The road to Miami runs through Texas.
The top six drivers this week in regard to three-year averages are all playoff eligible. Four of them have a better-than 10th-place average that is going to make it difficult to maximize this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster. Someone will stumble. The question is who.
The answer to that question is often found in practice and qualification on 1.5-milers. It is possible to find speed at the track, but most often it rides along with the car from the shop. Cars that roll off the hauler fast typically remain that way at Texas.
When a player is confused about who to place on their roster, they will want to look at the other 1.5-milers for confirmation. Five drivers (Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson) have earned at least seven top 10s in nine races on this track type in 2018.
Larson is the only driver not represented among the this week’s 10 best at Texas because of back-to-back accidents there last fall and this spring.
1. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.20) Playoff
Drivers want to peak at the right time. Logano brings momentum from last week’s Martinsville win with him to Texas and that is great news for fantasy players who do not want to automatically rely on the Big 3. Logano is one of only two drivers (along with Harvick) who have swept the top 10 in the past three seasons. His worst result in that span of races was seventh last fall.
2. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 4.60) Playoff
Harvick enters the weekend with three consecutive top fives at Texas including a victory last fall. He has an active streak of eight straight top 10s; six of these were top fives. With Logano’s win last week and the possibility that another driver below him in points could win, Harvick actually needs this week’s victory as much as anyone. This spring, he won Stage 1 before finishing second in the race.
3. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 7.40) Playoff
Elliott had not been good on 1.5-milers this year until his Kansas victory. He started the season with a 10th at Atlanta and had several results in the low teens, but that would not be good enough to make him an acceptable value among playoff eligible drivers this week in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. It probably is not enough to advance him to the finale either. Elliott needs to win and if he does, he puts remarkable pressure on the Big 3 next week at Phoenix.
4. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 8.20) Playoff
Since 2012, Busch has been an all or nothing driver at Texas. He has finished in the top five eight times and worse than 10th on four occasions. Three of his strong runs ended in victory lane including this spring. He earned the most points that week with a second-place finish in Stage 1 and the Stage 2 win. Like Harvick, he needs to reestablish his dominance if he wants to concentrate on the championship run at Miami.
5. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 11.00) Playoff
Nearly every week Busch shows up on this list, it is remarked how consistency is what earned the spot. Texas is no exception. He has not scored a top five since 2010, but six of his last eight attempts ended in top 10s. His other two results were a 14th in 2015 and a worst finish of 20th in fall 2016.
6. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 11.20) Playoff
Truex came into the spring Texas race with a six-race, top-10 streak. He was almost certain to add another until he fell victim to a blown tire. He crashed and finished 37th, but that is the only time in the last two seasons that he failed to crack the top 10 on a 1.5-mile track. After getting bumped out of the lead in Turn 4 of the last lap at Martinsville, he is highly motivated to win and advance to Miami in championship form.
7. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.00) Non-Playoff
Can McMurray be the best non-playoff driver this week? It seems unlikely given the season he has had and the struggles faced in his last full year with Chip Ganassi Racing, but he put the No. 1 car on fantasy owners’ radars with top 10s in two of his last three Texas starts and five of the last eight. If he performs well in practice, he deserves a spot in the garage so he can be evaluated in the first two stages.
7. Erik Jones (three-year average: 12.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Jones might be this week’s best value in most fantasy games. His first start at Texas came in a pre-rookie warmup in fall 2015; he finished 12th. He was 10th last fall and fourth this spring, showing a steady improvement that could end with him challenging for a win. Jones’ last attempt on a 1.5-mile track also ended in a fourth-place finish at Kansas this fall.
9. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 12.80) Non-Playoff
One could easily vote a straight Team Penske ticket this week with Logano among the playoff eligible plus Brad Keselowski and Blaney among the non-playoff drivers. Blaney finished fifth this spring in his first Texas attempt with the organization. That comes on the heels of a sixth last fall and back-to-back 12th-place finishes in the two preceding races.
10. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 15.20) Non-Playoff
If not for an accident this spring, Keselowski would probably have an average finish that placed him in or on the cusp of the top five. His previous four efforts netted an average of 10.75. The three races before that were all top fives. Keselowski has never won at Texas, but he’s come close with second-place finishes in 2012 and 2015 as well as a third in 2014.
Pole Winner: This is a good week to remember that the pole pick does not need to be a driver that is selected as a race pick. Kurt Busch has sat on the pole in the last two Texas races before slipping outside the top five at the checkers. He also won the pole in spring 2015 the second year he drove for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Segment Winners: It is difficult to discount the Big 3 this week. Select your segment winners from among Harvick, Busch, and Truex with an emphasis on the two who start closest to the front.