- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Right now, Kyle Busch has a 142-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings. While the field will be reset when the Chase for the Cup begins, catching Busch and his fantasy owners appears to be a daunting task for fantasy racing players, because in leagues like ESPN FSR, there won't be any chances to reset. All you can do is hope the rest of the team that owns Busch falls prey to a lot of misfortune the rest of the year.
Last season, it became apparent that most fantasy leagues were going to turn into a two-team race between owners of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Yet we did get some brief flashes of championship promise from Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. This year, however, there seems to be no one who can challenge Busch's overall dominance, and while there are still a lot of Cup events to go, there are no real signs Busch is going to slow down anytime soon or any other driver will become a strong contender. Busch has established himself above the rest of the field quite early this season, and hopes for non-Busch owners already have dimmed.
I know it's hard to reassure the many owners chasing Busch-led teams right now. But you have to hang in there, because you never know what is going to happen the rest of the way. Also, no matter how well Busch is doing, if your team has better balance than the one that owns Busch, you certainly shouldn't be giving up this early. If the team in first leans on Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Casey Mears, that owner is not going to run away with the league. If you have a roster with, say, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman, your season certainly is not over. Having drivers such as Brian Vickers and Travis Kvapil who have turned out to be sleepers can only help your overall cause.
What you really have to hope is that Busch's owners suffer a collapse around him on their rosters, and it's certainly possible. One driver cannot carry a fantasy racing team. If you have other drivers on your roster who have been disappointing so far this year, there were clear signs Sunday at Dover that a few guys are in the midst of rebound stretches. A turnaround from a guy who has been unreliable during the first half can only boost your overall outlook.
Greg Biffle finished third at Dover, a week after he finished second at Lowe's. Biffle now has five top-5 finishes and seven top-10 outings in 13 starts and is displaying the form that made him an elite driver in the past. Biffle has been inconsistent overall this season, but he is very capable of running up front often and can give you an edge in the standings as a No. 2 fantasy driver the rest of the way. I'd rather own Edwards and Biffle than, say, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch right now.
Matt Kenseth's fourth-place finish was even more inspiring, especially when you consider how frustrated his owners have been to this point. It was only his second top-5 finish of the season, yet he has finished sixth, seventh and fourth in his past three races and is showing real signs of regaining his better form. Trades are rare in many fantasy racing leagues, but buy low on Kenseth now if you can. In salary-cap leagues, now is a great time to get him on your squad, before his price rises even more.
If you drafted Kenseth as your No. 1 driver, first place might seem very far away right now, but I'm sure not all his owners are buried in their league standings. Again, catching Busch's owner comes down to having better overall balance. Yet there also are teams that have been leaning on tandems of Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, for instance, and their seasons seem lost. For those owners, I recommend taking it one week at a time and finishing as best you can. Nothing ruins your fantasy credibility more than being an inactive owner. Don't leave Mark Martin in your lineup every week. Your leaguemates will notice, and you might not be invited back next season.
Most Gordon owners used a No. 1 overall pick on him this season and have yet to see their first win. Not all Gordon's owners are out of their league races yet, though, especially if their second and third drivers are solid guys. Gordon finished fifth at Dover, his third consecutive top-5 showing. Gordon's car hasn't looked like a top contender recently, but he has been smart and determined, and his team seems to be figuring out the issues that have led to disappointing finishes. It's just a matter of time before Gordon goes on a very strong run and pushes his owners forward in the standings.
Edwards owners can remain confident about their fantasy championship hopes, especially if their overall rosters are better than the Busch-led teams in their leagues. Ultimately, Edwards might be the one driver (unless Gordon goes on an extended run of dominance) who has a real prayer of challenging Busch for the Cup title while bringing his owners close to the top of their standings. He finished second for the second time in three races, and Edwards already has three wins, with more to come.
For owners of some other top drivers, Sunday at Dover was a downer, as an early wreck ruined the day of several prominent guys. Denny Hamlin ended up 43rd, yet his owners should not be too frustrated. In smaller FSR leagues, he remains an outstanding No. 2 driver and a key toward catching a Busch owner, especially if his No. 2 driver isn't nearly as strong. Hamlin will bounce back quickly.
Stewart finished 41st, and there have been no real signs of encouragement for his owners recently. It seems Stewart either runs well and then slams into bad luck, or he isn't a contender at all. Yet Stewart heats up in the summer, and you can't give up on him just yet. He's capable of busting out of a slump at any time and roaring back near the top of the standings, taking his fantasy owners on a joyride upward.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 35th, and he can't seem to nail down that evasive, long-awaited win his fantasy owners and dedicated fans so desperately desire. Yet that seemingly elusive victory might come in the near future, and when it does, it can only give Earnhardt a boost of confidence that could lead to a string of some very impressive finishes. Let's just say I have a strong feeling that we have yet to see the best of Earnhardt in 2008.
Catching the team led by Busch certainly will not be easy, and in some cases, it already seems like a futile effort. Yet it certainly is not impossible, and even if Busch dominates the rest of the season, it's going to take more than just his efforts to carry a full fantasy squad. Overcoming Busch is an uphill battle, yet not impossible. Keep in mind, we're not even halfway through the schedule yet, so it is too early to give up in any circumstances, despite the extended Busch trend we have witnessed so far.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.