This year’s playoff schedule may be the most challenging in the history of the format.
No one expected Las Vegas Motor Speedway to be as much of a wild card as it became, but the addition of the Richmond Raceway short track and Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course added the chance for chaos.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 was much tamer than it might have been. But the Bank of America Roval 400k lived up to expectations.
Dover International Speedway is the Jekyll and Hyde of race tracks. It can be predictable at times, but when it turns nasty, it can also feature track-blocking incidents that sweep up half the field. Given the speeds on the straightaways, the effect of the accident is often much greater than what fantasy owners witnessed in the closing laps last week.
Still, there are four drivers who enter with at least three consecutive top-10s (Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Larson) and another (Chase Elliott) narrowly missed continuing a streak this spring. Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer have back-to-back top-10s to their credit, which suggests that previous stats are incredibly important on this track.
We expected a lot out of Chase Elliott this spring in the AAA 400. He entered the weekend with a perfect record of top-fives. Two of these were third-place finishes in his rookie season and one was a runner-up finish last fall when he was a little too tentative in traffic and allowed Kyle Busch to catch him. He stumbled this spring – in no small part because of the issues faced by Chevrolet at the time. The manufacturer has come a long way in the last few months and Elliott is a much more accomplished racer this time around.
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. earned his first career win on this track in 2007, but he would not score another top-five at Dover until 2016. He entered the fall Dover race with four top-10s in his last five races and qualified on the outside of the front row. He should have fallen back, but instead, he scored another win. Since then, he has swept the top five. Last week’s near victory galvanized the team; this week, they will challenge again.
Garage Pick: Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick won the AAA 400 this spring. The last season in which he scored a top-five at Dover, he swept the top two positions with a second in spring 2015 and a win that fall. The reason we are making him a garage pick this week instead of a starter is because he earned only one more top-10 in the two seasons between his latest top-fives. His lack of success in that period was mostly because of mechanical failure or on track incidents and that does not seem to be an issue in 2018.
Red Flag: Joey Logano
Joey Logano has rarely been great at Dover. In his career, he has eked out three top-fives in 19 starts. The most recent of these was earned in 2014 and since that time, he has only two more top-10s. His last three efforts have not even been that good. Logano should land somewhere in the low-teens this week. That will be good enough to keep him in the playoff conversation, but it is not going to earn maximum points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.
Daniel Suarez has been perfect at Dover. In three starts, he has swept the top 10. His best finish came this spring. He was the only driver who failed to make the Round of 16 playoffs to finish that well. Sometimes, drivers immediately have an affinity for certain tracks, so it is well within the realm of possibility that Suarez could earn another top-10. Even if he misses that mark, there is a strong likelihood that he will be one of the two best non-playoff contenders.
No longer having to worry about advancing in the playoffs could be a boon for Denny Hamlin. This team has struggled to find consistency in 2018 and ultimately that was their undoing. Hamlin is good enough to contend for a top-10 at Dover. He’s finished that well in four of his last five attempts and the one time he missed was because of a broken axle last fall. Like Logano, he has fewer than a handful of top-fives, but since he is now part of the non-playoff selections, that is not nearly as important.
Garage Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson has not earned three consecutive top-10s since October 2016. That season, he was still part of the playoff contenders when the series rolled into Dover. He finished seventh. Johnson won the following week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, finished fourth at Kansas Speedway the following week, and won at Martinsville Speedway two weeks after that. The next time the series rolled into Dover, he won in spring 2017. Johnson enters the weekend with four consecutive top-10s on this track. Last week, he went all in trying to win the Roval 400 because it is more important to this team to show they are running well than it was to advance in the playoffs and continue to struggle.
Red Flag: Erik Jones
While Erik Jones was immediately strong on several tracks, Dover was not one of those. On this high-banked, concrete oval, he has failed to crack the top 10 in three starts. He has not been all that bad with two top-15s and another 18th-place finish, but he is unlikely to be one of the three-best non-playoff contenders. The X-Factor is that he might have a chip on his shoulder after being eliminated last week and that could spur him to better results.