The Cup Series pays a visit to Kentucky Speedway this weekend, and while Sunday’s Quaker State 400 will be the sixth race of the season at a mile-and-a-half oval, I won’t be quite as aggressive when building my Fantasy NASCAR lineups as I normally am when attacking a 1.5-mile track.
Yes, I still have several big names in my lineups, especially for Fantasy Live, but for whatever reason, Kentucky seems to be a little less predictable than the other intermediate ovals. Kyle Busch is really the only driver who has been a consistent Top 5 performer here, and last year, Daniel Suarez, Chris Buescher, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were among the surprise drivers who finished in the Top 12. I am hoping to take advantage of the variability at Kentucky by utilizing some mid-tier options for my Group B picks in the Driver Group Game.
I am also relying a little more on results from the five previous races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, rather than on results from past Kentucky races and even results from the last few weeks. Momentum shouldn’t be ignored, but Talladega, Pocono and Indianapolis aren’t exactly great comps for an intermediate oval like Kentucky.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Elliott has had elite speed at the mile-and-a-half ovals all year, leading at least 26 laps in all five races and scoring the second most points. Elliott has finished either first or second in three of those five starts, and armed with a Top 10 starting spot, I expect him to be one of the frontrunners for the win again Sunday.
He has been an absolute stud at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, posting a series-best 4.8 average finish and series-high four Top 5s in the five races. More importantly, Blaney has earned points in 10 of the 11 stages in those events, finishing fourth or better eight times. I expect him to make a run at being the top fantasy scorer Sunday.
Keselowski is no stranger to running up front at Kentucky. In addition to a series-high three wins at the track, he has led 30-plus laps in six of the nine races here. Keselowski is also the only driver who has cracked the Top 10 in all five races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2020. Rolling off sixth, you will have a tough time finding a driver with a higher floor.
There is no denying that Busch has been lacking elite speed in 2020, but his numbers at Kentucky have been in a league of their own, and he drew the pole for Sunday’s race. His 4.7 average finish, seven Top 5s, eight Top 10s, 396 points scored and 621 laps led in the nine races here are all tops in the series. I’m not sure Busch can win, but I think he can take advantage of the track position and hang in the Top 5 all afternoon.
His final results at the 1.5-mile tracks this year aren’t a good indicator of his speed. Bowman has earned points in nine of the 11 stages in the five races at mile-and-a-half ovals, logging three stage wins. Starting in the Top 5, I’m expecting plenty of stage points again Sunday. If Bowman is sitting on 15-plus stage points, I’ll take my chances that he can seal the deal with a solid finish.
Garage Driver – Aric Almirola
Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are always quality plays, but Almirola has been on a heck of a roll recently, ripping off five straight Top 5s. Granted, he’s not normally known for piling up stage points, but starting fourth could change that. If Almirola can pick up 10 or more stage points, I’ll probably swap him in to the starting lineup and try to save a start from one of the big names.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Chase Elliott (A)
You can’t go wrong with Kevin Harvick these days, but after some quiet weeks, I expect Elliott to flex his muscles at Kentucky. His 219 points scored at 1.5-mile tracks are the second most of any driver, and he has a 7.8 average finish in the five races. He has finished either first or second in three of those starts, leading at least 26 laps in all of them. Elliott should be in the mix for the win Sunday.
Matt DiBenedetto (B)
Ryan Blaney is my top Group B option, but with Kentucky being a bit more unpredictable than most 1.5-mile tracks, I am going to save him for another week. I’ll turn to DiBenedetto, who has a 14.6 average finish in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2020 despite being stuck with several bad qualifying draws. He gets to start 10th Sunday, and in his only other start from inside the Top 15 at a mile-and-a-half oval this year, he finished in the Top 15 and collected eight stage points.
Alex Bowman (B)
As his 18.6 average finish at the 1.5-mile track suggests, he is a bit of a risky pick this weekend. However, Bowman also ranks 10th in points scored at the mile-and-a-half ovals this year, consistently showing plenty of speed and piling up stage points. After drawing a Top 5 starting spot, I am going to roll the dice on his upside. Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola are two steadier options, and I like Austin Dillon if you want a true sleeper.
Tyler Reddick (C)
Reddick has been a force at the 1.5-mile ovals, positing a 12.0 average finish. He has also scored the 11th most points of any driver in the five races, scoring 55 more points than any other Group C option. That is a significant gap. You could also continue to ride the hot hand of Bubba Wallace if you want to save a start from Reddick.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Chase Elliott ($12,500)
He has had elite speed at the mile-and-a-half tracks all year, leading at least 26 laps in all five races and scoring the second-most total points. Granted, he doesn’t have a ton of place differential upside since he is starting eighth, but a Top 5 finish and a bunch of stage points are probably on tap, and I think he will be one of the main contenders for the win. Elliott should have no issues topping 100 fantasy points Sunday.
Ryan Blaney ($10,900)
Blaney has arguably been the best in the business at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2020. His 4.8 average finish and four Top 5s in the five races are both tops in the series, and he even has some place differential points available after drawing the No. 11 starting spot. Blaney is the total package in this scoring system, giving me a shot at the win, double-digit stage points and 10-plus differential points.
Christopher Bell ($9,100)
While he continues to be a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option, Bell’s continued bad luck in qualifying draws makes it is a lot easier to take a chance on him in this format. He has to start 34th this weekend, but since crashing at Las Vegas, Bell has finished 21st or better in the four races at mile-and-a-half ovals, notching a pair of Top 10s. A Top 20 finish is going to put him in the 80-point range, and his ceiling is even higher.
Tyler Reddick ($8,500)
Reddick is a former winner at Kentucky at the XFNITY level, and he is quickly proving to be a force at the 1.5-mile tracks on the Cup side. He has a 12.0 average finish in the five races this year, finishing no worse than 18th in any of those starts. Rolling off 24th, I think his floor is a Top 15 and 90-plus fantasy points. William Byron and Cole Custer are two other options I think are worth considering in this price range.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,400)
He’s already been medically cleared to return to the No. 48, and after drawing the 20th starting spot, Johnson is good position to deliver a solid score. With the exception of his disqualification in the Coca-Cola 600 which negated a runner-up effort, he has yet to finish worse than 16th at a 1.5-mile oval this year, and he has finished 11th or better in three of those four starts. Look for Johnson to flirt with a Top 10 finish and 100 fantasy points Sunday.