Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fantasy Nascar Begins

Fantasy. Nascar. League.

Crazy, right? There’s Fantasy Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey, everything under the sun. But Fantasy Nascar? The jury is still out on that one.

Fantasy Sports offers an escape for the avid sporting enthusiast. Unlike actually playing sports, you can be good at it just sitting on your couch being fat. You can be good at it if you are 13, you can be good at if you’re well into your 60’s. People young and old play it and they play it at the deepest of levels. There’s franchise leagues, dynasty leagues, auction leagues. You name it the league exists or most likely can be created. For every wannabe sports superstar or team owner, when your dream of playing for or owning a professional team passes by, fantasy sports is there to offer a cushion to fall on.

My college friends and I have participated in a Fantasy Nascar League since our freshman year. For years we’d been racing enthusiasts and when we came together we realized we all shared a passion. Racing…for the most part.

Some people might claim our love for racing was enhanced by the chance to drink from a keg, blast Travis Tritt’s “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and scream at our TV’s for 5 hours on a Sunday but I can guarantee you we were passionate about the sport and could talk shop with many a Nascar junkie.

So we made a tradition of it. We started using Nascar’s Fantasy Racing site then migrated over to ESPN’s Stock Car Challenge. We started with a core group of guys and bounced along finding racing fans or people who just liked to gamble and we competed for fantasy titles every year.

Then, among one of our many intoxicated conversations during our college days, we decided to make our own Fantasy Nascar League. We could customize it the way we wanted and manage it ourselves. So we made a league via a good ole Excel Spreadsheet. And we continue to use that method today, some 8 years later.

The Daytona 500 became our signature season kickoff where we hosted the fantasy draft, drank from a keg of Diesel, wore our driver-sponsored clothing and generally became intolerable and incoherent by 9pm (After college, the Monday after the 500 became a day off since we were mostly inoperable and recovering and everyone intelligently took the work day off).

Today, we begin the on-going saga of a season-long Fantasy Nascar season. Among the combatants, you will see a story unfold that pits Team Hinton, the reigning champion versus Team Farnsworth, Team Phelan, Team Mayer, Team Campbell, Team Martino, Team Lawton and Team Eric.

We are all good friends, went to high school and college together, and generally despise each other’s drivers.

Unlike Nascar’s perceived “problem”, there is no lack of personalities among us.

The power rankings I will post week-to-week will be some combination of rank based on current overall standings and upcoming race potential. Upon receiving the weekly standings, I will compile the power rankings for that week and assess each team’s status and driver paddock. It will certainly be a work in progress. It will not be nearly as long as the following document. I hope.

When April rolls around and my wife has our son, who the hell knows what will happen.

For those crazy people that are still reading this and are NOT in our league a) thanks b) here’s a little background on how our league operates.

There are 8 teams. New this year, we have 4 drivers to a team (use to be 3). We start 3 drivers per week, with the “4th Driver” having to start at least one race during the year. Trades and free agent pick-ups are allowed, done via an email to our league. The league has always been and remains a keeper league, which I will highlight in the Paddock Rankings breakdown later.

Scoring is standard Nascar point system (thanks Nascar for making that MUCH easier). We add up the total points compiled by a team’s 3 started drivers and compare that to the point total of that week’s opponent. It’s a weekly matchup pitting one team against another team, varied throughout the season.

Easy enough, delightfully simple, aggravatingly intense. Enough boring stuff. Let’s get into this.



Team Eric (1)

Team Eric is the only team owned by an individual identified by his first name in our league. Since his brother, owner of Team Mayer, is in this league, Eric gets the distinguished honor of being our only first-named guest. Coincidentally, Eric also holds down the number 1 spot in this week’s power rankings.

Carl Edwards, Eric’s keeper before the year started, comes into the Week 2 race at Phoenix sitting number one in Nascar points, a byproduct of Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne not competing for points in Nascar this year. Edwards, who finished 2nd in the 500 almost made it 3 victories in a row, counting back to last season. He also has 9 Top 10’s and 5 Top 5’s at Phoenix, with his average finish being 11.8.

