The drivers will tell you that every similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track is different. From inside the cockpit, that is undoubtedly true and there is a natural antagonistic response among track owners to have Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway all get lumped together.
Fantasy owners don’t care about the politics of the nomenclature, however; they only care that these seven tracks tend to reward the same drivers over and over. Five racers (Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson) have earned seven or more top-10s in nine races on these tracks in 2018. Several more have at least five top-10s on the course type and those drivers are the ones who should dominate this week’s roster.
Nearly everyone is going to have the Big 3 on their roster this week and that gives players a great opportunity to differentiate their lineup. Logano not only has the momentum of a win at Martinsville under his belt, he has one of the best records at Texas among playoff drivers. Since 2013, he has earned nine finishes of seventh or better in 11 races as well as another 12th-place romp. He won in spring 2014 and finished second in fall 2016 as part of a three-race streak of top-three finishes. He could be this week’s hidden gem.
Of course, the Big 3 cannot be ignored. Harvick has the most Texas momentum with a victory last fall and three straight top-fives. Expand the parameters somewhat and he enters the weekend with eight consecutive top-10s that include five top-threes. Harvick is coming off one of his worst performances of the year with a mediocre run at Martinsville. He has not earned a top-five since finishing second at Richmond that is his only strong finish during the playoffs. If he cannot reverse his fortunes this week, the competition will begin to sense weakness and pounce.
Garage Pick: Martin Truex Jr.
Truex is fired up. After getting spun from the lead at the Charlotte Roval and bumped out of first at Martinsville, he is showing more energy than fantasy players have seen all season. That is great news considering that he has finished in the top five in 16 of his last 17 1.5-mile races including seven wins. The past several weeks have been discouraging for the driver and team. That can take a toll and it’s the reason he is listed as a garage pick this week.
Red Flag: Aric Almirola
If one is using this preview for a game other than NASCAR Fantasy Live, Almirola might be a good value. He has five top-10s – including the last three consecutive – in nine races on 1.5-milers this year. He’s finished 13th on two other occasions. But he’s failed to crack the top five a single time in 2018 and that will not score enough points when judged against the other playoff contenders. At Texas, he has only one top-10 in 15 races and finished off the lead lap 40 percent of the time.
Larson has been almost perfect on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year in regard to top-10 finishes. He has missed that mark only once – here at Texas when he sustained crash damage and finished 36th. He also wrecked in this race last year. He has been stout everywhere else, however. Larson has second-place finishes at Chicagoland and Vegas (fall) as well as thirds at Kansas (fall) and Vegas (spring). Last spring, he finished second at Texas, so he does know his way around the track.
Keselowski has not been as consistent as Larson this year, but the Penske Fords have shown tremendous speed on the 1.5-milers. Teammate Logano has nine top-10s in his last 10 races on them, Ryan Blaney enters the weekend with three consecutive top-10s and Keselowski has eight top-10s in his last 10 starts on them. His Vegas victory to start the playoffs is still front-of-mind for the team.
Garage Pick: William Byron
This spring’s O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 was chaotic to say the least. So many top drivers experienced problems that it opened opportunities for rookies Byron and Bubba Wallace to score top-10s. The important thing to remember, however, is that they were in a position to capitalize and likely would have scored solid results in the mid-teens without the carnage. Hendrick Motorsports was faltering in the early part of the season, but they have recovered on 1.5-mile tracks as evidenced by Chase Elliott’s Kansas win.
Red Flag: Daniel Suarez
Suarez has been a solid value at many tracks this year. Similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks have not been among them. In nine starts, he has scored only one top-10 compared to four results of 24th or worse. He has a few more top-15s, but with an average finish of 19th one expects much more from one of NASCAR’s superteams.