10) Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Incorporated
PROS: Truex did a nice job last season in the No. 1 car. He won one race, finished in the top five seven times and in the top 10 14 times. Those performances helped him to finish 11th in the Cup standings and qualify for the Chase in just his second full-time season. Truex had some success in the Car of Tomorrow, finishing 15th or better in nine of the 16 COT races.
CONS: Like the other DEI cars, the No. 1 car was the victim of engine troubles throughout the season. Treux had three DNFs due to engine problems and failed to finish another race because he was involved in an accident. Another negative was that he finished a race 30th or worse six times. Also, Truex has struggled on short tracks posting an average finish of 26.2 over the last two years.
FANTASY TIP: Truex is considered one of the better young drivers in the sport and would be a terrific No. 2 driver on a fantasy team. His risk is considerably lower heading into this season, after DEI and Richard Childress Racing combined engine shops during the offseason.
11) Clint Bowyer | No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
PROS: Bowyer was very successful in only his second full season in the Sprint Cup Series, managing to make the Chase behind five top-five finishes and 17 top-10 finishes. He started off strong in the Chase, posting his only win in the first race and finishing third overall in the standings. Bowyer won one race in the Car of Tomorrow and finished in the top 10 in eight of the 16 COT races.
CONS: Bowyer did do fine in many of the races in 2007, but there were a few times he struggled during a race, finishing 29th or worse in five races last season. He has had some struggles in his career on superspeedways. He has only finished in the top 10 three times in eight career races and has an average finish of 20.3.
FANTASY TIP: After a terrific rookie season, Bowyer took it to the next level and showed he is becoming one of the better drivers in the Sprint Cup. He should be considered an outstanding No. 2 driver of a fantasy team, and is a low risk, because he was one of only two drivers in 2007 to not register a DNF.
12) Greg Biffle | No. 16 Dish Network Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
PROS: Biffle finished 14th in the final point standings last year. He had one win, five top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes and earned around $4.3 million in 2007. He is one of 15 drivers to win a race in all three of NASCAR's premier divisions (Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series, Craftsman Truck Series) and has won titles in the Nationwide and Craftsman Series. Biffle finished second in the final point standings in 2005. Last season he had an average finish of 7.5 in the two road course races, seemingly making that track type his favorite.
CONS: Biffle failed to make the Chase for the Cup last season. If he wants to be a front-runner in 2008, then he must avoid mistakes like his five DNFs. He had his lowest total of top-five and top-10 finishes since 2004. He had only one win last season compared to 10 in the last three seasons combined, including six in 2005. Biffle seems to struggle on intermediate tracks and superspeedways, where he on average finished worse than he started.
FANTASY TIP: Biffle is an experienced driver and has a strong team, which makes him a midlevel No. 2 driver on your fantasy roster. However, he has little upside given his fall-off in the past two seasons. There also seems to be little risk involved, other than any possible concerns with Ford's lack of a new engine.
13) Jeff Burton | No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
PROS: Burton made his second straight Chase for the Cup last year because of some great finishes during the season. He won one race, finished in the top five nine times and had 18 top-10 finishes. In 2007, Burton found success on intermediate tracks. Out of the 24 he participated in, he finished in the top 10 14 times. Burton's average finish was 13.8, which was his best in seven years.
CONS: Like other drivers last season, Burton had troubles with his engine. He had three DNFs, two of which were because of engine problems. The driver of the No. 31 car saw some of his stats regress compared to the 2006 season. His average starting position fell by six and his number of DNFs increased, while his top-10 finishes as well as pole wins decreased. Burton also came in 30th or worse in six races, including two in the last 10.
FANTASY TIP: Burton has been a consistent performer for fantasy owners in the last few seasons and is considered a good No. 2 driver. His engine issues could be lessened with the merger of RCR and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
14) Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
PROS: Harvick's 2007 season started off with a bang by winning the Daytona 500, which ended up being his only win of the season. He ended with four top-fives and 15 top-10 finishes. Harvick did a fine job on super speedways, finishing 10th or better in three of these races. Another big positive is that he, along with Clint Bowyer, were the only two drivers to finish a full season without a DNF.
CONS: Harvick did hit some rough patches during the 2007 season. He finished 30th or worse in four of the races. The 32-year-old saw almost all of his statistics decrease from last season. His win total, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes went down, as well as his average starting and finishing positions. Harvick was also fined $25,000 and placed on probation for an altercation with Jamie McMurray. The altercation involved the two cars during a caution period.
