It took a while thanks to all the schedule changes, but the Cup Series will finally race on a road course for the first time in 2020. For the first time in series history, the road course at Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Roval) will host a Cup event, and when you throw in a lack of practice and qualifying, it could be quite entertaining when the field barrels into Turn 1 for Sunday's Go Bowling 235.
From a Fantasy NASCAR standpoint, the inaugural race at any track creates uncertainty, and road courses can already be a little tricky on baseline. Since the advent of stage racing, some crew chiefs have been using the scheduled stage breaks and the long lap times at road courses as opportunities to short pit to maintain track position. However, this strategy often comes at the expense of stage points.
With stage points being potentially tough to predict, I don’t mind going with some mid-tier options for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. It also helps that a few drivers that fall into this category happen to be excellent road racers. You can definitely take advantage to build some strong lineups without relying solely on the usual studs, although I am a little more willing to load up in Fantasy Live because we are so far into the regular season.
I had a harder time deciding on my strategy for Slingshot Fantasy Auto. I toyed with the idea of anchoring my lineup with a couple of road course studs like Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott who are starting up front, but the uncertainty about stage points and the potential for chaos at a new course caused me to skew my lineup more towards the place differential category.
Thanks to NASCAR's new formula for setting the starting lineup, we actually have a few big names who are starting deeper in the field. I'm going to try to take advantage by building a lineup with a safe floor and significant upside.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Hamlin will get to start on the front row Sunday, and over the last 10 road course races, he is tied for the series lead with six Top 5s and leads all drivers with a 7.3 average finish. He's a solid bet to win Stage 1, and I think he should be battling near the front all afternoon.
Martin Truex Jr.
He has been arguably the best road racer in the series in recent years, and no driver has scored more points in the last 10 road course events. During that same stretch, Truex ranks first with three wins, six Top 5s, eight Top 10s and 182 laps led. Yes, pit strategy could throw off how stage points are distributed just a bit, but starting third, I don't think it is the worst idea to pick Truex for a clean sweep this weekend.
Elliott won the final two road course events of 2019, and he has three wins and five finishes of sixth or better in the last six road races overall. I think the speed will carry over to the Daytona Roval, and I'm expecting no less than a Top 3 finish and 15-plus stage points out of Elliott this weekend.
He is starting to show a little more speed in recent weeks, and unlike most drivers in the field, Busch has some recent experience on the Daytona Roval after competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this year. He also owns four road course wins for his career. Rolling off fourth, I think Busch is a strong bet to finish in the Top 5 and a sleeper candidate for the win.
Busch is already one of the more reliable options at the road courses, a quality that I value even more as the Cup Series visits the Daytona Roval for the first time. He has a 9.7 average finish over the last 10 road races, logging seven Top 10s. Starting eighth, I think Busch can hang near the front all afternoon.
Garage Driver – Matt DiBenedetto
He's not typically someone I target in Fantasy Live, but DiBenedetto flexed some serious muscle at the road courses last year, posting a 7.0 average finish in the three races. By the way, he put up those numbers while driving the No. 95 machine, and this time around, he is behind the wheel of Team Penske equipment. Throw in a Top 10 starting spot, and DiBenedetto is positioned to have a big day. If he earns a chunk of stage points, I will likely swap him into my starting lineup to save a start from one of my big names.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Martin Truex Jr. (A)
I also considered Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott for this spot, but Truex has been more dominant at the road courses than Hamlin, and he has shown more speed in recent weeks than Elliott. He has three wins and two second-place finishes in the eight road course events since 2017, and it could easily be five wins if he doesn't have an engine failure at Sonoma in 2017 and get punted from the lead at the Charlotte Roval in 2018. Truex gets to start third, and he is my pick to win on Sunday.
Clint Bowyer (B)
He has been one of the more underrated road course racers in the series throughout his career, and Bowyer has really been locked in since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has seven finishes of 11th or better, including five Top 5s, in eight road races with SHR. Slated to start 12th, I think Bowyer can finish inside the Top 10 and provide some stage points.
Matt DiBenedetto (B)
DiBenedetto had decent equipment for the first time in his Cup career last season, and his road racing skills quickly became apparent. He finished 11th or better in all three events, posting a 7.0 average finish. Starting in the Top 10 in Team Penske equipment this weekend, I have big expectations for him. I think a Top 5 finish and double-digit stage points are on the table. I suggest taking advantage. Kurt Busch is another strong play if you have the starts to spare.
Michael McDowell (C)
I've been taking full advantage of the rookie class for my Group C picks for most of the year, but McDowell is an easy choice for me this weekend. He is an experienced road racer, and he has managed to finish 18th or better in seven of the last nine road course events, logging a 12th-place finish at the Charlotte Roval last year. At worst, I think he cracks the Top 20.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Brad Keselowski ($12,200)
His wreck last Sunday at Michigan has him starting 17th, but Keselowski has scored the fourth most points in the series over the last 10 road course events, and he has been a threat for the win in both trips to the Charlotte Roval. I don't blame you for going after the win with Martin Truex Jr. or Chase Elliott, but I'm going with Keselowski and the extra place differential upside to anchor my lineup.
Ryan Blaney ($11,300)
Since the start of the 2017 season, Blaney has finished 12th or better in seven of the eight road course events, reeling off four straight finishes of eighth or better and winning at the Charlotte Roval in 2018. His bad luck last weekend has him set to start 24th, giving him the most differential upside among the high-end options. Blaney should cruise past 100 fantasy points and could finish as the top scorer.
Alex Bowman ($9,800)
His season has gone in the wrong direction, but Bowman has quietly built an impressive resume at the road courses. He has a 9.5 average finish in six starts with Hendrick Motorsports, cracking the Top 15 in all of them and logging Top 5s in both events at the Charlotte Roval. Starting way back in 27th, he will be pushing 70 fantasy points if he can just crack the Top 20.
Clint Bowyer ($9,200)
Bowyer is no stranger to success at road courses, and he has finished 11th or better in seven of his eight road races with Stewart-Haas Racing, notching five Top 5s in that stretch. Rolling off 12th, he is in good position to grab some stage points and a few differential points while providing Top 5 upside. I also like Matt DiBenedetto for this spot.
Michael McDowell ($7,200)
His background in road racing should come in handy this weekend, and McDowell has reeled off nine straight Top 25s in road course events, logging seven finishes of 18th or better. Starting 30th, he has a real shot at 20-plus differential points and 100-plus points overall.