Fantasy NASCAR driver analysis: Low-tier racers

by KFFL Staff on January 25, 2011 @ 13:27:00 PDT

 


Joe Nemechek | No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota | NEMCO Motorsports

Nemechek was essentially a full-time start and park driver in 2010. He compiled a 40.0 average finish last season, and his best effort came at Talladega in the fall when he finished 27th. Unless he is able to find some sponsorship before the start of the season, there is a good chance 2011 will be more of the same.

Nemechek actually finished the season 38th in points thanks in large part to his ability to qualify well. His 29.3 average starting position in 2010 wasn't great, but it was the best among the go-or-go homers that ran a majority of the races. Nemechek safely qualified for 31 of the 36 races last year, which means he provided points almost every single week.

Although fantasy owners don't have a lot of use for 40th-place finishes every week, the fact that Nemechek is on the track almost the entire season gives him some upside. If new sponsors enter the sport, he is a prime candidate to attract one. He is former winner at the Cup level, and he is going to put his car in the field. He is worth stashing just in case he finds some sponsorship dollars.

J.J. Yeley | No. 46 Chevrolet | Whitney Motorsports

After not making a start in the Cup Series in 2009, Yeley returned as a part-time driver for several teams in 2010. He finished the year with a gruesome 37.1 average finish, but he managed to make 17 starts. Although his 2011 plans remain unclear, getting his name back out there last season appears to have landed him a full-time ride with Whitney Motorsports

That being said, his value is completely dependent on the team he is driving for. He had 13 DNFs in his 17 starts a year ago because he was forced to start and park almost every week. His history shows that he is a top-30 driver when he gets to run an entire race, but even as a full-time driver, it is unclear if he will be running entire races all year.

Yeley had a ride with Joe Gibbs Racing early in his career, but he just didn't show much behind the wheel. He is going to show even less as a journeyman bouncing between underfunded teams. The fact that he once drove for one of the top organizations in NASCAR will keep him getting recycled by underfunded teams, but his production will be very limited. Yeley is a last-round pick, at best, but his plans to run the full season make him worth a bench spot in Draft and Play leagues.

Boris Said | Free-agent driver

He was supposed to be a full-time driver in 2010, but financial issues ended his relationship with Latitude 43 Motorsports early in the season. After running the first four races of the season, Said went back to doing what he does best - road racing. He finished the year with just six starts, and he enters 2011 without any full-time prospects.

Although Said's dreams of becoming a full-time racer aren't likely to pan out, he remains one of the top road course ringers in the series. Last season, he finished eighth at Infineon and was running in the top-10 at Watkins Glen before getting dumped by Tony Stewart. For his career, he has seven top-10s in 21 starts at road courses and has finished as high as third.

Said is arguably the top road course ringer in the series today. He always finds a ride for the two road course events, and more often than not, it is a quality ride with decent equipment. He only has fantasy value for those two races, but owners know that going in. Stash him away on your bench for the two road races.

Terry Labonte | No. 10 Chevrolet | Stavola Labonte Racing

The two-time Cup Series champion has been a non-factor on the track for the last several years, but his off-track ventures could revive his on-track career. Last year, Labonte teamed with Bill Stavola to form Stavola Labonte Racing. After making just a handful of starts in 2010, the organization would like to run 15 races in 2011.

Terry's younger brother Bobby drove for the team at Charlotte last fall, and he finished in the top 25. Terry is expected to do some of the driving this year, and if he can produce top-25 results, he will be worth owning in fantasy leagues. The exact number of races Labonte runs depends on sponsorship, but all indications are that his race team will attempt as many races as possible.

His value is somewhat up in the air, considering he hasn't been a full-time driver since 2004. His past champion's provisional should help ensure him a spot in the field most weekends. There is potential that he could run almost half the races and run for wins in those races, which makes Labonte worth drafting in the late rounds.

Mike Bliss | Free-agent driver

Bliss continued his journeyman ways in 2010, splitting time between multiple teams throughout the season. A majority of the starts came with either Tommy Baldwin racing or Prism Motorsports, and he finished the year with a total of 17 starts. Bliss finished the year with two top-10s and a 34.0 average finish.

On the surface, his dismal average finish makes Bliss seem like dead weight as far as fantasy owners are concerned. However, Bliss was forced to start and park in nine of his final 10 starts because of the financial state of Prism Motorsports. He was actually a serviceable fantasy option when he was allowed to attempt the entire race, finishing in the top 25 in five of his six starts. More importantly, he finished in the top 10 in two of his four starts at superspeedways.