FANTASY TIP: Harvick is a decent No. 2 driver option for fantasy owners, because he is a low-risk pick since he does not get into many accidents. He has only had two DNFs in the past three years and has a history for finishing seasons in the top 10.
15) Ryan Newman | No. 12 Alltel Dodge | Penske Racing
PROS: Even though Newman came up one spot short of making the Chase, he did have a very respectable season. He finished in the top-five seven times in 2007 and finished in the top-10 15 times. Newman found some success on the short tracks and superspeedways. He finished in the top-10 in three of the six short track races and in two of the superspeedway races. Newman also won five poles during the season.
CONS: Newman had tremendous troubles keeping his car on the track in 2007. He did not finish nine races, which tied him for the most last season with three other drivers. Five of the DNFs were because of engine troubles and the other four were due to accidents. These DNFs were a main reason Newman finished 30th or worse in 10 races. Penske Racing has not changed engines for their car, so he will be using a similar engine. Newman will also be working with a new crew chief (Roy McCauley), so those two may need some time to gel.
FANTASY TIP: Newman finished on the outside looking in last season; coming up just short of making the Chase with his 13th point finish in the points. Penske will be adding another driver to the family, which should increase the amount of information sharing within the teams. Newman should be considered a solid mid-level No. 2 driver option for fantasy owners.
16) Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Dodge Dealers Powertrain Warranty Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports
PROS: Kahne finished the season 19th in the final point standings. He had one top-five and eight top-10 finishes. His best finish was at the Sharpie 500, where he finished second after starting the race in the pole position. That was one of two poles he won on the season. Kahne qualified for the Chase for the Cup in 2006. He seemed to excel on superspeedways last year, with an average start of 23.5 and an average finish of 11.0.
CONS: In 2007, Kahne failed to win a race for only the second time in his career since joining the Cup Series full time in 2004. He had six DNFs for the second year in a row, and he had seven (2004) and nine (2005) before that. Kahne and his team were docked 50 points in 2007 for an incident at Daytona International Speedway. In addition, his average finishes for intermediate tracks, short tracks and road courses were all significantly lower than his average starts.
FANTASY TIP: Kahne has proven to be a legitimate contender to win the Cup in past years, but it's not as certain heading into this one because of last year's performance. Reaching double digits in top-five or top-10 finishes, which are great for fantasy points in many formats, would be nice. It's hard to imagine Kahne being as bad as he was last year, but he shouldn't be considered anything more than a low-level No. 2 driver on your fantasy roster.
17) Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
PROS: McMurray finished the 2007 season 17th in the final point standings. He had one win, three top fives and nine top 10s. He is one of a handful of drivers to win a race in all three of NASCAR's top series. McMurray finished in the top 12 in the final point standings in 2004 and 2005.
CONS: McMurray has been racing full time in the Cup Series since 2003 but has only two wins to his credit. He had five DNFS in 2007 and failed to have a top-five finish on road and short track courses. His only pole of the season came on a road course, where he finished 34th. As is well documented, Ford is the only manufacturer without a new engine.
FANTASY TIP: McMurray has shown that he can compete with NASCAR's top talent but has failed to improve on his 2004 and 2005 seasons. He seems to be trending downward and presents little upside. McMurray should be considered a low-level No. 2 driver on your fantasy roster.
18) Mark Martin | No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Incorporated
PROS: The 2007 season was Martin's 25th in the Cup Series. He started 24 races and finished 19th in the final point standings despite failing to win a race. He had five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. His best finish of 2007 came in the Daytona 500, where he finished second. Martin's knowledge and experience make him a threat to win behind the wheel of any racecar. He finished races in the same position or better in 14 of the 24 races he started in. DEI seems to be a stronger team with its 2007 merger with Ginn Racing.
CONS: Martin has failed to win a race in the previous two seasons and has only two wins in the past five years. He had two DNFs in 2007 and has averaged at least two DNFs per season since 1999. He has also failed to start a race in the pole position since 2001. He hasn't fared as well on short tracks (19.0 average finish in two races in 2007). He didn't run on a road course last season despite having a career average finish of 8.4 on them.
FANTASY TIP: Despite his inconsistencies the past few seasons, Martin is still an experienced driver and he knows how to compete. It can make for a competitive advantage to know which races Martin will run - once again, he won't run at Infineon Raceway or Watkins Glen International, the short tracks. Martin should be considered as a low-level No. 2 driver on your fantasy roster; he is a bit undervalued because fantasy players don't always recognize his worth in the races he does participate in.
