Most years, you will hear me refer to the four restrictor-plate events at Daytona and Talladega as the biggest wild-card races of the season. However, the plate races may have a challenger in 2018 in the form of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.
Nicknamed the Roval, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit the 2.28-mile track for the first time ever this weekend, and it will do so for an elimination race in the opening round of the playoffs. Teams have already tested at the track, and almost every driver seems to agree that Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 could become a wreck-filled war of attrition.
Unlike the other two road courses on the schedule, Sonoma and Watkins Glen, the Roval doesn’t have sand pits and other run-off points that can forgive driver mistakes. It just has walls and barriers. When drivers misjudge a turn this weekend, it is probably going to mean the end of their race. Brad Keselowski went as far as to predict that 30-plus cars will end up in the garage before all is said and done.
While it is tough to evaluate a brand new track from a fantasy perspective, I still expect the drivers who excel at road racing to have an edge this weekend. That being said, it is impossible to ignore what the drivers are saying, so don’t be surprised when cars start wrecking in bunches this weekend.
With that in mind, I view this race as an opportunity to save starts in the Driver Group Game and to swing for the fences in both the DGG and Fantasy Live. If you are down to your last couple of starts from the top drivers in all three tiers of the DGG, I’m certainly not going to risk them at what could be the most chaotic race in recent memory. Plus, an unconventional lineup could end up posting a huge score anyway if most of the big names end up crashing out.
If you need to gain some ground in any of your season-long leagues, this weekend’s race and the upcoming race at Talladega are absolutely your two best chances to take big chunks out of the gap between you and the leaders. Build your lineups accordingly.
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FANTASY NASCAR RANKINGS
Kyle Busch, M&M’s
In terms of pure talent behind the wheel, I’d take Kyle Busch over any driver in the series right now. If anyone can figure out the best way to wheel a car around the Roval, it is going to be him. Of course, it should help that he’s an incredible road racer. Busch has reeled off eight straight Top 10s at the road courses, logging a series-best five Top 5s and posting a 4.5 average finish.
Martin Truex, Jr., Furniture Row
This is a new track, Truex has found a setup that works for him at road courses. He has two wins and a second-place finish in his last three road course starts, and he has finished seventh or better in five of his last six. Truex has also led the 20-plus laps in three of the last four road races, so he should be an elite play in both season-long and DFS formats this weekend.
Kevin Harvick, Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer
Harvick has been one of the most consistent performers at road courses recently, notching seven Top 10s in the last nine races. He has four Top 5s in that same span and has led more than 20 laps three times. Harvick isn’t my preferred option among the Big 3 in the Driver Group Game this week, but I’m still expecting a strong showing.
Kurt Busch, Monster Energy/Haas Automation
His natural driving ability really shows up on the road courses, and you can make an argument that Busch is the safest play this weekend. His 7.1 average finish over the last 10 road races is the best mark in the series, and he hasn’t finished worse than 12th in that stretch. Busch needs to be on your radar in all season-long formats.
Chase Elliott, NAPA Auto Parts
Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, but Elliott sure looks like the next great road racer in the Cup Series. After his fourth-place run at Sonoma earlier this year, he led a race-high 52 laps and picked up the win at Watkins Glen. Elliott has now cracked the Top 15 in five of his six road course starts, and he seems to keep getting better.