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Fantasy NASCAR driver analysis: Group C

Fantasy NASCAR driver analysis: Group C

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 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
2 Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports
3 David Ragan, Roush Fenway Racing
4 Regan Smith, Furniture Row Racing
5 Bobby Labonte, JTG Daugherty Racing
6 Travis Kvapil, Front Row Motorsports
7 David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports
8 Trevor Bayne, Wood Brothers Racing
9 Casey Mears, Germain Racing
10 Bill Elliott, Phoenix Racing
11 Dave Blaney, Tommy Baldwin Racing
12 Robby Gordon, Robby Gordon Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP Energy Drink/Army National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior's 2010 season started with a bang but fizzled to a 21st-place finish in the final standings. He ended the year with three top-five finishes, eight top-10s and an 18.6 average finish. More importantly, he was unable to get to Victory Lane and failed to make the Chase yet again.

He opened the year with a second-place finish and had only four finishes outside the top 20 in the first half of the year. That consistency vanished in the second half, and he finished outside the top 20 in 12 of the 18 races and cracked the top 10 just twice. Junior went from Chase contender to afterthought seemingly overnight.

The offseason brought another round of changes for the No. 88 bunch, and Junior will now share a garage with five-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson. In addition, Steve Letarte will come over from Jeff Gordon's team and serve as crew chief for Junior in 2011. While the changes look good on paper, it's tough to believe they will suddenly make Junior a contender again. He has admitted that a lack of confidence is part of the problem, and that is something Junior has to fix on his own.

In the meantime, Junior should be considered a low-end top-25 driver and nothing more. He may have won the Most Popular Driver award eight years in a row, but popularity doesn't factor in to a driver's fantasy value. Junior remains a strong option at superspeedways and even at short tracks, but he is far too inconsistent at intermediate tracks right now. Michigan and Atlanta have remained two of his better tracks, but it is a roll of the dice nearly everywhere else.

Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports
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Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 Stanley Black & Decker Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

After overachieving in his first full season in the Cup Series, Ambrose experienced the dreaded sophomore slump in 2010. Bad luck played a factor, but eight DNFs prevented him from finding any sort of a rhythm. Ambrose finished the year with just five top-10 finishes and a 22.6 average finish. He fell from 18th in points in 2009 to 26th last year.

Fortunately for Ambrose, there are plenty of reasons to expect a turnaround in 2011. For one, the odds of him posting eight DNFs again are extremely low. More importantly, after two seasons with JTG Daugherty Racing, Ambrose will join Richard Petty Motorsports and drive the No. 9 car this season. The move will put Ambrose behind the wheel of the best equipment he has had since joining the Cup Series.

Joining RPM could be just what Ambrose needs to get to the next level. His biggest weakness has continued to be the larger intermediate ovals. Coincidentally, RPM drivers have excelled at these types of tracks. If this success translates to Ambrose, he should crack the top 20 in the points standings in 2011.

At worst, Ambrose is an excellent piece to any fantasy team because of his versatility. He is an elite road course option, and he has been a top-15 driver at short tracks. Although it is safer to keep expectations at a minimum, he has the potential to be a steal in fantasy drafts if the move to RPM has an immediate impact. Either way, Ambrose has fantasy value in any format, and he should be in for a bounce-back year.

David Ragan, Roush Fenway Racing
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David Ragan | No. 6 UPS Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

David Ragan

It was another lackluster year for Ragan in 2010, and his magical 2008 season is looking more and more like a fluke. He failed to record a top-five finish for the second straight season, and he ended the year with a 21.3 average finish. The 2011 season could be a make-or-break campaign for Ragan because Roush Fenway Racing now has Trevor Bayne waiting in the wings.

As Roush Fenway Racing improved throughout the 2010 season, Ragan experienced only a slight boost in his numbers. He managed just three top-10 finishes all year and ended up 24th in the standings while the other three RFR drivers finished in the top six. The organization as a whole may be on the rise, but Ragan doesn't seem to be reaping the benefits.

It's time for fantasy owners to face facts about Ragan. In 2008, he finished 13th in points, finishing the year with six top-five finishes and 14 top-10s. In his other three seasons in the Cup Series, he has a combined two top-five finishes and eight top-10s. One great year can't make a career and fantasy points aren't awarded for past accomplishments.

Although Ragan is probably destined to underperform again in 2011, he is still going to be a top-25 driver and is worth taking in Draft and Play leagues. In other fantasy formats, his value is restricted to the superspeedways and a few intermediate tracks. Ragan is a career top-15 driver at Daytona and Talladega; he runs well at the 2.0-mile tracks of Michigan and Auto Club Speedway.

