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2017 Fantasy NASCAR Preseason Rankings

Fantasy NASCAR Expert Brian Polking ranks each driver in the 2017 NASCAR field, broken down by the three Yahoo tiers.

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It's February, and that means it's almost time for the return of NASCAR. The Daytona 500 is just a couple of weeks away, and after one of the most eventful offseasons in the sport's history, I'll try to get you back up to speed, pun intended while breaking down the top fantasy options in each driver tier of the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game.

For starters, NASCAR's top series has a new name. Monster Energy replaced Sprint, and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was born. In addition to the new title sponsor, NASCAR has a new scoring system. Races will be broken up into three segments, and while the 10-race, elimination-style playoff remains, bonus points earned throughout the regular season and playoffs will carry over as long as a driver stays in the title hunt.

Looking specifically at the Yahoo game, fantasy owners have to be thrilled with the depth of both the B-List and C-List this season. Kurt Busch slides back into the B-List, joining Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, who make the jump from the C-List. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer should return to form with Stewart-Haas Racing after spending last year in racing purgatory with HScott Motorsports. The C-List is bolstered by a stacked rookie class, headlined by Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Ty Dillon.

Check out a complete look at my preseason driver rankings, and good luck in your 2017 fantasy NASCAR endeavors.

Yahoo! Group A Drivers

  1. Joey Logano: He has won a combined 14 races over the last three years while averaging 18 Top 5s and 25 Top 10s. He has a high floor and a high ceiling, and he has shown he can contend for wins at any track. I'm not sure if this is the year he wins a title, but he should be a dominant fantasy option regardless.

  2. Kyle Busch: While he came up just short of repeating as champ, Busch performed exactly as I expected now that the proverbial championship monkey is off his back. He tied a career-high with 17 Top 5s in 2016 while setting a new career high with 25 Top 10s. Yes, he will have a handful of DNFs, but Busch is on the short list of drivers who can contend for the win at any track.

  3. Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been the model of consistency since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has 12 wins in three years with the organization, and over the last two years, he is averaging 20 Top 5s and 27.5 Top 10s. The only reason he isn't sitting at No. 1 in the rankings is because of SHR's offseason switch to Ford. I don't expect many hiccups, but I will be watching the first few races to see how Harvick performs before using him in my lineups.

  4. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has delivered at least 20 Top 10s in each of the last three seasons, and he finished tied for third in Top 5s while winning four times in 2016. The fact he and his team are among the best at in-race strategy only bolsters his value. Keselowski can be counted on for a strong run at almost any track, and he is particularly stout on flat tracks.

  5. Matt Kenseth: He was plagued by bad luck most of the last year, but Kenseth still managed solid overall numbers. He always delivers around 20 Top 10s, and I expect more Top 5s in 2017. Kenseth is one of the best short track options among the A-List drivers, and he is worth targeting at several other tracks, including Kansas, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Dover.

  6. Jimmie Johnson: This might seem a little low for the defending champ, but Johnson won the title last year with his fewest Top 5s since his rookie season and the fewest Top 10s of his career. In fact, Johnson is in the middle of the worst three-year stretch of his career regarding consistency. The thing that hasn't changed is his ability to find victory lane, so don't hesitate to use him at his best tracks.

  7. Martin Truex Jr.: As dominant as Truex was at times last year, bad luck and mistakes limited him to just eight Top 5s. The bigger issue as far as his fantasy value goes is that he jumps from the B-List into the A-List. Last year, he was one of the few B-List drivers who could challenge for wins on a routine basis, but he won't be the clear No. 1 option in this tier at any track. That being said, he should still have value, and I'll have him in mind at the 1.5-mile ovals and tracks like Pocono, Darlington, and Dover.

  8. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been rock solid the last two seasons, and you can pencil him in for a couple of wins, a dozen Top 5s, and around 20 Top 10s. He has proven to be an excellent option at the restrictor-plate tracks and road courses, and he is also one of the best at Martinsville, Charlotte, Darlington, and Indianapolis.

  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I was a bit surprised to see Junior in the A-List after missing half of last season, especially since he managed just six Top 10s through 18 races. I won't hesitate to use him at Daytona and Talladega, but outside of the plate tracks, Junior is going to have to show me something before I use him ahead of the other drivers in this tier.  

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Yahoo! Group B Drivers

  1. Chase Elliott: He lived up to the hype as a rookie, making the Chase and finishing with 10 Top 5s and 17 Top 10s. In fact, Elliott went through stretches when he was one of the best drivers in the series. I expect him to avoid the sophomore slump, win his first race and establish himself as a Top 10 fantasy driver in 2017.

  2. Kurt Busch: He has won four races in three seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, and he has 21 Top 10s in each of the last two seasons. He was a little outclassed as an A-List driver last year, but he should be one of the premier B-List drivers in terms of both consistency and upside.

  3. Kyle Larson: Larson finally won a race last season, and he also logged a career-best 10 Top 5s. There is no denying his raw talent, and with a little consistency, Larson could make the jump to legitimate title contender. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a breakout season in 2017, and he is on the short list of B-List drivers who can provide a lot of Top 5s.

  4. Austin Dillon: Dillon took a big step forward last year, notching a career-high 13 Top 10s and compiling a career-best 15.9 average finish. His strong numbers at the intermediate ovals are particularly encouraging. Even if he just repeats his 2016 numbers, he will be one of the best B-List plays, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him take it to another level.

