If last week was indicative of what we will see for the remainder of the playoffs, handicapping fantasy NASCAR is going to be difficult. It is also going to be very interesting - in much the same way that a demolition derby is interesting.
The playoff contenders were turned on their ear with several multi-car wrecks at Vegas. One reason for this might be the looming wild card race on the Charlotte Roval. Most drivers and experts believe this race will feature major pileup at certain choke points where the track narrows. If that happens, all bets will be off and all of the contenders would like to enter that race with a guaranteed berth in Round 2. That means either have a 60-point lead over 13th in the points or having a victory.
Even if the playoff contenders did not succumb to desperation last week, there are several of them who will at Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. Short tracks can be prone to carnage, so fantasy players may be in for another wild ride.
The resurgences of Team Penske should not go unnoticed. Brad Keselowski’s three consecutive wins are notable, but they each come with an asterisk. Great pit stops and pit strategy put him in position to win and he capitalized. Winning four in a row will be another matter. Keselowski has two top-fives in the last three-and-half years on this track.
That does not mean the Penske cannot put another of their drivers in the Victory Lane, however. Joey Logano enters the weekend with a Richmond victory in spring 2017 and three consecutive top-fives. He has not finished worse than 10th on this track since he scored another win in 2014 – and that is a streak of nine consecutive races.
The Big 3 are losing much of their superiority and in allocation management games, they are probably exhausted. In the playoff version of the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, that is not a consideration. What needs to be factored instead is how they impact your team. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick will most likely continue to be heavily allocated among your competition, so starting them comes with minimal risk. If they fall, the will take everyone with them.
Harvick is the better overall value. Busch won this spring’s Toyota Owners 400, but that was his first top-five on this track since spring 2016. Meanwhile, Harvick has six top-fives in his last eight Richmond starts. It is highly unlikely that he will suffer setbacks in back-to-back weeks. On the other hand, Busch has driven over his head and made unforced errors in three of the last four races.
Daniel Suarez and Jamie McMurray were the two best drivers from outside of playoff contention for most of last week. An accident eliminated the No. 1, but Suarez ended his see saw day on the high side to be one of three non-playoff contenders in the top 10. His seventh-place finish was the best of class. At Richmond, he has never finished worse than 12th and has two top-10s. Factor in the record of Joe Gibbs Racing, and he is this week’s top non-playoff pick.
Ryan Newman came on strong last week when it mattered most. That tends to be one of his tendencies that contributed to five top-10s and another three top-15s in the last 10 oval track races. He might not earn maximum points among non-playoff contenders, but he is a safe pick that is unlikely to cost you much. If a fantasy owner choses a non-player driver for their garage, Newman definitely should be in the mix.
For at least Round 1, fantasy owners garage pick should come from among the playoff contenders. Since they are going to dominate the top 10 each week, it is imperative that you maximize the potential of these two active drivers. That point was hammered home last week when Harvick crashed and Busch spun.
Denny Hamlin is far from a sure thing on any track this year. He has not lived up to his potential at Martinsville Speedway or New Hampshire Motor Speedway despite a well-deserved reputation for being one of the best short, flat track drivers in the field. He has been uniformly great at Richmond, however, and enters the weekend with six consecutive results of sixth or better that includes a win in fall 2016.
Erik Jones could rebound this week after finishing last in Las Vegas, but this is not the track where one wants to gamble on him. In three previous starts, he has finished outside the top 10 twice and has a best of sixth. He has been a little better on other short tracks – particularly Bristol – but he has only three top-10s in 10 starts on courses one-mile or less in length. Worse still, his average finish on this track type is 16.2.
A complete explanation of the rules changes and some strategies can be found in “Changes Coming to NASCAR Fantasy Live.”