- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Jeff Burton nearly won the spring race at Bristol last season but was edged out by Kyle Busch, a result that certainly frustrated many of his fantasy owners. This time, luck stepped in, and Burton roared to the front late to win for the first time at the site. While all the buzz was about Busch and Carl Edwards and the struggles of Hendrick Motorsports entering Sunday's race, Burton stole the headlines.
Burton is a reliable fantasy driver, and occasionally he will push for a victory. Yet he isn't elite from the fantasy perspective, and if some inexperienced owner offers you a trade that is too good to be true this week in an ESPN.com FSR league, you should probably take it. Many experienced fantasy players will still prefer to have more decorated drivers on their rosters, and rightly so, but if you get the chance to sell high on Burton, go for it. While he does have 21 top-10 finishes in the past 41 races, he has only one win in each of the past three seasons. He's quite good, but in a fantasy league, if someone now thinks he is great and overreacts to the Bristol win, swing a deal for a driver you believe will win more often and ultimately finish higher in the Cup standings.
Of course, this was Tony Stewart's race to win after he led for 267 laps, but a Kevin Harvick bump changed that outlook and robbed Stewart's owners of their first opportunity to seize a win in 2008. Stewart and Harvick are good friends off the track, and it appears there will be no major repercussions from the spinout, but if you have an FSR league in your office, maybe you should make sure that the fantasy owners of these two drivers steer clear of one another for the next few days. Stewart finished in 14th, but his overall performance signals that his first win of the season isn't far away.
A win should also be on the radar for owners of the rejuvenated Greg Biffle, who finished fourth. He already has three top-5 finishes in the first five races, which is only two less top-5s than he had all of 2007. Biffle didn't lead any laps and has led only 17 laps overall this season, but he has finished third, fourth and fourth, respectively, in his past three races, and if Burton can benefit from other dominant drivers being knocked out of the top of the field in any given week, Biffle certainly can take advantage of the same type of luck. He'll also run well enough to win in the near future, so the odds of more than one Biffle win this year appear to be good.
You also can't overlook the quiet resurgence of Clint Bowyer, who finished third, his best showing of the year. If you can buy low on Bowyer, citing his average finish of 16.0, you'll be pulling off an impressive feat. Bowyer finished 24th, 19th and 28th in his first three races of 2008, but he has placed sixth and third in the past two races. If you can find a Bowyer owner who still does not trust him based on the results of his first three events, jump on the opportunity.
You still might be tempted to deal for one of the three Hendrick Motorsports luminaries, but it will be difficult to pry one away from his owner, and dealing for one of the other two is just going to make you uneasy right now. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was never a true contender to win Sunday, but he came through with a fifth-place finish, his fourth in five races. Many of Earnhardt's owners can be confident that his first win of the year isn't far away, and they'll be reluctant to move him. You'll find owners of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon much more willing to make a trade, but unless you can unload another disappointing or inconsistent driver for one of them, why take on the worries?
Everything seemed to line up for Johnson to deliver a strong finish at Bristol. When qualifying was rained out, he started on the pole. He even made a nice recovery from a spinout. Ultimately, though, Johnson led only 14 laps and finished 18th. He has only one finish in the top 10 so far in 2008. It might not be hard to get Johnson in an FSR trade this week, but I'm not sure I'd want him. Yes, it's a long season, and we'll get better results from him later in the schedule, but you can't afford to stay low or drop in the standings while waiting for a hot streak.
Gordon also started on the front row, but it was apparent from the start of the race that he wasn't going to be a real force at a track where he has often been the central attraction in the past. Gordon finished 11th, and it was another display of being good but not quite good enough this year. Gordon hasn't been as disappointing as Johnson, but he has only two top-10 finishes this season and an average finish of 18.6. Still, the fact that he has placed in the top-5 twice will make many of his owners demand more than you truly want to give up in a trade. He likely won't be worth the price in most trade scenarios. For the record, neither Gordon nor Johnson is getting back on my Stock Car Challenge roster any time in the near future. I now have to take the "believe it when I see it" approach with their outlooks.
It's better to own Johnson or Gordon, though, than to have Casey Mears on your team. He sits a dangerous 33rd in owner points in the Cup standings. Jamie McMurray is now 36th and no longer is guaranteed a starting spot at Martinsville. Same with Dario Franchitti, who is 38th. The problem with these drivers is there often isn't anyone better on the free-agent list in FSR leagues, and they have no trade value. The best you can hope for is having another decent driver on your roster so you can leave these type of guys on your bench for now.
Brian Vickers' impressive early run ended, and he fell from ninth to 17th in the Cup standings after finishing 39th at Bristol because of a crash. Vickers, though, is one driver you have to worry much less about now. He no longer is in the previously mentioned group of drivers, who are in danger of not being locked into the field soon, or who actually have to qualify on speed every week. That is a major relief for Vickers' owners and proof of how much you can rely on him at the rear of your lineup this season, despite Sunday's mishap.
Kyle Busch also encountered bad luck after it appeared he was ready to challenge for a top spot, moving up in the field briskly after starting 22nd. A power steering problem, however, led to a 17th-place finish. His owners have no real reason to worry, though. He had a very fast car again Sunday, and you should still refuse most trade offers for him while also keeping him locked into your SCC lineup.
Edwards was never a contender as we expected he'd be; he finished 16th. Yet you can also expect him to regain his best form at Martinsville. Now we have a week off to relax and reflect, but fantasy owners certainly aren't going to remain dormant. So you can expect an increased amount of trade offers to come your way this week, as fantasy players try to compensate for the lack of activity by shaking things up. You might also see more trash talk on your league bulletin board, and that could be a better way of passing the extra time if you are happy with how your roster looks at this point.
What you can't do is sit around and overanalyze things. If you like your team so far, leave it alone. If you don't, float a few trade offers out there and see what happens. But remember there is much more limited movement in FSR leagues than compared to other fantasy sports, and every transaction is greatly magnified. So put a great deal of thought into every possible move. Don't change your SCC lineups several times, either. You can wait until next week to set those five. Take an extended break from managing your squad, like I will. If you're a racing purist, you can take in the Nationwide Series race at Nashville. If you're a fantasy diehard, your lineups in other sports can only be helped by the extra attention. And of course, there are always things to get done in your regular, daily life, too. Now would be the time to do it.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
Scott Engel recaps the Sprint Cup's fifth race of the season (Bristol) and warns owners not to overvalue Jeff Burton.