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2013 Track Specialists: Finding a Fantasy Edge with 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 presents 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 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 2013 for fantasy racing success. Here is our breakdown of track specialists to watch closely in the this season. This analysis is particularly helpful in weekly lineup leagues.

SHORT-TRACK SPECIALISTS

These stats are based on tracks 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
Bristol1650711
Martinsville160078
Richmond16411213
Career Totals48912632

While 2012 was an up-and-down season for Busch and the No. 18 JGR team, they still maintained a reasonable amount of success on the series' short tracks. The enigmatic driver picked up another Richmond victory, a Martinsville Top 5 and a Bristol Top 10. While we would consider this a below average short track performance for Busch, he still retains the overall resume on these small ovals that is tough to beat. His nine victories in 48 starts at the bull rings average out to an impressive 19 percent victory rate. The Top-5 rate is even more impressive at a whopping 54 percent. 2013 should hold a lot of success for the Joe Gibbs Racing star, and we certainly expect a great deal of that will come on the Sprint Cup Series' short tracks.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol2211713
Martinsville22721519
Richmond223258
Career Totals661152740

Johnson may have come up short in his championship quest again in 2012, but we can't point to the short tracks as a reason for his failure. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet racked up one victory (Martinsville), two Top-5 finishes and four Top-10 finishes in the six short track events of last season. Johnson once again proved that when the pressure is on he can claim the checkered flag at these small ovals. We expect Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports team to mount another brilliant championship-contending campaign in 2013, and it will begin with emphasizing Johnson's excellence on these small ovals.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol140047
Martinsville140028
Richmond142028
Career Totals4220823

Bowyer raised a lot of eyes in his big first season with Michael Waltrip Racing. Not only was he a championship contender well into the Chase, he also bolstered an improving short track racing resume. The No. 15 Toyota team was hands-down the best team in the series last year on the short track circuit. Bowyer picked up a late-summer victory at Richmond, and put with it three Top 5s and six Top 10s in all six short track events. While Bowyer's career numbers pale when compared to some of the more tenured drivers in the series at these facilities make no mistake, this MWR driver is as polished as any short track specialist in NASCAR. We expect the upcoming season to hold a lot more Top 5s and 10's and possibly a first-time Bristol win.

4. Brad Keselowski
Car:
2
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol62022
Martinsville60003
Richmond70002
Career Totals192027

The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion built much of his 2012 championship season on the back of his short track success. While the statistical sampling is small for Keselowski, once one realizes most of the success on these small ovals came in 2012 alone, then the numbers pop with a new sense of importance. One victory (Bristol), one Top 5 and five Top 10s all came on these tracks for Keselowski last season. He enjoyed a level of success he's never experienced to this point in his Sprint Cup Series career at the bull rings. The change in stock cars and the change to Ford for the Penske camp should have negligible impact on the young driver's short track performance in the coming season.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol141047
Martinsville1542912
Richmond142279
Career Totals43742028

Hamlin held serve through the 2012 season, and despite failing to win at his favorite track in Martinsville, he did pick up one short track victory. The Joe Gibbs Racing star won a terrific battle in the mid-summer night race classic at Bristol and walked away with his first-ever win at the historic Bristol oval. To that Hamlin added a pair of Top 5s and three Top 10s to his ever-growing short track resume. He now stands at a stellar 16 percent winning percentage and awe-inspiring 47 percent Top 5 rate at these small ovals for his career. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota should continue pounding the competition into the pavement at these tracks in 2013.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Bristol40551622
Martinsville40772532
Richmond40251625
Career Totals12014175779

The near-miss run at victory lane in Martinsville this past season is Gordon's 2012 campaign summed up in one race. The Hendrick Motorsports star was much better than his numbers show last year. He led a series-best 424 laps on the bull ring circuit, yet had no wins to show for despite all those laps led. Still, Gordon claimed a pair of Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on the short tracks, which places him among the elite in the series. We would consider that a down year for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, and a reason why we still hold the 40-year-old in high regard when it comes to racing skill set. Gordon is polished enough to win at any Sprint Cup venue, but he's especially dangerous on the series' short tracks.

