The Big 3 have not been as dominant during the playoffs as they were during the regular season. Then again, they haven’t needed to be with a massive bonus point advantage to ease their way through the first five races.
A quick glance at this week’s top 10 in terms of three-year averages reveals they are all once more at the top of the list. A case could be made for each of them to win this week’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Since only two playoff drivers can be active on a NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster plus one in the garage, this may be a good week to play it safe. After all, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have won all of the Kansas races in the past three seasons.
The competition has won four of the first five playoff races, however, and that opens up some great opportunities to differentiate one’s lineup from the others in the league. Joey Logano won back-to-back fall races in 2014/2015. His Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney have also been successful on this track in particular and 1.5-milers in general recently.
1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
The Big 3 may have lost some of their cache in recent weeks, but Harvick regained much of his at Talladega. Being able to separate from the field as they did, the Stewart-Haas crew served notice they would be a force with which to reckon and fantasy players cannot take that for granted. That dominant posture comes as NASCAR heads to a track where Harvick has two wins, a second and a third in his last five attempts.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 5.80) Playoff
No one has been better at Kansas in the past two seasons than Truex. He won both races last year and finished second this spring. The playoffs have not gone according to plan for the No. 78 who still have the specter of Furniture Row Racing closing hanging over their head. Truex spent most of last week’s Talladega race in jeopardy of failing to advance to Round 3, but he was strong the last time the series visited a 1.5-miler at Vegas. Truex finished fifth in that race.
3. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 6.20) Playoff
In eight races on 1.5-mile tracks this year, Busch has been perfect in regard to top-10 finishes. He has a seven-race streak of top 10s at Kansas – so what could go wrong? Unfortunately, Busch’s last two Kansas races barely qualified as a top 10 with back-to-back 10th-place results. His last attempt on a 1.5-miler was a seventh at Las Vegas, so the likelihood is that he will miss the top five this week.
4. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.20) Playoff
If Busch is having any lingering issues with his teammates after being raced hard earlier this season, they seem to have dissipated at Talladega. On most track types in 2018 he has been the king of consistency, but the 1.5-milers have been a little less so. In eight races on them, he has finished outside the top 10 three times and has not yet cracked the top five with a best of sixth at Kentucky.
5. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 11.80) Non-Playoff
What Dillon has lacked in flat out speed has been made up for in consistency at Kansas. In the past three seasons, he has a worst finish of 17th and best of sixth. That suggests that a finish this week in the low teens is the most likely result. It can make him a solid contender in some games, but in the NASCAR Fantasy Live contest one hopes for a top 10 from their selection. Dillon has only three in 11 Kansas starts.
6. Alex Bowman (three-year average: 12.50 in two starts) Playoff
In order to advance to Round 3, Bowman needs to win. He’s not alone, Keselowski, Blaney and Kyle Larson are basically in the same situation, but they have the advantage over Bowman of at least scoring top-two finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this year. Bowman has a few top-10s on this track type and that simply will not get the job done.
7. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 12.60) Playoff
The good news is this is one of Blaney’s best tracks – but is it good enough to give him an opportunity to win? He’s come close three times in the last two years and has more experience with each passing week. Blaney finished fifth in spring 2016 and swept the top five last year with a fourth and a third. He ran into trouble this spring when he crashed 20 laps short of the finish line.
8. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 15.00) Non-Playoff
No one knows when Jimmie Johnson will break his winless streak. It is going to be unexpected whenever it happens, but fantasy players who guess correctly are going to be able to make up significant ground on the competition. Johnson has won at Kansas recently. His spring 2015 win was part of a sweep of the top five that year. He finished fourth in 2016. Those numbers mean this might be a good week to gamble.
9. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 15.40) Playoff
One reason the Vegas race was so chaotic was because the playoff contenders were nervous about the upcoming Charlotte Roval. They pressed the envelope and came up empty on a several occasions. The four drivers below the cutoff line are in a similarly desperate situation, so this is likely to be a race marked by strategy gambles and bold moves on the race track. One would do well to remember that it was Keselowski who visited Victory Lane in Las Vegas – another 1.5-mile track.
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 16.60) Non-Playoff
Stenhouse makes the list his week with a modest three-year average. He has never scored a top 10 at Kansas in 12 starts, but he’s come close with 11th-place finishes in his first attempt in 2013 and again in the last two spring races. If he practices and qualifies well, Stenhouse could be one of this week’s best sleepers who is likely to escape the attention of the competition.
Pole Winner: The Big 3 have been almost as dominant in qualifying as in race trim at Kansas. Harvick and Truex each won from the pole in the last two races on this track, so even if a player fails to make the right selection in time trials, the pole winner should be on one’s roster for the race. Blaney won the pole in this race last spring and finished fourth. That should put the Penske racers on the radar screen as well.
Segment Winners: Wait until Friday to make this selection. On the 1.5-mile tracks in particular, momentum is built in practice and carried through to qualification and the race. The dominant driver is most likely to come from the front row and if past races on this track are an indication, Harvick or Truex could sweep both stages and the overall victory.