NASCAR Draft Kit: 2016 Track Specialists

NASCAR Draft Kit: 2016 Track Specialists

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

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 2016 for fantasy racing success.

Here is our breakdown of track specialists to watch closely this 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. Joey Logano
Car:
22
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol142134
Martinsville140245
Richmond141256
Career42351214

Logano's stardom in the Sprint Cup Series continues to rise and as a result so does his short-track performance. He struggled on these small ovals earlier in his career, but no more. Now he sets the pace when we come to the
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 2016 for fantasy racing success.

Here is our breakdown of track specialists to watch closely this 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. Joey Logano
Car:
22
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol142134
Martinsville140245
Richmond141256
Career42351214

Logano's stardom in the Sprint Cup Series continues to rise and as a result so does his short-track performance. He struggled on these small ovals earlier in his career, but no more. Now he sets the pace when we come to the circuit's bull rings. Logano grabbed a Bristol win, four poles, four top-5 finishes and led more than 600 laps on these tracks in 2015. He effectively takes the baton from now-retired short track king Jeff Gordon as NASCAR moves forward without the Rainbow Warrior. The Penske Racing star was one of the top drivers to beat when we came to these facilities last season, and we only see that theme growing stronger as Gordon is no longer around to challenge him for best driver on these style tracks.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol32421320
Martinsville3200512
Richmond3221615
Career96632447

While Kenseth ended last season controversially with his intentional crash of Joey Logano and suspension after the last short track race of last year at Martinsville, he still maintained enviable numbers at these small ovals. The Joe Gibbs Racing star claimed two victories (Bristol & Richmond), four Top 10s and over 400 laps led at these rough-racing tracks. Those results built on already stellar career numbers at these three shortest tracks of the Sprint Cup Series. Kenseth will shake off the controversy that clouded the end of 2015 and he should pick up right where he left off in March and April at Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota will be a heavyweight once again at these unique facilities.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol201359
Martinsville20531116
Richmond1922710
Career59882335

One of the most underrated drivers in the series on short tracks checks in at number three on our list of drivers for 2016. Hamlin had what was by his standards a pedestrian season on the short tracks last year. He chimed in with one victory (Martinsville), one pole and four top-10 finishes. The JGR star is capable of much better stats on these ovals as his historical figures above suggest. Hamlin had a couple of "whiffs" at Bristol and Richmond last season which hurt his overall performance, but we consider these mere blips on the radar screen. Expect Hamlin to turn in a strong campaign in the upcoming season at these ovals. As always, he's a major threat to win each time the series visits the short track in Martinsville, Virginia.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol3210715
Martinsville32101318
Richmond33311014
Career97513047

Earnhardt didn't pick up any wins on the short tracks last season, but he still maintained that high level of performance we've come to expect from him on the bull rings. He posted two top-5 and three top-10 finishes in the six events raced at these style tracks. That places Earnhardt among the upper drivers in the series at the circuit's small ovals. Given what he's accomplished in the past, we expect him to up the ante in 2016. A visit to victory lane should be in store and more Top 5s should follow as well. Qualifying well seemed to be the shortfall last season, and we expect Earnhardt and crew chief Greg Ives to work on that in the upcoming season. Better qualifying almost always leads to better finishes on the short tracks.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol28111016
Martinsville28831822
Richmond2832611
Career761263449

Earlier in his career Johnson used to be nearer the top of this ranking. However, as the world turns so does NASCAR. Younger drivers have come in and pushed the Hendrick Motorsports star down this list, but that doesn't diminish the excellence he projects each time we visit Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. Last year was a bit of a down season for the No. 48 team on the small ovals, but Johnson still executed his strength to the tune of three top-5 and four top-10 finishes in these six events. Over the span he led no laps, and that was what was out of character for Johnson. We expect that to change in 2016. We're used to seeing Johnson be an irresistible force at Martinsville Speedway, and we should see that return in the upcoming season.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Bristol2151813
Martinsville2101910
Richmond21411415
Career63933138

The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion's body of work on short tracks was small last year due to his Daytona injuries and shortened schedule, but the results were strong for only three starts. Busch claimed a pair of top-5 and three top-10 finishes in those starts. He debuted last season in the summer Bristol race and returned with a boom, leading 192 laps that night and challenging for the win. Now that the driver of the No. 18 Toyota is carrying that major title in NASCAR, we expect the short track driver of old to reemerge in 2016. Busch hasn't won at one of these ovals since 2012 in Richmond, and that is a fact that is about to change in the upcoming season. These tracks are his best from an average finish standpoint, and second-best from a laps led and victories standpoint.

