1) Jimmie Johnson (Starting – 5th ) (Odds To Win – 12/1 )
Fantasy Spin – Since the Generation 6 car came on the scene nobody has been better than Jimmie Johnson at restrictor plate tracks. In the nine races on plate tracks since that car rolled he has the best driver rating, best average running position (10.3), led the most laps (314), has the most top fives and is the only driver with multiple wins. This weekend at Talladega it’s said that the track has lost grip. I think that will play into Jimmie Johnson’s hands because in recent races at plate tracks his handling has been superb. In many of the recent plate races over the last couple of year’s you’ll see Jimmie Johnson being the only driver who has a strong enough car to lead a line of cars on the bottom line up to the front. Daytona is similar to Talladega and earlier this year he ran well at that venue. He finished 5th, earned the 6th best driver rating and led 39 laps. If you’re fantasy league rewards bonus points for leading laps take note that Johnson has led in the last 10 Talladega races.
Talladega History – Jimmie Johnson has two wins at Talladega but it hasn’t always been the friendliest track to him. Among the 23 tracks on the circuit this is home to his worst top fifteen finish percentage (50%). Last fall at this “Wild Card” venue I would argue he had the best car and his 24th place finish is deceiving. In that race he earned the best PROS Rankings, the 2nd best driver rating, a 4th place average running position and led 84 laps. His poor finish can all be traced to mistakes made during late restarts. In spring 2014 he earned the 5th best driver rating but finished 23rd. With 14 laps to go he spun and caused a big wreck. At the time of that incident he was running right around 10th. In fall 2013 he arguably had the best car but he once again made some poor decisions at the end. He led the most laps, tied Earnhardt Jr. for the best average running position and finished 13th. In spring 2013 I would once again argue he had the best car. When he wanted to get around Kenseth he had no problem accomplishing the task. When the checkered flag waved he finished 5th, had a 4th place average running position and earned the 2nd best driver rating.
Momentum – If you like finish trends you have to like Johnson’s. Over the last three races he’s finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
2) Kevin Harvick (Starting – 24th ) (Odds To Win – 12/1 )
Fantasy Spin – Kevin Harvick has a great chance to win the Talladega Geico 500. He’s one of the best drafters in the series and his prowess at this discipline of racing ranks among the best. At these venues he knows how to position himself up front when it matters and he’s proven he can pull off the last lap pass. Daytona is the other restrictor plate track on the schedule and at that venue he performed well in February. He finished 2nd and earned the 3rd best driver rating. One of the main attributes you have to like about Harvick this season is his ability to avoid trouble on the track. In my opinion that’s as close to a good luck charm as you can get at high-attrition tracks. Look for Kevin Harvick to be in the mix at the end contending for the victory.
Talladega History – Talladega has been a pretty good track for Kevin Harvick. He’s a former champion and has finished in the top ten 43% percent of the time. In 4 of the last 5 Talladega races he’s finished in the top 12. Since 2010 minus the three races where he had problems and finished off the lead lap he has a 6.7 average result. Last fall Kevin Harvick had a good car. Whenever he wanted to get to the front he had no problem getting there. In the closing laps he got up to 3rd but Joey Logano became a “moving chicane” which broke his momentum and he finished 9th as a result. In spring 2014 he also had a good performance. Over the final 70 laps he was a driver who consistently drove in the top 5. In the closing laps he was very strong but lost a number of positions late. Of the final 21 laps he led 15 of them. When the checkered flag waved he finished 7th. In October 2013 he ran near the back for nearly the entire race and with the lack of cautions that strategy kind of back fired and he finished 12th. In spring 2013 he got caught up in an early accident. In fall 2012 he was going to finish in the top five but he was caught up in a last lap wreck. In 2010 Kevin Harvick got his only win at Talladega.
Momentum – At Richmond points leader Kevin Harvick notched his 7th top two finish of the season. In 2015 minus Bristol where he crashed while leading he has a 2.5 average finish.
3) Matt Kenseth (Starting – 8th ) (Odds To Win – 12/1)
Fantasy Spin – Matt Kenseth is a driver who you can count on being in the mix to win the Talladega Geico 500. He’s one of the best drafters in the series and when he gets to the front of the pack he’s hard to get around. He makes his car three wide by himself and always positions himself in front of the fastest line. In 2015 it doesn’t look like he lost a step. At Daytona this year he won his Duel 150 and looked good in the “Great American Race” until he was caught up in Stewart’s accident.
Talladega History – Over the last six Talladega races I would argue Matt Kenseth has been the best driver at Talladega. Over this stretch he has the best driver rating, the best average running position, led the most laps (282) and has an 11.8 average finish. Last fall Kenseth ran near the back for nearly the entire race but at the end he darted towards the front and finished 2nd. Last spring he looked like he had top five potential but finished poorly after being involved in Keselowski’s wreck. In fall 2013 he had the best car in the first half of the race but in the second half he became very loose and faded to a 20th place finish. In spring 2013 he dominated the race but I wouldn’t necessarily say he had the best car. In that race he led 142 laps but got scuffled from the lead late and finished 8th. In the three Talladega races prior to that he had results of 8th, 1st and 3rd.
Momentum – Matt Kenseth has been hot. In three of the last four races he’s finished in the top 7.