After several weeks of building Fantasy NASCAR lineups for mile-and-a-half tracks, we get a break from the “cookie-cutter” ovals this weekend when the Cup Series visits New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Nicknamed the “Magic Mile,” the flat, one-mile oval will host Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.
While many of the top drivers still excel at New Hampshire, the importance of track position and disparity between the two grooves on restarts allows crew chiefs and drivers to steal some spots and creates a little more unpredictability overall. As a result, I like to use the New Hampshire race as an opportunity to save a few starts from the elite options in both Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
Not only do you have a few middle tier drivers who elevate their game at flat tracks, but depending on when cautions fall, the drivers with the best cars often forfeit stage points in favor of track position. You also have to worry about a rash of cautions at the end of the race jumbling up the final results as drivers on the inside typically hemorrhage spots. Add it all up, and it makes a lot of sense to roll the dice on a couple of high-upside midrange drivers.
For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I paired a couple of studs with three mid-priced drivers who have a decent amount of place differential upside. NASCAR’s current qualifying format continues to put all the top drivers towards the front, so I feel a balanced approach makes more sense than top loading my lineup with three high-priced studs who have little opportunity to gain place differential points.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
At their best, I don’t think there is any team better than the No. 11 bunch right now, and Hamlin has always been a force at flat tracks. Of his 42 Cup wins, 19 have come at flat or low-banked tracks, including three at New Hampshire. Despite starting at the rear of the field here last year, he still led 113 laps and finished second. He will start on the front row Sunday, and as good as he has been in 2020, I’m expecting Hamlin to flex some serious muscle this weekend.
I know it hasn’t been a banner year for the defending champ, but because of that, I have a surplus of starts available as we head to one of his best tracks. Busch leads all drivers in basically every category in the last 10 New Hampshire races, and he has led more than 90 laps in three of his last four starts here, leading a race-high 118 laps last season. Rolling off fifth, I think a Top 5 finish and double-digit stage points are his floor.
You can’t go wrong with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. this week either, but Logano has been reliable at New Hampshire, and his team has been one of the best at acquiring stage points all season. He currently ranks third with 173 stage points in 2020 and second with 19 Top 5 finishes in stages, and Logano has finished 11th or better in eight of his last nine New Hampshire starts. He should deliver a solid point total no matter how the race breaks.
Since stage points could be tougher to predict depending on when cautions fall, I think there is added value in a consistent performer like Keselowski. Over the last 10 New Hampshire races, he ranks fourth in points scored, posting a 9.6 average finish and seven Top 10s. He only has one finish outside the Top 15 in that stretch, and last season, he ranked in the Top 5 in both green flag speed and driver rating at New Hampshire while logging the best average running position. A Top 5 starting spot should help matters.
He extended his streak of Top 10 finishes to eight races with his sixth-place run at Kansas last weekend, and during that stretch, Almirola leads all drivers with a 5.4 average finish and 312 points scored. I’m going to keep playing the hot hand, especially after he drew the pole at a New Hampshire track where he has had success recently. Almirola led 42 laps and logged seven stage points on his way to a third-place finish here in 2018, and last year, he piled up 18 stage points and was leading when another car slid into his pit box and caused a slow stop.
Garage Driver – Erik Jones
His lack of consistency is a can be a major headache for fantasy purposes, but Jones has plenty of upside, and we’ve seen him go on hot streaks in the past. He has six finishes of sixth or better in 2020, and four of them have come in the last seven races. He also finished third at New Hampshire last year, ranking fifth in green flag speed, and he has an 8.3 average finish in the last three races here.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Denny Hamlin (A)
Hamlin has a series-leading five wins under his belt already this season, and he could add to that total Sunday. He led 113 laps in a runner-up effort at New Hampshire last year after starting dead last, and he will get to start from the front row this weekend. I could see him sweeping both stages and winning the race.
Aric Almirola (B)
He has a series-best 5.4 average finish during his current streak of eight straight Top 10s, and I think he stays hot at New Hampshire. He led 42 laps and finished third at the track in 2018, and he finished third and first in the two stages here last season. Starting on the pole, I’m riding the Almirola train until it comes off the tracks.
Matt DiBenedetto (B)
He had the best run of his career at New Hampshire last season, logging a fifth-place finish in the No. 95. We’ve seen his ceiling jump even higher in 2020 with his move to Wood Brothers Racing in 2020, so a Top 5 finish doesn’t seem out of reach. DiBenedetto has to start back in 19th, but I think this is a great chance to snag a Top 10 out of DiBenedetto.
Christopher Bell (C)
I’ve been burning through starts from Tyler Reddick, but I like Bell as an alternative this weekend. He’s been showing Top 10 upside in his own right, and he has compiled an excellent resume at New Hampshire in other series. He finished first and second in his two Truck starts here, and he won both his XFINITY starts, leading 279 of the 400 laps.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,300)
Starting 11th, Truex has more place differential upside than most of the heavy hitters. He also has been locked in at New Hampshire. He has finished seventh or better in five straight starts here, and he has led more than 80 laps in five of the last six races. Truex should be an all-around fantasy force in this scoring format.
Denny Hamlin ($12,100)
I’m forfeiting differential points with this pick, but Hamlin could still post a huge score. The three-time New Hampshire winner will start on the front row Sunday as he looks for his sixth win of 2020, and he led 113 laps and finished second here last year. I’m picking Hamlin to win and to grab a bunch of stage points in the process.
Christopher Bell ($8,500)
He slid out of the Top 24 in owner points last weekend, and as a result, he is stuck starting back in 35th this weekend at New Hampshire. On the plus side, Bell now has a ton of differential upside at a track where he has excelled in other series. He won both of his XFINITY starts here, and he finished first and second in two Truck starts. Bell could easily 100 points by a wide margin Sunday.
Matt DiBenedetto ($8,300)
He made his first start at New Hampshire in decent equipment last year, and DiBenedetto delivered a Top 5 finish for Leavine Family Racing. He is driving even better equipment this season, so another Top 5 run can’t be ruled out. Starting 19th, DiBenedetto could end up with a Top 10 finish, some stage points and 20-plus place differential points. Tyler Reddick is another mid-priced play with the potential to deliver a strong finish.
Ryan Newman ($8,100)
Newman hasn’t been able to match last year’s success in 2020, but New Hampshire has always been a good track for him. He has finished 13th or better in the last three races here, notching Top 10s in 2018 and 2019. After drawing the 22nd starting spot, Newman’s floor should be in the neighborhood of a Top 15 finish and double-digit differential points. If you want even more of a cushion with the place differential category, John Hunter Nemechek from 36th should be a useful play.