RotoWire Partners

2014 Track Specialists: Drivers Who Dominate

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 2014 for fantasy racing success. Here is our breakdown of track specialists to watch closely in the upcoming season. This analysis is particularly helpful for weekly lineup leagues.

SHORT-TRACK SPECIALISTS


These stats are based on tracks three-quarters of a mile in length or shorter and include Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Raceway.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol160058
Martinsville1600410
Richmond162039
Career48201227

The Michael Waltrip Racing star has really upped his game on the small ovals. Bowyer led almost 300 laps at these facilities in 2013 and he picked up four Top-5 finishes in those six races, tops in the series. This level of performance firmly places the driver of the No. 15 Toyota atop our short track specialist rankings. Last season was not a blip on the radar either. Bowyer only added to what is strong career numbers at the short tracks. His 50 percent Top 10 rate at Bristol is noteworthy, but his Top 10 rate exceeds that at both Martinsville and Richmond. The veteran driver loves to race the short tracks, and Bowyer will be a threat to win at these facilities in 2014. He'll post strong performances each weekend the series takes to the bullrings.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol1851812
Martinsville180089
Richmond18411213
Career54922834

While 2013 was a good year overall for Busch, it was a bit of a down year on the circuit's short tracks. His single pole and two Top-10 finishes in the six events falls well short of what we expect from the Joe Gibbs Racing star. However, we have to give Busch respect for what he's achieved on these ovals during his colorful Sprint Cup career. The nine victories and 28 Top-5s are only rivaled by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson's numbers, which puts him in some pretty select company. Busch's obvious strengths are Bristol and Richmond, while Martinsville has been a bit of a struggle for the No. 18 team. We expect Busch to rebound in 2014 and put up his usual strong numbers at these small ovals.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol42551623
Martinsville42872734
Richmond42261626
Career12615185983

Gordon's career stats are reaching legendary status and his short track numbers are as well. With the season he had in 2013 he only added to the tally. Gordon grabbed a pole position at Richmond and a victory at Martinsville during the Chase. To that he added four Top-10s in these six short track events, placing him among the best in the Sprint Cup Series. The Hendrick Motorsports star has always been a top performer on the short tracks, and even at 41-years-old he's still performing at a high level on these ovals. We look for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet to stay on a roll at these tracks in the upcoming season. Alan Gustafson returns as crew chief, and the two will build on the short track success they had at the end of the 2013 season.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol2411713
Martinsville24831721
Richmond243258
Career721262942

The six-time champion was a top performer on the bullring circuit and that's a big reason why he grabbed his sixth Sprint Cup Series trophy in 2013. Johnson led well over 450 laps in the two Martinsville races alone, and grabbed a victory and two Top-5s in those races. While his Richmond and Bristol outings fell short of that level of performance, he's been historically strong at those tracks and should rebound in 2014. The bottom line is that you'll be challenged to find a driver with a 40 percent Top-5 rate at these ovals, and that's what Johnson has to this point in his career. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet will set out to win a seventh title in the upcoming season and the short tracks will once again be instrumental in those efforts.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol28311118
Martinsville280049
Richmond2811412
Career84421939

With the move to Joe Gibbs Racing, an already strong short track resume got even stronger in 2013. Much like the rest of the schedule, the No. 20 team flat out dominated at these ovals last season. Kenseth led a series-best 677 laps at these three tracks combined. That led to a Richmond pole and a Bristol victory for the JGR driver. He also claimed a career-best runner up finish at Martinsville at the end of the season. Bristol and Richmond are clearly his favorite of these style tracks, but now his Joe Gibbs affiliation has made Kenseth a threat to win even at Martinsville Speedway. We look for Kenseth to continue building on this success in 2014.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol161147
Martinsville1643913
Richmond152279
Career47762029

While most of Hamlin's season in 2013 was a throwaway, he did manage to rein things in by the Chase. The JGR veteran only raced in four of these six events last season due to his back injury and absence from the No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin still was able to manage two pole positions, over 150 laps led and a Top-10 finish at the end of the season at Martinsville. With his back nearing full health and feeling much better, Hamlin will set out to reestablish himself as the top driver in the series on the short tracks. That should be too difficult given his career numbers at the small ovals. Hamlin's 43 percent Top-5 rate on the bullrings ranks him among the best in the Sprint Cup Series, and as always he's a threat to win at all three of these small ovals.

