With the end of the regular season quickly approaching, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will head to Watkins Glen International this weekend. The 11-turn, 2.45-mile track will host Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen, the second road course event of 2019.
In many ways, last weekend’s race at Pocono was probably a good predictor of what could happen this weekend at The Glen. This is another track where drivers are able to pit under green without losing a lap, which really opens up the strategy playbook for crew chiefs. The timing of cautions and fuel mileage could end up being as a much of a factor in deciding the outcome as pure speed.
Granted, there is a small group of road racing aces who usually find their way to the front of the field at Watkins Glen and the other road courses, but you should expect a few surprises to be mixed in. Back at Sonoma in June, fantasy juggernauts Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch finished first and second, but Matt DiBenedetto cracked the Top 5, Daniel Hemric finished in the Top 15 and David Ragan logged a Top 20.
The other issue fantasy owners have to deal with in season-long contests like Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game is that the best strategy for winning the race usually doesn’t coincide with the best strategy for earning stage points. Back at Sonoma in June, fifth-place finisher Denny Hamlin and 10th-place finisher Kyle Larson were the only drivers to earn points in both stages and finish in the Top 10. The eventual winner, Truex, earned just four stage points while Kyle Busch earned just two in his runner-up effort.
As great as it is to pick the winner, you aren’t really maximizing the value of an elite option like Kyle Busch or Truex if they don’t earn a significant amount of stage points in addition to delivering a great finish. If you are starting to run low on starts from the top options, Sunday’s race is a chance to get a little creative with your lineups and still come away with solid point total while saving starts.
Guys like Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and William Byron have been pretty committed to earning stage points this year, and they add up. Looking back at Sonoma, Hamlin scored a race-high 51 points despite finishing fifth, earning seven more than the race winner. Larson finished 10th but scored the third-most points, and Byron earned the fifth-most points despite crossing the finish line 19th.
Even though Truex, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and other big names will likely be running near the front Sunday, there is a decent chance that the gap between the top-tier options and the next tier of drivers won’t be as wide. You need to take advantage of the situation and save some starts from the elite fantasy plays this weekend at The Glen.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has emerged as the dominant driver at road courses recently, and his win at Sonoma earlier this year was his third in the last five road races and fourth overall. He has also led laps in seven straight road course starts, leading 20-plus laps four times in that span. Truex should be able to anchor a roster in any format this weekend.
2. Kyle Busch
He was the runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. at Sonoma back in June, and over the last 10 road course races, Busch leads all drivers with nine Top 10s, six Top 5s and a 7.0 average finish. He is a four-time road course winner for his career, and two of those wins have come at The Glen. Busch should be one of the top fantasy options in all contest Sunday.
3. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has quietly become one of the most reliable performers at the road courses, and over the last 10 road races, he has scored the most driver points. He has also reeled off eight straight Top 15s at road courses, leading laps in six of those starts. Hamlin also has five Top 5s in that stretch, logging a win at Watkins Glen in 2016. Back in June, Hamlin picked up a Top 5 at Sonoma while finishing second and first in the two stages. He should be an excellent option in both season-long and DFS contests.
4. Kevin Harvick
He just keeps piling up solid finishes at the road courses. Harvick has cracked the Top 10 in eight of the last 10 road races, scoring the fifth-most points and leading the third-most laps in that span. I think Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are firmly ahead of him if we are talking Group A options in the Driver Group Game, but I still expect Harvick to be in the mix for a Top 5 Sunday.
5. Chase Elliott
An engine issue ended his day at Sonoma, but Elliott led some laps in that race and continued to show high-end speed at the road courses. He finished sixth or better in all three road races a year ago, leading a race-high 52 laps in a win at Watkins Glen. Elliott should be a strong option for Fantasy Live, and this could be a track to try to steal a start out of him in the DGG as a Group A alternative.
6. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer has always been an underrated road course driver, and he has really been locked in with Stewart-Haas Racing. He has finished 11th or better in all six starts in the No. 14, logging four Top 5s and compiling a 5.8 average finish. I plan to use him for Fantasy Live and in the Driver Group Game.
7. Brad Keselowski
He has actually never won a road course race, but Keselowski sure has been close at Watkins Glen. He is a three-time runner-up at the track, and he has led at least 20 laps in four of his nine starts here, including three times in the last four races alone. His ability to lead laps could really come in handy for DFS contests.
8. Kurt Busch
Busch is one of the best in the business at road courses, and in his last 10 starts, he has piled up eight Top 10 finishes. He has finished in the Top 15 in all 10 races in that span, and his 7.4 average finish in that span is the second-best mark in the series. That reliability should make him a great option in season-long contests.
9. Joey Logano
Logano has had some tough luck at the road courses recently, but his best runs have come at The Glen. He has finished seventh or better in four of his six starts here for Team Penske, winning the 2015 race and finishing second in 2016. Logano isn’t my top option for season-long contests, but he still has Top 5 upside.
10. Ryan Blaney
He is doing his best to be mentioned among the up-and-coming road course aces, finishing 12th or better in five of the last six road races. More importantly, he was able to follow up his win at The Roval last fall with a third-place run at Sonoma in June. Blaney could be a sneaky Top 5 play this weekend.
11. Erik Jones
Jones continues to build a solid resume at the road courses, and his eighth-place finish at Sonoma in June was his fourth Top 10 in six road races at the Cup level. He has also been on a tear in recent weeks, finishing third, third and second in the three races leading up to The Glen. Add it all up, and you may just want to stay on the Jones bandwagon this weekend.