ROAD COURSE SPECIALISTS

Although road courses are a small percentage of the Sprint Cup 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
Infineon50124
Watkins Glen52055
Career Totals102179

The five-year Sprint Cup Series veteran has retained the top spot in the road course specialist ranking. Ambrose added a victory at Watkins Glen and a Top-10 finish at Sonoma to keep his impressive road course resume growing by leaps and bounds. At a robust 70% Top 5 rate on these winding circuits we can't imagine any other driver in the series that has a better shot at winning each time the boys of NASCAR take to the road courses. The driver of the No. 9 Ford is poised to add more hardware to his trophy case in 2013, and he especially makes a great play at Watkins Glen. The mid-state circuit in New York mimics many of the tracks that Ambrose competed on in Australia during his V8 Supercar career.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon111046
Watkins Glen110146
Career Totals2211812

With a pair of Top-5 finishes at Sonoma and the Glen last season the Hendrick Motorsports star continued his impressive record at these facilities. The single victory in 22 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 55 percent Top 10 rate is a very respectable mark on the winding circuits among any of his peers. Johnson will continue his pursuit of race wins at these facilities, so a potential Watkins Glen victory would not only cross another track off his winless list, but continue to add to an already impressive road course resume.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon71045
Watkins Glen70012
Career Totals141057

Bowyer roars onto our road course ranking for the first time in his NASCAR career. The Michael Waltrip Racing star's accomplishments at these facilities can no longer be ignored. Bowyer's victory at Sonoma this past June was followed nicely by a stellar fourth-place effort at Watkins Glen later in the summer. That gives the driver of the No. 15 Toyota one victory and three Top-5 finishes in the last four Sprint Cup Series road course events. For a driver that grew up racing dirt track ovals in the heartland, that is a surprising set of statistics. We suspect Bowyer will continue to add to his growing road course reputation in the coming year.

4. Brad Keselowski
Car:
2
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon30001
Watkins Glen30022
Career Totals60023

The Sprint Cup Series champion made some gains in his road course racing performance last season and thus he cracks the list of up-and-coming drivers on these circuits. It was Keselowski's fender-banging door-to-door runner-up finish at Watkins Glen that we most remember from last year. He battled the last two laps with Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose to take second-place at the Glen. That performance alone earns our respect for the Penske Racing star on these courses. Keselowski still has a lot to learn with regards to racing the road circuits, but judging by his raw driving talent he has what it takes to be wildly successful.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon81012
Watkins Glen81137
Career Totals222149

While Busch definitely has more of a flare for the road course in Watkins Glen, he does have victories at both facilities in his Sprint Cup Series career. Last season the Joe Gibbs Racing star picked up seventh- and 17th-place finishes on the road courses. He was within one lap of winning at the Glen before contact with Brad Keselowski sent him spinning out of control and to an eventual seventh-place finish. The racing on these tracks has become more contact-oriented and aggressive in the last few seasons, and we believe that's to Busch's advantage. You have to be an offensive driver to win on these circuits and that is exactly what the driver of the No. 18 Toyota does best.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Infineon20551216
Watkins Glen204269
Career Totals40971825

The most decorated road course driver among the active ranks is Gordon by a wide margin. His nine Sonoma and Watkins Glen victories are two better than Tony Stewart's seven wins combined. Gordon picked up second- and sixth-place finishes in his last two trips to Infineon Raceway. But his Watkins Glen performances are still par when compared to the rest of the field. When it comes to weekly lineup leagues, you'll want to be sure to deploy the No. 24 Chevrolet at Sonoma, but you may be better served to hold off at the Glen. Regardless, Gordon is well placed in that upper 10 percent of the drivers in the series when it comes to road course racing.

