- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Last week's race at Texas once again showed us that anything can happen at any time in the Nextel Cup Series. The race had barely started when a wreck ended the high hopes of young drivers like J.J. Yeley and David Ragan, two popular bargain choices in the Stock Car Challenge. More mishaps ended the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports, for at least one week. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was on his way to another apparent strong finish, also had his aspirations of winning shattered when he crashed. In the most controversial move of the day, Junior finished the race in the No. 5 car of Kyle Busch.
No Stock Car Challenge player or fantasy owner can truly see such bad luck coming, so the best you can do is rely on recent results and past trends to set a solid lineup every week. By this point of the schedule, it's pretty clear which drivers you can rely on. Don't make any drastic changes based on one week of disappointing results in the case of drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
Victory Lane Special
Jeff Burton (Value: 23.5): This isn't a simple knee-jerk reaction to Burton's win at Texas. Burton is clearly on his way to the best season of his career, and he is priced slightly below a few other top drivers, making him the best combination of excellent finishes and overall value in the Stock Car Challenge game right now. Burton also has an impressive history of success that makes him a fine pick for this week. Burton has two wins and eight top-10 finishes in 15 career Nextel Cup races at Phoenix. He placed in the top 10 in both races at the site last season, and he has finished in the top 15 in every Texas race dating back to the 1997 season.
Jimmie Johnson (24.2): He is no longer the highest-priced driver in the Stock Car Challenge, making it a good time to add him, especially after a disappointing week at Texas. Johnson will certainly be primed to rebound in a major way on Saturday night. Hell hath no fury like a Nextel Cup champion scorned. Johnson has never won at Phoenix, another reason for him to be highly motivated for a strong run. Johnson has never finished worse than 15th at Phoenix, and he has three consecutive top-10 finishes at the site through last season. He finished second in the second Phoenix race of 2006.
Kevin Harvick (21.6): This choice is a certain gamble. Harvick has been a big disappointment so far this year. If he's going to turn it around anytime soon, though, it will be at Phoenix. If he doesn't deliver this week, then you can leave him alone until further notice. Harvick won both races at Phoenix last season, and you simply have to overlook his troubles so far in 2007 and expect a strong performance this week. Harvick should be determined to put last week's 29th-place finish and the 41st-place showing at Martinsville behind him.
Kurt Busch (21.6): He has been quite underrated so far, and once again, Busch had one of the best cars on the track last week at Texas. He led for 42 laps, and he certainly deserved better than his ultimate 11th-place finish. Busch has only one top-10 finish so far this season, but he has placed in the top 15 in three of the past four races. He could come through with one of his best outings of 2007 at Phoenix. Busch won the second Phoenix race in 2005, and he has five top-10 finishes in eight career races at the site.
Mark Martin (19.8): Two weeks of inactivity proved to be no deterrent for Martin last week, and he should remain locked into your lineup as long as he remains active in any given week. It's sometimes a pain adjusting your salary structure to accommodate Martin when he returns, but the continued strong finishes make him well worth it. He's an excellent pick for Phoenix, with 14 top-10 finishes in 21 career starts at the site. After his first Phoenix race in 1988, Martin has never finished outside of the top 20 at the track.
David Stremme (17.6): Stremme could very well be the best value selection in the Stock Car Challenge game right now. He continues to provide owners with strong finishes for the price, on all types of tracks. Stremme came through with his best showing of the season so far last week, placing 10th at Texas. He has already taken well to the Car of Tomorrow, and he now has six top-20 finishes and four top-15s so far this year. He finished 18th in the second Phoenix race of 2006.
David Gilliland (15.0): He's been pretty quiet since his opening rush at Daytona, but there's reason to believe Gilliland could deliver a solid fantasy finish for the price tag this week. Gilliland qualified 13th and finished 16th in his one Nextel Cup start at Phoenix in 2006. Gilliland finished 19th last week at Texas and is showing signs of becoming a respectable fantasy option again.
Carl Edwards (22.2) has four top-10 finishes in five Phoenix races. Jeff Gordon (24.7) is now the highest-priced driver in the game. He has never won at Phoenix but he has 13 top-10 finishes in 16 starts. Jamie McMurray (19.8) has never finished in the top 10 at Phoenix. Brian Vickers (19.0) has five top-20 finishes in six career starts at Phoenix. Martin Truex Jr. (18.8) finished 12th in the second Phoenix race of the 2006 season.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports. You can contact Scott here.
10dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information