After an off weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to action this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Thanks to NASCAR’s new rules package, Sunday’s GEICO 500 will no longer be a restrictor-plate race, but that doesn’t mean the racing will be any less chaotic at the biggest track on the schedule.
Thanks to the reduced-horsepower package, I still expect to see the pack racing that has come to define Daytona and Talladega over the years. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, this also means that I still expect to see the big wrecks and high-attrition rates that can ruin a fantasy lineup in a matter of seconds.
If you have read my articles over the year, then you already know that I preach damage control at these superspeedways, especially in the season-long formats that limit how often you can use each driver (Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game). Yes, guys like Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have all won some superspeedway races, but even the best drivers only have about a 50 percent chance of surviving to the finish.
You can’t afford to waste starts from the elite fantasy options, so why risk using them at a track where the chances of doing just that are at their greatest? Fortunately, you don’t really need a lineup full of big names to score a lot of fantasy points at a superspeedway. In this year’s Daytona 500, we saw Matt DiBenedetto lead the most laps, Michael McDowell finish in the Top 5 and Ross Chastain end up in the Top 10.
Give the big names a week off this weekend at Talladega and roll the dice on some sleepers. Even if many of your drivers end up crashing out, you have at least protected your long-term upside in the meantime.
1. Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske
He’s established himself as the most consistent driver at the superspeedways, and his seven Top 10s and six Top 5s over the last 10 races are both the most in the series. Logano also has a couple of wins in that span, and he has finished in the Top 5 in five of the last six races, finishing fourth in this year’s Daytona 500. He will be my Group A pick in the Driver Group Game.
2. Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing
Hamlin picked up his second Daytona 500 win earlier this year, and he continues to build an impressive superspeedway resume. He has scored the third-most driver points over the last 10 superspeedway races, finishing sixth or better in four of the last six. I think he is too valuable as a Group B option in the Driver Group Game to use at such a chaotic track, but he a frontrunner for the win.
3. Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite/Discount Tires, Team Penske
While he has been involved in his share of wrecks at the superspeedways recently, few drivers are at the front as often as Keselowski. In fact, he has led the most laps of any driver over the last 10 superspeedway races. He’s been particularly dominant at Talladega in his career where he owns five wins and has led 20-plus laps in five of the last six race.
4. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., #17 Fastenal/Fifth Third Bank, Roush Fenway Racing
Over the last couple of seasons, Stenhouse has been as good as anyone at the superspeedways. He is one of just two drivers with multiple wins over the last 10 races, and he has led laps in eight of those starts. Stenhouse also ranks second with five Top 5s in that same span, and four of those Top 5s have come at Talladega.
5. Ryan Blaney, #12 Menards/PPG, Team Penske
Although a superspeedway win has eluded him, Blaney has been flexing plenty of muscle at Daytona and Talladega the last couple of years. He has led laps in seven of the last 10 superspeedway events, leading the third-most laps of any driver and scoring the fifth-most driver points in that span.