Regan Smith, Furniture Row Racing
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Regan Smith | No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing

Not much was expected out of Smith in 2010. After all, he was driving for Furniture Row Racing - a single-car operation with limited funds. On paper, the combination didn't look like a recipe for success, but Smith made it work. He overachieved last season, and Furniture Row has dedicated the offseason to making 2011 an even better year for Smith.

He finished last season with a 24.5 average finish, and although he didn't record a top-10 finish, he cracked the top 20 on 11 occasions. More importantly, he was at his best at the intermediate tracks, posting a 21.0 average finish. It's true he struggles at the other track types on the schedule, but he has legitimate fantasy value in 24 of the 36 races each year.

If he repeats his 2010 numbers, Smith is an elite No. 4 option in Draft and Play leagues. If the offseason moves by Furniture Row Racing pay off, he could turn out to be a No. 3 driver. Either way, Smith should definitely be taken during fantasy drafts, and he is going to provide plenty of production in all fantasy formats throughout 2011.

Bobby Labonte, JTG Daugherty Racing
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Bobby Labonte | No. 47 Little Debbie/Clorox/Kingsford Charcoal/Bush's Baked Beans/Kleenex/Lance Snacks Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing

After suffering through the worst season of his career in 2010, Labonte could be in for one of his best years in recent memory in 2011. He will drive the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing this season, giving him arguably his best equipment since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing. It has been quite a while, but Labonte may finally have serious fantasy value once again.

Last season, he compiled a dismal 30.6 average finish as he bounced between several different cars, but don't read too much into the numbers. Labonte has a career 19.3 average finish and had never had an average below 25.7 in his previous 17 years in the Cup Series. He is driving for a legitimate organization once again in 2011, and he there is no reason he can't crack the top 25.

Labonte warrants consideration in all fantasy leagues at tracks like Las Vegas, Darlington, Charlotte and New Hampshire, and in Draft and Play leagues he should be a top No. 4 option throughout the year. After some lean years, Labonte should be relevant once again in 2011. He won't be in contention for a spot in the Chase by any means, but he will provide useful results.

Travis Kvapil, Front Row Motorsports
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Travis Kvapil | No. 34 Long John Silver's Ford | Front Row Motorsports

Since outperforming expectations in 2008, nothing has come easy for Kvapil. However, he may have finally found some stability as he returns to Front Row Motorsports for the second straight year. Kvapil enters the 2011 as the No. 1 option for the two-car operation.

Granted, being the No. 1 option for a team like FRM doesn't say a whole. The organization fielded three full-time cars in 2010 and failed to record a single top-10 finish. That being said, Kvapil is a near lock to run all 36 races in 2011 because he is locked in the first five races and should easily be able to keep the car in the top 35.

In the two seasons, Kvapil was able to run all 36 races, and he compiled average finishes of 26.2 and 23.3. We're not sure he can approach those numbers, but he should easily be a top-30 driver if everything goes as expected. Kvapil should be a serviceable No. 4 option in Draft and Play leagues, and he may even outperform expectations.

David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports
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David Gilliland | No. 38 Taco Bell Ford | Front Row Motorsports

Gilliland's Cup career that began with an improbable victory in the Nationwide Series, and he is still clinging to a spot in the sport's top series. He ran 32 races in 2010, compiling a 29.3 average finish. He made a majority of the starts for Front Row Motorsports, and despite the organization downsizing in 2011, Gilliland is expected to compete full time in 2011.

Although it's not set in stone quite yet, Gilliland appears to one of FRM's full-time drivers this year. While the organization isn't exactly a force in NASCAR, it does have enough sponsorship to allow its drivers to run entire races. Case in point, Gilliland had just two DNFs last season.

As long as things go as planned for Gilliland, his career numbers put him somewhere in the top 30. While his fantasy value is minimal in most formats, he deserves to be drafted in the fourth round of Draft and Play leagues. In an eight-team league where four drivers have to be started each week, Gilliland should end up being a legitimate No. 4 option for a team.

Trevor Bayne, Wood Brothers Racing
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Trevor Bayne | No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford | Wood Brothers Racing

Bayne is taking the place of Bill Elliott in the Wood Brothers No. 21 car this season, and the future is getting brighter by the minute for the soon-to-be 20-year-old driver. A partnership between Roush Fenway Racing and the Wood Brothers will put Bayne behind the wheel of top-notch equipment for 17 or more races in 2011. Despite making just a single Cup start at this point in his career, big things could be in store for Bayne.

What Bayne lacks in experience, he makes up in talent. He finished seventh in his first full season at the Nationwide level last season, making him the second-highest non-Cup driver. During a three-race stretch of non-companion events, Bayne won three consecutive poles and finished in the top five in all three events. In his lone Cup start, Bayne qualified 28th and finished 17th at Texas last fall. That's not bad for a guy making his first career start in the middle of the Chase.

