The 2015 NASCAR season starts out with a six consecutive races and then takes a break for Easter. It is a god time for the teams and drivers to evaluate the success of their program. Since they get a chance to adjust, so should fantasy owners.
There are some inherent dangers in looking backward, but lacking an operational crystal ball, that is the only direction players can look. Momentum is fickle and can occasionally be broken by the simple act of taking a week off. That is more likely to be true of lightly-funded and inexperienced teams. Still, there have been some remarkable accomplishments by some dark horses who have planted themselves in the top 16.
Three drivers have perfect records of top-10s this season and as expected, they top the chart of average results. Kevin Harvick ran away with the opening races, followed by Joey Logano, and Martin Truex Jr. Four others—Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Ryan Newman—have at least three-race, top-10 streaks to their credit, while several more stacked top-15s together.
In each driver’s statistics’ block we have included some key numbers. Along with the average finish, the reader will find the average running position and NASCAR’s Driver Rating. The running position is the average position of each lap they have taken on the track; the lower the number, the more time a driver spent at the head of the pack. The Driver Rating is a complex formula developed by NASCAR several years ago to somewhat replicate the NFL’s Quarterback Rating. It includes quite a few categories and higher numbers are an indication of strength. A Driver Rating of 150 is perfect.
Winning one’s fantasy league is often about jumping on and off the bandwagon at the right time—so now is the time to look back at significant accomplishments for the drivers with the 10-best average finishes, (and some selected others), from the first part of 2015.
10 best drivers in first six races of 2015
These drivers have the best average finish this year.
1. Kevin Harvick
Average finish: 2.67
Average running position/rank: 4.0 / 1
Driver Rating/rank: 132.9 / 1
To say that Harvick has dominated the first six races would be an understatement. His two wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix officially lock him into the Chase, but seconds at Daytona, Atlanta, and Auto Club also earned major points for fantasy owners. Last week’s eighth-place finish at Martinsville came after he threatened to win on the short track as well.
2. Joey Logano
Average finish: 5.50
Average running position/rank: 5.9 / 2
Driver Rating/rank: 115.3 / 2
Fantasy teams are never made up of only one driver and Logano has been the second-strongest racer all season to take his position alongside Harvick. Logano’s three top-fives are equal to anyone in the field except Harvick and his season-opening victory at Daytona virtually locked him in the Chase from the start of the season. He might have been experimenting in the three races where he finished seventh to 10th, but that will eventually result in even more victories for the No. 22 team.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Average finish: 6.17
Average running position/rank: 9.9 / 6
Driver Rating/rank: 101.2 / 5
With an average running position that is only sixth-best in the field, it is apparent that Truex has not threatened for top-10s throughout the entirety of each race, but his team is making the right changes to get him to the front in time for the checkers. Ultimately that is what matters most and Truex’s sweep of the top 10 makes him the most pleasant surprise of the year.
4. Kurt Busch
Average finish: 7.33
Average running position/rank: Not Ranked
Driver Rating/rank: Not Ranked
In order to be ranked by NASCAR Statistical Services, drivers have to compete in two-thirds of the races, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind about Busch’s early strength. In the first two races after his suspension, he challenged teammate Harvick for the win at Phoenix and Auto Club. An ill-handling car at Martinsville denied him a sweep of the top 10.
5. Brad Keselowski
Average finish: 11.00
Average running position/rank: 9.7 / 4
Driver Rating/rank: 104.6 / 3
Keselowski took four tires at Auto Club and benefitted from two late-race cautions for debris. He won the Auto Club 400 in the last corner of the last lap. His willingness to gamble is both a strength and weakness for fantasy players because he can occasionally fall back through the pack. His only stumble this season came at Daytona with a blown engine; he has swept the top 10 ever since.
6. Kasey Kahne
Average finish: 12.00
Average running position/rank: 9.4 / 3
Driver Rating/rank: 97.4 / 7
Kahne’s average running position of 9.4 is the third-best in the field, but he has only two top-10s to show for his effort. One of these came on the restrictor-plate, superspeedway of Daytona, which does not recommend him on any of the unrestricted tracks. He has minimized the damage, however, and has a worst finish of 17th. He has not earned a lot of points for fantasy owners, but he has not cost them many either.
7. Ryan Newman
Average finish: 14.33
Average running position/rank: 15.0 / 14
Driver Rating/rank: 84.4 / 13
Newman’s early season stats have been negatively impacted by poor finishes in his first start at Daytona and his most recent race at Martinsville. In between, he swept the top 10 and earned three consecutive top-fives. He recently lost several crewmembers to a penalty, however, and that could stall his momentum for the next six weeks.
8. Paul Menard
Average finish: 15.17
Average running position/rank: 15.8 / 15
Driver Rating/rank: 82.1 / 14
Menard is one of several dark horses that occupy the top 16 in points and he has done so based on consistency. He finished 25th in the Daytona 500 and was 23rd last week at Martinsville, but in between he swept the top 15. His six-week average finish was helped most by a fourth in the Auto Club 400, which is also his only top-10.
