The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is winding down, and if you play season-long Fantasy NASCAR contests, the finish line is starting to come into view. Before we get there, we have one huge hurdle left to deal with, and it comes this weekend in the form of Talladega Superspeedway.
NASCAR’s biggest track will host Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500, the fourth and final superspeedway race of the year. No type of track levels the playing field and creates chaos quite like a superspeedway, and unfortunately for fantasy owners, there is now way to construct a lineup that is immune to the wreck-inducing, running order-jumbling pack racing that has come to define Daytona and Talladega.
Aside from having luck on your side, there are strategies that can help you minimize the potential damage to your fantasy teams this weekend. It starts with understanding the scoring system in each of your leagues and your position within the standings of each league.
Now that the Fantasy Live contest has shifted to the playoff format, we don’t have to worry about driver allocations. You are free to use the biggest names without any long-term repercussions if they do end up crashing this weekend. However, just because you can load up on big names, it doesn’t mean you have to.
If you need to try to make up some ground in your Fantasy Live leagues, this is the perfect race to go against the popular, chalk-type plays and take a chance on some contrarian picks. You won’t have a better opportunity to gain a bunch of points in a single race than you will this weekend.
For the Driver Group Game, Sunday’s race is a great opportunity to save some starts from the top drivers in the Group B and Group C tiers. This late in the season, you cannot afford to waste starts from drivers like Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto. The good news is that you don’t need to use these bigger names to post a big score this weekend. Take full advantage of some sleeper picks Sunday.
In the Slingshot game, I am 100 percent committed to exploiting the place differential category. I’m not concerned about leaving money on the table, and I’m not too concerned about which drivers I use. I want all my picks starting outside the Top 20, if not outside the Top 25. Worst-case scenario, my picks wreck but don’t cost me too many points. Best-case scenario, my picks all survive to the checkered flag and pile up a ton of place differential points.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Joey Logano (Playoff)
There is no such thing as a safe pick at the superspeedways, but Logano has been your best bet. He ranks second in points scored in the last 10 races, notching a series-high six Top 5s in that span. This year, he has scored the second most points in the three superspeedway races while leading a series-best 88 laps. Logano has been at his best at Talladega, reeling off four straight Top 5s and piling up six Top 5s in his last eight starts at the track, including three wins.
Alex Bowman (Playoff)
Bowman might seem like a strange pick with guys like Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott available, but Bowman has actually scored a series-high 113 points in the three superspeedway races this year. He has also finished second in four of the six stages in those three races, finishing second in both stages at Talladega in the spring on his way to a runner-up effort in the race. I’m going to play the hot hand.
Aric Almirola (Non-Playoff)
He usually isn’t a flashy pick, but Almirola has put up some big numbers at the superspeedways. He is the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and he has finished in the Top 10 in his last six starts at Talladega, leading 27 laps here in the spring. He is also a former winner at Daytona, and over the last 10 superspeedway races, his 11.2 average finish ranks second in the series. I’ll take advantage of his early postseason exit and use him as a non-playoff option this weekend.
Kurt Busch (Non-Playoff)
Busch tends to get overlooked when discussing the best superspeedway drivers, but over the last 10 races, he ranks fourth in driver points scored. His recent numbers at Talladega are particularly encouraging. Busch was the runner-up here in the spring of 2018, and last fall, he led a race-high 108 laps, finishing first and third in the two stages. He also picked up a sixth-place finish in this year’s spring race. Ryan Newman, Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and several others could also make great plays, but I’m going with Kurt Busch.
Garage Driver – Brad Keselowski (Playoff)
There are so many options in play at a superspeedway, but in the end, I went with the driver with one of the highest ceilings. I figure that if there is a 50 percent chance that my picks will wreck anyway, I might as well go with a driver who I know can win. Keselowski leads all active drivers with six superspeedway wins, and five of those have come at Talladega. He has also led laps in seven straight races here, leading 20-plus laps five times. I know he has the potential to win the race and finish as the top scorer.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Joey Logano (A)
I decided to play it as safe as possible at a superspeedway race and go with Logano. With a series-best six Top 5s and the second most points scored in the last 10 superspeedway races, his blend of reliability and upside is unmatched. Logano has been particularly strong at Talladega, reeling off four straight Top 5s and winning three times in his last eight starts.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (B)
He’s been involved in his share of wrecks at the superspeedways, but you will usually see the No. 17 at the front of the field at Daytona and Talladega. In fact, Stenhouse has scored the most points of any driver in the last 10 superspeedway races, and he is the only driver with multiple wins in that span. I’ll try to maximize his upside and save some starts from the bigger names by using Stenhouse at a track where he has as much upside as any driver available.
Ryan Newman (B)
Over the last 10 superspeedway races, Newman has managed to accumulate the third most points of any driver while logging a series-best seven Top 10s. His 10.8 average finish in that stretch is the best in the series, and in the three superspeedway races this season, Newman is tied for the series lead with an 8.7 average finish. I’ll take my chances with one of the most reliable superspeedway options out there right now.
Ty Dillon (C)
I’ll be the first one to criticize Dillon’s driving ability, but I can’t argue with his results at the superspeedways. In the last 10 races, he ranks sixth in the series in points scored, and is 14.2 average finish is the third best. Dillon has finished 17th or better nine times in that same stretch, finishing sixth or better in three of his last five starts. Through the first three superspeedway races of 2019, he owns a 9.0 average finish. All the numbers point to Dillon being one of the safest options this weekend.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Denny Hamlin ($11,600)
He won the Daytona 500 to open the year to earn his third career superspeedway win, and over the last 10 superspeedway races, Hamlin ranks fifth in points scored. More importantly, he starts dead last Sunday after losing an engine in qualifying. With nothing but upside in the all-important place differential category, Hamlin is a no-brainer play in this format.
Kyle Busch ($11,400)
I in the intro that I would gladly target big names as long as they qualify poorly, and Busch will roll off 26th Sunday. Yes, he’s been streaky at the superspeedways, but he is a former winner at both Daytona and Talladega, and his 8.7 average finish in the three superspeedway races this year is tied for the best mark in the series. Busch has led laps in all three of those races, leading laps in all three and gaining double-digit spots twice. He has enormous upside.
Matt DiBenedetto ($8,400)
DiBenedetto has crashed out of two of the three superspeedway races this year, but he also led a race-high 49 laps in the Daytona 500, and he gained 17 spots and finished eighth at Daytona in July. After qualifying outside the Top 30, DiBenedetto is a low-risk play in the place differential category with Top 10 upside.
Ryan Preece ($7,300)
The sample size is small, but Preece has finished in the Top 10 in two of his three career starts at the superspeedways. Equally as important, he gained 13 spots and finished eighth in the Daytona 500 and gained 27 spots and finished third in his Talladega debut. Preece will start 30th this weekend, so he once again has tons of upside in the place differential category.
Corey LaJoie ($6,800)
Call this going out on a limb if you want, but LaJoie’s numbers at the superspeedways in the No. 32 this year have been legit. He has compiled an 11.7 average finish in the three races while gaining an average of 21.0 spots per race. LaJoie has gained at least 14 spots in every start, moving up 25 spots and finishing 11th at Talladega in the spring. Starting way back in 33rd, he is a legitimate candidate to finish as a Top 5 scorer in this format.