The rash of races at 1.5-mile tracks continues as the Cup Series kicks off a busy week at Kansas Speedway with Thursday night’s Super Start Batteries 400. The race will be the third in a row at a mile-and-a-half oval and the seventh of the season, and if you notice a lot of familiar faces in my lineups, it isn’t by accident.
More than any type of track on the schedule, performance at one mile-and-a-half track tends to carry over to the others. It is usually drivers from the top teams who dominate, but each year, we see some slight changes in the hierarchy. This season, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have been the Top 5 scorers at the 1.5-mile ovals, and it is no coincidence that you will see these names appear multiple times in my various lineups.
While I don’t hesitate to load up my lineups for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game for tracks like Kansas, I do expand my driver pool a bit for Slingshot Fantasy Auto. The importance of place differential points and always challenging pricing makes loading up solely on big names impossible. Instead, I like to go with a bit of balanced approach, pairing a couple of studs with some midrange drivers from the top teams who are starting in the middle of the pack.
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Harvick is arguably the safest play each and every week, and after he drew the pole, I just couldn’t pass on him. No driver has led more laps at 1.5-mile ovals in 2020, and over the last 10 races at Kansas, he leads all drivers with a 6.7 average finish. Harvick has led more than 70 laps in three of the last four Kansas races, leading 104 laps here last spring. This is the type of race where he could be at or near the front all night.
He added to his impressive resume at the 1.5-mile tracks last weekend when he led 150 laps and won both stages at Texas. Blaney now leads the series with a 5.3 average finish in the seven races at mile-and-a-half ovals, outscoring the closest competition by 56 points. He has earned points in 14 of the 15 stages in those events, finishing in the Top 5 in 12 of them and either first or second eight times.
Elliott checks my two main boxes this weekend, showing plenty of speed at the 1.5-mile tracks this year and posting strong numbers at Kansas. He has scored the second most points in the seven races at mile-and-a-half ovals in 2020, and he has a 4.6 average finish in the last five races at Kansas, finishing first, fourth and second in his last three starts here.
Martin Truex Jr.
I’m going a little aggressive with this pick, and while Truex has had some mistakes cost him strong finishes this year, his speed at the mile-and-a-half tracks has been legit. He currently ranks fifth in points scored and third in laps led in the seven races at 1.5-mile ovals, and he has earned points in 12 of the 15 stages, picking up a pair of stage wins and six Top 3 finishes. Throw in the fact that Truex has five finishes of sixth or better, including a pair of wins, in the last six Kansas races, and I think the reward outweighs the risk, especially from a Top 5 starting spot.
This guy is on an absolute tear right now, and I am staying on the Almirola train until it comes off the tracks. His streak of seven straight Top 10s is the longest in the series, and during that span, he has a series-best 5.3 average finish and series-high 270 points scored. Almirola’s 228 laps led in those races rank third, and he led 163 of those at mile-and-a-half tracks. Starting third, I think he stays hot and posts another solid score Thursday.
Garage Driver – Alex Bowman
He has a 20.3 average finish and zero Top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks this year, but those stats are a little misleading. Bowman has earned both in 12 of the 15 stages in those races, logging three stage wins. He also has four finishes of 11th or better in five starts at Kansas with Hendrick Motorsports, and he led laps in both races here last year, leading 63 laps in a runner-up effort in the spring. There’s no denying his upside, and if Bowman piles up stage points Thursday, I may roll the dice and throw him in my starting lineup.
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Chase Elliott (A)
You can’t go wrong with Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. in this spot, but only Ryan Blaney has scored more points at mile-and-a-half tracks this year than Elliott. He has also been excellent at Kansas. He won the fall race here in 2018, and he finished fourth and second in the two races last season. Elliott has four Top 5s in his last five Kansas starts, posting a 4.6 average finish in that stretch.
Aric Almirola (B)
Nothing about Almirola’s career suggests that he can sustain his current level of performance, so I am going to take full advantage in the meantime. He has reeled off seven straight Top 10s coming into Kansas, and during that stretch, he leads all drivers with 270 points scored and a 5.3 average finish. Drawing the No. 3 starting spot only helps his chances for stage points.
Ryan Blaney (B)
Blaney is probably the top option in this group, and while his starts are precious, using him at a mile-and-a-half track like Kansas makes the most sense. After all, he leads all drivers with a 5.3 average finish in the seven races at 1.5-mile ovals in 2020, and his 327 points scored in those events are 56 more than any other driver and 93 more than any other Group B option. It is all about maximizing value. Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon are two alternatives to consider if you want/need to save a start from Blaney.
Tyler Reddick (C)
I’ve been burning up starts from Reddick lately, but I am using him again this weekend for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s been a stud at the 1.5-mile tracks. He has a 10.3 average finish in the seven races, logging four Top 10s and scoring a massive 75 more points than any other driver in this tier. We also have a long stretch without any mile-and-a-half ovals on the schedule coming up, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to save his remaining starts.
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Martin Truex Jr. ($12,400)
Truex has been fast at the mile-and-a-half ovals all year, and he has been locked in at Kansas for a while. He has finished sixth or better in five of his last six starts here, winning twice and leading double-digit laps four times. There’s not really any place differential upside with Truex, but I am banking on a bunch of stage points and a Top 5 finish, if not a win.
Ryan Blaney ($11,100)
Part of the reason I chose not to roster Kevin Harvick was because I feel Blaney offers an equal chance at the win at stage points for a significantly lower salary. After all, he is fresh of off sweeping both stages at Texas last weekend, and no driver has scored more points at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2020.
Tyler Reddick ($9,000)
Reddick has become a staple of my Slingshot lineups, and after drawing the 23rd starting spot for Thursday, that isn’t changing. He has a 10.3 average finish in the seven races at mile-and-a-half ovals, cracking the Top 10 four times and finishing no worse than 18th. A Top 10 finish, 20-plus differential points and even some stage points could be on tap for Reddick.
Christopher Bell ($8,700)
I thought about Jimmie Johnson or Austin Dillon with this pick, but Bell has more differential upside than both. He is also a former winner at Kansas at the XFINITY level, and he has a 14.0 average finish in the last five races at 1.5-mile tracks, notching three Top 10s. Rolling off 22nd, Bell has a solid floor and decent upside.
Clint Bowyer ($8,300)
Bowyer has been showing better speed at the 1.5-mile tracks recently, cracking the Top 15 in three straight races and finishing 11th at Homestead and Texas. He has also cracked the Top 15 in five of his six starts at Kansas with Stewart-Haas, finishing fifth and eight in the two races last year. Starting 19th, I think he can challenge for a Top 10 and pick up around 20 differential points. If you want to go after another high-end option, Ty Dillon and John Hunter Nemechek are two low-priced plays I like.