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. Joey Logano
Car:
22
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma70113
Watkins Glen71024
Career141137

The last two seasons Logano has elevated his game on road courses as well as the short tracks. He's gone from an average performer to leading the pack in many respects. In the last four Sonoma and Watkins Glen events, the Penske Racing star has claimed one victory, two top-5 and three top-10 finishes. If you've watched a road course race in the last two seasons, you've seen a lot of the yellow No. 22 Ford up front in those events. As Logano continues to mature and march towards his first championship, we expect to see him improve on the twisting road circuits. We hope there's plenty of room in Logano's trophy case, as we expect him to add more road course hardware to the lone trophy that currently resides there.

2. Kurt Busch
Car:
41
Owner: Stewart Haas Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma151177
Watkins Glen150137
Career28121014

The last two seasons Busch has revived his Sprint Cup Series career at Stewart Haas Racing. However, one thing has remained the same over his lengthy NASCAR career, and that's his excellence on road courses. He may only have one victory to show for, but his incredible consistency on these challenging circuits is nearly unmatched in NASCAR's top division. There hasn't been a more consistent driver on these tracks the last several seasons, other than the now-retired Jeff Gordon. Busch has claimed three top-5 finishes and led 43 combined laps over the last four road course events. This is not by accident. The veteran has a career mark sitting square on 50-percent for a top-10 rate at these tracks, and that is a very high mark.

3. Carl Edwards
Car:
19
Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma111035
Watkins Glen110158
Career2211813

What Edwards lacks in the way of trophies on road courses, he more than makes up for with incredible consistency and top-10 performances. Although his victory came at the Sonoma circuit in California, it's clearly the New York road course of Watkins Glen that he likes the best. Edwards has fifth- and eighth-place finishes in his last two starts at the Glen. That's pretty much been the tone of his career on that track. With a near 73-percent top-10 rate at that facility, it's not often we see the driver of the No. 19 Toyota finishing outside the Top 10 there. Now that Edwards is entering his second season at Joe Gibbs Racing, we expect to see a long overdue win at the Glen very soon and more excellence on the road circuit.

4. A.J. Allmendinger
Car:
47
Owner: JTG Daugherty Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma70102
Watkins Glen71124
Career141226

The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran had some tough luck on the road courses last season, but his speed was undeniable. Allmendinger claimed both pole positions at Sonoma and the Glen, but his bad luck resulted in poor finishes. Don't write him off for that reason. Allmendinger won at Watkins Glen in 2014 in a strong performance. His 86 laps led in the last four road course events leads all Sprint Cup Series drivers. There's no denying the talent here and the fact that JTG Daugherty Racing is giving him fast race cars. We look for more of the same in 2016, and his luck should be much better than last season.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma141049
Watkins Glen140148
Career2811817

The six-time champion hasn't won on a road course in a long time. In fact, it was at Sonoma Raceway in 2010. However, Johnson is showing signs that he is working his way back towards victory lane at these facilities. He led 45 laps and dominated a large part of this past season's Sonoma race before finishing eighth. That was Johnson's third top-10 finish in the last four road course starts. That rate paces his career marks at these facilities with a 29-percent top-5 rate and stellar 60-percent top-10 rate at the Glen and Sonoma. Chad Knaus will return again in 2016 and guide Johnson in their 29th and 30th-career starts on the twisting tracks. Johnson is always lurking around the Top 5 at these challenging circuits.

