We have reached the final weekend of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and things are off to an interesting start at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Bad weather ran through the area Friday night, forcing NASCAR to move practice to Saturday afternoon and setting the starting lineup for the Ford EcoBoost 400 by owner points. Now, all four championship contenders will be at the front of the field when the green flag waves.
On one hand, setting the field by points takes away the potential drama of one of the Championship 4 having to start deeper in the field. On the flip side, there should be some intense racing from the drop of the green as the four drivers competing for the title all start alongside each other. Throw in the fact that the revised practice schedule will allow teams to focus solely on race trim, and we could be in for an entertaining battle.
Even before qualifying was rained out, the safest strategy this weekend was going to be relying on the Championship 4 whenever possible. Since the playoffs were introduced in 2014, the driver who has won the championship has also won the race, and last year, the Championship 4 were also the first four drivers to cross the finish line. With all the big names now starting up front because of the weather, their advantage should only grow.
For Fantasy Live, I recommend using your garage spot on a third championship contender this weekend. Don’t forget that we also have some new non-playoff options to take advantage of in this contest following last weekend’s elimination race. If you’d like to go with a contrarian strategy to make one last attempt and moving up the standings, then you will probably want to roster three non-playoff options and roll the dice on some high-upside options with your picks. Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and William Byron are some drivers I’d keep in mind.
In the Driver Group Game, your strategy probably depends more on who you still have available to start this weekend. Don’t hesitate to use the title contenders when possible, but if you happen to be out of starts from all of them or are looking to fade the popular plays, Kyle Larson would be my top Group A alternative. For Group B, I again like Bowyer, Blaney and the Hendrick Motorsports drivers as contrarian plays.
From a fantasy standpoint, the bad weather probably has the biggest impact in Slingshot Fantasy Auto. Setting the field by points put all the top drivers at the front of the field, essentially eliminating easy place differential points and putting more emphasis on earning stage points and picking the winner.
For the final time in 2019, check out all of my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks. I hope your seasons have been successful thus far, and good luck closing things out in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kevin Harvick (Playoff)
Harvick has been the most consistent driver at the mile-and-a-half tracks this year, scoring the most points and leading the most laps in the 10 races. He has also cracked the Top 10 in 11 straight starts at Homestead, posting a 2.6 average finish in five starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick has finished fourth or better in all four stages at the track, winning Stage 1 and finishing second in Stage 2 last season. Setting the field by points puts Harvick on the front row, and I expect him at or near the front the entire race.
Martin Truex Jr. (Playoff)
He won at Homestead in 2017 and finished second in last year’s race, and since NASCAR introduced stage racing, Truex has never finished outside the Top 5 in a segment here. I also truly believe that at their best, Truex and the No. 19 team are the best in the garage. The win at Martinsville afforded them the most time to prepare for Sunday’s race, and I am expecting a dominant showing out of Truex. Starting third, he’s my pick to finish as the top scorer, win the race and hoist the title.
Kyle Larson (Non-Playoff)
Larson’s ability to run the high line has paid huge dividends at Homestead. He has an 8.5 average finish in six starts here, cracking the Top 5 in three of the last four races and leading more than 130 laps twice in that span. Larson has also gobbled up stage points at Homestead, winning three of the four stage and finishing second in the other. He is a no-brainer option as a non-playoff driver, especially now that he is starting sixth.
Joey Logano (Non-Playoff)
He won’t be defending his title Sunday, but I still expect Logano to deliver a strong performance. He has finished sixth or better in four straight starts here, winning last season’s finale to secure the championship. Logano has also earned points in all four stages at Homestead, finishing fourth and third in the two stages a year ago. He will start in the Top 5 with the field set by points, putting him in great position to earn a bunch of stage points again this weekend.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch (Playoff)
I know it has been one of the rougher stretches of his career, but in a one-race, winner-take-all format, I just can’t ignore the most talented driver in the series. Busch won at Homestead in 2015, and he has finished sixth or better in four straight starts here, leading 20-plus laps three times in that stretch. Busch has also finished sixth or better in all four of the stages at Homestead, finishing third or better in two of them. Starting fourth, he should pile up stage points and contend for the win, and I will swap him into my starting lineup if he is on pace to outscore Harvick or Truex.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Martin Truex Jr. (A)
I had a tough time deciding between Kevin Harvick and Truex, and while Harvick has an edge in consistency, I just feel that Truex has the higher ceiling. He has a win and a second-place finish in the last two races at Homestead, and two of his series-leading seven wins in 2019 have come at 1.5-mile tracks. I also love that the No. 19 team has had the most time to prepare a car for Sunday’s finale after winning the opening race of the Round of 8. Starting third, I expect him up front all race long, and he’s my personal pick to win the title.
Denny Hamlin (B)
The title contenders have had a huge edge on the competition in this race since NASCAR introduced the playoff format, and Hamlin is the only member of the Championship 4 that is a Group B driver. He is also on the pole after Mother Nature set the field by owner points. The two-time Homestead winner led 41 laps here last year and has recorded points in all four stages at the track. Hamlin has the highest ceiling of any driver in this tier, and I don’t think it’s particularly close.
Erik Jones (B)
His final results in his two starts at Homestead haven’t been great, but Jones has picked up points in two of the four stages here. He has also been solid at the 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, cracking the Top 10 in seven of the 10 races and finishing seventh or better six times. Jones finished seventh at Chicagoland and won at Darlington, and those are the two tracks that featured the same tire package being used this weekend. Even though the bad weather has him starting 16th, I still think he has the potential for a Top 5 finish and a decent amount of stage points.
Chris Buescher (C)
I saved my final start of the year for Buescher for this race, and his record at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2019 speaks for itself. He has a 14.1 average finish in the 10 races, cracking the Top 20 in all of them and notching four Top 10s. More importantly, Buescher has outscored the rest of the Group C options by a hefty 89 points. If you have him available, he is the easily the safest play in this tier.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Martin Truex Jr. ($13,300)
The Championship 4 are all starting up front and are all priced about the same, but since Truex is my pick to win the race and the title, I’m starting my lineup with him.
Kyle Larson ($11,700)
Larson has hogged stage points at Homestead, winning three of the four stages here over the past two seasons and finishing second in the other. He has also finished in the Top 5 in three of the last four races at the track. I still think one of the title contenders will win, but Larson should pile up a big score in his own right.
Erik Jones ($10,800)
In terms of value and upside, I think Jones is one of the best plays on the board. He starts 16th, so he is one of the few bigger names with a decent amount of place differential points available. He has also finished in the Top 10 in seven of the 10 races at mile-and-a-half ovals this year, finishing seventh or better six times. I also like the fact that he won at Darlington earlier this year, and the same tire package that was used in that race will be used this weekend.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,600)
I know the 1.5-mile ovals haven’t been his specialty, but DiBenedetto is definitely trending up at these tracks. He has finished 16th or better in three of the last four races at mile-and-a-half ovals, logging back-to-back Top 15s. Starting 21st, he should be able to add double-digit differential bonus points to his final score.
John Hunter Nemechek ($6,300)
With the field being set by points, Nemechek will have to start back in 30th this weekend. Despite this being just his third Cup start, he already showed he can hold his own at a 1.5-mile track, gaining eight spots and finishing 21st at Texas. I think he can deliver a similar result his weekend.