12. Alex Bowman
He’s been a solid road course performer since joining Hendrick Motorsports, and Bowman has cracked the Top 15 in all four of his starts in the No. 88, logging a pair of Top 10s. You need to save him for the 1.5-mile tracks in the Driver Group Game, but Bowman could help you out in Fantasy Live if you are out of starts from the top options.
13. William Byron
He only finished 19th at Sonoma back in June, but that finish doesn’t tell the whole story. Byron had a strong car, and his strategy was focused on earning stage points. He actually led 21 laps in that race, winning Stage 1 and finishing third in Stage 2. Those stage points allowed him to score the fifth-most points of any driver in the race despite ending up 19th overall. Byron is a legitimate option in season-long contests this weekend.
14. Jimmie Johnson
I don’t expect to see him challenging for the win Sunday, but Johnson has been able to deliver solid finishes at the road courses recently. He has seven Top 15s in the last 10 road races, including a 12th-place finish at Sonoma earlier this year, and he ranks ninth in points scored in that stretch. Johnson offers a safe floor as a Group B alternative in the DGG.
15. Ryan Newman
Newman continued his recent surge with a 14th-place finish at Pocono last weekend, and he has now finished 17th or better in nine straight races, logging five Top 10s in that span. Newman finished seventh at Sonoma in the first road course race of 2019, and he should be a safe bet to finish around the Top 15 this weekend.
16. Kyle Larson
Larson has had his issues with long-run speed at these road course events, but he sure can turn a fast lap. He sat on the pole at Sonoma earlier this year, his third pole and fifth front row start in the last seven road races. I wouldn’t start him on Sunday, but Larson could provide qualifying points in Fantasy Live and the DGG this weekend.
17. Aric Almirola
He is never going to be confused with a road racing ace, but since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has two Top 10s in four road course starts. I don’t think this is the week to use him if you want to maximize his value, but he should at least be able to challenge for a Top 15.
18. Chris Buescher
Since joining JTG Daugherty Racing, Buescher has taken his performance at the road courses to another level. He has cracked the Top 20 in all six of his starts in the No. 37, finishing 11th at The Glen in 2017. I’d still recommend saving him for the 1.5-mile ovals in the Driver Group Game, but he is a safe bet to finish in the top half of the field.
19. Daniel Suarez
Suarez is a tough driver to gauge this weekend. He has been a borderline Top 15 driver in four of his six road course starts, but in his two start at Watkins Glen, he has finished third and fourth. Throw in the fact that he hasn’t been able to stay out of trouble in recent weeks, and Suarez is a high-risk, high-reward option in all fantasy formats this weekend.
20. Matt DiBenedetto
He is in the middle of his best stretch of his career at the Cup level, and DiBenedetto had an impressive showing in the first road course race of the season, finishing fourth at Sonoma in June. I wouldn’t bank on a Top 5 again this weekend, but I do think DiBenedetto can crack the Top 20 and challenge for a Top 15. Dial him up as a Group C option for the Driver Group Game.
21. Michael McDowell
McDowell has an extensive background in road racing, and he is a former road course winner in the XFINITY Series. He has a respectable 21.8 average finish in the last 10 road course events, and he has cracked the Top 20 in all four of his starts at The Glen in that stretch. This is a perfect spot to use him as a Group C option in the DGG.
22. Daniel Hemric
He showed some upside as a road course racer in the XFINITY Series, and it looks like those skills could translate to the Cup level. Hemric finished 23rd in a spot start at The Roval last fall, and he finished 15th at Sonoma back in June. Keep him in mind as a Group C option for the DGG, and I really like his potential as a cheaper option at the DFS sites.
23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
While he still won’t be confused with a road course ringer, Stenhouse has gotten better over the years. He has finished 21st or better in four of his last five road course starts, logging back-to-back Top 20s at The Glen. He is still a reach in most season-long contests, but Stenhouse could have value as a GPP-only option at the DFS sites.
24. Paul Menard
Menard has never been an elite road course racer, but his numbers have been trending in the wrong direction. He has finished outside the Top 20 in all four road races with Wood Brothers Racing, finishing 26th or worse three times. At best, he will be a DFS lottery ticket if he starts deep in the field.
25. Austin Dillon
He hasn’t been able to get out of his own way for the last couple of months, and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for Dillon this weekend. He has a 25.6 average finish in the last 10 road course races, and he has finished outside the Top 15 in every start in that stretch. I’ll likely pass on Dillon in all formats.
26. David Ragan
Ragan has back-to-back Top 20s at the road courses, but looking at his career numbers, he has been more of a Top 25 performer at these tracks. He is a reach as a Group C option for the Driver Group Game, but Ragan could be a serviceable punt play for the DFS sites depending on how the starting lineup shakes out.
27. Matt Tifft
He finished 28th at Sonoma in his first road course start at the Cup level, but he has shown some legit potential as a road racer at the XFINITY level. Tifft has notched four Top 5s in road course starts, and two of those starts came at The Glen. He could be a great sleeper at the DFS sites this weekend.
28. Ty Dillon
Dillon has made six road course starts at the Cup level, and he has posted an ugly 25.3 average finish, failing to crack the Top 20 five times. Unless he starts outside the Top 30, he won’t be on my radar in any formats.
29. Ryan Preece
Heading into Sonoma, I recommended a wait-and-see approach with Preece as he made his first road course start at the Cup level. After a forgettable 29th-place run in that race, I think you can continue to stay away from him this weekend at The Glen. The best-case scenario is probably a Top 25.
30. Bubba Wallace
The good news for Wallace is that he had one of his better performances at a road course at Sonoma in June. That bad news is that he finished 26th in that race. Wallace has compiled a brutal 29.0 average finish in four road course starts, and at this point, simply keeping the car clean and finishing on the lead lap would be like a victory.