He will likely bounce between teams again in 2011, but he can be a quality No. 4 driver whenever he is in a situation to run the entire race. Plus, he makes an excellent sleeper option in almost any format whenever the series heads to Daytona or Talladega. Bliss' value will ultimately depend on what team he is driving for, but he is definitely worth adding in the later rounds of a draft.

Andy Lally | Free-agent driver

The career road racer branched out in 2010, making six oval tracks starts. Lally had one race of experience under his belt at the Cup level prior to last season when he made seven starts in TRG Motorsports' No. 71 machine. Although his 2011 plans aren't set in stone, he will likely make a handful of starts as he did in 2010.

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Lally won't provide much help outside of the road course events. He finished 18th at Watkins Glen last season but finished no higher than 29th in his six oval track starts. He stayed out of trouble for the most part and finished better than he qualified in all seven starts in 2010. However, his 38.6 average starting position played a role in that. If he were to drive for a team that wasn't guaranteed a starting spot, there is a good chance he wouldn't make the race.

Unless Lally finds a more consistent ride before the start of the season, he really isn't worth drafting. He is worth a look if he gets to run either of the road course events and could provide top-20 finishes at both Watkins Glen and Infineon. Lally is still a long ways from being a useful option at oval tracks.

Tony Raines | Free-agent driver

Raines has been a part-time driver for most of his career, but his nine starts in 2010 were his fewest since the 2005 season. Most of those starts came with Front Row Motorsports, but with the organization downsizing from three to two cars in 2011, Raines will have to look elsewhere for a ride. He will likely make a few appearances throughout the season for various teams.

Even when he is in the field, Raines' value is questionable, at best. In 2010, he posted a 34.6 average finish in his nine starts. In his few full-time campaigns, he has been a 25th-place driver, but he has struggled to crack the top 30 on a consistent basis since becoming a journeyman. He probably doesn't deserve to be drafted, but Raines is a driver worth keeping an eye on from week to week in case he gets a decent ride.

Ron Fellows | Free-agent driver

Fellows is only going to run a maximum of two Cup races each year, but he can be valuable in those two starts. He is one of the best road racers in the business. In addition to his two Nationwide Series wins, Fellows has three top-five finishes and five top-10s at road courses in the Cup Series.

His value varies from year to depending on what organization he lands a ride with for the road races. He probably won't have a guaranteed spot in the field, which means owners need to make sure he qualifies before inserting him into their lineups. He is usually a lock to qualify on time, and he can provide decent results at Infineon and Watkins Glen.

Whether or not you want to draft Fellows depends on the rest of your fantasy roster. In many cases, you can probably grab him off waivers prior to either road course event. However, you may want to consider stashing him on your bench on draft day if your early-round picks include series regulars that struggle at road courses.

Elliott Sadler | Free-agent driver

Coming off one of the worst years of his career, Sadler made a bold career decision. With Richard Petty Motorsports downsizing from four to two cars in 2011, Sadler opted to take a ride in the Nationwide Series rather than drive for an underfunded team in the Cup Series. After being a staple of the Cup Series for the last 12 years, Sadler will drive for Kevin Harvick Incorporated this coming season, competing for wins and the title at the Nationwide level.

It is a win-win situation for both sides. Sadler gets to keep his name out there and may even end up winning a Nationwide titles. Meanwhile, Harvick gets an experienced driver that is popular with both fans and sponsors behind the wheel of the car he owns.

If things go as planned, Sadler probably won't see any seat time in the Cup Series. That being said, he is still worth a late-round draft pick because of his previous experience at the Cup level. If something happens to a driver for one of the top organizations, you can bet he will be one of the first drivers to get a phone call.

Michael McDowell | Free-agent driver

The life of a start-and-park driver is not an easy one. In 24 starts in 2010, McDowell recorded 23 DNFs. He finished the year with a 40.7 average finish, finishing no higher than 33rd. As terrible as those numbers were, McDowell was actually doing his job.

Splitting time between Prism Motorsports and Whitney Motorsports, McDowell's job was to qualify for races. He finished the year with a 31.6 average starting position and even made three starts from the top 20. By the end of the year, McDowell was one of the more reliable go-or-go homers during qualifying.

His ability to put cars in the field is going to keep McDowell behind the wheel in the Cup Series. Unfortunately, it is going to keep him behind the wheel of cars that start and park a majority of the time. He is worth a last-round pick come draft day, but unless a better ride comes along his contributions will be very limited.

Sam Hornish Jr. | Free-agent driver

It's tough to sugarcoat Hornish's numbers since he joined the Cup Series in 2007. He has just eight top-10 finishes compared to 16 DNFs in 108 starts, and his career average finish is a dismal 28.3. Despite being one of the most decorated IRL drivers in history, success behind the wheel of a stock car has eluded Hornish. His years of underperforming and lack of improvement appear to have finally caught up with him, and he enters the 2011 season without a ride in the Cup Series.

