The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway this weekend, and the track nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle” has the potential to be quite challenge for fantasy owners.
Pocono has always been known as a track where passing is difficult, and most drivers are predicting that the new rules package will only exacerbate the problem. As a result, the track’s already wild restarts could become even more chaotic, and crew chiefs could deploy a variety of pit strategies to put their drivers in position for a strong finish.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on pit strategy is going to make it hard to predict stage points. I fully expect drivers close to the front to pit right before the end of each stage, potentially forfeiting stage points for track position. Some surprise drivers could end up stealing stage points, and if any cautions come while drivers are stopping, the running order will become even more jumbled up.
Given the uncertainty, I decided to stay away from most of the elite options in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game tiers. Yes, this strategy could burn me, but with my available starts for drivers like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick starting to shrink, I’d rather try to save their starts at track where volatility is a little higher. I think Pocono falls into that category.
For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I went with a more balanced approached. I tried to load up on the stronger options starting just outside the Top 10, hoping I can pile up a combination of place differential points, stage points and strong finishes.
Check out all of my top season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for Sunday’s Pocono 400, and good luck navigating “The Tricky Triangle” this weekend.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
He’s been the model of consistency at Pocono, piling up a series-best seven Top 5s in the last 10 races at the track. Last year, Keselowski earned points in all four stages between the two races, so there is a good chance the No. 2 team’s approach to Sunday’s race will net those all-important stage points, especially after he qualified up in the Top 5.
Elliott has become a fixture at the front of the field over the last couple of months, and I don’t see that changing Sunday. Not only does he have five Top 10s in six career starts here, but he finished sixth or better in all four stages between the two races last year, finishing first and second in the two stages in the July race. Starting 12th, Elliott is close enough to the front to put himself into position for plenty of points in Stage 1.
It was really hard to lay off studs like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., but with my starts beginning to dwindle from all three, it makes sense to try to save a start from them at a track where pit strategy can shuffle up stage points. Starting in the Top 10, Larson is a nice alternative. He’s been inconsistent this year, but he has Top 5 upside, and he has finished 12th or better in eight of his 10 starts at Pocono, finishing second in this race last year. Larson showed solid speed in practice, so I think he can run towards the front all afternoon.
If you look strictly at his final results at Pocono, Bowyer may seem like a bit of a reach this weekend. However, he had strong cars in both races here last year despite finishing outside the Top 10 in both starts. Bowyer finished sixth or better in all four stages in those races, finishing fourth or better in three of them. After qualifying third, he could pile up a bunch of stage points again Sunday.
I pondered his teammate, Alex Bowman, but with passing expected to be difficult Sunday, I am going to roll the dice on Byron from the pole. This will be the seventh time he has started third or better this season, and he has led laps in five of those previous six starts. No, Byron doesn’t have the track record at Pocono of Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney or others, but I am hoping I can grab a strong showing out of Byron and save a start from a more proven option.
Garage Driver – Erik Jones
On paper, Jones looks like a great pick this weekend. He has three Top 10s, including a couple of Top 5s in four career starts at Pocono, and he has even led laps in three of those starts. After qualifying fourth, he’s in perfect position to pile up a bunch of stage points Sunday. My only hesitation is that his luck has been terrible in 2019, but I’m going to have him on my bench. He has the potential to run in the Top 5 all afternoon long.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Brad Keselowski (A)
I debated between Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., and while Truex has shown the slightly higher ceiling at Pocono recently, I opted for the consistent results of Keselowski. His seven Top 5s in the last 10 races here are tied for the most in the series, and he has six Top 5s in the last seven races alone. The No. 2 team has been quick to adjust to the 2019 rules package, and he’s starting fifth. I expect his Pocono success to continue.
Erik Jones (B)
Despite being burned by his bad luck numerous times this year, I’m going back to the well again this weekend. Jones has three Top 10s in four starts at Pocono, picking up a pair of Top 5s and leading double-digit laps twice. More importantly, he is in great position for stage points after qualifying fourth. I can’t help but roll the dice on his upside.
Alex Bowman (B)
Bowman has delivered several strong runs at flat tracks since taking over the No. 88, including a third-place run at Pocono last July. He’s also in the middle of the best stretch of his career, posting a 4.3 average finish in the four races leading up to Pocono. I’m not sure if Bowman can sustain this momentum, but at a track where he has already had success, I’m going to stay on the bandwagon this weekend after his Top 15 qualifying effort.
Daniel Hemric (C)
Honestly, none of the Group C options really jumped off the page to me this weekend, but Hemric showed borderline Top 20 speed in practice and qualified 23rd. Chris Buescher was my other option, but since he has shown mediocre speed, I’d rather save him for another track. He’s just been too valuable in this tier to risk wasting one of his starts. I’ll take my chances with the rookie.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Chase Elliott ($11,800)
It was tempting to go with Martin Truex Jr. from the 20th starting spot, but Elliott’s been on a tear in recent weeks, and his salary allows me to build a much more balanced lineup. Starting 12th, he has a little place differential upside in his own right, and he has five Top 10s in six starts at Pocono. I think Elliott will be a factor for the win Sunday.
Kurt Busch ($11,300)
Busch topped the charts in final practice, he missed it on his qualifying laps and will have to start 21st. It may take him some time to work his way forward, but I think he will be near the front when it counts. Busch has three wins and five second-place finishes at Pocono, and he has six Top 10s in his last 10 starts here. I think he ends up being one of the top scorers Sunday.
Ryan Blaney ($10,700)
He has a great resume at Pocono. He has finished 12th or better in five of his six starts here, finishing inside the Top 10 in all three of his starts in the June race and winning the 2017 event. Blaney showed solid speed in practice, but he ended up qualifying 17th. He has Top 5 upside, and at the very least, he should pile up a decent amount of place differential points on his way to a solid finish.
Alex Bowman ($10,500)
Bowman has momentum (4.3 average finish in the last four race), a history of success at Pocono (third here last July) and some place differential potential (starts 15th). What’s not to love?
David Ragan ($5,600)
Ragan has delivered steady results at Pocono, which is all you can ask for in a low-priced punt play. He has finished inside the Top 25 in nine of the last 10 races here, posting a 21.4 average finish and cracking the Top 20 five times. Ragan has also gained an average of 7.0 spots per race in that stretch, so after qualifying 27th, he should gain a few spots and post a serviceable score.
Starting Lineup for the 2019 Pocono 400
No. 1 William Byron
No. 2 Kyle Busch
No. 3 Clint Bowyer
No. 4 Erik Jones
No. 5 Brad Keselowski
No. 6 Denny Hamlin
No. 7 Kyle Larson
No. 8 Jimmie Johnson
No. 9 Daniel Suarez
No. 10 Austin Dillon
No. 11 Kevin Harvick
No. 12 Chase Elliott
No. 13 Aric Almirola
No. 14 Paul Menard
No. 15 Alex Bowman
No. 16 Joey Logano
No. 17 Ryan Blaney
No. 18 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
No. 19 Ryan Newman
No. 20 Martin Truex Jr.
No. 21 Kurt Busch
No. 22 Matt DiBenedetto
No. 23 Daniel Hemric
No. 24 Chris Buescher
No. 25 Ty Dillon
No. 26 Bubba Wallace
No. 27 David Ragan
No. 28 Michael McDowell
No. 29 Ryan Preece
No. 30 Matt Tifft
No. 31 Landon Cassill
No. 32 Ross Chastain
No. 33 Corey Lajoie
No. 34 Bayley Currey
No. 35 Reed Sorenson
No. 36 Quin Houff
No. 37 JJ Yeley