Ryan Newman, Eric’s second driver, comes into Week 2 after having led the most laps at Daytona. He didn’t finish well, but had a great car and last year at Phoenix he finished first and second. That bodes well for Sunday’s race.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Eric’s 3rd pick and first pick in the 3rd round, comes into Phoenix looking to continue the momentum from Daytona. Despite being spun out by his occasionally drunk teammate Jamie McMurray, Pabs rallied to finish the 500 in 6th position. Many people expected him to be a Chase contender LAST season…is this the year Pabs puts it together? Phoenix will be a good test to show us all if this former Formula 1 Champion has what it takes this season.

Travis Kvapil. Alternate 4th Driver. DOES NOT WARRANT ANY DISCUSSION.

Team Lawton (2)

Before Sunday’s Daytona 500, I placed Team Lawton as the number 1 team in our drunken power rankings. His stable included previous Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, favorite son, “pole-sitter” and sometimes-decent driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., AARP Member Mark Martin and hotshot rookie/Jeff Gordon shower partner Travis Bayne. Despite being ridiculed by the drunken mules in our war room, I take pride in looking back and seeing Tom Lawton in second place in our league with his 4th driver currently the toast of Nascar and youngest Daytona 500 winner EVER.

Question is, will it last?

Mark Martin quietly finished 10th in the Daytona 500. He is now 0-27 in that race but the good news is he didn’t die from old age. At Phoenix, Martin has a career average finish of 8.6, including 10 Top 10’s, 12 Top 5’s and 2 wins. He had a great 2009, an inconsistent 2010 and his 2011 is potentially his last shot at a first championship. Phoenix is the place for Martin to continue a strong start. The biggest question will be if his pacemaker can survive the season.

Jamie McMurray, last year’s Daytona 500 winner, finished 18th in his Bass Pro Shops Chevy and sits 17th in points after his first race in 2011. Over the last few years, McMurray has earned a reputation in our league as one of the most despised drivers. People questioned his talent, his female voice and his inability to look anything but drunk while driving his car. Last year’s Daytona and Brickyard win did little to silence the critics and when McMurray was picked as the 7th driver in the second round of this year’s draft, screams of ridicule and delight erupted making fun of Team Lawton’s selection. The 2011 500 looked to be shaping up in McMurray’s favor after Michael Waltrip took over the role of drunk driver and knocked half the field out, leaving McMurray in a good spot to take advantage. It wasn’t meant to be and this weekend in Phoenix, McMurray will look to build on his 20.2 average race finish that includes only 2 Top 10’s.

A few Dale Earnhardt Jr. facts.

1) He was the second pick in the 3rd round of our draft.

2) He used to be a keeper in our league.

3) I may be a better Nascar driver than him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., or Junior from here on out so I don’t have to type a period and then a comma all year long, is an enigma in the Nascar world. He has been voted as the sports’ most popular driver for the last 8 years despite not finishing higher than 12th in the standings in the last 5 years, including only 1 win in that time. People look at Junior and hope to see Senior but if we’re counting accomplishments, Junior has let his daddy down quite a bit.

This season, going into the 500, especially after winning the pole, Junior was a sentimental favorite to win on the 10th Anniversary of his Dad’s wreck. But, before the race even started, Junior had to go to the rear to start because he crashed his qualifying car during practice. With Jeff Gordon’s old crew chief in his box and a new garage partner in Jimmie Johnson, 2011 is the year for Dale to make something happen. If he cannot do it with this team and this equipment, it is indeed time that Hendrick Motorsports calls Kerry Earnhardt up to see if he wants to be crew chief for me next year.

Junior heads into Phoenix with just an average finish of 18.5, but he has also scored 2 wins, 4 Top 5’s and 7 Top 10’s.