19) Casey Mears | No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
PROS: In 2007, his first season with the elite Hendrick Motorsports, Mears flashed signs of taking his career to the next level. He earned his first career win at the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 in May, having five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. Mears moves teams at Hendrick to replace Kyle Busch in the No. 5 joining an operation that has posted wins and qualified for the Chase each of the past two seasons.
CONS: Despite running up front more frequently, Mears actually dropped a spot in Cup points in 2007. This was largely due to eight finishes of 30th or worse. Apparently there was an adjustment period with his new team. A similar adjustment period may be in order in 2008 as Mears gets used to his new team and new crew chief Alan Gustafson.
FANTASY TIP: Six of Mears' 30-plus finishes came in the seasons first 11 races. In his final 25 races, Mears average finish was 14.2. This is Chase caliber. If you can somehow get Mears as your No. 3 fantasy driver, even if it is through a trade, he could return serious value as a he figures to be a legitimate Chase contender.
20) Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Texaco/Havoline | Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
PROS: Montoya is coming off a successful rookie season in which he won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award. He picked up his first NASCAR win in his 17th Nextel Cup start at Infineon Raceway and won his first Busch Series race on foreign soil. When it comes to road courses, fantasy owners will be hard-pressed to find a better driver.
CONS: There are a couple of things that he needs to work on entering his sophomore season. For one, he needs to know where the media is at all times. He was fined $10,000 for making an obscene gesture that was caught on live television; he was placed on probation for the rest of the season. Secondly, he needs to make friends on the track, not enemies, after getting involved in incidents with fellow drivers Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Montoya needs to improve on non-road courses; on each type, his average finish was worse than his average start.
FANTASY TIP: Overall, Montoya is an up-and-comer who has the ability to excel at racing's highest level. However, he comes with some risk, so he should be considered no better than a No. 3 driver on your roster.
21) Bobby Labonte | No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge | Petty Enterprises
PROS: A big key to Labonte's three position improvement in Cup points - 21st in 2006 to 18th in 2007 - was reducing his DNFs from eight in 2006 to three last season. Labonte finished with no top fives and three top 10s, while posting his second-worst average finish position (22.2) of his career. He gets a new crew chief for the No. 43, Jeff Meendering, who has a good pedigree as the former car chief for the No. 24.
CONS: Last seasons points finish hid a significant drop off from 2006, where Labonte had three top fives and eight top 10s. Petty Enterprises is clearly trying to take positive steps by cherry-picking talented individuals and modernizing their facilities, but the anticipated, improved performance may not come in 2008.
FANTASY TIP: Labonte will be a No. 3 driver for somebody, but don't let it be you. Last year's points improvement was an aberration as the underlying results indicate a slip. Labonte is primed to post a big drop in the standings. With all the newer drivers out there carrying significant upside, this is not downside you want to absorb.
22) Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Best Buy/Stanley Tools/McDonald's Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports
PROS: Sadler's 12.6 average finishes over the last 10 road course races is second only to Tony Stewart among drivers that competed in all 10 races. At restrictor plate tracks, his average finish of 18.8 is 9th best over the same period.
CONS: Sadler finished a paltry 25th in points in 2007. He has seen his numbers decrease in virtually category since qualifying for the Chase in 2004. He moved from Robert Yates Racing to Evernham in hopes of finding renewed success, but that hasn't materialized. In general, Evernham has struggled recently, with the No. 9 and No. 10 cars also failing to meet expectations. Rodney Childers gets his shot at fixing things under the title of team director, following a revolving door of crew chiefs.
FANTASY TIP: Sadler's perceived value is elevated by his popularity which, in turn, is driven by his gregarious personality and ability to show up at NASCAR's signature races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The reality is he is not that good. He has not finished in the top five, let alone competed for a win, since leaving Yates in the middle of 2006. This is not what owners should be looking for in a third-tier driver.
23) David Ragan | No. 6 AAA Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
PROS: David Ragan had a solid rookie campaign in 2007 finishing 23rd in the points and second in the rookie of the year standings. He ended the year with two top-fives and three top-10 finishes. Overall, Ragan had an average finish of 24.5, nearly five spots better than his average start. Most of his relative success was at superspeedways and short tracks.
