Fantasy NASCAR: GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Quick Picks

Talladega Superspeedway is typically one of the toughest tracks to predict, but Fantasy NASCAR expert Brian Polking will help survive Sunday's trip to the biggest track on the schedule with his quick picks for the GEICO 500.

Apr 28, 2019; Talladega, AL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott (9) beats NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece (47) and NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (88) on a caution to win the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to Fantasy NASCAR, but Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will likely take unpredictability to the extreme. Big wrecks and superspeedway racing go hand in hand, and it is hard enough to pick drivers who are still on the track at the finish, let alone running near the front.

As frustrating as it can be to watch your entire fantasy roster get wiped out in a split second, you can use the superspeedways to your advantage in most season-long contests, or at least minimize the damage.

Don’t forget that both NASCAR Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game limit the number of times you can use each driver. You can’t simply run out the top drivers every week, at least not for the entire season. Knowing when you can steal strong finishes out of unexpected sources is crucial, and there is no better time to roll out a lineup of sleepers than at a superspeedway.

In the season opener at Daytona, for example, you could have earned Top 10 finishes with part-timers David Ragan and Brendan Gaughan. Meanwhile, Corey LaJoie, Michael McDowell, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Haley and Brennan Poole all finished 16th or better for underfunded teams.

The last thing you want to do is use up valuable starts from the top guys and have them taken out in a wreck, especially since history has proven that you don’t need big names to post strong fantasy scores at the superspeedways. Worst-case scenario, your sleeper drivers wreck, and you live to fight another day with an extra start from the elite drivers.

For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I will be taking full advantage of the place differential category. With two points awarded for every spot gained and two spots taken away for every spot lost, loading up on drivers starting deep in the field is both the safest and smartest strategy. I’ll use drivers at superspeedways that I wouldn’t consider under any circumstances at every other track on the schedule. Focus on the starting spot of your picks, not the names.

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Aric Almirola

Almirola has been one of the steadiest performers at the superspeedways, and over the last 10 races, he ranks third in both average finish (12.5) and points scored (286). His six Top 10s in that stretch are tied for the second most, and he has a 5.2 average finish at Talladega in five starts at Talladega, winning the fall race in 2018. Almirola has one of the better combinations of reliability and upside this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse can be a bit of a loose cannon at the superspeedways, but he also has a nose for the front of the field. He is a former winner at Daytona and Talladega, and he ranks in the Top 5 in points scored in the last 10 superspeedway races. Stenhouse has led laps in nine of those races, leading 32 laps at Talladega last fall and leading 24 laps and notching 12 stage points in this year’s Daytona 500. Stenhouse has top scorer upside this weekend.

Ryan Newman

His horrific wreck in the Daytona 500 is tough to forget, but Newman’s record at the superspeedways lately is second to none. His 8.9 average finish in the last 10 races is the best in the series, and his eight Top 10s in that span are two more than any other driver. Newman is also the only driver to finish on the lead lap in all 10 of those, and he ranks second to Joey Logano in points scored.

Austin Dillon

Richard Childress Racing has had a strong superspeedway program for a while now, and Dillon has been able to capitalize. He is a former Daytona 500 winner, and he has finished 17th or better in seven of the last 10 superspeedway races, ranking 10th in points scored in that span. Dillon cracked the Top 15 in both Talladega races last year, and he finished 12th in the Daytona 500 back in February. He gives me a decent chance at a solid finish while allowing me to save a start from the usual studs.

Ty Dillon

Luck likely plays a role, but Dillon is better than most at avoiding major trouble in these superspeedway events. His 15.3 average finish in the last 10 races ranks fifth in the series, and his eight lead lap finishes are the second most. Dillon has seven Top 15s in that same stretch, including four Top 10s, and he ranks inside the Top 10 in points scored. Statistically speaking, he is one of the best bets for a decent finish.

Garage Driver – Corey LaJoie

LaJoie has Top 25 equipment, at best, but he has been able to exploit the level playing field that superspeedways create. Since taking over the No. 32 machine, he has a 10.0 average finish in five superspeedway starts, finishing 11th or better four times and eighth or better three times. With no value at most ovals, it is an easy decision to have LaJoie in case one of my starters is taken out early.

Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game

Joey Logano (A)

You don’t have to worry too much about budgeting starts from the Group A options because of all the talent, so I am going with the current king of the superspeedways. His 346 points scored over the last 10 races are 55 more than any other driver, and he also leads the series with six Top 5s and 242 laps led in that span. Logano has been even better at Talladega, winning here three times since 2015 and notching four Top 5s in the last five races. If you want to fade the driver who will likely be the popular play, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are my favorite alternatives.

Aric Almirola (B)

Almirola has always been a sneaky option at the superspeedways, but he has really been locked in recently. He has six Top 10s and the third-best average finish in the last 10 superspeedway races, and he has a 5.2 average finish in five Talladega starts in that span. There aren’t many tracks where he is a serious Top 5 threat, so it is a no-brainer to use him this weekend.

Ryan Newman (B)

He has had the highest floor of any driver at the superspeedways of late, and in the last 10 races, Newman leads all drivers with eight Top 10s and an 8.9 average finish. He has scored the second most points in that same stretch, and he is the only driver to finish on the lead lap in all 10 races. This is also a good opportunity to try to maximize the value of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or Austin Dillon.

Ty Dillon (C)

Dillon just has a knack for staying out of trouble in these superspeedway races, and I am hoping to take advantage while saving starts from Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell. His 15.3 average finish in the last 10 superspeedway races ranks fifth in the series, and his worst finish at Talladega in that stretch is 17th.

Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto

Christopher Bell ($11,400)

His superspeedway resume consists of a 21st-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500, but after drawing the 35th starting spot, he has nothing but upside in the place differential category. Bell is going to post a strong score as long as he cracks the Top 20, and worst-case scenario, he wrecks and essentially breaks even.

Ryan Preece ($11,000)

It has been a mixed bag of results for Preece in his five superspeedway starts, but starting 31st, he offers serious upside for a minimal risk. He has gained at least a dozen spots in three of those five races, including both of his career starts at Talladega. I don’t see any downside with this pick.

Ty Dillon ($10,700)

Dillon has been one of the best at staying of trouble at the superspeedways, and it has allowed him to post the fifth-best average finish (15.3) over the last 10 races. He has finished 17th or better eight times in that span, and now that he starts back in 33rd, he could be looking at 40-plus place differential points.

Bubba Wallace ($9,500)

He has the least differential upside of any of my picks, and I actually thought about rolling the dice on a one of the studs starting near the front like Joey Logano or Ryan Blaney. However, Wallace still has a chunk of differential upside from the 24th starting spot, and he has a decent superspeedway record. He has finished in the Top 20 in six of his nine starts, finishing 16th or better five times. It’s the safer play.

Brendan Gaughan ($7,400)

Gaughan only drives the superspeedway events these days, but he has been one heck of a ringer. He has a 17.7 average finish over the last 10 races, and more importantly for this scoring system, he has gained an average of 12.2 spots per race. Gaughan has gained at least 16 spots five times in that span, gaining 32 spots and finishing seventh in the Daytona 500 back in February. Rolling off 39th Sunday, he could exploit the differential category to post a massive point total.