Trevor Bayne. Nothing to say. Just kidding. He’s 12. Well he looks 12. But he can drive the shit out of a car. He got up close and personal with Jeff Gordon all week at Daytona, has the famed Wood Brothers as his owner and he’s driving a car featuring the paint job of Hall of Fame Wood Bros. driver David Pearson. In a keeper league, Trevor Bayne is the kind of rare driver you stumble upon and find to be your anchor for the next 20 years. Bayne was the second to last pick in the draft and sure enough he won the damn Daytona 500 from his bench spot. He won’t be competing in the Sprint Cup Series this year (points-wise) but his talent and potential make him one helluva driver for Team Lawton. Looking at his paddock of Mark Martin, Drunk McMurray and Dale Junior, Trevor Bayne could be the keeper after only his first season in the Sprint Cup.

Team Martino (3)

Team Martino enters the year with Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne and this year’s 2nd-runner up in the 500, David Gilliland. Team Martino is 1-0 with 52 points on the season after defeating the atrocious showing of Team Phelan during Week 1.

Denny Hamlin, him of the Torn ACL’s, enters the year as a legitimate contender to knock Jimmie Johnson from his perch. Hamlin had the ability to do so in the final two races of 2010 at Phoenix and Miami but couldn’t get the job done and watched Johnson steal the season from under him. Because of that disappointment, people openly questioned Hamlin’s mindset heading into 2011. Hamlin, if you ask him, is ready. He drives for a great team, has tons of talent and is healthy after healing from a Torn ACL that he raced with for the majority of last year. He also led 190 laps at Phoenix last season and has 5 Top 5’s, 6 Top 10’s and an average finish of 11.6 at Week 2’s Raceway. The biggest stat going against Hamlin? Based on Chase statistics, the driver that finished second in the Chase has never finished better than fourth the following year.

Jeff Burton, The Mayor as they call him around the garage, is a relatively easy driver to get along with. He is a good driver, never really gets on the wrong side of people during a race (Jeff Gordon aside) and is well liked among his fellow racers. He also drives for a strong team and has a major sponsor. The question with Burton remains; will he ever win a title? He is 8 years younger than Mark Martin and like Martin still is looking for that signature season. His best season finishes include a 3rd, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 8th. He once won 6 races in a season as well. The problem is having the stars align in one year. In 2009 Burton finished 17th, in 2010 he finished 12th. He also hasn’t won a race in that timeframe. At this year’s Daytona, Burton blew an engine, finishing 36th. His teammate, Kevin Harvick, also blew an engine, creating unneeded drama in only the first race of the season. Burton, as he stated, remains in search of a Daytona 500 victory, a Brickyard win and a championship. Two of those three goals are still available this year and it starts with a rebound at Phoenix where Burton has average an 11.7 finish over his career with 12 Top 10’s, 6 Top 5’s and 2 wins. If Burton is consistent this year, he gives Team Martino a steady 1-2 punch.

Kasey Kahne enters the season as a 1-year man, ready to head to Hendrick Motorsports next year. Despite this rental contract, Kahne fully expects to compete for a title this year and expects his team to do the same. Kahne finished 25th in the 500 but is excited for the most stable racing conditions he’s had in years. The Red Bull Team will field two cars, piloted by Kahne and Brian Vickers and the two look forward to finally having a teammate that is a veteran of the sport, ready to compete for wins. Kahne hasn’t done overly well at Phoenix where he averages a 21.5 finish but Kahne offers a potential-filled third driver to Team Martino and a very formidable trio if the team can stay consistent all year and contend for wins. Good potential here.

David Gilliland. He sits at second in points. He’s a nice guy, a good story and he drives the Taco Bell car which sounds so good right now. Will Gilliland compete this year? Probably not. And he averages a 29th place finish at Phoenix. With the rule that we must start our 4th driver at least once this season, Team Martino will have to decide what tracks fit Gilliland’s motor skills. If Gilliland at any point is consistently starting for Team Martino, he’s screwed.

Team Hinton (4)

Team Hinton has won our league for the last 18 years. Or at least it seems. With Jimmie Johnson serving as the keeper, Team Hinton is consistently battling for the overall league victory and always winning the individual driver championship. This season will most likely be no different.

