The first round of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs comes to a close this weekend at arguably the most challenging track on the schedule. For just the second time ever, the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course (The Roval) will host a race, and Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 could be the wildest race to date.
Last year’s inaugural race had no shortage of fireworks. From a huge crash on a restart that took out major players like Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson to a last lap bump-and-run attempt by Jimmie Johnson that took out both himself and Martin Truex Jr. and allowed Ryan Blaney to win, there was no shortage of memorable moments. The race also featured an intense battle for the final transfer spots to next round of the playoffs that ended with Larson limping a destroyed car to the finish, passing a stalled car on the last lap in the process to advance.
Unlike the other two road courses on the schedule, the 2.28-mile Roval doesn’t have sand traps and other grassy run-off points that can forgive an occasional mistake by a driver. It just has walls and barriers that could turn Sunday’s race into another wreck-filled war of attrition.
The Roval is going to be a wild-card race, but that doesn’t mean familiar faces won’t run well. After all, Kyle Busch had one of strongest car before crashing, and current road course king Martin Truex Jr. was going to win before being spun coming to the finish line. Meanwhile, road course aces like Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch all cracked the Top 10.
However, it is the increased volatility is something to consider from a fantasy perspective. In that same race, all the wrecks helped Matt DiBenedetto, Regan Smith, David Ragan, Michael McDowell, and Cole Whitt crack the Top 20. This could be a great week to mix in a few mid-tier and sleeper drivers to try to maximize their upside while also avoiding the chance of wasting starts from the top guys.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has opened the playoffs with back-to-back wins, and he could make it a clean sweep of the opening round this weekend. He has emerged as the premier road course driver in the series, logging three wins and two second-place finishes in his last six starts alone. Truex was also leading on the final lap at the Roval last year before being spun by Jimmie Johnson. I plan on starting him in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
2. Kyle Busch
Although it has been a few years since Busch has logged a win at a road course, he continues to be one of the most reliable options. In fact, his 8.0 average finish in the last 10 road races is the best in the series, and his eight Top 10s in that span are tied for the most.
3. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is in the middle of an excellent stretch at the road courses, and over the last 10 races, he ranks first in points scored. He is also tied for the series lead with six Top 5s in that span, and he has finished in the Top 5 in both road course events so far this season. Hamlin should be an excellent option in all formats.
4. Chase Elliott
He won at Watkins Glen in dominating fashion for the second year in a row back in August, and Elliott has now finished sixth or better in four of the last five road course races. He finished sixth at the Roval last season, and I expect him to be back in the mix for a Top 5 Sunday. Elliott could be a great pivot to the Joe Gibbs drivers in season-long and DFS contests.
5. Kevin Harvick
While his ceiling might not be as high as some of the other elite options, Harvick does have one of the safest floors. He has a series-best eight Top 10s in the last 10 road course races, including five straight. Harvick has finished sixth and seventh in the two road course races this year, and he should be battling in and around the Top 5 again Sunday.
6. Ryan Blaney
Blaney won at the Roval last year after the leaders got together on the final lap, but he’s been impressive at road course races in general recently. He has six finishes of 12th or better in his last seven starts, reeling off three straight Top 5 finishes. He could be a sneaky sleeper as a playoff driver for Fantasy Live.
7. Kurt Busch
If you are looking for reliability, Busch should definitely be high on your list this weekend. He is tied for the series lead with eight Top 10s in the last 10 road course races, and during that stretch, he has an 8.2 average finish and hasn’t finished worse than 13th.
8. Erik Jones
The disqualification at Richmond is brutal for his championship hopes and puts Jones in a must-win situation this weekend. It makes him a little bit of a riskier play from a fantasy perspective, but it doesn’t change the fact that he has plenty of upside. Jones has five Top 10s in seven career road course starts, including finishes of eighth and fourth this season.
9. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer is one of the most underappreciated road course racers in the series, and since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, he has six finishes of 11th or better in seven road races, including four Top 5s. One of those Top 5s was a third-place finish at the Roval last year. This race is a chance to get a Top 5 out of Bowyer.
10. Brad Keselowski
He is still looking for a road course win, and while the finishes haven’t always been there, Keselowski has shown plenty of speed. In fact, he ranks third in the series in laps led over the last 10 road races, leading at least 17 laps five times. He led 29 laps at the Roval last year, and Keselowski’s ability to lead laps should keep him on your radar at DraftKings.
11. Kyle Larson
Long-run speed has been a bit of an issue for Larson at the road courses, but he is making strides. He has three Top 10s in the last four road races, including both events in 2019. Larson also led a race-high 47 laps at the Roval last year before being one of several big names involved in a multi-car wreck. He has some upside this weekend.
12. Matt DiBenedetto
How can you not be impressed by what DiBenedetto has done at the road courses this year. After a surprising fourth-place effort at Sonoma, he went to Watkins Glen and finished sixth. He also finished 13th at the Roval last year while driving the No. 32 machine. He’s a legitimate Top 10 threat, the top Group C option in the Driver Group Game and an excellent non-playoff candidate for Fantasy Live.