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 5TOP 10
Sonoma60125
Watkins Glen62155
Career1222710

Last season was a bit of a down year for Ambrose in whole, and even a bit down on his favorite tracks the road circuits. However, the RPM veteran retains his spot as the series' top road racing driver. Ambrose picked up an outside pole and seventh-place finish in last season's Sonoma race. He then went to Watkins Glen and captured the pole and led 51 laps before an unfortunate accident saddled the No. 9 team with the DNF. There's little doubt that this talented driver will rebound on these circuits in 2014. Until last season's DNF at the Glen he was a perfect five-for-five in Top-5 finishes at the New York road course. No other driver in the Sprint Cup Series can boast numbers like that on the winding tracks.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma81056
Watkins Glen80013
Career161069

After breaking into the road course rankings last season, Bowyer retains a high spot in the list after a strong 2013 performance for Michael Waltrip Racing. The veteran driver posted fifth- and sixth-place finishes at the two road course tracks last year. Bowyer qualified the No. 15 Toyota well, raced up front and finished up front in both of these events. He only added to what is a growing resume at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Bowyer now boasts a strong 38 percent Top-5 rate and 56 percent Top 10 rate at these facilities. He and crew chief Brian Pattie really have these tracks pegged and we don't see that changing in the upcoming season. Bowyer makes a strong weekly-lineup league play when we visit Sonoma and Watkins Glen International.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma121047
Watkins Glen120147
Career2411814

Johnson hasn't been the strongest driver at the road circuits, but he's been refining this skill with age and experience. The Hendrick Motorsports star picked up a pair of Top-10 finishes at these tracks last season, but without leading a single lap. So the dominance and strength we normally see from Johnson on the ovals isn't the case on the road circuits. Still, the six-time champion has consistency in spades on the winding courses and he's now clipping an impressive 58 percent Top-10 rate at these facilities. That places Johnson among the best in the Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma and the Glen. He may not be hoisting the trophy at the end of the day, but you'll get a dependable performance out of the No. 48 Chevrolet team at these tracks.

4. Martin Truex Jr.
Car:
78
Owner: Furniture Row Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma81012
Watkins Glen80035
Career161047

The former Michael Waltrip Racing star had a big season on the road courses in 2013. Truex picked up a first career win at Sonoma last June. He led a dominating 51 laps and held off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon to collect that first road course win. Truex then went on to the Glen in August and picked up a nearly-as-impressive third-place finish in the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. These performances boosted Truex's career numbers at these two tracks. He had moderate success at both but the win and two Top-5s move Truex into our pre-season road course rankings for the first time. He should keep his hot hand in 2014 despite the move to Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 team put Kurt Busch in the Top 10 twice last season at these two facilities, so they're more than capable.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma91012
Watkins Glen92148
Career1831510

With three career victories on these road circuits, Busch ranks as the fourth-winningest driver among active drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. Only Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin have won more races at Sonoma and the Glen than Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing star had a tough outing at the California road course last season, but he rebounded all the way to victory lane at the Glen in August. It was Busch's second career win at Watkins Glen International. He now sports a respectable 56 percent Top-10 rate at these facilities. Busch should continue to perform at a high level in 2014, and he should be an outside contender for the championship once again. That means good performances at Sonoma and the Glen. He's a potential winner every time he races at these winding circuits.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma21551317
Watkins Glen214269
Career42971926

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 had a bit of a mixed bag on these tracks in 2013. The Hendrick Motorsports star led four laps and finished runner-up at Sonoma Raceway. However that luck didn't extend to Watkins Glen where he finished a painful 36th. Gordon is one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history on the road courses and he still competes at a high level at 41-years-old. We expect to see the No. 24 Chevrolet racing up front yet again on these tracks in the upcoming season.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona2432811
Talladega2421610
Career48531421