Jimmie Johnson starts the year slow and then comes back and crushes everyone’s souls. In 15 Phoenix races he has 4 wins and an average finish of 4.9. The guy is the best driver in the world (that’s hard for me to say considering I used to worship Michael Schumacher with idols and human sacrifices) and he will have Team Hinton once again contending all year in multiple Fantasy categories.

Team Hinton’s second driver and the first overall pick after our selected keepers, is the most polarizing driver in the sport, Kyle Busch. When Hinton selected Kyle Busch, multiple items were thrown at Hinton along with vile swear words and inappropriate threats. That should prove that Kyle Busch is one of THE most talented drivers in Nascar along with the most hated driver. Kyle Busch gives Team Hinton the chance to run away with the league. If Busch can stay consistent, win big races and stay out of wrecks, he could finish 1-2 with Jimmie. But, it also remains a distinct possibility that somebody “Days of Thunder”-style crashes into Busch’s car and kills him this season because he can be such a fairy prick. There is no doubting his talent. It’s at the top of the league. He finished 8th at Daytona despite spinning out and he won at Phoenix in 2005. He averages a 13.8 finish including 7 Top 10’s at PIR. Despite the fact that he wears big alien women sunglasses, there isn’t a better 1-2 in the league than Johnson-Busch.

After Johnson and Busch, Team Hinton becomes a bit of a question mark, but that question mark is based on potential. Martin Truex Jr., has always had the talent, but he has never quite had the results. As a third driver, especially with JJ and Kyle Busch, Truex sits in a good spot. His car owner might be an annoying drunk (Michael Waltrip not McMurray) but Truex Jr. has a decent team and the talent to make a great third driver. His average finish in his Nascar career has been 19.6 and he’s garnered 44 Top 10’s but only one win. His younger brother is an absolute stud tearing up the minor league (as I shall call them) tracks and the question with his older brother is if he can put it all together. Truex SHOULD be in the Top 20 as a driver and he SHOULD compete for a spot in the Top 15 and potentially even the chase. Should and does is a very different thing.

Marcos Ambrose is sweet because he is from Australia. He can kick everyone’s ass. He’s likeable, drives for Richard Petty Motorsports and his crew chief is Todd Parrott. He’s also a really good road racer, which is convenient for Team Hinton’s 4th driver. He also raced REALLY well at Richmond last year finishing 5th and 9th. Team Hinton will never sit Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch this season. Ambrose provides a great driver to plug and play throughout the year.

Team Campbell (5)

Team Campbell brings to the table the fattest driver in Nascar, the fat driver’s old car, a guy that literally almost died last year and a French-man with crazy curly hair.

Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers and Boris Said make up our 3rd ranked team.

Tony Stewart and Mr. Campbell, his owner, are one in the same. Except Mr. Campbell is in way better shape than Tony. But I guarantee you they’d have sex if the opportunity presented itself.

Affectionately known as “Smoke”, Tony Stewart is one of the best drivers in Nascar. He finished 13th at Daytona and displayed that playful Smoke spirit that makes him such a feared driver, joking on the radio, driving the hell out of his car and hanging around all day until the finish. His season last year was up and down as he lost momentum in the Chase and tailed off at the end. His only teammate is Ryan Newman and the only question will be if Tony’s equipment can stay up to snuff all season long. Smoke will never hesitate to punch you in the face with a helmet or shove a piece of pizza up your ass then still eat it if you piss him off. His talent is undeniable. He will be a contender all year long and he looks to add to his 1 win, 7 Top 5’s and 9 Top 10’s at Phoenix this weekend.

Joey Logano is the only person younger than Trevor Bayne to win a Nascar race. He is also not old enough to shop at a Home Depot yet, his sponsor. Just kidding, that makes no sense. Logano is undeniably talented and drives for Joe Gibbs, one of the best team’s in the sport. Logano finished an average of 12th over his final 11 races last year, including 7 Top 7’s. That momentum, along with a superior stable of cars and teammates makes Logano’s 2011 outlook bright. If he lives up to his potential, Logano makes the Chase, if not, Team Campbell will have a hard time competing with Stewart and the following two drivers.