  5. Kasey Kahne: He hasn't won a race since 2012, and while Kahne's last three seasons have been largely forgettable, he did close the 2016 campaign on a high note. He logged 12 Top 15s in the last 14 races, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him pick up where he left off. Don't be surprised when Kahne ends up being one of the stronger B-List options.

  6. Ryan Newman: Newman isn't a driver you expect to contend for a lot of wins, but his 2016 campaign was disappointing, even by his standards. Still, he managed 10 Top 10s and a 15.7 average finish, so he does have one of the safer floors. When you don't feel strongly about any driver, Newman is someone you can plug in for a decent finish.

  7. Jamie McMurray: As his two Top 5s last year suggest, McMurray's ceiling isn't as high as the top drivers in the B-List tier. On the flip side, he is consistent, and he is going to provide a ton of finishes in the teens. McMurray is a driver I like to stash on my bench heading into the weekend and plug him in if I don't like what I see from other options.

  8. Ryan Blaney: Blaney was a boom-or-bust option last year as a rookie, but he already has Top 5 upside, and he hasn't come close to his ceiling. Wood Brothers Racing acquiring s charter this offseason should allow Blaney to focus more on race trim, and I expect him to challenge for Top 15s on a routine basis in 2017. He's shown particular promise at the intermediate ovals.

  9. Clint Bowyer: Coming off a lost year, Bowyer should rebound now that he is with Stewart-Haas Racing. Just how big of a rebound remains to be seen, but at worst, he should be a useful option at the plate tracks, road courses, and short tracks.

  10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse continues to take baby steps, but even after his best season at the Cup level, he is still a mid-pack performer most weeks. He still has time to make a leap, but for now, his value is limited to a select group of tracks, including Bristol, New Hampshire, Texas and Auto Club.

  11. Chris Buescher: I'm very interested to see how Buescher will perform this season. Moving to JTG Daugherty Racing should be a big upgrade regarding equipment, and I believe he has some real talent. I'll take a wait-and-see approach early in the year, but if he shows promise, I won't hesitate to plug him in.

  12. Paul Menard: You know what you are going to get with Menard. He is going to stay out of trouble most weeks and finish around the 20th spot. Still, his lack of upside limits his appeal, and I wouldn't use him outside of his best tracks. Las Vegas, Michigan, and Kansas top the list.

  13. A.J. Allmendinger: We all know he can contend for wins at the road courses, but Allmendinger had his best season with JTG Daugherty Racing in 2016. His nine Top 10s were the second most of his career, and his 17.8 average finish was his best mark since 2011. Consistency has never been his strong suit, but he can provide a useful run here and there.

  14. Aric Almirola: Almirola took a serious step back last year, managing just one Top 10 and his worst average finish since becoming a full-time Cup driver. I believe Almirola will benefit from Richard Petty Motorsports downsizing to one car, but you can afford to take a wait-and-see approach before rostering him. In the meantime, he has sleeper appeal at Dover and Richmond.

  15. Trevor Bayne: Bayne made strides last year, improving his average finish from 25.8 in 2015 to 19.9. However, he still managed just five Top 10s, and he has been tough to predict from one week to the next. Bristol and Michigan look like the best tracks to try to squeeze a start out of him, but until he shows more consistency, Bayne is one of the riskiest B-List options.

  16. Danica Patrick: Patrick just hasn't been able to make the leap into a legitimate contender, and while she can crack the top 20 here and there, her upside is nonexistent. She is easily the weakest B-List option, and I don't anticipate using her at all this year. The possible exception would be the restrictor-plate tracks.

Yahoo! Group C Drivers

  1. Erik Jones: He has been billed as the next big thing in NASCAR, and more often than not, Jones has looked the part. He picked up a pair of top 20s in three Cup starts last year, and he showed Top 10 potential in two of those three starts. He will have excellent equipment to work with in 2017, and while he may have a bit of a checkers-or-wreckers attitude, he should also have the highest ceiling of any C-List driver.

  2. Daniel Suarez: The unexpected retirement of Carl Edwards kind of helps out fantasy owners by opening up a premier ride for Suarez and creating another reliable C-List option. He hasn't been the type of driver who tears up equipment, and I expect him to finish in the top half of the field on a regular basis while providing the occasional top 10.

  3. Ty Dillon: While there is a chance that his performance could be hindered by the equipment at Germain Racing, I'm expecting Richard Childress to provide more than just at technical alliance to ensure that his grandson has cars capable of making some noise. I don't expect him to have the upside of Erik Jones or Daniel Suarez, but Dillon should run in and around the top 20 most weeks. His safe floor is something to take advantage of, and there is a major decline in value among C-List drivers after Dillon.

  4. Michael McDowell: McDowell closed the 2016 season on a high note, finishing 23rd or better in six of the final seven races and logging four top 20s. With crew chief Todd Parrott returning and Leavine Family Racing purchasing a charter to guarantee him a spot in the field, McDowell could build on his success.  

  5. David Ragan: He is back with Front Row Motorsports this year, and while he will be tough to count on most weeks, he is an excellent C-List alternative to target at restrictor-plate tracks. He owns wins at both Daytona and Talladega in his career.

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