The 2017 NASCAR season is taking a break for a week, which allows everyone a chance to catch their breath — including fantasy owners.
As usual, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has plenty of drivers who started the season stronger than they were expected too, and others who haven’t lived up to expectations. This unpredictability can make setting your lineup quite difficult, especially given we’re only seven rounds into the 26-race regular season.
Personally, we aren’t convinced certain racers are going to continue performing as they have — for better or worse. Here are the drivers we expect to improve, and the ones we expect to regress, as the season moves forward:
Drivers who will improve
Kevin Harvick probably hasn’t performed as well as many fantasy owners had expected. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver had an average starting position of 9.3 across the first seven races, yet his average result is 16th place. Those aren’t particularly good numbers for players in leagues that value positions gained.
His performance at Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 has us encouraged though, and we expect him to continue racing well the rest of the season. Harvick finished fifth at Texas Motor Speedway after winning his second pole of the season. He also led 77 laps, boosting his series-leading total to 419.
Denny Hamlin has had a miserable start to the 2017 season, but we expect that to change. He has two top-10 finishes thus far, but his average starting position of 11.3 and average finishing position of 20th has made him a liability to many fantasy players.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been caught up in multiple wrecks throughout the young season, which has severely limited his potential to earn points for fantasy owners. Don’t give up on Hamlin yet, though, as he’s too good of a driver not to have his fortunes reverse at some point.
Having ended three of seven races early, Matt Kenseth often hasn’t been on the track long enough to earn points for fantasy players. In addition to finishing an average of nearly 10 positions further back than where he started, Kenseth has yet to lead a lap.
However, Kenseth’s track record is too good, and his three top-10 finishes and one top-five have us believing that he’ll straighten things out and hit his stride.
Drivers who will regress
Larson is in this spot simply because the law of averages suggest no one can be this good for this long. He has five top-five finishes so far, including one win and four runner-ups. He’s currently leading in the Cup standings, and it’s taken phenomenal performances thus far from Chase Elliott to keep the standings relatively close.
We expect him to continue performing well, but not as well as he has been, so fantasy owners shouldn’t let his success so far dissuade them from starting other top-tier drivers.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver has shown spunk so far this season, as he’s routinely been finishing in the mid 20s and has two top-10 finishes. Stenhouse, though, is unlikely to earn fantasy owners points in areas such as laps led or qualifying position, which makes where he finishes in races all the more important.
He’s been a trendy sleeper pick for fantasy players in the early going, but we expect his performance to regress to the point where you should look for other drivers to start.
The fact Bowyer is in the top 10 in the Cup standings, even after just seven races, has to have most people surprised. He’s finished in the top 10 on three occasions so far, and has been around the front of the pack all year.
The problem, though, is Bowyer’s performance in recent years doesn’t suggest he’ll continue this pace for long. He’s worth playing in races being run at tracks that favor veteran drivers, but we’d expect him to start slipping in most statistical categories.
Thumbnail photo via Michael Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Apr 2, 2017; Martinsville, VA, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (18) and NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski (2) race during the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports