Jeff Gordon was obviously frustrated by his inability to beat out Jimmie Johnson on Sunday. There are a lot of positives to look for, though, especially from the fantasy perspective. Right now, there simply isn't a better driver in fantasy racing than Gordon. That's pretty scary to consider when he hasn't even won his first race of the season yet.
Gordon is leading the Nextel Cup standings, and the way he is driving right now, it's safe to assume he would still be atop the field even if Mark Martin hadn't missed the past two races. The second-place finish at Martinsville is only going to make Gordon push harder for victories in the next few races. That will mean he should continue to run near the top of the field every week. The near miss on Sunday should only spur Gordon to keep performing at a very high level, and the fact that he and Tony Stewart have yet to win this year should strike some serious fears into the rest of the field.
No one has adjusted better to the Car of Tomorrow over the past two races than Gordon. He battled an uncooperative car at Bristol to finish third, and then overcame some brief car troubles at Martinsville to seriously challenge for the victory in the end. Gordon has rebounded from adversity more than once so far this year. He started 42nd in Daytona and finished 10th. He placed second in Las Vegas after starting 36th. In Atlanta, he came from a lap down to eventually finish 12th. That was his worst finish in what has been a very impressive campaign so far.
Gordon led for 92 laps at Martinsville and he has led a total of 239 laps over the past four races. He already has two poles and four top-three finishes in six races. Gordon hasn't always featured the best car on the track, but no one has handled their ride better so far this year. Now with a week off, Gordon has two weeks to build up more motivation to dominate at Texas on April 15. Gordon has never won at Fort Worth, giving him something else to shoot for.
No matter what style of fantasy racing game you play, Gordon is a must-start right now. In challenge-style formats, start with Gordon and build the rest of your lineup around him. In formats with limited starts per driver, you have to ride with Gordon as he stays hot. In leagues where you must regularly choose between Gordon and another elite driver, the fact that Gordon has already delivered three second-place finishes should be the determining factor. Possibly no driver on the circuit is itching for a win more than Gordon at this time.
Johnson has won three of the past four races, but it could be difficult for him to sustain such incredible momentum for much longer. Gordon has more to shoot for right now, especially after he came away so disappointed at Martinsville. Johnson and Gordon could very well battle for the championship all year long, but at this time, Gordon's frustration should carry him a bit further in the shorter term. And with the way Hendrick Motorsports is dominating the early results, Kyle Busch certainly seems due for a major hot stretch soon. It seems like every Hendrick driver except Casey Mears will take their turns at the top of the field for a good stretch this year.
Some of the most dependable drivers on the circuit continued to perform well while Gordon and Johnson seized the spotlight. There are many unpredictable drivers to pick from, but a few make it very easy to just plug them in and play. Jeff Burton came through with another solid finish, and while he won't make any headlines with victories (one in the past five seasons) he finished sixth on Sunday, his fifth top-six finish in six races so far. Jamie McMurray finished ninth, his third top-10 finish in the past four races. Clint Bowyer finished 11th, and he has placed in the top 11 in four of the past five races. Having any three of those guys in your lineup along with a Gordon or Johnson can certainly make for a lot of stress-free lineup management.
It's been an up-and-down season so far for David Ragan, who started the season well before running into some bad luck recently. But Ragan managed a 15th-place showing at Martinsville, one spot ahead of the highly touted Juan Pablo Montoya. While each driver has been erratic in terms of finishes so far, the fact that they both fared well in just their second COT race on a short track should weigh in their favors. Montoya continues to improve overall, and Ragan is becoming a hit-or-miss pick who can provide you with some decent finishes. David Gilliland, however, continues to fade after a hot start. He finished 39th because of an engine failure.
Since his thrilling win at Daytona to open the season, the fortunes of Kevin Harvick have taken some wrong turns. He was coming off a fourth-place finish at Bristol on Sunday, but instead delivered one of the worst finishes of his career. Car trouble led to a 41st-place finish, Harvick's third finish out of the Top 20 in his past four races. Somehow, Harvick still sits at 10th in the point standings, which is fortunate, and you can certainly bet he's going to turn things around very quickly.
Around the track
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top 10 for the second consecutive race on Sunday. He certainly seems like a prime pick for any COT races in the future, as he has taken very quickly to the new car.
• Kurt Busch continued to run well on Sunday, finishing in 12th. He now has three top-15 finishes, and two in the past three races. Busch has looked good overall and is a good value pick in some formats.
• Carl Edwards hasn't embarrassed himself this season, but his fantasy owners are still waiting for better finishes. He placed 17th at Martinsville and doesn't have a top-five finish yet this year.
• For now, it's time to stop hoping for a rebound campaign from Greg Biffle. He finished 32nd at Martinsville and has placed in the top 10 only once this season.
• Jeremy Mayfield ran near the top of the field for a good portion of the day and could have come through with the best finish of any Toyota this year until his day was marred by a crash. Mayfield has managed to qualify twice in a row, but he and any other Toyota driver should not be considered for fantasy use in most formats unless you are desperate.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports. You can contact Scott here.