- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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There were mixed reviews about the Car of Tomorrow in its debut race, with the most vocal disdain coming from Kyle Busch. But Busch was also happy that Jeff Burton didn't bump him out of the way in an attempt to secure a victory.
Burton may have earned some more respect in lieu of a win, but he is now slightly behind Jeff Gordon in the overall Nextel Cup points standings. Right now, there doesn't seem to be a more dependable driver than Burton for fantasy purposes. He's not quite as expensive as some of the bigger-name drivers in some salary-cap style games, and he's delivering consistently impressive results.
In ESPN.com's Stock Car Challenge, Burton's current price tag is 22.7, while Gordon is at 24.1. And in many other styles of fantasy racing, Burton was likely not drafted as the "anchor" driver on most rosters. Many top fantasy teams are now building their rosters around the likes of Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Burton is the ultimate complement to one of those big names for some top fantasy squads right now. And if you picked Kasey Kahne or Dale Earnhardt Jr. as your top driver this year, Burton could very well be salvaging your season to this point.
Burton won only one Nextel Cup race last year, and it was his only Cup victory in the past six seasons, including 2007. But Burton became very dependable last year, with 20 top-10 finishes and that consistency has carried into '07. In fact, Burton has been even more reliable than he was in 2006, and his regularly fine finishes have been one of the most interesting trends this season from the fantasy perspective. Burton has run well on all types of courses so far and he made a very quick adjustment to the Car of Tomorrow.
Burton's second-place showing at Bristol was his best finish of 2007 to this point, and his fourth top-five finish in five races. Burton finished 15th at Las Vegas but could have placed higher if not for an electrical problem. It must also be noted that Burton has overcome a pair of disappointing qualifying runs in the past two races. Burton started 32nd in Atlanta, but quickly zipped through the field and finished in fourth. Burton started 29th at Bristol, yet he rather quietly moved his way up to the front before making a late push for the victory.
With another Car of Tomorrow race on the schedule next week and some top drivers either performing erratically or not up to expectations, Burton should be locked into your lineup. If you have him in a salary cap style game, you should be building your roster around him and another elite driver, even if you have to gamble on some lower-priced bargains. In other formats, you should start him every week while he remains on his current hot streak.
No. 26 under the radar
Now is the time to get Jamie McMurray on your roster if possible. He earned his best finish of the season on Sunday, and he has looked very solid for most of the year so far. McMurray suffered through some bad luck in the first two races of the season at Daytona and California, but he has regularly had one of the better cars on the track each week and has a very focused, determined approach this season. McMurray is rather quietly mapping out a nice rebound campaign for himself. He finished in 10th and 15th place prior to his ninth-place showing at Bristol. Expectations have been lowered for McMurray this season and he seems to be doing just fine with less pressure on him in 2007.
Tough times for Tony
One of the biggest stories of the day was how Tony Stewart was done in by a fuel pump problem. Stewart quickly took the lead away from pole winner Jeff Gordon early in the race and clearly had the best car on the track. Stewart led for 257 laps before bad luck took away yet another opportunity for a great finish. It has been a very frustrating season so far for Stewart. A crash took away his chance for a win at Daytona and he could have also won at Fontana if not for a pit road penalty. He also had a near-miss at Atlanta. The disappointments so far should only motivate Stewart further to earn his first win of the season, and he will definitely be a major force in the next few races.
Kurt can't sustain success
Bristol is usually the stage for Kurt Busch to perform very well, and for a short time on Sunday, it appeared he would enjoy another moment in the spotlight at one of his favorite tracks. Busch started in 42nd , but quickly moved into the top 30, and then with some good pit strategy, he suddenly found himself leading rather early in the race. He led for 10 laps, but then he quickly disappeared for the rest of the afternoon. Busch eventually slipped back out of the Top 20 and went unnoticed for the rest of the day as he ended up in 29th. Busch finished 37th in the second Bristol race last year. Is his magic at the site wearing off? Overall, Busch has been inconsistent this season, but he has looked good at times and could come back with a quality showing at Martinsville.
Around the track
• Somehow, Casey Mears, who was in danger of going down a lap at one point, managed a 10th-place finish at Bristol. Mears also narrowly missed being involved in a crash. It was Mears' best finish since placing 20th at Daytona, but one good showing isn't enough to convince me he is finally ready to blossom.
• Clint Bowyer looked good again, and his eighth-place showing was his second consecutive finish in the top 10. Bowyer has finished in the top 10 in three of the past four races and he is on a very positive roll right now.
• Kasey Kahne ran near the top of the field for a good portion of the race before a tire problem killed his chances of contending. Ultimately, he did finish 19th and barely managed to stay in the top 35 in owner's points. Kahne has looked very strong at times early this year and his luck should turn around soon.
• Owners of David Stremme are very happy with his early returns. He delivered his second consecutive 13th-place finish on Sunday, and he has finished in the top 20 in all five races so far this season. Stremme is one of the top value drivers you can have in any format right now.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports. You can contact Scott here.
Scott Engel recaps the weekend in stock car racing and what it means for future weeks.