The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes a return visit to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, and for fantasy owners, Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 might be the toughest race remaining on the schedule.
Restrictor-plate races are always tough to predict, and when you mix in the pressure of the playoffs, it is only going to amplify the chaos. Last year, there were only 14 cars still running at the finish of the fall race.
Unfortunately, there is no bulletproof strategy for surviving a trip to Talladega, but you can do your best to minimize the potential damage while still having a shot a big point total.
For the Fantasy Live game, I’m hoping to be able to secure some stage points in order to lessen the blow of any potential wrecks. Finishing 30th is bad, but if a driver earns 10-plus stage points before crashing out, they at least come away with something.
In the Driver Group Game, Sunday’s race is one last chance for me to save some starts from the top drivers in each tier. You won’t find the Big 3 on my roster this weekend, and the same goes for Group B studs like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers or the Group C standout, Alex Bowman. You don’t need to lean on these drivers to post a big score this weekend, and you certainly don’t want to waste any of their starts.
For the Slingshot game, I’ll be loading up on drivers starting deep in the field to try to take advantage of the place differential points awarded in this scoring system. Perhaps more importantly, this strategy protects me from losing a bunch of points if my drivers do wreck. I’d much rather my drivers have the chance to gain 20-plus spots than to lose that many.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega, and good luck surviving the final plate race of 2018.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Brad Keselowski (Playoff)
The finishes haven’t been there at the plate tracks for Keselowski this year, but his overall numbers speak for themselves. His six restrictor-plate wins are tops among active drivers, and five of those wins have come at Talladega. Keselowski’s 356 laps led over the last 10 plate races are 141 more than any other driver, and his 39 driver points earned at Talladega are the second most. He is one of the few drivers with the ability to go out and dominate a plate race.
Joey Logano (Playoff)
Logano has shown the ideal blend of consistency and upside at the plate tracks. In addition to leading all drivers with six Top 10s in the last 10 plate races, he has won three of the last six races at Talladega. He led 70 laps and won the spring race here earlier this year, and his 32 stage points at the track rank third overall.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
He has been a bulldozer at the restrictor-plate tracks recently, but it is hard to argue with the results. Stenhouse has cracked the Top 5 in three of the last four races at Talladega, picking up one win and leading laps in all four starts. He also ranks fourth with 25 stage points in the three races at Talladega since the scoring system was adopted. Stenhouse is a legitimate threat to finish as the top scorer this weekend, and you can rarely say that about a non-playoff driver.
Sticking with the strategy of targeting guys who can run up front and earn stage points, I’ll use Hamlin as one of my non-playoff options this weekend. He has led laps in eight of the last 10 restrictor-plate races, leading double-digit laps five times. Hamlin also ranks in the Top 10 in stage points scored at Talladega. He has a huge ceiling, and he could still post a serviceable point total even if he doesn’t have the best finish.
Garage Driver – Ryan Blaney (Playoff)
I gave a lot of consideration to Chase Elliott because he is the only playoff driver with nothing to lose this weekend, but I decided to complete the Team Penske stack. Blaney has scored the third-most driver points over the last 10 plate races, and more importantly, he has scored a series-best 40 stage points at Talladega.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Joey Logano (A)
I went back and forth between Logano and Brad Keselowski, but Logano has been a little more consistent than his teammate. He has won three of the last six races at Talladega, including the spring race earlier this year. Logano also leads all drivers with six Top 10s and five Top 5s over the last 10 restrictor-plate races.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (B)
He will be a popular play, but it is hard to pass up Stenhouse at a track where has a legitimate chance to win. He has scored more points than any other driver over the last 10 restrictor-plate races, and he has cracked the Top 5 in three of the last four races at Talladega, winning the spring race last year.
Ryan Newman (B)
I’m playing the hot hand with this pick, and Newman is the only driver who has finished in the Top 10 in each of the last five restrictor-plate races. In fact, no other driver has more than three Top 10s in that same stretch. Newman’s 6.4 average finish in those races is also the best mark in the series. With no plans to use all nine starts from Newman, it makes the decision even easier.
David Ragan (C)
I also considered Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace for this spot, but in the end, I went with Ragan. He is a former winner at both Daytona and Talladega, and he has five Top 15s in his last six plate races. During that stretch, Ragan has cracked the Top 10 in all three of his starts at Talladega.