In order to protect their position in the points, NASCAR drivers have to survive the restrictor-plate tracks with minimal damage. The same is true for fantasy players.
Avoiding the ‘Big One’ crash is not easy. If a driver runs long enough, they are going to sustain damage. Fantasy players cannot realistically expect all of their drivers to get to the end of the race without damage – but there is still a strategy that can be employed.
Marquee drivers are just as likely to have problems in the Geico 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway, but when they do, the majority of players will be equally impacted. That puts a premium on selecting the perfect dark horse. Luckily, there are a quite a lot of drivers deep in the points with great records on this wildcard track.
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1. Ty Dillon (three-year average: 10.00 in three races)
Dillon did not earn Cup points in the 2016 Geico 500, but he finished sixth in relief of Tony Stewart. Last year, he swept the top 15 at Talladega and that makes him a very attractive dark horse.
2. Kurt Busch (10.83)
Streaks on restrictor-plate superspeedways are incredibly difficult to create and maintain. Busch entered last fall’s Alabama 500 with a six-race streak of top-12 finishes until he was sidelined by an accident on lap 171.
3. Paul Menard (11.50)
The saving grace of Talladega is that fantasy players get a chance to start drivers they might not otherwise. Menard has five results of 13th or better in his last six races on this 2.66-mile behemoth.
4. Brad Keselowski (12.17)
Team Penske has combined for five wins in the last seven Talladega races. Keselowski has earned three of these. His most recent came last fall in the Alabama 500.
5. Aric Almirola (12.50)
Almirola is the only driver entered this week with a three-race, top-10 streak at Talladega. Last year, he was the only one to sweep the top five.
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13.83)
Stenhouse is the defending winner of the Geico 500. He posted another victory at Daytona in July 2017, so he knows how to stay out of trouble on the plate tracks.
7. Gray Gaulding (14.50 in two races)
Winning in fantasy racing on the wild card restrictor-plate superspeedways often means guessing which driver will survive the carnage. Last fall at Talladega, Gaulding was involved in two accidents, but managed to finish ninth.
8. Kyle Busch (14.60 in five races)
Busch has compared winning a fourth consecutive race at Talladega to winning the lottery. He won the 2008 Aaron’s 499 and finished second and third in two of the last five races there.
9. Kevin Harvick (14.67)
Harvick’s three-year Talladega average from 2013 through 2016 was a stellar 10.4, but his numbers suffered last year on the heels of two 20-something results.
9. Ryan Newman (14.67)
Newman’s second-place finish to Keselowski last fall at ‘Dega was his fifth top 15 in the last seven races on this track. Slow and steady helps win the fantasy race.
Pole Winner: Winning a pole at Talladega has been as unpredictable as winning the race – and it’s impossible to predict before the teams hit the track. Keep an eye on Team Penske, but wait until first practice is complete to make this selection.
Segment Winners: While his three-year average is not among the top 10, Logano has a ton of speed during the middle stages of the restrictor-plate superspeedway races. Pick him as the winner for both segments and hope that he doesn’t crash early.