The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, and with just three races remaining in the 2019 season, it is decision time for Fantasy NASCAR owners as we prepare for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
From here on out, your lineup decisions need to be based on your current position within your leagues. If you are sitting atop the standings, there is no reason to roll the dice on high-risk, high-reward options. If you have some ground to make up, you aren’t going to get far by picking all the obvious, popular plays.
Regardless of how you stack up in your leagues, I do recommend sticking to the top drivers in the series or at least drivers from the stronger teams for Texas. The mile-and-a-half ovals have typically favored the big names and big-budget teams, and the 2019 rules package hasn’t really changed that. If you take a quick look at the drivers who have scored the most points at the 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, you will see that the six drivers with the most points are also among the eight drivers still battling for the title. That’s not a coincidence.
For Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game, I will be loading up on drivers who have performed well at the 1.5-mile tracks all year. The same names have been running up front at these intermediate ovals throughout the season, and I don’t see that suddenly changing this weekend at Texas. Sitting just outside the 95th percentile, I am going to be a little more aggressive with my Group B picks in the DGG, hoping to make a final push up the standings. However, I am still going to be rostering drivers from powerhouse teams.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kevin Harvick (Playoff)
Harvick has scored the most points and led the most laps at the mile-and-a-half ovals this year, and Texas has always been one of his best tracks. He has 10 straight Top 10s here, and he has won the fall race in each of the last two seasons. Since NASCAR introduced stage racing, Harvick ranks second with 61 stage points earned at Texas, and he has won five of the 10 stages at the track. He will lead the field to the green after winning the pole Saturday night, and based on the long-run speed he showed in practice Friday, I think Harvick has the No. 4 car right where he wants it this weekend. Picking up for a clean sweep of the stages and the race isn’t a bad strategy.
Denny Hamlin (Playoff)
He might not have the most impressive resume at Texas, but Hamlin won the March race here earlier this year, and he clobbered the field at Kansas in the most recent race at a 1.5-mile oval. After posting excellent times across Friday’s practice session, he ended up qualifying third. Hamlin looks ready for a repeat of his Kansas performance and a season sweep in the Lone Star State. If you are looking for a bit of a sleeper, Ryan Blaney would be my pick. He was in the mix for the win here in March before having an engine issue, and nobody has scored more stage points at Texas.
Erik Jones (Non-Playoff)
Jones has been solid at the 1.5-mile tracks all year, finishing seventh or better in six of the nine races. He’s also been great at Texas, reeling off four straight Top 10s and three straight fourth-place finishes. Jones also ranks second among non-playoff drivers with 32 stage points here. After strong practice times, he secured a starting spot on the front row. Jones looks ready for another strong Texas run. If you are looking for a sleeper, you may want to consider Paul Menard. He finished sixth and fifth in the two stages at Texas in March and was running third when he had to pit under green for a loose wheel. Clint Bowyer is another potential pivot. He showed a lot of speed in practice Friday and was the runner-up at Texas in March.
Kurt Busch (Non-Playoff)
Brad Keselowski will likely be a popular pick and still has the highest ceiling of the non-playoff drivers, but after his lackluster showing at Kansas a couple of weeks ago, I am looking elsewhere. Busch is currently tied for the series lead with six Top 10s in the nine races at mile-and-a-half tracks this year, and he has eight Top 10s in the last 10 races at Texas, including five straight. He also leads all non-playoff drivers with 37 stage points here, scoring points in seven of the 10 stages. Busch showed Top 5 speed in practice Friday, and after qualifying fourth, he looks ready to extend his hot streak at Texas in a big way.
Garage Driver – Martin Truex Jr. (Playoff)
After locking himself into the Championship 4 with a win at Martinsville, there is a chance that Truex could experiment a bit this weekend, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take. He has been so fast since the playoffs began, winning three of the seven races and leading laps in six of them. If you follow David Smith of The Athletic, you know that Truex has also had the fastest car in terms of Central Speed in every playoff race except for at Talladega and the Roval. For the year, he ranks second in points scored at the 1.5-mile ovals, and his practice times have been strong this weekend.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
He’s been the safest play at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, and Texas has been a great spot for him. Harvick leads all drivers in total points scored in the nine races at mile-and-a-half ovals in 2019, and he has 10 straight Top 10s at Texas, winning the fall race in each of the last two seasons and winning five of the 10 stages. He had excellent long-run speed during practice and then went out and won the pole. Harvick looks like the man to beat Sunday.
Erik Jones (B)
I went back and forth between Jones and Clint Bowyer, and while Bowyer has some of the best practice times of any driver this weekend, Jones had strong times in his own right and qualified on the front row. He has three straight fourth-place finishes at Texas, and he has piled up more than 30 stage points here. Armed with excellent track position, I think he can add to that stage point total in a big way Sunday.
Ryan Blaney (B)
Don’t let his 19.0 average finish at the mile-and-a-half tracks this year fool you. Blaney has had plenty of speed at these intermediate ovals, but bad luck has cost him several strong finishes. The spring race at Texas was a perfect example, and after leading 45 laps and finishing fifth and second in the two stages, he suffered an engine failure. Blaney has been great at Texas in general, scoring a series-leading 67 stage points at the track, earning points in eight of the 10 segments.
Chris Buescher (C)
I have saved my starts for Buescher for the 1.5-mile tracks for a reason, and I am cashing one in this weekend. The gap between him and the other Group C options at these intermediate ovals has been enormous, and for the year, his 222 points scored in the nine races are 93 more than the closest alternative. Buescher has finished in the Top 20 in all nine races, logging four Top 10s and posting a 13.6 average finish.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Martin Truex Jr. ($13,200)
Sticking with his typical strategy of prioritizing handling over raw sped at the 1.5-mile tracks, Truex will start 17th Sunday. However, he has been able to surge to the front on race day, and he has scored the second-most points in the nine races at mile-and-a-half tracks, winning twice. Throw in the fact that Truex has won three of the seven playoff races so far, and I fully expect him to challenge for the win while finishing as one of the highest scorers in Slingshot.
Kyle Larson ($11,200)
Larson has been coming on strong at the mile-and-a-half tracks down the stretch, and while he qualified back in 13th, he showed great speed on long runs in practice. I think he will end up contending for a Top 5, padding his point total with both differential points and stage points.
Ryan Blaney ($11,100)
Texas has been one of his best tracks, and Blaney was in the mix for the win here in March before suffering an engine issue. He was also the runner-up in the fall race last year, and no driver has scored more stage points here. Starting 15th, Blaney should deliver a blend of place differential points and stage points while contending for a strong finish.
Paul Menard ($8,100)
Menard has been steady at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, posting a 16.7 average finish in the nine races. He has finished in the Top 20 in seven of those starts and inside the Top 25 in all of them. Menard also had a great run at Texas in March, finishing sixth and fifth in the two stages before a loose wheel forced an unscheduled stop in the final segment. Starting way back in 31st, he is in a great spot to pile up differential points.
John Hunter Nemechek ($6,400)
His price tag opens up just enough cap space for me to roster three drivers priced over $11,000, and after qualifying 29th, the differential category is working in his favor. He’s also been able to overachieve in average equipment in both the Truck and XFINITY Series, and I am hoping the trend continues at the Cup level. I’ll roll the dice on the Nemechek as he prepares to make his first Cup start. I think he can crack the Top 25.
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