Guest post provided by Scott Boyle. Follow him on Twitter!
I am excited that the 2015 NASCAR season is fast approaching. I also look forward to play each and every one of you in “The Showcase” and other side games here at Fantasy Racing Online. So go sign up today; the more competition, the better it will be!
In fantasy racing leagues everywhere, there will be drivers throughout the season that will be on many teams rosters. These are the “top tier” guys like Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. However, to be truly successful in many leagues–as in taking home the championship–you have to use sleeper drivers successfully.
3 NASCAR Sleepers to Keep an Eye on in 2015
1. Kasey Kahne – #5 Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne makes my list because of his under-achieving 15th-place finish in the 2014 Chase standings. That is unacceptable with the equipment that Hendrick Motorsports provides him (which is, in most people’s opinion, the best). This year there will be a new crew chief atop the #5 pit still as Keith Rodden will take over after Kenny Francis led this team for 3 years. Rodden was an engineer for Kahne in 2013 before being hired at Chip Ganassi Racing to be Jamie McMurray’s crew chief last year. In 2013, the team of Francis/Rodden helped Kasey gain 16 positions during green flag pit stops for the whole season combined. Last year, without Rodden, Kahne lost a combined 30 spots on the year.
Just like Larson, Kasey Kahne is an underrated road racer. Last year, his average finish on that track type was 9th, which is probably surprising to many. Under Keith Rodden, Jamie McMurray’s #1 Chevrolet won the pole and had the highest average running position at Sonoma in 2014. Otherwise, Kasey’s best tracks are Atlanta, Kansas, and Charlotte. The “cookie cutter” tracks like that still make up the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule so there is no reason–with this equipment–that Kahne shouldn’t be in serious contention for the Championship Round in 2015.
2. Kyle Larson – #42 Chevrolet
I am very high on Kyle Larson this year, and I think he makes a strong case to be a favorite on a week-to-week basis. During his rookie year in 2014, the kid just kept getting better and better, and he looked to be really be knocking on the door for his first win once we got to the Chase. In the first five races of NASCAR’s playoffs, he finished 3rd at Chicago, 2nd at New Hampshire (arguably his best track), 6th at Dover, 2nd at Kansas, and at Charlotte he was 6th. Those are the types of finishes that legitimate title contenders get on a regular basis, not a typical rookie.
Additionally, one may not consider the #42 Chevrolet a road race contender since Juan Pablo Montoya left, but Larson finished 4th at Watkins Glen. He also started 3rd at Sonoma and stayed in the top 10 the entire race until having power steering problems near halfway. The bottom line is Kyle Larson is a contender this year, and will win a race. The equipment that Ganassi gives him is a concern, but I’m confident that he can drive any car well. With the new Chase format, the top 5-10 could very well be where he ends up in 2015.
3. Clint Bowyer – #15 Toyota
Last but not least I present Clint Bowyer. The 2014 season for this #15 team could be summed up by two of his own words: “it sucked.” A closer look at last year still shows that he led in 12 races, including 3rd-place finishes in both Talladega races. I can also count numerous times last season in which I watched practice leading up to the race and thought, “man the 15 is fast. He is going to have something for these boys on Sunday.” Then, for one reason or the next, Bowyer just couldn’t turn that into strong finishes.
It seemed like Clint wasn’t very good at communicating the changes the car needed to crew chief Brian Pattie to stay up front the whole race. Looking back on 2012 + 13, Bowyer finished 2nd and 7th in points, respectively. I am looking for him to rebound and get closer to that form with a win at a restrictor plate race or Richmond. Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole had a down year in 2014 and I can’t see that happening for a second season in a row.
Comments and/or questions are more than welcome. More importantly, good luck to everyone and let’s have a GREAT 2015 NASCAR season!