Brian Vickers spent 8 months away from racing last year because of blood clots in his leg and lungs. He had two operations to close a hole in his heart and he considered quitting racing. But, he’s back and racing full-time for Red Bull in his No. 83 car. The question for Vickers will be the time off and if Red Bull can consistently compete this year. His teammate is Kasey Kahne, who is at Red Bull for 1 year before switching over to Hendrick Motorsports next season. If Red Bull fails early on, it will be a long season. Vickers’ best season came in 2009 when he finished 12th overall, including 1 win and 13 Top 10’s. He’ll need to be consistent starting at Phoenix to show he’s close to returning to form and give Team Campbell a good third driver.

Boris Said is not French. He just sounds like a Frenchman. Which generally means you are a douchebag. But Boris Said is not a douchebag because he is really good at road course racing and he will provide Team Campbell a very viable option as a 3rd driver during the season’s road races.

Team Phelan (6)

Team Phelan returns as a veteran member of the Fantasy Nascar League with a driver that everyone hates: Jeff Gordon. Be it his rainbows, boyish-good looks, hot supermodel wife or general driving dominance, Jeff Gordon is a hated man among our community. All the more reason for Team Phelan to want to pick him.

Jeff Gordon enters his 20th year in Nascar with 378 Top 10’s, 274 Top 5’s, 82 career wins and 4 Championships. However, Gordon hasn’t won a championship since 2004 and hasn’t won a race in 65 races. He regressed in 2010, finishing 9th compared to 3rd in 2009. Getting the victory bug off of his shoulder is Gordon’s biggest pressing issue. His new crew chief is Alan Gustafson, part of Rick Hendrick’s crew chief swap with Dale Junior and Mark Martin. Gustafson will have the challenge of keeping Gordon’s car consistent, so he can return to the form that gave him 25 Top 10’s in 2009 and 30 Top 10’s in 2007, while also piloting the No. 24 DuPont/Fight Hunger Sally Struthers car to victory lane.

Gordon, once arguably the number one driver in the sport, is no longer the number one driver in his garage and his 2011 will write an important note in the lasting impression he leaves on Nascar. The man who once wanted to retire at 40 (next season) is just looking to get a win. After a disappointing Daytona, Phoenix is a good place to try. In 24 Phoenix races, Gordon has 17 Top 10’s, 9 Top 5’s and an average finish of 10th.

Team Phelan’s second driver, Matt Kenseth, offers another driver looking to return to form and once again compete for championships. In 2003, Kenseth won a championship, but he finished 11th in 2008 and 14th in 2009 before returning to form and finishing 5th last season. Since 2008 though, Kenseth has only won 2 races, both victories coming in 2009. Consistency has been all over the place the last few years with only 15 Top 10’s in 2010 and only 12 in 2009. Kenseth needs to get that number back up into the twenties and add some victories to his plate if he wants to compete for the championship again. Kenseth’s next stop at Phoenix was once the site of a victory, but that came nearly a decade ago. Surrounded by a good team, Roush Fenway Racing, and a good sponsor, Crown Royal, the No. 17 car looks to compete for a spot in the Chase this season and give Team Phelan two good drivers with championship potential. If they don’t, these “veterans” of Nascar will continue to make people believe that their best is behind them.

The third driver for Team Phelan is Brad Keselowski. Keselowski takes over the Blue Deuce Miller Lite car that Kurt Busch used to drive as he begins his second full season in the Sprint Cup Series. As a third driver, Keselowski offers a lot of potential, surrounded by a solid team and a solid sponsor. Whether he can compete with the big boys is another question. In 2010, he won the Nationwide Championship with 29 Top 10’s, 26 Top 5’s and 6 wins. He also seemed to get in a fight with every single good driver. Feuds with Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch overshadowed a lot of his season and many thought Keselowski should have competed for points in Nationwide this year while raced for victories in the Sprint Cup. That sure sounds like a boom or bust third driver. Keselowski had a decent Daytona 500 that included leading some laps, but he ended up finishing only 29th. That was only 12 spots higher than his supremely fatter brother, Brian. Phoenix will be a good test for Keselowski. In his last four races there he’s finished 4th, 3rd, 5th & 3rd …in Nationwide.