CONS: More was expected of Ragan when he replaced Roush legend Mark Martin in the No. 6. Ragan started the 2007 season with a fifth place finish at Daytona International Speedway and didn't show much after that - only eight times he finished in the top 15. More disappointing was that there were no obvious signs of improvement as the season wore on. His average finish in the season's final 18 races was one spot worse than the first 18. Additionally, Ragan's 29.1 average starting position was the worst among drivers competing in all 36 races.
FANTASY TIP: Ragan's ranking as a third-tier fantasy driver should scare away fantasy owners who value performance over potential. One has to believe Roush sees something in him to stick him in a premier ride, but we have to agree that caution is advisable until Ragan shows visible signs of improvement.
24) Reed Sorenson | No. 41 Target Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
PROS: Sorenson achieved his first pole position and best ever finish in 2007. He is entering his third season with a stable crew. Sorenson's best results have come on fast 1.5-mile speedways like Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway. He came close to his first win in Atlanta last season, a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre year.
CONS: Sorenson cannot expect to have a successful season in 2008 if he repeats last year's seven DNFs. Ganassi will likely be focusing on teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and newcomer Dario Franchitti, and Dodge has struggled in preseason testing. Sorenson will need to improve on the shorter tracks, like Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, where he usually starts better than where he finishes.
FANTASY TIP: Sorenson has a lot of talent and can succeed with good equipment and support. He is a risk but could be poised to have a breakout season by his standards. He should be considered an average No. 3 driver to have on your roster.
25) Robby Gordon | No. 7 Jim Beam Ford | Robby Gordon Motorsports
PROS: Gordon's switch to Ford in 2007 drastically improved the troubles he often faced with blown Chevrolet engines. Gordon is a consistent front-runner at road courses and ovals like New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway. He finished 26th in the standings last season with one top five and two top 10s.
CONS: Gordon is a lightning rod for crashes and controversy. He crashed 16 times in 2007, second most in the series. A revolving door of crew chiefs has not produced someone to stick with. He must also avoid trouble with officials. His actions in the Nationwide (formerly Busch) Series race in Montreal resulted in a suspension from the Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.
FANTASY TIP: If Gordon Motorsports can produce a good car in 2008 it is very likely that Gordon could work his way into the top 20. Past engine troubles seem to be behind the team and adequate funding is in place. If you are toward last in line to pick, consider Gordon as a third driver. He comes with a great deal of risk in terms of performance and personality, but that risk also comes with great upside potential.
26) Dave Blaney | No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota | Bill Davis Racing
PROS: Toyota's strength in preseason testing could be a good sign for one of the best performing Toyota drivers of 2007. Blaney had one top five and four top 10s last year, and he even earned Toyota its first pole, at New Hampshire. He started coming on strong toward the end of 2007 with four top-15 finishes in the last eight races. Tommy Baldwin called the shots during Blaney's best performances, and he returns in 2008 as crew chief.
CONS: The low points of 2007 for Blaney were the underperforming Toyota engine and eight DNFs. Not qualifying for three races blunted Blaney's success. Rumors surrounding the ownership of BDR and the knowledge that the team needs a financial shakeup to survive are not infusing confidence in the crew.
FANTASY TIP: Blaney had a strong finish to the 2007 season and was the top Toyota driver. If BDR remains solvent, or is sold to an owner who will give the team the financial spark it needs, Blaney could be a very useful No. 3 driver. Look to him on flat tracks like New Hampshire or Homestead-Miami Speedway.
27) Jeremy Mayfield | No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet | Haas CNC Racing
PROS: Veteran driver Mayfield begins this season with a financially secure team, a sponsor and a guaranteed starting spot in the first five races of the season. HAAS utilizes Hendrick Motorsports engines. The HAAS Car of Tomorrow program was strong in 2007, giving driver Jeff Green all three of his top-10 finishes in COT races.
CONS: The past few years have been a struggle for Mayfield, with a less than amicable split from Evernham Motorsports and troubles in 2007 with Bill Davis Racing. HAAS is not a perennial championship contender like such teams as Hendrick or Roush Fenway Racing. If Mayfield has a track type that doesn't seem to suit him, it is the intermediate tracks of Charlotte (Lowe's Motor Speedway), Texas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he usually finishes lower than he qualifies.
FANTASY TIP: Mayfield and HAAS are poised to get results in 2008. The engine is strong and the COT program was already ahead of the curve in 2007. While you shouldn't count on him as a top-tier driver to have on your team, Mayfield would make a good third driver, especially on flatter ovals like Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
C.J. Radune, Fraser Lovat, Jeffrey Price, Richard Garcia, Tim Piotrowski contributed to this report.
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