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 super speedways include Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

1. Matt Kenseth
Car:
20
Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona2621613
Talladega261058
Career Totals52311121

Kenseth has been making gains in his super speedway racing performance and he finally cracks No. 1 on our list. The move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 is noteworthy, but we don't believe it will have a major impact on the veteran driver's performance on these large ovals. Kenseth dominated the restrictor-plate tracks in 2012 with two victories and four Top-5 finishes. He took the win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and wrapped up the season with a victory at Talladega during the Chase. Kenseth combined to lead a whopping 245 laps of the 745 laps raced on super speedways last year. That's a mind-boggling 33 percent. Certainly he'd be pressed to keep up this pace, but we believe Kenseth will be a top super speedway performer in 2013.

2. Brad Keselowski
Car:
2
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona70001
Talladega82036
Career Totals152037

The Sprint Cup Series champion made his mark on the big ovals last season and it helped pace him to his first championship. Keselowski picked up one win (Talladega in May) and three Top-10 finishes in the four restrictor-plate races of last season. While it's clear that the Penske Racing star is a better finisher at the Alabama oval than the oval in Daytona Beach, he has the right stuff each time the No. 2 team takes to these style tracks. Keselowski finished eighth in his last Daytona start and proved his worth at the Florida oval as well. Considering that he is already a two-time winner on these style tracks (and for two different teams) during a brief career to this point, a lot of success should lie ahead.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona140026
Talladega142047
Career Totals2820613

With one win and three Top 10s in the last two seasons, Bowyer checks in as one of the most consistent drivers in the series on these restrictor-plate race tracks. The victory came in the fall Talladega race in 2011, and was his second career win at that huge Alabama oval. Bowyer had some tough luck in the final two super speedway races of 2012 with DNF's at Daytona and Talladega due to multi-car crashes. However, that didn't stop the No. 15 MWR Toyota from leading laps and flexing super speedway muscle in those events. With a Top 10 rate around a very respectable 46 percent on these style tracks, you have to give heavy consideration to Bowyer anytime NASCAR goes restrictor-plate racing.

4. Greg Biffle
Car:
16
Owner: Roush Fenway Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona201135
Talladega200025
Career Totals4011510

Roush Fenway Racing had a great restrictor-plate racing program in 2012 and Biffle was a big part of that success along with his former teammate Matt Kenseth. The veteran driver of the No. 16 Ford was in the running for the Daytona 500 win and had to settle for third-place after leading 44 laps in the Great American Race. Biffle forged two Top 5s and three Top 10s in the four super speedway events of 2012. Much like his teammate Kenseth, we saw Biffle out front quite a bit at these big ovals. He led 110 laps combined between the Daytona and Talladega events last season. Biffle's super speedway resume may lack the victories we would like to see, but he raced up front quite a bit the last two seasons the big ovals.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona180027
Talladega180134
Career Totals3601511

So his career stats are less than impressive, but don't let that fool you about the potential for this driver and team in 2013. Kahne moved from Red Bull Racing to Hendrick Motorsports last season, but his super speedway prowess remained constant despite the team move. In the last two years Kahne has one pole position, two Top 5s and four Top 10s on the super speedway circuit. In addition, he's led 44 laps during that span. Kahne has been painfully close to winning on these restrictor-plate tracks but has just come up short for one reason or the other. His single DNF the last two years is a stat to take heart in. Kahne has a nose for missing the accidents which is a big part of super speedway racing success.

6. Jeff Burton
Car:
31
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5sTOP 10s
Daytona3811911
Talladega3800516
Career Totals76111427

Burton's performance overall and fantasy value has waned the last couple seasons, but he still makes a great weekly fantasy racing lineup play on the super speedways. The Richard Childress Racing veteran has maintained stellar stats on these big ovals despite the lull in performance later in his career. Burton managed a pair of Top-5 finishes and four Top-10 finishes in the four restrictor-plate events of 2012. That included a brilliant runner-up finish in the July Daytona race. When the No. 31 team takes to the track on these super speedways Burton looks every bit the driver he was five years ago. We suspect that trend will stay in effect for 2013.
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