The first leg of the Pocono doubleheader is in the books, and Saturday's race saw Kevin Harvick hold of Denny Hamlin to score his first win at the track. Aric Almirola led the most laps on the afternoon, and several contenders had trouble, including Stage 1 winner Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones.
We now turn out attention to Sunday's race, and with NASCAR inverting the Top 20 finishers, I am going to lean even more on some middle-tier options who had solid showings Saturday and will now get to start in or around the Top 10. I think this a golden opportunity to save some more starts from the studs in both Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
My fear before Saturday's race was that pit strategy would keep the running order fluctuating, and in the end, only two drivers who finished in the Top 10 earned points in both stages. This is an all too common occurrence at Pocono, and it is the reason I am hesitant to load up my fantasy lineups with a bunch of big names.
In Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I am building around the place differential this time around. Between the inversion and the big names who had trouble Saturday, there are a ton of differential points up for grabs. I don’t see the need to try to guess the drivers who will end up with stage points when I think there are multiple drivers who could gain upwards of 30 spots.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
He didn't have the dominating performance that I was expecting on Saturday, but Busch did earn double-digit stage points and finish in the Top 5. He will have to start back in 16th Sunday, but at the very least, I think he extends his steak of Top 10 finishes at Pocono to nine races while snagging some more stage points.
His 12th-place finish Saturday was good, not great, but Blaney had a strong performance overall. He finished third and fourth in the two stages, and his 40 total points were the fourth-most of any driver. Throw in the fact that his late slide will have him starting in the Top 10, and I think Blaney can pile up the stage points again Sunday.
After finishing sixth in Stage 1 Saturday, Busch's race went of the rails a bit, and he ended up 18th. On the plus side, the lackluster finish will have him starting third at a track where he is a three-time winner. I think Busch could parlay the track position into a chunk of stage points and a Top 10 finish.
His 13th-place finish Saturday was solid in its own right, but DiBenedetto should have probably logged a Top 10. He finished seventh in Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2, making him one of the seven drivers who earned points in both stages. I think DiBenedetto will be eyeing points again Sunday, and a Top 10 starting spot should only help matters. I think he can comfortably eclipse the 30-point mark.
While he didn’t earn any stage points, Bowyer did methodically move his way from 18th to seventh on Saturday, giving him five finishes of 11th or better in six Pocono starts with Stewart-Haas Racing. All the SHR cars showed some muscle Saturday, so I like Bowyer's chances of landing back in the Top 10 in the second leg of the doubleheader.
Garage Driver – Aric Almirola
Almirola had himself an afternoon on Saturday, leading a race-high 61 laps and scoring a race-high 53 points thanks to finishes of second and first in the two stages. I'm not sure he can repeat that performance with the invert forcing him to start 18th, but I want him on my bench in case the Almirola's No. 10 machine is fast again on Sunday.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
I went with Harvick in the first leg of the Pocono doubleheader Saturday, and it paid off with a win. I'll go back to him Sunday and try for the weekend sweep. Yes, the inversion will have him start 20th, but after adding a win to his already impressive Pocono resume, I don't think a mid-pack starting spot stops him from getting to the front.
Matt DiBenedetto (B)
DiBenedetto was in points mode Saturday, and he finished seventh and fifth in the first two stages before ending up 13th in the race. He will start inside the Top 10 Sunday, and I think this team will once again be focused on grabbing as many points as possible. DiBenedetto should be a Top 10 threat and a sleeper candidate for double-digit stage points.
Aric Almirola (B)
He was shockingly dominant at Pocono Saturday, leading the most laps while finishing second in Stage 1 and winning Stage 2. He ended up scoring the most points of any driver, and he has now finished 12th or better in four of his five starts here with Stewart-Haas. I am not sure that Almirola will be a contender for the win again Sunday, but I do think he has enough speed in the No. 10 machine to land in the Top 10.
Cole Custer (C)
Custer had excellent umbers at Pocono at the XFINITY level, and the success carried over to the Cup side with a 16th-place finish Saturday. All of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars were fast in the first leg of the doubleheader, and with Custer getting to start in the Top 10 Sunday, I think he challenges for another Top 15.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Denny Hamlin ($11,400)
Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman have a little more place differential upside, but starting 19th, Hamlin has plenty in his own right. More importantly, he had one of the best cars at Pocono Saturday, ending up second after a late-race battle with Kevin Harvick. I think a Top 5 finish and around 30 place differential points are his floor.
Joey Logano ($11,200)
A tire problem resulted in a 36th-place finish at Pocono on Saturday, but Logano had one of the best cars, finishing first and second in the first stages. With Top 5 upside and the potential for more than 60 place differential points, Logano is a must-own option for Sunday's race.
Erik Jones ($10,600)
Jones was having himself another solid run at Pocono when he got clobbered from behind during a restart, saddling him with a 38th-place finish and killing my fantasy lineup in the process. Still, I am going back to the well for Sunday's race. Jones had reeled off three straight Top 5 finishes at Pocono prior to Saturday's wreck, and he now has a legitimate chance to move up more than 30 spots. He will be a chalk play, but I think you need to roster him.
Tyler Reddick ($8,600)
The driver who slammed into the back of the aforementioned Erik Jones happened to be Reddick, and the rookie will have to start 30th Sunday as a result. Prior to the accident, he looked like a Top 15 contender, and I think he can take advantage of all the place differential points he has in front of him.
John Hunter Nemechek ($7,000)
I needed a cheaper option to make the salary cap numbers work, and I think Nemechek provides the best combination of reliability and upside. He will start 24th Sunday, and he only has one finish outside the Top 25 all year to go along with seven Top 20 efforts. Nemechek should be a safe source of cap relief.