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NASCAR league keeps it simple

The big game is over, which means the time to ponder picking up Peyton Hillis or Pierre Thomas won't be here for another seven months.

If that sends a chill down your fantasy sports spine, don't fret. There are plenty of alternatives to explore, starting with another kind of Super Bowl next Sunday. The 51st Daytona 500 will be run a week from today, which makes it a good time to delve into the world of fantasy auto racing.

Even if all you know about NASCAR is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the son of Dale Earnhardt, more knowledge than you'll ever need is just a few mouse clicks away. There's a multitude of free information available on the Internet -- at times too much.

Having never been a part of a fantasy racing league, I found that even reading the rules at some sites was a tedious task. Fantasy should be fun, it shouldn't feel like homework. So after sifting through all the major sports Web sites, I decided to go with a Yahoo! Sports league. The reason was simplicity.

The instructions for creating my team were clear-cut -- draft a team of eight drivers, four of whom will start and four of whom will be on the bench (only starters earn points). Drivers are divided into three lists. The top tier, or A List, has 10 drivers, the B List has 20 and the C List has another 41.

Next up was research, which was another reason I went with Yahoo! A convenient season guide is available in a PDF format that I saved to my desktop. After looking up the statistics for Daytona International Speedway, I was almost ready to pick my squad.

But first, I had one more source of information to tap into. I e-mailed our NASCAR beat writer here at The Buffalo News, Keith McShea, and asked him for a sleeper pick. He tabbed Mark Martin, who finished second at Daytona two years ago and will race this season with one of the sport's strongest teams, Hendrick Motorsports.

"The Great American Race seems to have zany finishes and great story lines every February, and Martin winning his first Daytona 500 would fit right in," McShea said.

That was good enough for me. Martin is now my "A" driver for the race.

My "B" drivers are Kurt Busch, who finished second in the 500 last year, and Earnhardt Jr., who's had an outstanding 11 top-10 finishes in 18 career starts at Daytona. I rounded out my starting lineup with "C" driver Reed Sorenson. My bench consists of Jeff Gordon (A), Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne (Bs) and Jeremy Mayfield (C).

Scoring is also a breeze. The winner of the race gets 90 points, with second place earning 88. That pattern continues through the top 45 finishers. If it sounds pretty easy, it is -- but there's a catch.

A driver can start for your team only nine times during the 36-race season, which means it's not as simple as putting defending champion Jimmie Johnson in your top spot and collecting prize money at the end of the year. Learning which drivers run well at different track types, especially those drivers outside the upper echelon, will be the key to fantasy success.

With the nine-start limit, however, you'll be able to familiarize yourself with nearly all of the sport's drivers, if you choose to. Like the NFL, NASCAR is a once-a-week endeavor, which makes it easier to follow compared to fantasy leagues in sports like baseball, basketball and hockey.

That, in turn, should lead to a more enjoyable fantasy experience for beginners, since burnout should not be a problem.

Keep your fantasy team in the running by checking the Fantasy Fix blog at buffalonews.com/blogs

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