Bayne should only get better with more time behind the wheel, and the addition of Roush Fenway Racing equipment should help the learning process. He is the future for Jack Roush and company, but for fantasy owners, his impact will start this season. With at least 17 starts planned for Bayne, he will be a frequent sleeper pick in all fantasy formats. He is even worth a roster spot in fantasy draft leagues.

Casey Mears, Germain Racing
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Casey Mears | No. 13 GEICO Toyota | Germain Racing

His first season without a stable ride was a rough one for Mears. He finished the year with 21 starts, compiling a 29.5 average finish and failing to record a single top-10 finish. The good news for Mears is that his tumultuous season ended on a high note as he landed a job driving the No. 13 GEICO Racing machine, and he is expected to do the same in 2011.

Although the plan is for Mears to race full time, those plans can always change when dealing with a single-car operation that is tight on cash. If he does run the entire season, he should be a top-30 driver in 2011. Mears finished 26th or better in seven of his last 11 starts in the No. 13. His biggest obstacle will be qualifying for the first five races of the season because the No. 13 is not guaranteed a starting spot.

Prior to the 2010 season, Mears had logged six straight seasons with an average finish between 22.1 and 18.6. However, he was driving some of the top equipment in NASCAR at the time, and those numbers were well below expectations. Ironically, he will be exceeding expectations if he approaches those numbers this year. The bottom line is that any driver with a full-time ride is worth having on your roster, and Mears may even throw in a top-20 finish or two throughout the year.

Bill Elliott, Phoenix Racing
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Bill Elliott | No. 09 Chevrolet | Phoenix Racing

Bill Elliott

It was another season of part-time duty for Elliott in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford in 2010, and once again, he put up decent numbers. He finished the year with a 26.1 average finish in 13 starts, finishing in the top 30 in 10 of those starts. It he will be running part time again in 2011, but for the first in his career, he will be behind the wheel of a Chevrolet. Elliott will pilot the Phoenix Racing No. 09 for at least 18 races, starting with the season opener at Daytona.

His final full season in the Cup Series was back in 2003, and he finished ninth in points that season with nine top-five finishes and a 16.1 average finish. In other words, he was far from washed up when he walked away. It's doubtful he can match those numbers driving the No. 09, but there is a legitimate chance he can be a top-25 driver in a majority of the races he runs.

Elliott is already committed to 18 races, which makes him a legitimate fantasy option in draft-style leagues. He has sleeper potential in all fantasy formats at intermediate tracks. Heck, he has a 14.3 average finish at Homestead over the last three years. If by chances he runs close to a full-time schedule in 2011, he will be an absolute steal on draft day. Either way, Elliott will help fantasy owners this year.

Dave Blaney, Tommy Baldwin Racing
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Dave Blaney | No. 36 Chevrolet | Tommy Baldwin Racing

It was another long year for Blaney in 2010. For the second straight season, Blaney was forced to start and park almost every race; he finished the year with a 38.2 average finish in 29 starts. Although he will likely find a ride for almost every race again in 2011, his chances of landing a quality ride remain slim. He is currently scheduled to run at least 16 races for Tommy Baldwin's company.

The sad part is that Blaney was a consistent top-30 driver from 2000 to 2008. Driving for cashed-strapped teams the last two seasons has changed that. In the last two seasons, he has amassed 50 DNFs in 59 starts. As his 24th-place run at Atlanta and 29th-place run at Fontana will suggest, he can still be the top-30 guy he used to be. Finding a team to give him the opportunity to run entire races has been the hard part.

Blaney bounced between several teams last year with his best results coming for Front Row Motorsports. He is worth a late-round draft pick in the off chance he is able to land a full-time ride for all of the season.

Robby Gordon, Robby Gordon Motorsports
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Robby Gordon | No. 7 Speed Energy Drink Chevrolet | Robby Gordon Motorsports

Robby Gordon

Gordon branched out a bit more than normal in 2010, turning the reigns of the No. 7 car over to multiple drivers during the course of the season as he participated in off-road events. He made 27 starts in his own right and finished the year with a 29.1 average finish. More importantly, the No. 7 car finished in the top 35 in owner points, guaranteeing him a spot in the field for the first five races of the 2011 season.

Despite being locked in the field to start the season, Gordon has made it clear he does not intend to run full time. The exact number of starts he intends to make is unclear, but somewhere in the neighborhood 15-20 appears to be likely. He managed seven top-25 finishes last season, but if he makes fewer starts, that total is going to decrease.

That being said, he is still worth grabbing on draft day. He is essentially a road course ringer that is going to make appearances at oval tracks. In 25 career road course starts, Gordon has two wins and 10 top-five finishes. Last year, he finished second at Infineon. He has more value than a typical road course ringer, and he is definitely worth a bench spot.

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