The Round of 8 continues this weekend when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway. Just three races remain in the 2019 season, but two of them will be held at mile-and-a-half tracks, including Sunday's AAA Texas 500.
We have plenty of data to go on when evaluating the top fantasy plays this weekend. Including the March race at Texas, there have been nine total races held at 1.5-mile ovals this year. This year's reduced-horsepower, high-downforce rules package has created a different style of racing at these intermediate tracks, but it really hasn’t changed the fact that the top drivers from the top teams continue to hold an edge.
In fact, the six drivers who have scored the most points in the first nine races at 1.5-mile tracks are all among the eight drivers who are still alive in the playoffs. Whenever possible, you need to lean on the big names, or at least drivers from the top organizations. Of course, this could be difficult in the Driver Group Game depending on how you have allocated your driver usage, but this late in the year, you can map out how you want to attack these final three races with the starts you do have left.
If you are in a situation where you will have to take a chance on some mid-tier options for your Group B and Group C picks before the year is over, I would take my chances with some sleeper plays next weekend at Phoenix before I rolled the dice on unconventional options this Sunday at Texas.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has posted solid numbers at Texas in the past, but it is his performance at the mile-and-a-half tracks with the 2019 rules package that really stands out. He ranks second in points scored in the nine races, and his 8.6 average finish is the best in the series. Truex has also won two of those races, and he has led more than 30 laps in the first two playoff races held at 1.5-mile ovals.
2. Kevin Harvick
It was announced last week that he is bringing the best car in the No. 4 team's stable to Texas, and his numbers at the track are already incredible. He has reeled off 10 straight Top 10s here, and during that streak, he leads all drivers with seven Top 5s and 489 laps led. Harvick led 177 laps in a win in the fall race here last year, and he currently ranks first in both points scored and laps led in the nine races at mile-and-a-half tracks in 2019.
3. Denny Hamlin
A couple of weeks removed from a dominating win at Kansas when he led a race-high 153 laps, Hamlin will look to complete a season sweep at Texas. He is one of three drivers with multiple wins at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and with a 10.1 average finish and the fifth-most points in those nine races, Hamlin offers a high floor and a high ceiling this weekend.
4. Kyle Busch
While he hasn't been dominant at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, Busch is tied for the series lead with six Top 10s in the nine races. Plus, he had a strong third-place showing a couple of weeks ago at Kansas, and he had one of the cars to beat at Texas in the spring, leading 66 laps before getting into the wall late in the race. Busch is a three-time winner at Texas overall, winning the spring race a year ago.
5. Chase Elliott
Elliott has never finished outside the Top 15 at Texas, notching five Top 10s and an 8.0 average finish in seven starts. He's also been a steady performer at the mile-and-a-half tracks in 2019, posting a 9.0 average finish in the nine races and scoring the fourth-most points. Elliott led 35 laps in the spring race at Texas, and since the playoffs began, he has finishes of fourth and second in the two races at 1.5-mile ovals.
6. Joey Logano
He won Stage 1 at Texas in the spring, but a pit road penalty ended up derailing his race. Still, he has six finishes of seventh or better in his last seven starts here, including four finishes of third or better. Logano also ranks third in points scored at 1.5-mile ovals in 2019, leading the second-most laps in those nine races. He should be one of the safest plays this weekend.
7. Kyle Larson
Larson has been coming on strong of late, and the upward trend has held true at the 1.5-mile tracks. He has a 7.0 average finish in the last four races at mile-and-a-half ovals, logging two Top 5s and leading laps in three of those starts.
8. Brad Keselowski
He has been a little bit of a boom-or-bust play at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, but there is no denying his upside. Keselowski is one of three drivers with multiple wins at the mile-and-a-half ovals in 2019, and his five Top 5s in the nine races lead all drivers. In Fantasy Live, you won't find a non-playoff option with a higher ceiling.
9. Ryan Blaney
Blaney hasn't had a lot of luck at the mile-and-a-half tracks this year, and the spring race at Texas was a perfect example. He led 45 laps and finished in the Top 5 in both stages, but an engine issue ended his night. Prior to the that race, Blaney had finished sixth or better in three straight starts at Texas, leading 40 laps and finishing second in the fall race last year. I love him as a sleeper dominator at DraftKings and as a Group B option for the Driver Group Game.
10. Erik Jones
He has been a Top 10 machine at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2019, finishing seventh or better in six of the nine races. One of his best performances came at Texas in the spring when he led 30 laps and finished fourth. Jones actually has three straight fourth-place finishes here, leading 94 total laps in that stretch. Target him as a non-playoff option for Fantasy Live, and he should be one of the stronger Group B options for the DGG.
11. Kurt Busch
Busch has been one of the more consistent performers at Texas, notching eight Top 10s in his last 10 starts here, including five straight. He has compiled a 10.0 average finish over that same stretch, and back in March, Busch gained 21 spots on his way to a ninth-place finish. Overall, he is tied for the series lead with six Top 10s in the nine races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and he has four Top 5s in those races. Busch should definitely be on your radar for Fantasy Live and the DGG.
12. William Byron
He might be the most underrated driver at the 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, and Byron actually seems to be getting better. He has an 11.8 average finish in the nine races, leading laps in seven of them. Byron has cracked the Top 5 in four of the last five races at mile-and-a-half ovals, logging a Top 5 in the most recent race at Kansas. Throw in the fact that he led 15 laps and finished sixth at Texas in March, and you shouldn't overlook him in season-long or DFS contests this weekend.
13. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson has quietly enjoyed a rebound season at the 1.5-mile tracks, and he has finished 11th or better in six of the last seven races. Not to mention that one of his best runs of the year came at Texas in March when he won the pole and led 60 laps on his way to a Top 5 finish. At the very least, he should be a solid play in all season-long contests.
