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Fantasy NASCAR driver analysis: Group A

Fantasy NASCAR driver analysis: Group A

Start your fantasy NASCAR engines, racing fans! It is time to take to the race track this year in fantasy NASCAR Sprint Cup action!'s free fantasy auto racing coverage brings you driver-by-driver fantasy analysis to help you when selecting your fantasy NASCAR team this year.

Quick Jump: Fantasy NASCAR Sprint Cup Driver Profiles

1 Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports
2 Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing
3 Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports
4 Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing
5 Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
6 Mark Martin, Hendrick Motorsports
7 Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing
8 Kurt Busch, Penske Championship Racing
9 Kasey Kahne, Richard Petty Motorsports
10 Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
11 Brian Vickers, Red Bull Racing

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports
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1) Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Pros: What is there not to like about the sport's only driver to win four straight championships?!?! The ultra-cool, collected Johnson never seems to be fazed by anything, and it shows on the race track. He consistently puts himself in good starting position, having increased his average start by one place in each of the past three years (eighth in 2009). He has captured 14 poles in the past three years. In this time, Johnson has racked up 27 wins. Driving for the strongest team in NASCAR, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, doesn't hurt, either, and Johnson has totaled only two DNFs in the past two seasons combined. Since entering the Sprint Cup Series as a full-time driver in 2002, the El Cajon, Calif. native has finished no worse than fifth place and has etched his name into the conversation of the greatest driver in NASCAR history.

Cons: Naturally, it is tough to find many faults in such an accomplished driver. The No. 48 team has struggled with watching their fuel consumption and pitting at the right time. In 2008, Johnson lost two of the last three races to Carl Edwards due to poor fuel management, and Jimmie J. lost out on the last lap twice in 2009 at Michigan International Speedway.

Fantasy tip: Pressure. Can Johnson once again ignore the pressure? History says he can. Winning a fifth Sprint Cup title in a row seems mathematically low, but when you look at the rest of the field, who is the clear-cut favorite to dethrone him? It is foolish not to take Johnson as the top dog in all fantasy formats. He is the safest bet for your fantasy team, and with such a limited pool of drivers, missing on your first pick is very difficult to recover from.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing
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2) Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Pros: The baby-faced 29-year-old has not missed the Chase in his four years as a full-time driver on the circuit, and he has won at least a race in each of these seasons. Coming off a career-best four-win showing, the Joe Gibbs Racing talent has a strong foundation to use as momentum entering the 2010 campaign. Speaking of a strong foundation, JGR provides Hamlin with enough support to make a serious run at the title. Hamlin has averaged 13 top-five finishes and 18.67 top-10s over the past three years. His average finish in 2009 was a strong 13th place; Hamlin won two of his last five entries and finished no worse than third in the final three races.

Cons: Hamlin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. While he'll drive on it, and JGR says it won't compromise his abilities, one has to wonder. Composure may be the emotional racer's biggest enemy. Despite his success to close out the season, his final 10 races were a mixed bag. Hamlin failed to finish three of the final seven runs (two engine failures, one accident). Hamlin ended the year with a career high in DNFs, incidentally, with four. He tallied three of them in '08, which was one more than his career total from 79 previous starts. Some question teammate Kyle Busch's willingness to assist Hamlin given Busch's aggression on the track; it's not something to be too concerned with, but you should keep an eye on the situation.

Fantasy tip: Having finished as high as third place (2006), Hamlin is ready to break out and take his game to a new level. The only thing standing in his way: Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin will certainly be gunning for Johnson's crown, and we think he has a legitimate shot at overtaking the four-time defending champ. Drafting Hamlin after Johnson comes off the board is our preferred approach, but we can understand if you would rather go with Jeff Gordon or Mark Martin, especially since Hamlin's knee injury. In our eyes, Hamlin's upside is great enough to outweigh the risk of the knee injury.

Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports
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3) Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Pros: Gordon is arguably the most consistent performer from year in and year out. He has never finished worse than 10th in the standings since entering the big league ranks as a full-timer in 1993. Much like Jimmie Johnson, Gordon benefits from the team around him at Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon finished in the top five 15 times (25 top-10s) and failed to finish only once (accident at Watkins Glen). While Gordon won just a single race last year, and none the year before, he finished in second place eight times.

Cons: While he has been very consistent throughout the years, Gordon hasn't won a championship since 2001. He recorded two total DNFs in 2007 and 2009 combined; he had 22 DNFs in 2005, 2006 and 2008 combined. Gordon did not win a race in 2008 and has only one win his last 77 starts. Having such a strong team around him can be a blessing and a curse at times. A nagging back injury has caused Gordon a lot of grief, and it makes sense for this to be affecting his success on the track.

Fantasy tip: It's hard to go wrong with Gordon due to his perennial reliability, but that is about where it ends. His upside is rather capped, and Gordon needs to show he can close out some of those second-place finishes. Before you draft him as your top driver based on reputation alone, understand Gordon will only be a piece of your fantasy puzzle and is unlikely to carry your team to Victory Lane.

Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing
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4) Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Pros: An eight-year veteran of the Sprint Cup Series, Biffle has pressed for a championship on more than one occasion. He finished second overall in 2005 and third in '08. Biffle's ninth-place finish in 2009 was impressive considering he didn't win a race all year. He has cut down on his DNFs the past two years with five total in this time after as many in 2007 alone. Roush Fenway Racing experienced a down year as a group last season, but their strong history indicates a bounce-back should be in store. Biffle averaged a 14th-place start and finish last year.

Cons: For starters, not winning a race last year isn't encouraging. Biffle's career best was six wins in 2005, but he has totaled only five since. While we expect Roush Fenway Racing to come back around as a team, what happens if they don't? We've seen Biffle struggle with a 13th-place finish in 2006 and a 2007 14th-place result, so it's not unreasonable to think he could tail off after quality showings the past two years.

Fantasy tip: We may be a little high on Biffle this year, but the tier of No. 1 drivers is relatively interchangeable after the top three guys, and some people could make that argument for all of the spots following Jimmie Johnson's stranglehold on the No. 1 pick. Biffle is due for at least one checkered flag this season, but be sure to back him up with stable drivers rather than risky choices.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
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5) Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Pros: Stewart regained his groove after a bit of a down year in 2008. He finished the '09 season with four wins, his most since 2006, 15 top-fives and 23 top-10 results. Stewart failed to complete only one race (an accident at Talladega in November). He was phenomenal during a 10-race string from May 31's Autism Speaks 400 to an Aug. 10 trip to Watkins Glen. Stewart's average finish in this time was 3.6, and he won three of these races. Stewart-Haas Racing uses Hendrick Motorsports engines, which helped Stewart return to his wining ways.

Cons: The brash driver closed out the year with 22nd-place and 25th-place finishes. Prior to last season, Stewart isn't much of a qualifier, having not won a pole in the past four years. While this hasn't stopped him from performing well, many leagues offer bonus points for qualifying results. The once-dominant Stewart hasn't finished better than sixth place in the standings in the past four years. He is temperamental and may not try his hardest at times.

Fantasy tip: New life has been breathed into Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman through their Stewart-Haas outfit. How good can No. 14 be this year? His success in recent years points to a good but unspectacular season, so temper your expectations. Stewart is talented enough to make a run at the title, but giving him the benefit of the doubt is a thing of the past in our eyes. He is a No. 1 fantasy driver, but be aware of overvaluing him due to name recognition.

Mark Martin, Hendrick Motorsports
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6) Mark Martin | No. 5 Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Pros: After two shortened seasons (24 races apiece) in 2007 and 2008, Martin ran a full schedule in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports with fantastic results. A second-place finish wasn't expected by anyone - probably even Martin - but he was very strong all year. Seven poles, five first-place finishes, 14 top-fives and 21 top-10s helped pave the way. The ageless one has proven this isn't just a young man's sport, but it doesn't hinder his chances having Hendrick Motorsports on his side. Determination to finally win it all is probably Martin's best friend.

Cons: Success doesn't regularly find most 51-year-old drivers, so history is working against one of NASCAR's elder statesmen. Martin failed to finish four races last year, and he may be the unluckiest driver in the sport. Martin is given a free pass from time to time because he is well-respected, but drivers can take advantage of his polite driving style. In 29 years of NASCAR racing, Martin has yet to win it all. What suggests he will knock off teammate Jimmie Johnson to win the championship in 2010?

Fantasy tip: The long-time Roush Fenway Racing driver may be overvalued coming into 2010. Fantasy owners have to be sure to avoid sentimental emotions when it comes to drafting Martin. Chances are, he'll finish in the top 10, but there is little upside involved with Martin. The veteran should be a consistent top-10 finisher and is a quality fantasy choice as a mid-No. 1 driver.

Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing
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7) Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Pros: Edwards is one year removed from a nine-win display, and he has finished with more than 6,118 points in four of the past five seasons. He has made the Chase every year since becoming a full-time driver in 2005, and Roush Fenway Racing provides him a lot of support. Edwards' best runs come on intermediate tracks, the type that dominates NASCAR. Ford had a rough go of it last year, but a new engine should help drivers.

Cons: Such a steep drop-off last year has to be cause for concern. Edwards failed to win a race, finished in the top-five 12 fewer times than the year before (13 fewer top-10s) and didn't win a pole. If Ford's new engine struggles early or malfunctions with regularity, it could be a long day for Edwards. Prior to the 2008 season, Edwards was never considered a dominant driver.

Fantasy tip: A broken foot likely contributed to some of his '09 slump, but Edwards was really off all year, much like Roush in general. While it's entirely possible - and likely - that Edwards rebounds in '10, fantasy owners need to err on the side of caution and view him as a midrange No. 1 driver. He has the potential to challenge Jimmie Johnson for the top seed, but the contrast between Edwards' 2008 and 2009 seasons is glaring. Be judicious on draft day, but don't avoid him completely.

