In Modern Day NASCAR, no race is disposable. The dominance of the Big 3 is altering a lot of strategies, however, and it changes how one want to approach the fantasy game. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are locked in a tight battle to lead the points and earn 15 bonus playoff points that go along with it, but the real concern for them is in accumulating race victories.
That changed the way they approached Sonoma this June. Instead of battling for segment wins, the Big 3 opted to challenge for the overall victory at the end. That race was run with limited caution flags, so the strategy played out perfectly, but there are a lot of unknowns on road courses. An ill-timed caution can play havoc with one’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, so this is a good week to take a few risks and perhaps even leave one of the Big 3 in the garage.
1. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 5.00)
Busch has been close to perfect at Watkins Glen. In 13 starts there, he’s scored two wins and 11 top 10s. He is also the only driver in the field with three consecutive top 10s on the New York road course – including a second-place finish to Joey Logano in 2015. He’s been just as strong at Sonoma and his fifth-place finish there was his seventh straight road course top 10.
2. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 5.33)
This will be Kenseth’s first road course race of 2018; Trevor Bayne got behind the wheel at Sonoma. It appears that the No. 6 is improving, but so far Kenseth has been able to score only results in the teens. That trend will likely continue this week, but in some fantasy games that might still make him a good value.
3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 7.33)
Busch has been one of the most consistent drivers all season. He has not contended for top fives like his teammate Harvick or brother Kyle, but at the end of the race he finds a way to get to the front. That has been his pattern on road courses as well with his last five races at Sonoma and the Glen landing between sixth and 11th.
4. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 8.33)
Keselowski thought he had this race won in 2012 when he nudged Kyle Busch out of the way on the white flag lap on a track made slippery by oil from Bobby Labonte’s car. He was beaten to the finish line by Marcos Ambrose. That wound up being one of three consecutive runner-up finishes at the Glen. Keselowski came close again in 2016 with a third-place result.
5. Joey Logano (three-year average: 9.00)
Logano was one of the best values on road courses from 2014 through 2016. He scored five consecutive finishes of sixth or better – including a victory at the Glen in 2015. He slipped to 12th last June at Sonoma, was 24th at the Glen in August and 19th in the most recent road course race. It’s time to look elsewhere for a fantasy value worthy of challenging the Big 3.
6. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 9.67)
For the past five years, Bowyer has alternated top 10s with results outside the top 15 at Watkins Glen and if the pattern holds, he will struggle this week. Since finishing fifth at Sonoma this spring, he has scored only one more top 10 in five races in the Cup series. That does not bode well for his chances.
7. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 10.67)
From 2010 through 2015, Hamlin struggled on road courses. He failed to score a single top 15 in that span with an average finish of 29.2, so his turnaround in 2016 came as a surprise. He finished second at Sonoma that year and won at the Glen. Last year, he swept the top five on the combined road courses and followed that with a 10th at Sonoma this spring.
8. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 11.00)
At Sonoma this spring, Truex became the first Cup driver to win back-to-back road course races since Kyle Busch in 2008. The odds of him getting three in a row are high since three of his previous five attempts on twisty tracks ended 25th or worse.
9. AJ Allmendinger (three-year average: 12.33)
Allmendinger didn’t take command of the 2014 race at Glen until lap 61, but once he grabbed the top spot he refused to let go. That victory locked him into the playoffs and he hopes the same thing will happen this season. His missed shift and blown engine at Sonoma this June is still etched in his brain, but he has always been much better at the Glen with a career average of 9.3 to Sonoma’s 26.3.
10. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 13.00 in two starts)
Elliott would like to get out of the Glen with a top 10 so he can take some momentum to Michigan. In two starts on this lightning fast road course, he’s missed the single digits both times with 13th-place finishes. He enters this weekend with back-to-back top 10s on the flat tracks of New Hampshire and Pocono. Many experts think the same skills apply on the road courses as drivers have to brake before the corner and accelerate at the apex.
Pole Winner: Only four active drivers have won poles at the Glen in the past. Kyle Busch leads with two poles. AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson have one each. Throughout the history of this track, scoring multiple poles has been difficult with only three drivers ever stringing three together. In all likelihood, the pole will go to someone new, so make your selection after practice is in the books.
Segment Winners: There is simply no way to predict who will be victorious at the end of segments on road courses. Strategy played such a critical role in the Sonoma race this June that the leaders gave up the opportunity to lead at the end of each stage in order to gain track position. In three road course races in the past two years, no one has won more than one stage.
The most likely segment winners this week will be drivers who believe they are going to make the playoffs, but have not yet won a race to lock themselves in. They not only need the potential stage bonus, but also the points that are awarded at the end of each segment in order to protect their position in the standings.