The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes a return trip to Kansas Speedway this weekend, and on the heels of another wreck-filled race at Talladega, Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 could be just what the doctor ordered for many fantasy NASCAR owners.
Yes, there is going to be some added intensity on the track this weekend since we are dealing with the final race of the Round of 12. However, Sunday’s race is also the ninth race of the year at a mile-and-a-half track, and the high-speed, 1.5-mile ovals tend to be the most predictable and fantasy friendly type of track on the schedule.
The gap between the top drivers and the high-budget organizations and the rest of the field tends to be at its widest at intermediate ovals like Kansas, and if you load up your lineups with these big names, there is a good chance you will come out of Sunday’s race with a strong point total in all of your season-long leagues.
Of course, your ability to execute this strategy in the Driver Group Game is somewhat dependent on how you have allocated your driver usage this season. If you have any starts left from the top options in each tier, Kansas is a track where you will want to use them. If you are hurting for starts from these elite options, you will need to choose between high-upside or high-floor sleepers depending on how you are positioned in your leagues. I have mentioned a few potential alternatives in the commentary for my picks.
In the Slingshot game, I plan to take full advantage of the bigger names starting deeper in the field. Kevin Harvick is starting last after not being allowed to qualify because of inspection issues, but there are several other strong options who qualified deeper after deciding to prioritize handling over raw speed. I am expecting some big movers and big point totals Sunday.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kevin Harvick (Playoff)
Failing inspection and missing out on qualifying wasn’t ideal, but this scoring format is all about strong finishes and stage points, and no driver has scored more points at the mile-and-a-half tracks this year than Harvick. He has also been a consistent force at Kansas, posting a 6.5 average in 11 starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing and leading double-digit laps in 10 of those races. Harvick led the most laps and earned 19 stage points in the May race here earlier this year, and he has earned no fewer than 18 stage points in each of the last three races at Kansas. He showed excellent speed during practice Friday, and I still expect him to storm to the front.
Martin Truex Jr. (Playoff)
He has four Top 5s in the last five races at Kansas, including a pair of wins, and Truex has earned the third-most points at the mile-and-a-half tracks this season while compiling a series-best 8.9 average finish. He is also one of just two drivers who has won multiple races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, picking up a stage win and the race win in the playoff opener at Las Vegas a few weeks ago. The fact that he qualified 11th despite Joe Gibbs Racing focusing on race setups bodes well for his chances.
Erik Jones (Non-Playoff)
I wouldn’t worry too much about his mid-pack qualifying effort. Joe Gibbs Racing has focused on race speed at these intermediate ovals all year, and Jones has shown consistent Top 10 upside at the mile-and-a-half tracks for a while now, and he has five finishes of seventh or better in the eight races this year. He has been particularly strong at Kansas. Jones finished fourth in the fall race last year, earning points in both stages, and he delivered a third-place run here in May, finishing ninth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2. Among the non-playoff drivers, Jones looks like the best bet for a Top 5 finish and double-digit stage points.
Jimmie Johnson (Non-Playoff)
The seven-time champ has quietly been piling up solid finishes at the 1.5-mile tracks for most of the year. He has finished 11th or better in five of the last six races, and during that stretch, he delivered a sixth-place finish at Kansas in May. Kurt Busch is the other driver I considered for this spot, and while he offers a higher ceiling, Johnson has provided steadier results. Starting 12th, Johnson should be able to notch some stage points and contend for a Top 10.
