The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Richmond Raceway this weekend for the second race at the three-quarter-mile short track and the second race of the 2019 playoffs. Now that post-qualifying inspection is complete and the lineup is official, it is time to dive into some season-long Fantasy NASCAR plays.
On the plus side, it was a relatively clean inspection this weekend. Only two cars failed, and of the two, Bubba Wallace is the only driver who could have a shred of fantasy appeal. Of course, a lack of failures also means that most of the big names are starting up front, so the difference between a great week and an average week in the Fantasy Live playoff contest could be thin.
Until some drivers start being eliminated, there just aren’t many non-playoff drivers who are worth using each week. Meanwhile, one or two spots and a couple of stage points are probably going to be all that separate the top playoff drivers in this scoring system. You really can’t separate from the pack at this stage in the contest, but you can lose a lot of ground if you pick a playoff driver who has trouble. I suggest carrying a playoff driver on your bench as an insurance policy.
For the Driver Group Game, a short track offers you the chance to get a little creative with your lineups. I decided to split my Group B picks, going with an elite option and a high-risk, high-reward play, but if you are low on starts from the top guys, you can go with alternatives for both Group B spots. You can also go with a Group C sleeper if you have burned up most of your starts from Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto.
In the Slingshot game, I decided to go with more of a balanced lineup that is geared towards a combination of place differential points and stage points. Part of my decision was based on the fact that all the top drivers are starting in the Top 10. If I was confident I could peg the winner, I would consider going that route, but there are at least five studs starting up front who could go to victory lane. I’ll take my chances with the place differential points.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kevin Harvick (Playoff)
Harvick has been the model of consistency at Richmond, posting a 6.2 average finish and a series-best eight Top 5s in the last 10 races here. After qualifying on the front row with a car that showed excellent long-run speed, another Top 5 and plenty of stage points should be on tap, and I am picking Harvick to win Stage 1.
Martin Truex Jr. (Playoff)
He picked up the win at Richmond in the spring, but Truex has been dominating at this track for a few years now. He has led more than 120 laps in five of the last six races at here, including four straight, and he has led more than 160 laps four times in that stretch. Starting eighth with a car that was one of the best on long runs, I could see him dominating once again Saturday night.
Jimmie Johnson (Non-Playoff)
It has been more than a decade since Johnson won a race at Richmond, but he has finished 12th or better in each of his last 10 starts here. He has a 7.9 average finish and seven Top 10s in that same stretch, and he qualified in the Top 10 for Saturday’s race. I’m expecting no worse than a Top 15 out of him, and I think Johnson is the safest pick among the non-playoff drivers.
Matt DiBenedetto (Non-Playoff)
How good has DiBenedetto been lately? His 21st-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas was his first finish outside the Top 20 since Chicagoland in June. He will start 12th this weekend, and in final practice, he appeared to have a Top 15 car. DiBenedetto should at least crack the Top 20, and I wouldn’t rule out a Top 10.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch (Playoff)
I also considered Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for this spot, but Busch is a six-time Richmond winner, and he swept both races here last year and led 101 laps in the spring race this season. He qualified fourth this weekend, and he showed Top 5 speed throughout Friday’s practices. Busch has had some bad luck recently, but I want him available in case he dominates Saturday night.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are also excellent picks, but Harvick has been a steadier performer at Richmond. He leads all drivers in points scored over the last 10 races here, and he also ranks first with eight Top 5s in that span. With arguably the highest floor of any driver, I like him in this format.
Denny Hamlin (B)
He is a three-time winner at his home-state track, and Hamlin had finished sixth or better in seven of his last eight starts at Richmond. He qualified sixth this weekend, and he had the best car on long runs in Happy Hour. Hamlin is one of the most valuable Group B drivers, but I think he is on the short list of frontrunners to win. It’s worth using one of his starts. Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman are two drivers to consider if you are low on starts from the top Group B plays.
Clint Bowyer (B)
Bowyer has been a headache for fantasy owners this year, but his ceiling is at its highest at the short tracks. He is a two-time winner at Richmond, and he has three straight Top 10s here, including a third-place run in April. After qualifying in the Top 5, he should deliver a strong finish and some stage points, and he could be a sleeper candidate to contend for the win.
Matt DiBenedetto (C)
DiBenedetto has been challenging for Top 10s on a routine basis the last few months, and the trend could continue this weekend. He qualified 12th, and he showed Top 15 speed on longer runs. Chris Buescher is another Group C option to consider, but I like to save him for the 1.5-mile ovals.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Joey Logano ($12,500)
He was the runner-up at Richmond in April, and Logano leads all drivers with nine Top 10s and a 5.5 average finish in the last 10 races here. He also has four Top 5s in the last five races here, and while he starts back in 28th, he had borderline Top 5 speed on 20-plus lap runs in practice. I still expect Logano to challenge for a Top 5 and comfortably finish as one of the top scorers.
Erik Jones ($10,700)
Jones has reeled off four straight Top 15s at Richmond, finishing as high as sixth, and he appears to have a Top 10 car this weekend after looking at practice times. Joe Gibbs Racing is always strong here, and with Jones starting 16th, he could really boost his score with differential points.
Ryan Blaney ($10,000)
His numbers at Richmond have been brutal, and Blaney is still looking for a Top 15 finish at the short track. Despite the bad history, his long-run speed in practice suggests a Top 5 finish could be on tap. Starting 15th, I think Blaney has a the potential for a chunk of differential points and some stage points.
Ryan Newman ($9,000)
Newman has been solid at Richmond recently, posting four Top 15s and three Top 10s in his last five starts. He finished ninth here in the spring in his first start at the track for Roush Fenway Racing, and looking at his long-run speed, Newman has Top 10 upside again this weekend. Starting 19th, he could be a great value play.
Chris Buescher ($7,300)
I considered Matt DiBenedetto for this spot, but I think both he and Buescher have Top 20 floors with Top 15 upside, and Buescher starts 11 spots deeper in the field. The added place differential upside tips the scales in Buescher’s favor.