCAR since 2007, but he's just now getting the opportunity to race and show what he can do on a weekly basis. The 2012 season fell a little short of expectations with only four Top 10s and a 20th-place ranking in the final driver standings. But the end stages of last year showed signs that things are heading in the right direction for Almirola and his RPM team. Two of his four Top 10s came in the final four races and he was a real threat to win during the Chase at Kansas Speedway. Almirola led 69 laps that day before an unfortunate crash ruined his hopes for victory lane. We expect the No. 43 Ford team to make more gains in the upcoming season. Crew Chief Todd Parrott is getting the most out of this young driver and there's no reason why Almirola can't double is Top 10 output in 2013.

6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Car:
No. 17
Owner: Roush Fenway Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
20111000054th
20124000061st
Total50000

The new kid on the block is the two-time defending Nationwide Series champion. Stenhouse is the prime Rookie of the Year contender in 2013, and quite possibly the biggest candidate for surprise driver of the year. At 24-years-old he's just a bit older than your average Sprint Cup Series rookie, and he's used two championship seasons in the Nationwide Series to hone his skill and maturity. Stenhouse steps into a top ride right away with the No. 17 Ford team of Roush Fenway Racing. He'll have all the equipment, sponsorship and support necessary to not only run away with the ROTY, but possibly challenge for the Chase field in his first season. Stenhouse is incredibly talented and should have little difficulty in transferring his Nationwide Series success into Sprint Cup Series performance.

BUSTS

1. Martin Truex Jr.
Car:
No. 56
Owner: Michael Waltrip Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
201036011722nd
2011360131218th
2012360171911th
Total108031128

Truex had about the most consistent and best performance of any season in his Sprint Cup career during 2012. The MWR veteran tailed off during the Chase and finished 11th in the final standings after holding around fifth- or sixth-place in the standings for most of the season. The 19 Top-10 finishes were a career-best mark, but Truex still failed to break into victory lane. From what we've seen of this driver, this could well be the ceiling for Truex. We don't think the No. 56 Toyota team will collapse, but we could easily see Truex revert to 2011 form. Still winless, with fewer Top 10s and a finish in the lower teens of the championship standings.

2. Juan Pablo Montoya
Car:
No. 42
Owner: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010361361417th
201136022821st
201236020222nd
Total10817824

The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team has experienced a three-season drought in the Sprint Cup Series. Montoya is three years removed from his last Chase appearance and has only one victory in the last 108 races. Nothing seemed to go right for the No. 42 team after Montoya ran into the jet dryer at Daytona last season. 2012 was one of the worst seasons in the Columbian's seven-year career. Prospects for a turnaround in 2013 are pretty slim as well. Montoya didn't post any Top 10s during the final 10 races of last season and didn't show that momentum or chemistry within the team are on the upswing. Montoya could struggle through another tough year in the upcoming season, although we wouldn't rule out this driver and team getting things together well into the 2013 campaign.

3. Jeff Burton
Car:
No. 31
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010360061512th
201136002520th
201236002619th
Total108001026

Burton has gone from a Chase contender to practically invisible every Sunday when NASCAR goes racing. The Richard Childress Racing veteran has missed the cut for the Chase each of the last two seasons and has really struggled to find any consistency at all. Outside of restrictor-plate racing on the super speedways, Burton has found himself largely irrelevant. With RCR experiencing a driver exodus and downturn in performance in 2012, it's hard to be optimistic about the near future for the driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet. With young up-and-coming drivers all around like Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Burton will continue to slide down the rankings with age.

4. Kevin Harvick
Car:
No. 29
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010363016263rd
201136409193rd
201236105148th
Total108803059

Things are looking pretty bleak at Richard Childress Racing. With the departure of Clint Bowyer at the end of 2011, the team seemed to get off course. Harvick made the Chase field but had a very lackluster season with only the one victory and 14 Top-10 finishes. His teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard also had their issues in 2012. With the news that Harvick is gone after 2013, and will go racing for Tony Stewart in 2014, this is a lame duck driver in a sense. The RCR veteran showed some signs of life during the last three races of last season, but don't expect a complete turnaround in the upcoming season. Harvick has championship skills, but we won't likely see them until he emerges for owner Tony Stewart the following season.

5. Paul Menard
Car:
No. 27
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
201036001623rd
201136104817th
201236001916th
Total10810623

Menard completes our team bust call for Richard Childress Racing. The young driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet didn't have a particularly bad 2012 season, but he certainly didn't build on the exploits of 2011, which included the big win at Indianapolis. Given this team's general trend line we don't expect Menard to particularly improve or decline. Instead, we're most likely poised to see another midline performance for Menard. We expect to see 8-to-10 Top-10 finishes and a final driver standings placement around the middle teens. Sorry, we don't see any victories either for the RCR driver in 2013.

6. Jamie McMurray
Car:
1
Owner: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10sRank
2010363491214th
201136012427th
201236000321st
Total108351119

Two seasons removed from McMurray's big three-win season in 2010, we're wondering if the EGR team can ever return to that form. McMurray struggled through a 2012 season that saw only three Top 10s and a lowly 21st-place finish in the driver standings. The final 10 races of the year didn't show any promise either. McMurray slogged to no Top 10s during the Chase for the Cup and a subpar average finish of 21.5 during that span. 2013 holds a lot of promise but no technical or team developments that can turn this situation around. McMurray is likely poised for another uninspiring season and handful of Top 10 performances to accompany it.

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