9. Aric Almirola
Average finish: 15.67
Average running position/rank: 19.4 / 18
Driver Rating/rank: 74.3 / 17
Almirola has one of the 10-best average finishes in the first six races without having scored a single top-10 finish. The reason for this is inconsistent performances by some of the drivers ranked below him versus the consistency shown by No. 43. Predictability is a player’s best friend and five of Almirola’s six results range from 11th through 19th.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Average finish: 15.83
Average running position/rank: 12.5 / 9
Driver Rating/rank: 100.8 / 6
Earnhardt went toe-to-toe with Harvick in the first three races. He finished third in the Daytona 500 and Quik Trip 500, then slipped one spot to fourth in the Kobalt 400 at Vegas. Accidents at Phoenix and Martinsville dropped him outside of the top 35. If he can stay out of trouble, he should land back inside the top 10 in the majority of the next six races.
Others of Note
11. Denny Hamlin
Average finish: 16.50
Average running position/rank: 9.8 / 5
Driver Rating/rank: 102.5 / 4
Hamlin’s victory at Martinsville could prove to be pivotal for his season. He is a flat track master who typically runs well in his home state of Virginia, but that has not been uniformly true in the past several seasons. He had to overcome adversity en route to Victory Lane last week and that might be the catalyst needed to give the team confidence and reverse Hamlin’s fortune.
12. Matt Kenseth
Average finish: 16.67
Average running position/rank: 13.3 / 10
Driver Rating/rank: 92.3 / 9
Kenseth has three top-10s to his credit. He has another modest finish of 16th, which means he has been a bad value only twice in the first six races of 2015. One of these disappointing runs came at Daytona and can be dismissed because of the crash damage he sustained. The other is a little more problematic because it came at Auto Club, where he typically dominates.
14. Jimmie Johnson
Average finish: 17.00
Average running position/rank: 14.9 / 13
Driver Rating/rank: 96.9 / 8
The new knockout-style format was not kind to Johnson last year and early indications are that he will not be much stronger in 2015. “Strength” is relative to his past performance, however, and most drivers in the field would trade places with the No. 48 in a heartbeat to get his Quik Trip 500 victory. Fantasy players are wincing from his 41st-place finish at Vegas and 35th at Martinsville, however.
19. Carl Edwards (tied with Gordon)
Average finish: 20.00
Average running position/rank: 11.6 / 8
Driver Rating/rank: 90.3 / 11
When Edwards calms down and stops overdriving the No. 19 he will put down numbers that match teammates Hamlin and Kenseth. At the moment all three of them are on the outside of the top 10 average finishes, but NASCAR is a marathon instead of a sprint.
19. Jeff Gordon (tied with Edwards)
Average finish: 20.00
Average running position/rank: 11.1 / 7
Driver Rating/rank: 91.7 / 10
Gordon was en route to victory at Martinsville until a late-race caution for debris sent everyone to the pits. He still might have had the power to secure his spot in the Chase if not for a speeding penalty. Accidents in the first three races ruined his average finish, but he has been one of the strongest drivers in the last three events and will continue to move up the charts.
Most caution flags: 16 (STP 500)
Fewest caution flags: 6 (Kobalt 400)
Average number of caution flags per race: 9.3
Final Caution, last five races:
STP 500: 461 of 500: debris
Auto Club 400: 204 of 209: debris to set up second green-white-checker
CampingWorld.com 500: 297 of 312: 2-car accident in turn 4 (Danica Patrick and David Ragan)
Kobalt 400: 195 of 267: 1-car accident in turn 2 (Carl Edwards)
Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500: 306 of 325: 6-car accident in turn 3 (Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joe Nemechek, Kyle Larson)
Daytona 500: 203 of 203: during green-white-checker: 7-car accident (Jeff Gordon, Austin Dillon, Matt Crafton, AJ Allmendinger, Reed Sorenson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson)
Most caution laps: 112 (STP 500)
Fewest caution laps: 26 (Daytona 500)
Average number of caution laps per race: 50.7
Leading the way
Most leaders: 13 (STP 500)
Fewest leaders: 4 (CampingWorld.com 500)
Average number of leaders: 9.8
Most lead changes: 31 (STP 500)
Fewest lead changes: 8 (CampingWorld.com 500)
Average number of lead changes: 21.8
STP 500: Denny Hamlin (15th)
Auto Club 400: Brad Keselowski (eighth)
CampingWorld.com 500: Kevin Harvick (pole)
Kobalt 400: Kevin Harvick (18th)
Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500: Jimmie Johnson (37th)
Daytona 500: Joey Logano (fifth)
Running at the End
The following active drivers have been running at the end of every race they started this year:
Sam Hornish Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.
Jeb Burton (5)
Brett Moffitt (5)
Josh Wise (5)
Mike Bliss (4)
Brendan Gaughan (4)
Regan Smith (4)
Kurt Busch (3)
Matt DiBenedetto (3)
Chris Buescher (2)
Brian Scott (2)