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Thursday, May 22, 2008
SCC Preview: Coca-Cola 600

By Scott Engel
ESPN.com

After a week off from points racing, the Sprint Cup series returns to action at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Sunday. The first 11 races of the season not only have taught us a lot about what to expect this season in terms of trends, they also have served as a template for our new beginning this week. Starting with race No. 12, the second segment of the Stock Car Challenge begins. So setting your lineup this week will be about more than just selecting the optimum squad for Lowe's. You'll also have to think about anchoring your lineup with at least two drivers whom you can lean on to keep your team at or near the top of your group.

The player values have been reset for the second segment, and now is the time to heavily consider the results from the first 11 events while realizing that many drivers now are ranked where they are based on those races. The top Hendrick Motorsports cars and Tony Stewart are no longer the priciest guys in the game because they have not been worth it so far in 2008. Yet there also are overpriced drivers to steer clear of initially. Travis Kvapil certainly has performed above expectations this year, but with a price tag of $20.0 million, he's more expensive than Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth. Only the complete newbie in the world of fantasy racing would pick Kvapil instead of more established drivers such as those two.

In fact, you want to consider taking a long look at some possible bargains such as Kenseth, who simply has to perform better than he has so far. You still don't want to take a gamble on Jeff Gordon for the second segment just yet. His 21.9 price tag seems reasonable, but he isn't quite worth the difference between him and a slightly cheaper driver. So with that in mind, this week's SCC preview takes a bit of a different turn. I'll identify guys whom you should now plug in as regulars or fine one-week options. And, of course, I'll share my own lineup for the first race of segment two.

Lineup anchors

Kyle Busch (23.8): He leads the list of drivers who should be on your squad every week. He's the current favorite to win the Cup title and can win on any track at any time. He has three wins, eight top-10s and seven top-5 finishes so far. He also finished third in the second race at Lowe's in 2006. So you know a better performance is very likely under the Joe Gibbs banner this week.

Carl Edwards (23.0): If someone can be considered a prime challenger to Busch's supremacy this season, it's Edwards. Though the overall results have not fully reflected it so far, Edwards often has looked like the best driver on the track or right up there with Busch. Edwards has five top-10 finishes in his past six races and three wins already. He placed second at Darlington before the All-Star race, and he will be much better the rest of the way than his average finish of 12.9 would indicate.

Top discounts

Matt Kenseth (18.1): It's been a very frustrating run for Kenseth so far, but he is priced ridiculously low right now. You know he will get better, so you should strongly consider locking him into your lineup now. Kenseth has only one top-5 showing so far and an average finish of 21.9. Yet he has also dealt with some rotten luck that simply has to turn around, and his sixth-place finish at Darlington is a clear sign of better times ahead.

Mark Martin (17.6): You'll obviously have to move him in and out of your lineup when he has off, but when Aric Almirola (11.4) replaces him, he has shown the potential to deliver respectable finishes and can let you front-load your lineup with other top drivers, plus you'll have other bargains you can use occasionally. When Martin appears in the entry list, though, as he does this week, you simply have to plug him in. Martin has four top-10 finishes this season, including three in the past four events. His average finish of 13.9 jumps off the page when you consider other drivers in his price range.

Wait and watch

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23.1): The move to Hendrick has done him well, and he is certainly more reliable this season, but he is not worth adding for now over Edwards, especially because victories continue to elude him. Either he will earn that win in the near future and will begin a hot streak that demands you add him, or his price will drop slightly and he will be more reasonable for the consistently good showings.

Jeff Gordon (21.9): Like Kenseth, he is simply too good not to turn things around in the near future. He has an average finish of just 16.5 so far and just four top-5 finishes. He has finished ninth and third in his past two races, but you have to resist the temptation of adding him now and must see if he can continue to sustain his recent positive momentum.

Martin Truex Jr. (19.3): He seems like a good discount at this price, but for now I'd rather use drivers based on the track of the week instead of looking for any reliability from him yet. He has only three top-10 finishes and one top-5 outing so far. I believe he will improve, but I'd prefer to see it happen first.

Avoid 'em for now

Jimmie Johnson (22.7): He's been boom-or-bust during the first 11 races, and that's simply not worth this price tag. He has not finished better than 13th in his past three races and did not capitalize on the possible momentum of the win at Phoenix. Though Johnson is a five-time winner at Lowe's, you cannot bank on his past results right now.

Tony Stewart (22.2): The move to Toyota has produced a mixed bag of results so far, even though bad luck certainly has gotten in his way as well. Stewart does have six top-10 finishes so far, but just one in his past four events.

Kasey Kahne (19.4): I don't care that this guy won the All-Star race. He doesn't deliver when it counts. He has no top-5 finishes this season and only one top-10 outing in his past six events. Plus, that "Rock You Like a Hurricane" commercial makes it very difficult to stomach having him on my roster no matter what his price tag is.

Sam Hornish Jr. (13.5): He showed some promise during All-Star weekend, but again, that doesn't count. Hornish must qualify on time again, and as we saw late last season, that's no easy feat for him.

Liking 'em at Lowe's

Denny Hamlin (23.2): He has three top-10 finishes in five starts at Lowe's. Hamlin finished ninth in the first race there in 2006 and can certainly come through with his best-ever showing at the site this week.

Brian Vickers (17.9): He finished 10th and fifth at Lowe's last season. He led 76 laps in the second event there of 2007.

Bobby Labonte (17.8): He has an average finish of 12.8 at Lowe's. Labonte has finished fifth, 13th and 12th in his past three races at the site.

J.J. Yeley (13.0): Yeley finished second and 13th at Lowe's last season. He obviously is not the same driver this season with Hall of Fame Racing this year, but he can at least provide you with a respectable finish for the price this week.

The Engel five

Kyle Busch: He probably will be on my team for the entire second segment.

Carl Edwards: Let's say I have a strong feeling he could get his fourth win of the season this week.

Brian Vickers: He no longer has to qualify in on time, making him a superb occasional choice.

Mark Martin: Peace of mind at a great value price.

Jamie McMurray (17.4): He may not be on my roster for long, but he has a win and five top-10 finishes in 11 starts at Lowe's.

Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.