13. Joey Logano
His run of bad luck at the road courses has continued this season, and Logano has now finished outside the Top 10 in six of his last seven starts, finishing 19th or worse five times in that span. Logano is capable of breaking out of the funk at any time, but I can’t see rolling the dice on him in the season-long contests.
14. Alex Bowman
Bowman finished third at the Roval a year ago, and he’s been solid at the road courses in general since joining Hendrick Motorsports. In fact, he has finished 14th or better in all five road races in the No. 88. Keep him in mind as a Group B option for the DGG.
15. Ryan Newman
Fresh off a Top 5 finish at Richmond, Newman is very much in the hunt to advance in the playoffs. He has a knack for maximizing his finishes each and every week, and I don’t expect that to change Sunday. Newman finished 11th at the Roval last year, and he should at least be fighting for a Top 15 this weekend.
16. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson nearly won at the Roval last year, ultimately finishing eighth after crashing while trying to bump his way to the lead on the last lap. This year, he has pedestrian finishes of 12th and 19th in the two road course races, but even if he has a similar run Sunday, Johnson should still be one of the best non-playoff options for Fantasy Live.
17. Aric Almirola
He still won’t be mistaken for a road course ringer, but Almirola has been better since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has finished ninth and 12th in the two road course races this year, and Almirola should have Top 15 potential again this weekend. I’ll probably save him for the 1.5-mile ovals, but Almirola has a decent floor as a Group B fallback option in the DGG.
18. William Byron
His finishes of 19th and 21st in the two road course events this year don’t jump off the page, but it is worth noting that Byron started on the front row in both of those races. He could provide some qualifying bonus points, and you don’t have to start him.
19. Chris Buescher
Buescher has continued his upward trend at the road courses, finishing 16th and 13th in the two races this season. He has now cracked the Top 20 in all seven starts with JTG Daugherty Racing, posting a 15.43 average finish. I’d still recommend saving him for the 1.5-mile ovals in the Driver Group Game, but he should be on your radar as a non-playoff option for Fantasy Live.
20. Daniel Suarez
Watkins Glen has been his strongest road course, but Suarez has decent numbers in general. He has a 13.3 average finish in seven road course starts, finishing 17th or better in six of them. Suarez should at least flirt with a Top 15, so he is definitely in play as a non-playoff option at Fantasy Live.
21. Michael McDowell
McDowell has a background in road racing, and over his last 10 starts, he has posted a respectable 20.0 average finish, finishing 21st or better eight times. He has finished 18th or better in three of the last four road races, and if you need to save starts from Chris Buescher and Mat DiBenedetto in the Driver Group Game, McDowell is a perfect Group C alternative. He could also be a non-playoff sleeper for Fantasy Live.
22. Daniel Hemric
Brake issues led to a 35th-place finish at Watkins Glen, but Hemric could be a sneaky sleeper for the DGG or for the DFS sites this weekend. He finished 23rd at the Roval last year in his first road course start at the Cup level, and he finished 15th at Sonoma earlier this season.
23. Paul Menard
His 18th-place finish at Watkins Glen snapped a streak of four straight finishes outside the Top 20 at the road courses, but Menard still hasn’t had a Top 15 since Sonoma in 2017. A mid-pack finish is probably on tap Sunday, limiting his fantasy appeal.
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Road courses are never going to be his forte, but Stenhouse has at least managed four Top 20s in his last six starts, including a 15th-place finish at Watkins Glen back in August. I won’t be touching him in the season-long contests, but he could be a GPP flier at the DraftKings if he starts deeper in the field.
25. David Ragan
There isn’t a lot of upside with Ragan, but he has been able to stay out of trouble at the road courses recently. He has finished 22nd or better in both races this year and in four of the last five road races overall. Ragan has gained at least six spots in three of those starts, gaining 14 starts and finishing 16th at the Roval last year. He has some potential as a cheap play at the DFS sites.
26. Austin Dillon
His lack of actual driving ability really shows up on the road courses, and Dillon owns an ugly 24.6 average finish in 13 career starts. In fact, he has never even managed a Top 15 at a road course. You can stay away from Dillon this weekend.
27. Ryan Preece
Preece’s first two road course starts at the Cup level have yielded finishes of 29th and 36th, but he was actually battling for a Top 20 at Watkins Glen before having a rear gear issue. Still, I wouldn’t expect more than a Top 25 out of him Sunday. He has limited fantasy appeal.
28. Matt Tifft
For a young driver, Tifft has a decent amount of experience at road courses. The rookie has finished 28th and 24th in the two races this year, and another Top 25 isn’t out of the question. If he happens to qualify outside the Top 30, he could be a shot-in-the-dark DFS play.
29. Ty Dillon
Much like his older brother, Dillon’s lack of raw ability becomes even more obvious at the road courses. He has a 26.0 average finish in seven starts, finishing 19th or worse in all of them and outside the Top 25 in both races this year.
30. Bubba Wallace
Road racing and Wallace don’t get along, and after five Cup starts, he owns an abysmal 28.8 average finish and has never finished better than 25th. I don’t see a scenario where he has any fantasy value this weekend.