Kurt Busch, Penske Championship Racing
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8) Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Pros: The older of NASCAR's two Busch brothers has won at least once every year since 2001, topping at four wins in a season (2002, 2003). Last year, Busch won twice, notched 10 top-fives and 21 top-10 finishes on his way to an average result of 13th. He finished fourth on the year in the standings. We've seen Busch do it before, winning it all in 2004, and placing third in 2002. He added a seventh-place finish in 2007. A new crew chief may not necessarily be a positive, but the silver lining in the situation is that Kurt is familiar with Steve Addington through his brother Kyle, who worked side by side for two years and won 12 races with him.

Cons: Consistency has been the biggest knock against Busch. He sandwiched an 18th-place finish in 2008 between two top-10s. Two years before, Busch ended the season in 16th place, which was on the heels of a ninth-place standing. He followed up his 2002 third-place result with an 11th-place effort. Busch hasn't won a pole in two years, and he has eight total DNFs in this time. After spending two years together, crew chief Pat Tryson left for Michael Waltrip Racing this offseason.

Fantasy tip: Fantasy owners should be well-aware of Busch's inconsistency by now. The optimistic drafter will point to Busch finishing in the top 10 two of the past three years, including a top-five result. Some owners may bring up his two mid-teen finishes in the past four years. The bottom line is that it's tough to know what you're going to get out of Busch, so don't invest too much on draft day.  

Kasey Kahne, Richard Petty Motorsports
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9) Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

Pros: With his best finish of his career (eighth) coming in 2006, Kahne rebounded slightly from two poor performances to make the Chase and finish in 10th place last year. He cut his DNFs in half last year from his previous career low of four. Kahne's strong suit is the intermediate track, which makes up the majority of NASCAR's venues.

Cons: A switch to Dodge after a merger with Yates Racing could leave Kahne in rough shape this season. Without track testing, how long will it take before the 29-year-old is comfortable behind the wheel during meaningful runs? Kahne was the only member of RPM last year to make the Chase, so he doesn't exactly have the strongest team backing him up.

Fantasy tip: Having never finished better than eighth place, does Kahne have what it takes to make a big ascension in the standings? He is a good racer, but it's unlikely anyone will consider him great in the near future. He is young and is still finding his way around the track to a degree, so minimal improvement isn't out of the question. With the switch to Ford this year, Kahne may have his work cut out for him. Caveat emptor is the theme here.

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
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10) Kyle Busch | No. 18 M and M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Pros: Busch has won 12 races over the past two seasons; only Jimmie Johnson has won more (14). The 24-year-old racer has won at least one race each year since becoming a rookie in 2005. He earned nine top-fives and 13 top-10s in a down year that resulted in 13th place in the standings; he has three Cup appearances in the past four seasons. JGR is a strong team, and Busch has taken the reins as the face of the team since Tony Stewart defected after the 2008 season. Busch is very aggressive on the track, and has eight total DNFs in his last four seasons after as many in 2005.

Cons: With long-term security in place via a new contract, does Busch continue to race with the same tenacity? Probably, but you never know. Steve Addington, Busch's crew chief the past two years, has left for Kyle's brother Kurt's team. Dave Rogers took over with three races to go last year, which resulted in finishes of 11th, 12th and eighth, respectively. It's not that those finishes were poor by any means, we're just unsure of what to expect from the duo over the course of a full season. Sometimes Busch's attitude gets him in trouble with other drivers.

Fantasy tip: Busch is an immensely talented young driver, and fantasy owners are cognizant of this. The big question is how he will respond to Rogers as a full-time crew chief. If these two gel early, the sky is the limit. However, common sense says it may take a little while before Busch reaches peak form. His potential makes Busch a No. 1 driver, and narrowly missing the Chase last year should serve as motivation for him, but don't reach higher than the mid-tier No. 1 drivers for him.

Brian Vickers, Red Bull Racing
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11) Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Energy Drink Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Pros: His second career win came Aug. 16 in the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway; Vickers won six poles on his way to registering four top-fives and 13 top-10 finishes. We know Team Red Bull's Toyotas are fast, and only Mark Martin won more poles (seven). Being 26 years old, Vickers undoubtedly has room for improvement and growth as a driver.

Cons: The cars are fast, but that doesn't take a driver very far when his team constantly struggles to make the intricate adjustments necessary to become a regular winner. We're not saying these errors cannot be corrected, but we want to see it before we believe it. Before 2009 Vickers hadn't finished better than 15th place (2006) in four full-time seasons. His failure to finish 15 races in the past three years (five each season) isn't encouraging.

Fantasy tip: Vickers is still figuring things out. Is this the year he puts it all together and builds off his first career playoff appearance? Too much uncertainty, a lackluster history, a pit team struggling to work out the bugs: All of these factors make Vickers a very risky driver to select as your No. 1. He is an awesome choice as your second driver, and it is likely he'll be available at top of the second wave of driver selections. He has upside, and his ride is fast, so positives exist in Vickers' future.

Also See: Fantasy NASCAR Cheat Sheet | Group A Analysis | Group B Analysis | Group C Analysis | Group D Analysis | Part-Timers Analysis