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Fantasy NASCAR: Polking's Picks for Watkins Glen

By Brian Polking

I've had plenty fantasy lineups destroyed by 12-car wrecks over the years, but I'm not sure I have ever had it happen at Pocono prior to last Sunday's race. The multi-car pileup on Lap 117 dramatically altered the course of my day as both Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart were taken out. I used both drivers as B-List options in the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing so the wreck completely ruined my weekend in that particular game. I also owned both drivers in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live, and Keselowski was my captain in FOX Fantasy Auto Racing.

On the plus side, I did manage to salvage a decent score in the FOX game. I placed four of my five picks in the top 15, including race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and third-place finisher Joey Logano. I also made Junior my Streak to the Finish pick. Still, it was a rough trip to Pocono overall.

A.J. Allmendinger

Looking ahead to this weekend's race at Watkins Glen, my strategy when setting my fantasy lineups will be to take advantage of the drivers that excel at road courses but tend to struggle with consistency at other types of tracks. For one, the road course experts among the series regulars like Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger often provide the best chance to secure a strong finish. These drivers are particularly useful in the Yahoo! and FOX games because of the limit on the number of times each driver can be used.

Yes, a driver like Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon can also provide a top-10 finish at Watkins Glen, but while Johnson and Gordon can also provide a top-10 at just about any track, the chances of Ambrose or Allmendinger producing a top-10 outside of the road course events are much slimmer. By going with drivers like Ambrose and Allmendinger, I am giving myself a solid chance to succeed this weekend, and equally as important, I am improving my chances of long-term success.

I will also be altering my strategy a bit in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live at Watkins Glen. The game's scoring system provides points based on a driver's finishing position, but it also provides 0.5 point every time a driver on your roster leads a lap or runs the fastest lap, and most weeks, securing as many of these bonus points as possible is crucial for producing a high point total. However, Sunday's race is scheduled for just 90 laps, putting it on the extreme low end as far as available bonus points are concerned. With that in mind, I'll be putting a little more emphasis on building a balanced roster rather than top loading my lineup with drivers that can pile up bonus points.

Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing

Kyle Busch (A): You always want your A-List driver to be able to contend for the win, but in this scoring system that relies mainly on where driver finishes, you also need reliability. Busch provides both. He is the defending winner of this weekend's race and a two-time winner at Watkins Glen in his career. Meanwhile, Busch has finished in the top 10 in his last eight starts at the road course, posting a 5.0 average finish during the stretch.

Marcos Ambrose (B): He is one of the best road racers in the series, and Ambrose has owned Watkins Glen. In six starts, he has finishes of third or better, winning in 2011 and 2012. The fact that he has a great chance of providing an excellent finish while saving a start from B-List stars like Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin means Ambrose is also good for my long-term success.

A.J. Allmendinger (B): Like Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger's value rises dramatically at the road courses. In five starts at Watkins Glen, he has yet to finish outside the top 15, and he has finished in the top 10 in his last three starts at the track. Allmendinger is a safe bet to challenge for a top-10, and since I have no plans of using him at another track this season, he doesn't impact my future roster versatility at all.

Boris Said (C): Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon are by far the best options among this group, but I only have eight starts between the two remaining with 15 races to go. In other words, I have to find a serviceable alternative seven more times. I'll take advantage of Said having a ride this weekend, and while his equipment won't be great, he has managed three straight top-25s at Watkins Glen in similar equipment. If he can crack the top 25 again Sunday, I'll be happy.

NASCAR.com Fantasy Live

Kyle Busch ($26.25): While there may not be a ton of bonus points available this weekend, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to earn as many as possible while building a reliable roster. With a 5.0 average finish in his last eight starts at The Glen, Busch has the reliable part covered. Busch also leads all drivers in laps led and ranks third in fastest laps run at the road course since he joined the Cup Series.

Tony Stewart ($22.75): Since NASCAR installed scoring loops in 2005, Stewart has owned Watkins Glen. He has the best average running position and best driver rating at the track, and more importantly for this scoring system, he ranks second in both laps led and fastest laps run. No driver has more wins at The Glen than Stewart's five so he is more than capable of delivering the type of dominant performance that leads to big point totals in this game.

Marcos Ambrose ($22.00): Despite running in just six of the last nine races at Watkins Glen, Ambrose ranks first in fastest laps run and third in laps led at the road course. In those six starts, he has logged five top-three finishes, including a pair of wins. Ambrose has easily been one of the three-best drivers at The Glen since he joined the Cup Series, making him a bargain at his current price.

A.J. Allmendinger ($17.00): Allmendinger is a gamble most weeks, but he has been a reliable option at The Glen throughout his career. He has three straight top-10s at the track and has never finished outside the top 15 in five total starts. Meanwhile, he led the most laps at Sonoma this year before being caught up in a wreck so he has the potential to tally some bonus points while delivering a strong finish.

Michael McDowell ($6.50): Even with my more balanced approach, I need a cheaper option to fit under the salary cap. McDowell has had several solid runs at road courses in the Nationwide Series, and earlier this year at Sonoma, he cracked the top 25 in the Cup Series race. If he can challenge for another top-25 this weekend, he will be a steal at his current price tag.

NASCAR.com Streak to the Finish

Marcos Ambrose: Using Ambrose this weekend makes sense for a couple of reasons. His 6.8 average finish at Watkins Glen is the second best in the series, and he has finished third or better in five of his six starts. Meanwhile, this weekend's race might be his only chance to notch a top-10 the rest of the year. If I am going to building a meaningful streak, I need to take advantage of any opportunity to extend it without using the traditional big name drivers.

FOX Fantasy Auto Racing

Kyle Busch (captain): The scoring system in this game puts the emphasis on final results, and with eight straight finishes of ninth or better at Watkins Glen, Busch is as steady as they come at the track. He also offers plenty of upside, which is why I made him team captain this weekend. Busch is the defending winner of this weekend's race, and he led the most laps in the 2012 race before oil on the track cost him the lead on the final lap.

Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose is captain material this weekend, but Kyle Busch has been equally dominant at Watkins Glen and is a more proven commodity overall. Still, Ambrose has notched five top-three finishes in six starts at the track, including a couple of wins, so he is an elite option whether he is my captain or not. Meanwhile, I have no plans on using him at any other track during this segment so there is no long-term downside with Ambrose.

A.J. Allmendinger: Watkins Glen has been his best track on the schedule, and in five starts, he has never finished worse than 13th. His consistency makes him the ideal fit for the scoring system used in this game, and he is a smart long-term pick, as well. I don't anticipate using Allmendinger at any other track, and he gives me a chance to score a top-10 while saving a start from a driver that tends to be more dependable on a week-to-week basis.

Clint Bowyer: He has developed into one of the stronger road racers in the series in recent years, and in his last three starts at Watkins Glen, Bowyer has compiled a 7.0 average finish. In fact, he has finished fourth and sixth in two starts at the track since joining Michael Waltrip Racing. Looking ahead, I may also consider Bowyer at Bristol and Richmond in the coming weeks, but with three starts still remaining for this segment, I have no problem using him this weekend.

Carl Edwards: Edwards is trying for a season sweep of the road course races after winning at Sonoma in June, and historically, Watkins Glen has been his best road course. His 8.8 average finish at the track is the fifth best in the series, and he has finished in the top 15 in his last eight starts, notching six top-10s over the same stretch. I have yet to use a start from Edwards during this segment, which makes the pick even easier.


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