August 7, 2009

Road Kill

Each year when the road courses roll around on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, hopeful owners trot out road ringers—specialists who spent the majority of their careers turning both left and right in sports cars or open wheel cars—and for a while, these drivers were great bargains for fantasy players.

Now, the question is: are these drivers still and good value?

And the answer is a qualified "maybe."

Some exceedingly good road racers have made their way into the regular ranks of NASCAR's elite with Juan Montoya and Marcos Ambrose getting stronger by the week on oval courses. They join the likes of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon to give owners a small pool of drivers guaranteed to run up front, and with those racers dominating the top five along with some other solid but lesser considered drivers such as Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson capable of running in the top 10 each road race, the impact of the road ringers is minimized.

In the Watkins Glen media center on Friday, Ambrose made that same point and with back-to-back third-place finishes after starting dead last in his last two road course starts, he knows what he's talking about.

In fact, among the drivers entered this week, only Ron Fellows has earned a top-10 in Cup competition on the road courses in the last eight races. We italicize the word entered, because the No. 08 John Carter team this week intends to swap Boris Said for the officially entered Terry Labonte unless rain cancels qualification—in that case, they will use Labonte's past champion's provisional to quite frankly steal a position on the grid.

However, the qualified "maybe" means these road ringers might be a good value under the right circumstances. This June, Patrick Carpentier climbed into the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 and nearly broke into the top 10 with an 11th-place finish. Max Papis is attempting to make several oval races this year, but for the moment he also should be considered a ringer and he finished 12th in that same race.

In fact, if not for the frenetic nature of the closing laps of the Toyota / SaveMart 350k when a myriad of cautions turned the end of the race into a slugfest, both drivers were inside the top 10 late in the going. Double-file restarts shuffled the field considerably and these two racers lost a bit of ground at the end.

Top-15s can make the road ringers a good value because in most salary cap games they are cheap enough to stretch your budget. In check box games with a maximum number of allocations allowed for each driver, a top-15 can also make them an acceptable proposition in order to save an allocation for one of your marquee drivers in a future race.

But, if a top-15 is the best they can hope for, and if they miss the mark by a little bit, then you are staring at a top-20 result instead, which is far less attractive.
Moreover, only Carpentier is in equipment that is regularly run on the Cup schedule. Papis' No. 13 proved to be strong at Infineon, but is otherwise largely untested. Fellows will drive the No. 09 James Finch entry, which already has a victory under its belt on the wild card Talladega SuperSpeedway this year. These three drivers represent your best chance to score points this week, but the safe money says to pick only one.

Top-15s by road ringers, last five years

2005 Watkins GlenBoris Said3
2008 Watkins GlenRon Fellows4
2005 Watkins GlenScott Pruett4
2006 Watkins GlenScott Pruett6
2005 InfineonRon Fellows8
2007 InfineonBoris Said9
2006 InfineonBoris Said9
2005 InfineonBrian Simo10
2009 InfineonPatrick Carpentier11
2009 InfineonMax Papis12
2007 InfineonP.J. Jones12
2008 Watkins GlenRon Fellows13
2008 Watkins GlenBoris Said14
2007 InfineonRon Fellows15

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