The final driver for Team Phelan is Regan Smith, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy. As a fourth driver, Smith finished 7th in the Daytona 500, leading seven laps and pushing Kurt Busch around the track all afternoon. As a real Nascar driver however, the jury is definitely still out on Smith. This is Smith’s second full year in Nascar and his best season finish was 20th in the Nascar Nationwide Series in 2006. He doesn’t boast any victories in the top tier levels but he was Sprint Cup’s Rookie of the Year in 2008 and was the first rookie in Cup history to finish every race he started. Having engines supplied by Earnhardt-Childress Racing also helps his chances. If Regan Smith is needed on a consistent basis in 2011, things are most likely going very bad for Team Phelan.

Team Farnsworth (7)

Team Farnsworth no longer is known in the paddock as “The 3 B’s”. Last year, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton made up The 3 B’s before our socialist re-draft distributed the wealth. Drafting second this draft, Farnsworth was able to keep Biffle and draft Bowyer, but Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch went to other teams leaving him with A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard as the 3rd and 4th drivers respectively.

Starting with Biffle, Team Farnsworth owns a driver who has 16 career wins, 66 Top 5’s and 113 Top 10’s. Biffle also finished 3rd overall in 2008, 7th in 2009 and 6th in 2010. He’s a bonafide number one driver who is looking to 2011 to add the Sprint Cup Championship to his list of career accomplishments. And while he hasn’t won at Phoenix in his career, Biffle did finish 4th there in November. His best season was in 2005 when he finished second in points and won 6 races leading 1366 laps on the season. Biffle had the third best year of his career last year and will continue to challenge in the Chase. Can he win the championship? That’s the million-dollar question Roush Fenway Racing wants to know.

Clint Bowyer, the second B, finished 16th in the 2011 Daytona 500. He finished 10th last year in the Chase and he has finished 3rd and 5th overall as well. Last year, Bowyer’s biggest problem was inconsistency in the middle part of the year. He led more laps than any other year in his career, but his first 2 wins didn’t come till the Chase at New Hampshire and Talladega. That said Bowyer is still considered a youngster in this sport and his best year stats wise was last year. Will he get better and compete in the Chase? Or does that tell you something if his best stat year ended with him still just 10th at the end of the season?

AJ Allmendinger drives the famous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. He had his best season last year with 8 Top 10’s, 2 Top 5’s and 181 laps led. He also made 36 starts for just the second time in his career. Allmendinger carries some momentum into Phoenix as he finished 5th at Miami last year and 11th at the Daytona 500. He is young and has talent and Richard Petty Motorsports should compete throughout the season. Allmendinger’s biggest question, as is a lot of drivers’, is consistency. He’s an intriguing third driver but he has a lot to live up to on Team 2B’s.

Paul Menard is the fourth driver on Team Farnsworth. He is also the fourth driver in Richard Childress’ garage, something that didn’t work out quite so well the last time they attempted to do that (2009). Regardless, Childress says they learned a lot from their first attempt at four drivers and if the Daytona 500 was any indication, Menard’s 9th place finish bodes well for the season’s potential. If Menard becomes known for more than just bringing a team sponsor money through his family name, Team Farnsworth will be well off with 2B’s, an A, and an M.

Team Mayer (8)

For Team Mayer, the Daytona 500 is the most anticipated day of the year. His favorite driver, Kevin Harvick, completes him as a person. Heading in to Daytona 2011, Harvick was considered a contender, piloting his brand-new No. 29 Budweiser, Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s car, ready to make his run at a championship and in the process give Team Mayer the biggest boner of his life. Suffice it to say, the boner will have to wait for a little while, at least until Phoenix.