14. Clint Bowyer
If you are someone who needs to take some risks to try to make a move in your fantasy league, Bowyer absolutely needs to be on your radar this weekend. Yes, he has been horribly volatile, but he has also flashed serious upside at the 1.5-mile ovals. He has five Top 10s in the nine races, finishing sixth or better four times. To top it off, Bowyer's best finish of 2019 came at Texas in March when he finished second.
15. Alex Bowman
Bowman struggled a bit at Texas in March, but he has finished 11th or better in five of the six races at 1.5-mile tracks since then. During that stretch, he has finished seventh or better four times, notching a runner-up effort at Kansas in the spring and winning at Chicagoland. Bowman has been inconsistent of late, but his Top 5 upside could make him worth the risk, especially in DFS contests.
16. Aric Almirola
Almirola has been solid, albeit not special, at the mile-and-a-half tracks in 2019. He has a 12.3 average finish in the nine races overall, finishing 16th or better in seven of them. He did log a seventh-place finish at Texas in March, but he hasn’t been back in the Top 10 in the six races since. Almirola should challenge for a Top 15, but he is a conservative play, not a fantasy difference-maker.
17. Chris Buescher
He and the 1.5-mile tracks have been a match made in Fantasy NASCAR heaven this year. Buescher has cracked the Top 20 in all nine races, logging four Top 10s and posting a 13.6 average finish. More importantly, he is gaining an average of 11.1 spots in those races, gaining at least eight spots eight times. Buescher is the top Group C option for the Driver Group Game and should be an excellent play in any format that includes place differential in its scoring.
18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse has been solid at Texas, finishing 16th or better in six of his last seven starts here, and he's also been underrated at the mile-and-a-half tracks in 2019. He has a 13.6 average finish in the nine races overall, finishing worse than 18th just once and finishing 12th or better five times. I love him as an underpriced GPP option at the DFS sites.
19. Paul Menard
His numbers don't jump off the page, but Menard has been steady at the mile-and-a-half tracks this year. He has a 16.7 average finish in the nine races, cracking the Top 15 five times and finishing 21st or better eight times. You can pretty much pencil him in for a Top 20 Sunday, and if he starts a little deeper in the field, he is typically a great value for cash lineups at the DFS sites.
20. Daniel Suarez
The good news is that he had one of his best runs of the year at Texas in March, leading nine laps and finishing third. On the flip side, his numbers have been trending in the wrong direction at the 1.5-mile ovals, and Suarez has finished outside the Top 15 in four of the last five races, finishing 20th or worse three times. He's a GPP-only option for me at the DFS sites, and a high-risk, high-reward Group B sleeper in the DGG.
21. Ryan Newman
He has managed decent results at the mile-and-a-half ovals this year, finishing between ninth and 17th between in six of the nine races and posting an 18.1 average finish overall. Newman isn't on my radar in most season-long contests, but he could have some DFS appeal depending on his starting spot.
22. Matt DiBenedetto
The 1.5-mile tracks have not been his strong suit, but DiBenedetto has been trending in the right direction. He has a 25.2 average finish in the nine races overall, but he has finished 16th, 21st and 15th in the last three races.
23. Austin Dillon
Dillon managed a Top 15 run at Texas back in the spring, but he has been a mid-pack performer at the 1.5-mile tracks overall. He has a 20.3 average finish in the nine races, and a 10th-place run at Chicagoland is his best result. With little in the way of upside, I don’t' expect to use him much this weekend unless he qualifies way in the back.
24. Ty Dillon
His results have improved a bit over the last couple of months, and Dillon is starting to run in the Top 20 with regularity. He has finished 16th and 22nd in his last two starts at 1.5-mile tracks, and he finished 21st at Texas back in March. Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto are the top Group C plays in the DGG, but Dillon should be a decent alternative.
25. Ryan Preece
He has had his issues at the 1.5-mile tracks overall, but Preece did have one of his better runs at Texas in the spring when finished 22nd. He has also been running better of late, finishing 21st at Kentucky and 12th at Kansas in two of the last three races at mile-and-a-half ovals. He could be a serviceable Group C sleeper in the DGG.
26. Daniel Hemric
It has been a long rookie year for Hemric, and his lack of production at the 1.5-mile tracks hasn't helped his cause. He has a 22.9 average finish in the nine races, and he hasn't finished better than 17th. The lack of upside makes it hard to roll the dice on Hemric in most fantasy formats.
27. David Ragan
Ragan's value is limited to the DFS sites, but he can be a decent punt play if he qualifies in the back. He has a 23.4 average finish in the nine races at 1.5-mile tracks this season, finishing in the Top 30 in every race and notching a Top 25 at Texas in the spring.
28. Bubba Wallace
Wallace has been a consistent performer at the 1.5-mile tracks, but unfortunately, he's been consistently running around the 25th spot. He has a 26.2 average finish in the nine races overall, but he hasn't finished better than 23rd. There just isn't any upside with Wallace, and I don't expect to use him much in any format this weekend.
29. Michael McDowell
He hasn't been able to make much noise at the 1.5-mile tracks, compiling a 24.8 average finish in the nine races. If McDowell happens to qualify outside the Top 30, he could be a shot-in-the-dark DFS play, but he's actually been a decent qualifier at the mile-and-a-half ovals. I don't expect to use him this weekend.
30. John Hunter Nemechek
Medical issues will sideline Matt Tifft for the remainder of the season, and Nemechek will have a chance to show his stuff at the Cup level when he takes over the Front Row Motorsports No. 36 for the final three races of 2019. Despite equipment that is average, at best, Nemechek has been able to overachieve in both the Truck and XFINITY Series. He is worth watching in practice in his Cup debut, and he could end up being a serviceable sleeper.