The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Pocono Raceway this weekend, which means fantasy owners have to deal with the "Tricky Triangle" for the second time in less than two months.
The second trip to the track is shaping up to be a lot tougher for fantasy owners after a bunch of drivers failed post-qualifying inspection and had their times disallowed, including both front row starters and handful of other top-tier options. As a result, you have the best cars starting in the back, which could lead to some chaos when the green flag waves.
This is particularly problematic in the Fantasy Live game. Passing isn’t easy at Pocono, and while I ultimately expect the top guys to get to the front, I'm not sure they can get into the Top 5 before the end of Stage 1. It could cause the stage points to be divided between some of the drivers unexpectedly starting up front and the big names starting in the back. Ultimately, this will hurt the value of those big names because you want to maximize their stage point potential.
This also means that you need to take advantage of as many of the heavy hitters starting in the back as possible in the Slingshot game. They just have so much upside in the place differential category and could still end up challenging for the win.
It's going to be an interesting afternoon at Pocono, so make sure to check out all my Fantasy NASCAR picks for Sunday's Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway, and make sure to get your lineups locked in.
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NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Martin Truex Jr.
I was originally going to save a start from Truex because it looked like he was starting the deepest of the Big 3. After the debacle that was qualifying inspection, he is now starting eighth, the best of the Big 3. He's also great at Pocono. Truex won the June race earlier this year, finishing fourth and first in the two stages, and he has three straight finishes of sixth or better. Truex could end up being the top scorer Sunday.
Hamlin hasn't been a dominant force at Pocono since the first few years of his career, but he's still solid here. He finished fourth in the July race last season, and he finished fifth in Stage 1 in the June race earlier this year before crashing out. Hamlin gets to start on the front row after all the qualifying inspection issues, so he suddenly has a bunch of upside.
He just keeps piling up great finishes at Pocono, and over the last 10 races here, Keselowski leads all drivers with seven Top 5s and eight Top 10s. He's actually cracked the Top 5 in the last six races at Pocono, and Keselowski also earned points in both stages earlier this year. Starting fourth, he's positioned for another strong performance.
Larson has been the model of consistency at Pocono, finishing 12th or better in eight of his nine starts and posting a 10.6 average finish. He also earned in both stages in the June race earlier this year on his way to a runner-up finish despite starting outside the Top 10. I've actually got five starts left from Larson, so even though he is starting deeper in the field, I'd rather take my chances that he charges through the field than leave a start on the table from one of the top drivers at the end of the contest.
His ceiling has been at its highest this year at the flat tracks, and Elliott has cracked the Top 10 in all five races, logging three Top 5s. One of those Top 10s came here at Pocono back in June, and Elliott also finished sixth and fifth, respectively, in the two stages in that race. Now that he is starting sixth, he should be able to grab plenty of stage points again Sunday.
Garage Driver – Kevin Harvick
I only have three starts left from Harvick, and although his qualifying time was disallowed, the original pole-sitter clearly has a fast car this weekend. He also finished fourth at Pocono back in June, leading the most laps and finishing second and first in the two stages. I'll have him on my bench in case he charges through the field and still earns a bunch of stage points.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
I've been using the Big 3 early and often this year, but I think I can save a start from that trio this weekend and still grab an excellent finish. Keselowski leads all drivers with eight Top 10s in the last 10 races at Pocono, and he has six straight Top 5 finishes here. Following his Top 5 qualifying run and the qualifying issues of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, this looks like one of the best opportunities to fade the Big 3 and still earn a great finish.
Flat tracks continue to be his strong suit, and in five Cup starts at Pocono, Elliott has managed four Top 10s, including a 10th-place run back in June. Meanwhile, Elliott has five Top 5 finishes in 2018, and three of those have come at flat tracks. Starting sixth, he should at least be able to deliver another Top 10 this weekend.
I was planning on using Aric Almirola or Ryan Blaney this weekend, but after both failed post-qualifying inspection, I'll save them for a week when they don't have to fight through the entire field. Kenseth will get to start 11th after the dust settled from inspection, and he picked up a Top 15 at Pocono in June. I'm going to try to steal a start out of him.
I recommend Alex Bowman for this spot if you have the starts to spare, but I'm running low myself. Instead, I will turn to Buescher after William Byron had his Top 10 qualifying run wiped out. Meanwhile, Buescher gets to start in the Top 15, and he has cracked the Top 20 in two of his last three starts at Pocono. I'm hoping the solid starting spot leads to another finish in the top half of the field.