An offseason of sponsorship changes at Penske Championship Racing dealt the deathblow. Shell-Pennzoil decided to sponsor Kurt Busch, but part of the agreement was that Hornish's sponsor and Shell competitor Mobil 1 had to go. Roger Penske attempted to find a replacement, but with no potential prospects, the decision was made to shut down the No. 77 team.

Hornish won't be out of NASCAR all together in 2011, but he won't be making any starts in the Cup Series. He is currently slated for around 11 starts in the Nationwide Series for Penske Championship Racing. Even though his stock car career isn't dead, it is safe to say that his foray into NASCAR was a failure. If sponsorship happens to be found at some point this season, there is always a chance Hornish could return to the Cup Series. Fantasy owners shouldn't forget about him completely just yet, but his impact this season is going to be minimal.

Scott Speed | Free-agent driver

Many questioned Red Bull Racing when they decided to give Speed a ride in the Cup Series despite almost zero experience in any of NASCAR's national series. It appears the critics were right to question the decision because after two full years with the organization, Speed was released. His lack of production certainly played a role, and the arrival of Kasey Kahne sealed his walking papers.

To his credit, Speed improved the numbers he put up in his rookie season, including trimming his total of eight DNFs in 2009 to just two DNFs last season. The problem was that his best career season included just two top-10 finishes and a 25.1 average finish. With Brian Vickers returning and Kasey Kahne joining the organization in 2011, Speed was the odd man out of the equation.

Maybe with time Speed could have developed into a top-20 driver at the Cup level. Unfortunately in NASCAR, sponsors expect immediate results. Speed just didn't have the experience to do that. It remains unclear what series he will be driving in this year, and his fantasy value is extremely limited if not nonexistent.

Reed Sorenson | Free-agent driver

Sorenson's 2010 season was supposed to be mainly a Nationwide Series campaign, but after an illness sidelined Brian Vickers for the year, he saw time behind the wheel of the No. 83 for Red Bull Racing. In 13 starts with the team, he compiled a 23.0 average finish. Sorenson finished in the top 20 five times, including a season-best eighth-place finish in the July event at Daytona.

The numbers were typical of what Sorenson has produced in his other seasons at the Cup level. His had an occasional decent run, but for the most part, he struggled to finish in the top 20. Granted, he is only 24 years old, but he has shown no signs of being capable of producing much more than he already has.

Although normally worthy of being drafted in later rounds, it is unclear how many Cup starts Sorenson will make in 2011. At this point, it appears he will mainly be competing in the Nationwide Series, but the same could be said last season. For owners that decide to stash Sorenson on their bench, keep in mind that he likely won't provide much production in 2011.

Kevin Conway | Free-agent driver

The good news for Conway is that he took home 2010 Rookie of the Year honors in the Cup Series. The bad news is that he ran just 28 races, compiling a dismal 32.3 average finish. His future doesn't exactly look much brighter, and Conway enters the 2011 season in search of a full-time ride.

Amid a legal dispute about sponsorship payment, he parted ways with Front Row Motorsports in the middle of the 2010 season. He finished out the year as a part-time driver for Robby Gordon, driving both the No. 7 and No. 07. The highlight of his season came at Daytona in July when he finished a career-best 14th. He was essentially a field-filler the rest of the year, finishing outside the top 25 in his other 27 starts.

Even if he does land a ride before the season begins, it isn't going to be with a major organization. Any fantasy value he does have will come from the fact that he is in the field and nothing more. Owners shouldn't expect much of anything out of Conway this season.

Aric Almirola | Free-agent driver

Sponsorship issues for the No. 09 Phoenix Racing team altered Almirola's 2010 season in a dramatic way. He walked away from the Cup Series at the end of March, only to return during the Chase to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports. The season didn't exactly go as planned, but Almriola's long-term prospects are looking up after a tumultuous season.

His departure from Phoenix Racing opened the door for Almirola to make a run at a Truck Series title. He came up short, but his performance landed him a ride with JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series in 2011 driving the No. 88. The team has been one of the best in the series the last few years, and Almirola is in a great position to succeed. If he runs well enough at the Nationwide level, he could eventually land a ride with a legitimate Cup organization.

In the five races he filled in for Kasey Kahne at the end of 2010, Almirola showed some promise. He compiled an 18.6 average finish and capped the year with a fourth-place effort in the season finale. Those numbers are almost certainly good enough to put him on the short list of drivers to step in for one of the major organizations should a substitute be needed. Although he has no immediate value, Almirola's name is worth remembering in case he ends up in the Cup Series again in 2011.

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