Garage Driver – Joey Logano
He has been the model of consistency at the mile-and-a-half ovals in 2019, scoring the second-most points and posting the second-best average finish over the eight races. Logano also led a race-high 100 laps in the fall race at Kansas last year, winning Stage 1 and finishing third in Stage 2. The last time we visited a 1.5-mile track this year, he led a race-high 105 laps in the playoff opener at Vegas, winning Stage 1 and finishing second in Stage 2. He starts back in 29th, but looking at practice times, he was clearly set up to handle better in race conditions. Meanwhile, Logano’s combination of reliability and upside makes him an ideal option to have available off my bench.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott are also two strong options, but Harvick’s 322 points scored in the eight races at mile-and-a-half tracks this year are 17 more than any other driver. Yes, he is starting last after failing inspection, but he showed excellent long-run speed in practice. He has also been an absolute stud at Kansas. He led a race-high 104 laps led here in May, winning Stage 1 and finishing second in Stage 2 before debris on the grill forced him to pit from the lead. He led 76 laps in the fall race last season, finishing second in Stage 1 and winning Stage 2. This scoring format is all about driver points, and Harvick has been providing the most at Kansas and at the 1.5-mile ovals.
Alex Bowman (B)
Bowman is a bit of riskier play this weekend because he is in a must-win situation, but I can’t pass on his upside. Over the last five races at 1.5-mile tracks this season, he has four finishes of seventh of better and ranks fourth in points scored. Bowman also ranks second in laps led in that stretch, leading 63 laps and finishing second at Kansas in May and leading 88 laps in his win at Chicagoland. If you want to go with safer, conservative options, I’d look to Aric Almirola and Jimmie Johnson.
Ryan Blaney (B)
He got off to a terrible start at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, but he has four straight finishes of 12th or better, including a sixth-place finish at Chicagoland and a fifth-place finish in the playoff opener at Las Vegas. Blaney has also finished seventh or better in five of his eight starts at Kansas, finishing third and second in the two stages in the fall race last year. Starting fourth, he could pile up some serious stage points again Sunday. If you have used up all your starts from Blaney and the other bigger names in this tier, William Byron and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are a couple of potential sleepers.
Chris Buescher (C)
I have been saving my starts from Buescher for the remaining races at 1.5-mile tracks, and it is time to cash in one of them this weekend. He has a 13.6 average finish in the eight races at mile-and-a-half tracks, cracking the Top 20 in all of those starts and notching four Top 10s. One of those Top 10s came at Kansas in May, and Buescher also finished sixth in both stages in that race. For the year, he has scored 75 more points at the 1.5-mile tracks than any other driver in this tier. That is an enormous gap.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kevin Harvick ($12,800)
He is going to be a chalk play, but given the importance of place differential in this scoring format, you have to play Harvick. He starts dead last after failing pre-qualifying inspection too many times, but no driver has been better at Kansas lately, and no driver has scored more points at the 1.5-mile tracks in 2019.
Denny Hamlin ($11,200)
Hamlin has been great at collecting stage points all year, and he ranks fifth in driver points scored in the eight races at 1.5-mile tracks this year. He has plenty of place differential upside after qualifying 23rd, but he appears to have a Top 5 car based on practice speeds.
William Byron ($9,600)
I thought about paying up for Joey Logano and going with a punt play for my final spot, but I have confidence in Byron. He has a 12.6 average finish in the eight races this year at 1.5-mil ovals, cracking the Top 20 in all of them and finishing in the Top 10 in three of the last four races. Starting 25th, he has nearly as much differential upside as Logano, and he posted similar practice speeds.
Paul Menard ($8,200)
While hd oesn’t have a huge ceiling, Menard does have five Top 15 in the eight races at mile-and-a-half tracks this year, including three in the last four races. He starts 22nd, but he actually showed borderline Top 10 speed in practice. It is also worth noting that Menard had a Top 10 run going at Kansas in May before being trapped a lap down by a caution during pit stops.
Chris Buescher ($7,700)
Buescher has been a fantasy monster in this format at the 1.5-mie ovals all year, and after qualifying 26th, he is poised to continue the trend. He has finished inside the Top 20 in all eight races, posting a 13.6 average finish and notching four Top 10s. He has also gained an average of 10.9 spots per race, gaining at least eight positions in all eight starts. Back at Kansas in May, he gained eight spots and finished 10th.