Fantasy NASCAR: 2018 GEICO 500 Picks
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the second restrictor-plate event of the 2018 season.
Unless you are new to fantasy NASCAR, then you already know that plate tracks can be an absolute nightmare for fantasy owners. The pack racing inevitably seems to produce big wrecks, and there is simply no way to assemble a bullet proof lineup. Fortunately, you can minimize the damage and try to take advantage of the carnage by exploiting the scoring system of your fantasy NASCAR leagues.
For NASCAR Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game, this means saving all the options for another week. It's just not smart to use the top drivers at a track where they basically have a 50-50 chance of being collected in a wreck, especially when history has shown you can post a solid score while utilizing middle-tier and sleeper drivers.
My rule of thumb is that if I think there is a decent chance I could use all of my allocations for a particular driver, then I won't risk using them at the plate tracks. I know going into Sunday's race that things could get ugly for my lineup. The last thing I want to do is compound the damage by using starts from the top drivers, only to watch them crash out and provide minimal returns.
My strategy is different for the Slingshot game where there is no limit on how many times each driver can be used. Instead, I'll be focusing on the place differential category. With a two-point bonus for evert spot gained and a two-point penalty for every spot lost, I'll be loading up on drivers starting in the back of the pack. This way, I have maximum upside for differential points and minimal risk.
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NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse offers the best of both worlds this weekend. He has become one of the stronger options at plate tracks, winning two of the four races last year. Meanwhile, he's too inconsistent to trust and rarely provides stage points at most tracks, so I don't have to worry about saving his starts. There's no reason not to take a chance on his upside.
He's having a solid all-around season, but Almirola hasn't been piling up a ton of stage points, so I'm still willing to use one of his starts in this format. He has finished in the Top 15 in six straight restrictor-plate races, and he has three Top 5s in his last four starts. He's been as good as anyone at the plate tracks recently.
You could make an argument that Menard is currently the most reliable option at the plate tracks. He will be trying for his seventh straight Top 15 this weekend, and in the previous six races, he leads all drivers with an 8.0 average finish and 193 points scored. His value at other tracks is suspect, at best, so it's an easy choice to try to squeeze a start out of him at Talladega.
He has developed into one of the better restrictor-plate racers in the series in recent years, reeling off six Top 15s in the last six races and finishing in the Top 10 four of his last six. The only other tracks where I consider Allmendinger are the road courses and Martinsville, so I have zero long-term concerns about using one of his starts this weekend.
Ragan has been an underrated plate racer throughout his career, and no matter what equipment he is driving, he seems to find a way to run up front. In addition to a couple of plate wins, he has three Top 10s in the last four races. With almost no value in this format at most tracks, it doesn't hurt me at all in the long run to take a chance on his Top 10 potential this weekend.
Garage Driver – Austin Dillon
His win in the Daytona 500 certainly doesn't hurt his appeal, but Dillon's five Top 10s in the last 10 plate races and 12 Top 15s in 19 career starts that are his biggest selling points. He seems to be able to stick around to the finish of these plate races, so I think he is a good option to have on the bench in case one of my other picks goes out early.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
I'm not as concerned about budgeting my starts from the Group A drivers because of all the talent available. With that in mind, I'll play the numbers and go with the driver who has been the most reliable at the plate tracks. Over the last 10 races, Logano leads all drivers with seven Top 10s, and he has two wins at Talladega in that span.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse has the resume. He won at Daytona and Talladega last year and has four Top 5s in the last seven plate races. I considered Aric Almirola, but he's been running well this year and is too valuable as a Group B driver. On the flip side, I have no plans on using Stenhouse outside of Bristol and the plate tracks.
Forget about the fact that using Menard allows me to save a start from one of the top-tier Group B drivers. He's also been one of the most dependable drivers at plate tracks recently. With six straight Top 15s, including a sixth-place run in this year's Daytona 500, Menard should give me a shot at a great finish this weekend and keep me in good shape long term with my start allocations.
I debated between Ragan and Chris Buescher, and while Buescher has strung together some solid finishes at the plate tracks, Ragan has the better overall resume. With Cup wins at both Daytona and Talladega under his belt and back-to-back Top 10s at Talladega, I'll take my chances with Ragan while saving starts from Group C studs Alex Bowman and William Byron.