Is there are a better feeling for fantasy owner than taking a flier on a sleeper pick that ends up paying off? Not only do you look brilliant because of such a savvy pick, but your odds of winning your fantasy league are drastically improved. Of course, landing a sleeper in fantasy NASCAR leagues is a little easier said than done because of the limited number of quality rides available. Still, there always seems to be a few drivers that come out of nowhere to suddenly outperform their typical numbers or finally out it all together and have a breakout season. With the 2014 Cup Series season fast approaching, here is a closer look at a few drivers that could be this year's surprise fantasy stars.
He will be part of a loaded rookie class, and while fellow newcomers Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are hogging up the spotlight, Allgaier could be the hidden gem of the 2014 rookie class. He will drive the No. 51 entry for Phoenix Racing full time, and while his 30.3 average finish in four starts with the team at the end of last year isn't exactly impressive, a lot has happened with the organization in the offseason.
New owner Harry Scott Jr. has brought new sponsorship on board, and perhaps more importantly, he signed Steve Addington to be Allgaier's crew chief and the competition director for the organization. Addington has worked with and won with some of the biggest organizations and biggest names in NASCAR, and his knowledge and experience are going to pay dividends for the smaller operation. Not to mention the fact that everything Scott has done this offseason suggests that he fully attends to make Phoenix Racing more competitive in 2014.
Needless to say, Allgaier stands to be the beneficiary of the changes, and fantasy owners that are willing to take a chance on Allgaier could be rewarded, as well. Now, I'm not saying that Allgaier is going to outperform Dillon or Larson. Even a restructured Phoenix Racing isn't going to have resources on par with Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. However, the price tag on Allgaier is going to be much cheaper, and his resume isn't bad. He is a three-time winner in the Nationwide Series, and he finished sixth or better in the final standings in each of the past five seasons. His upside is limited, and I don't expect any top-10s, but don't be surprised of Allgaier finishes around the top 20 with regularity this season.
After winning back-to-back Nationwide Series titles, Stenhouse made the jump to the Cup Series in 2013. Despite the impressive credentials, his rookie season was rather quiet. Granted, he earned Rookie of the Year honors, besting his girlfriend Danica Patrick for the award, but he finished the year with just three top-10s to go along with an 18.9 average finish. The quiet rookie season has Stenhouse flying under the radar heading into 2014, but fantasy owners need to think twice before overlooking him in their leagues this year.
No, Stenhouse didn't set the world on fire as a rookie, but he wasn't lost on the track, either. In fact, his 10,416 laps run were the second most of any driver, which means he was logging plenty of valuable seat time and wasn't tearing up equipment. More importantly, he improved as the year went on, logging 11 top-20s in the final 15 races and collecting all three of his top-10s during the stretch. Plus, it's not like Roush Fenway Racing was dominating on the track as a whole, and the organization was clearly behind some of the other powerhouse teams.
The good news for Stenhouse is that the balance of power among NASCAR's top teams is consistently changing, and Roush Fenway Racing is likely to catch up to the pack sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the experience that was already paying dividends at the end of last year should only help him more in 2014. Stenhouse probably isn't ready to compete for a Chase spot just yet, but he should make jump from a top-20 driver to a top-15 driver while sprinkling in a few for top-10s along the way.
You have to feel a little bad for Truex. He was coming into his own with Michael Waltrip Racing, and heading into last year's regular-season finale, he was fighting to make the Chase for the second year in a row. Enter Clint Bowyer's itchy arm at Richmond, and the scandal that followed saw Truex's sponsor leave MWR, essentially leaving him without a ride for 2014. On the plus side, Truex did manage to secure a full-time ride with Furniture Row Racing for the upcoming year. While moving to a single-car team isn't ideal, I don't think Truex's days as a valuable fantasy contributor are over.
For one, Kurt Busch made the Chase last year while driving for Furniture Row Racing last year and had the second most top-5s of his career, so it's not like the equipment is terrible. Meanwhile, he is coming off the two best seasons of his career, posting career highs in top-5s, top-10s and average finish. Granted, the continuity and equipment at MWR likely had something to do with the success, but Truex also became an overall more consistent driver.
Furniture Row Racing is the top single-car team in the series, and Truex will still have a chance to compete with the big boys. He probably won't be winning races in 2014, but he is still capable of providing some top-10s and plenty of top-15s. Don't forget about Truex just because of his move to Furniture Row Racing.
In 2010, McMurray won three races, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, and nearly made the Chase. He promptly fell off the map following his breakout year, managing just two top-5s and seven top-10s combined in 2011 and 2012. Quietly, McMurray began to right the ship last year, logging nine top-10s and finishing 15th in points. It was by no means his best season, but there were several positive signs that indicate another breakout year could be on tap for 2014.
While McMurray wasn't dominant by any stretch, he was extremely consistent in 2013. His 16.5 average finish was actually the third best of his career, and he was running at the finish of every race for the first time in his career. In addition, McMurray actually led all drivers with 10,474 laps completed and 4,068 passes under green. He finished the year with 26 top-20 finishes, and he only finished outside the top 20 three times in the second half of the year while recording three of his four top-5 finishes.
Even if McMurray just repeats his numbers from last season, he will be a useful fantasy option from a consistency standpoint alone. Meanwhile, the fact that he improved as the year went on could point to bigger and better things in 2014. It isn't out of the question that McMurray averages a top-15 finish this year while logging double-digit top-10s.