One of the biggest reasons Johnson was able to claim his sixth championship in 2013 was his huge leap in performance on the super speedways. The big ovals have always been perceived as a weakness for the No. 48 team, but not last season. Johnson stormed to two victories at Daytona and a Top-5 finish in the spring Talladega race. That placed him as the top performer on restrictor-plate race tracks last season. The Hendrick Motorsports star climbs to the top of our rankings for this category as a result. We don't see Johnson losing a single step on these ovals in 2014. On the contrary, now that he has figured out this style of racing and the team has the horsepower to win, we expect more victories for Johnson on these ovals in the upcoming season.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Car:
88
Owner: Hendrick Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona28211016
Talladega28501014
Career56712030

While much of Earnhardt's success and trophies came from earlier in his career at Daytona and Talladega, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet proved to be a remarkably consistent performer on these tracks last season. Earnhardt claimed runner-up finishes in two of the four races, including last season's Daytona 500. The two Top-5s and three Top-10s boosted his career marks to strong 36 percent and 54 percent Top-5 and Top-10 rates at Talladega and Daytona. Since Hendrick seems to have the market cornered on super speedway horsepower, we believe Earnhardt will retain a very high level of performance at these facilities in the upcoming season. He may even find the breaks necessary to get back into victory lane at these two ovals.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona2821613
Talladega281059
Career57311122

The Joe Gibbs Racing star made a big splash with his new No. 20 team last year. Kenseth led a whopping 261 laps in the four super speedway races, easily tops in the Sprint Cup Series. While the finishes weren't there to follow the many laps raced up front, that all boils down to luck. Hopefully, Kenseth's luck on these tracks will be better in 2014. The JGR team certainly put the cars under the veteran driver to win at these tracks. Kenseth's career numbers place him among the very elite in the series at Daytona and Talladega. Anyone who can brush 40 percent in Top-10s on restrictor-plate race tracks is competing at a high level. Considering this style of racing is very luck-driven, these are strong career numbers.

4. Ryan Newman
Car:
31
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona241046
Talladega240049
Career4810815

While Newman's career numbers on these huge ovals fall short of what we would call impressive, it's last season's work that grabs our attention. That and the fact that he will be moving to Richard Childress Racing, a stable that is historically strong on the restrictor-plate race tracks. Newman was one of three drivers to claim three Top-10 finishes in the four Daytona and Talladega races last season. That put him in company with Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at these facilities. That doesn't happen by accident by any means. The skill and knack for racing at these pack-style racing ovals is often acquired over time, and it's not unusual to see a driver finally figure it out 10 or more seasons into their Cup career. Newman may be a late bloomer in that sense, but he'll be a productive driver on the super speedways next season none-the-less.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona222035
Talladega232067
Career4540912

The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing veteran has enjoyed more success on the restrictor-plate race tracks than any of the other tracks that NASCAR races. McMurray reminded us of this fact again with his strong 2013 season at these facilities. In a surprising turn of events, McMurray out-dueled the best in the series and won the fall race at Talladega last October. He also led 10 laps and finished an impressive seventh in the summer race at Daytona. The 119 championship driver points he earned in these four events made him one of the Top-6 drivers in the series at Daytona and Talladega. McMurray now sports four career victories at these huge ovals, and his Top-10 rate is improving each season. The No. 1 Chevrolet team will be strong on the restrictor-plate tracks once again in 2014.

6. David Ragan
Car:
34
Owner: Front Row Motorsports
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona141034
Talladega141047
Career2820711

The super-sleeper of the Sprint Cup Series in last year's restrictor-plate races was Ragan and his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team. One of the more exciting moments of 2013 was seeing Ragan and his teammate David Gilliland charge to the front on the last lap of the spring Talladega race and taking the victory away from the biggest stars in the series. To prove that was no fluke, Ragan claimed a sixth-place finish when NASCAR returned to Talladega Superspeedway in the fall. The veteran was easily one of the Top 10 drivers in the Sprint Cup Series on the super speedway circuit. Now with two career wins on these big ovals, and a career Top-10 rate near 40-percent, Ragan has to be viewed as a proven performer on these style tracks.
Top Fantasy NASCAR Player News