6. Clint Bowyer
Car:
51
Owner: HScott Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Sonoma101068
Watkins Glen100014
Career2010712

While the change in teams will be something to monitor, it doesn't do too much to diminish what is clearly excellent road racing skills for Bowyer. The 2012 Sonoma winner has amassed these road course totals between two different teams, so what's the problem with a third? Very little would be the answer to that question. Tracks such as these tend to be an "equalizer" for the smaller teams to compete on the same level as the larger ones. Bowyer should take full advantage of that. He carries a five-race Sonoma top-10 streak into this season's event, and Bowyer has three Top 10s in his last four starts at the Glen. The veteran driver has improved dramatically at the New York Road course in the last few seasons.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona32411319
Talladega32601216
Career641012535

After taking a mid-career break from dominance, Earnhardt has done a lot to restore his lore and prowess on the super speedways over the last two seasons. He's won three of the last eight events on these ovals, including the 2014 Daytona 500. Last year he led well over 250 laps in the four races, and came away with two victories and four top-3 finishes. While this style of racing lends itself to a lot of luck, Earnhardt seems to have the speed to rise above that factor. When you're racing at the front of the pack for much of these races, the danger of being caught up in the "big one" diminishes greatly. That's the reason for the Hendrick Motorsports star's stellar numbers at these facilities. He's the king of the mountain in terms of restrictor-plate racing entering the 2016 season.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona200056
Talladega201047
Career4010913

While Hamlin lacks the trophies that Earnhardt boasts on the huge ovals, the Joe Gibbs Racing star has been second only to Earnhardt in terms of performance and consistency at Daytona and Talladega over the past two years. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota did manage to pick up his first plate-track win in 2014 at Talladega. In addition to that Hamlin has six top-10 finishes in the last eight super speedway events. That tops all drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, including Earnhardt. The veteran driver may not be the top contender to reach victory lane when we visit these two ovals, but he will lead laps and race up front for good finishes. Given the volatile nature of super speedway racing, that's as good as gold in terms of fantasy racing.

3. Kevin Harvick
Car:
4
Owner: Stewart Haas Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona2921813
Talladega3011613
Career59321426

Harvick has a tremendous history of racing at Daytona and Talladega. He's the 2007 Daytona 500 winner and he's claimed a couple more victories on these ovals in addition to that. While he doesn't have the speed on these super speedways that he does other ovals, he's good enough to command a lot of respect. Harvick has a pretty good two-season run going at these facilities. He grabbed a pair of top-5 and three top-10 finishes in 2015, and a pair of Top 10s the season before. The Stewart Haas Racing star doesn't lead a lot of laps at Talladega and Daytona, rather, he usually waits for his moment to charge to the front over the closing laps. It's a dicey strategy, but it usually works out pretty well for Harvick. It speaks volumes of his understanding of the draft and the proper timing to switch lanes.

4. Joey Logano
Car:
22
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona141034
Talladega141035
Career282069

Logano started out his career with tough luck on these big ovals, but he's been quickly reversing those trends the last year. The Penske Racing star won last season's Daytona 500 in a surprising and strong performance. Logano later shown again it was no fluke when he went to Talladega in the fall and grabbed a solid victory at the Alabama oval during the Chase for the Cup. The driver of the No. 22 Ford still lacks some polish to his super speedway racing skills and, coincidentally, some consistency. However, that will improve with time and experience. One thing is for certain, Penske is putting the hot rods under Logano to win at these big race tracks, so at worst he's a homerun or strikeout proposition.

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

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona28321114
Talladega2821711
Career56531825

After winning several races earlier in his career on the plate-tracks, Johnson is trying to claw his way back up these super speedway rankings after a lull in performance. He very nearly pushed to the top with several near-misses at wins in 2015. Johnson led 158 laps on these circuits last season, and claimed a pair of runner-up finishes at Talladega and Daytona during the summer. The Hendrick Motorsports star led 39 laps and registered a strong fifth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. All-in-all it was a very strong, rebound season of racing on the restrictor-plate tracks. 2016 should hold some similar success for Johnson as he and crew chief Chad Knaus have a knack for repeating recent success at similar tracks.

6. Clint Bowyer
Car:
51
Owner: HScott Motorsports
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

RACESWINSPOLESTOP 5TOP 10
Daytona2000310
Talladega2020611
Career4020921

Bowyer is a bit of a wildcard due to the team change, but we believe HScott Motorsports will give him fast enough cars to continue building on his strong career numbers at these super speedways. The veteran driver rides a string of six top-10 finishes in the last seven Daytona and Talladega events into 2016. Those all came with the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, but when we look back to Bowyer's days at Richard Childress Racing we see great results there as well. He won both his Talladega victories at RCR, and displayed the same consistency he showed the last several seasons at MWR. If you're looking for a sleeper and overlooked driver at Daytona and Talladega, Bowyer makes an appealing and obvious choice.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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