Kevin Harvick, Team Mayer’s number one driver, blew his engine and was the second driver out of the race in the 500.

It was the first time in 5 years a Richard Childress car blew an engine. It was pure devastation for Team Mayer. The happiest day of his year quickly turned sour. His second driver Kurt Busch? Team Mayer didn’t even want to root for him. Team Mayer began a really drunken afternoon.

Team Mayer doesn’t lose hope though. As a driver for 2011 and beyond, Harvick still offers a lot of hope. He had his best season in 2010, contending for a championship right down to the final race of the season. He is a very consistent driver registering 14 career wins, 77 Top 5’s and 155 Top 10’s. He has a new sponsor this season, driving the badass black No. 29 Budweiser. He had a lot of momentum heading into the year and his ridiculous 26 Top 10’s in 2010 bode well for his outlook in 2011. Back in 2006, Harvick won five races. Last year, he won three. This season, if Harvick can continue the consistency that made him number one for a majority of last year and bump up his win totals one or two more races, he will contend for the championship. Daytona’s result was very different from 2010’s consistency and Phoenix, where Harvick has 2 wins and 7 Top 10’s will be a big rebound test. Win or lose, Team Mayer’s boner will stay strong for Kevin Harvick in 2011.

Team Mayer’s second driver is Kyle Busch’s older brother, Kurt. Kurt was a polarizing figure in this year’s draft, projecting anywhere from the 2nd pick in the second round to the fourth or fifth pick in the round. He had a strong week leading up to the 500 and went fourth in the second round. At Daytona, he finished fifth and led the third most laps in the race.

This season brings a bit of change to the look of Kurt Busch as he trades in his familiar Miller Lite No. 2 Dodge for the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil. If his Daytona week is any indication for 2011, Busch is in for a good year. He returns the same team as last year where he made the Chase and grabbed two wins. His momentum from Daytona looks to carry over to Phoenix where he has a career average finish of 13.2, including 9 Top 10’s, 4 Top 5’s and 1 victory.

Team Mayer’s third and fourth drivers could rival Team Farnsworth’s Two B’s with David Reutimann and David Ragan making up the Double D’s. Reutimann, the third driver, driving the Aaron’s Dream Machine, had a tough Daytona 500. His owner, Michael Waltrip, created the crash that put Reutimann behind the field, fighting to make up spots all day long. Reutimann, a consummate gentleman, refused to blame his owner and ended up finishing the race in 30th position. Reutimann, coming off the second year in a row where he won a race, took a bit of a step back last year but not by much. He led more laps in 2010 than in 2009 and had one more Top 5 finish but he finished about 200 points behind where he was in 2009. The wins over the last two years have helped legitimize Reutimann though as a legitimate driver, capable of winning races at multiple speedways. If Team Mayer can get Harvick and Busch in the Chase, and Reutimann can fight for a Top 18 position in the standings, Team Mayer will contend all season long.

Fourth driver, David Ragan, was another one of our fourth drivers who looked like he might bite an owner in the ass for not starting him in the 500. Ragan, once considered immensely talented, was leading the Daytona 500 during the final laps of the race but he veered from his lane during a restart, thus getting black-flagged to the back for the maneuver and he ended up finishing 14th. It was a move that very much may have cost him the Daytona 500 victory. For this young driver, the victory could have catapulted him into the limelight that once made him the choice to replace Mark Martin in the famous No. 6 car. Since then, Ragan’s best season was in 2008 when he finished 13th and recorded 14 Top 10’s. In 2009 Ragan finished 27th and in 2010 he finished 24th. Despite driving for Roush-Fenway Racing, Ragan has never piloted his No. 6 UPS car to victory circle. The Daytona 500 was a big chance to build a lot of momentum for the 2011 season and Ragan made a crucial mistake that will take a lot to overcome. The team, and Ragan, say they’re ready to do it and have already forgotten about Daytona. Their sights are set to Phoenix, where Ragan has not faired well, with only 1 Top 10 and a career average finish of 25th.

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