Get ready for a double dose of Pocono Raceway as the Cup Series prepares for a pair of races at the "Tricky Triangle" this weekend. The action kicks off with the Pocono Organics 325 Saturday afternoon, and for those of us who play Fantasy NASCAR, we have a bit of unique opportunity in front of us.
Let's start with the track itself. Pocono's unique layout makes passing difficult, and it is common for races to become battles of pit strategy and track position. More importantly, Pocono's massive layout allows drivers running close enough to the front to pit under green without losing a lap. Depending on when cautions fall, the top drivers will often pit before the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2, forgoing stage points in order to have track position for the start of the final stage.
With most season-long fantasy contests including stage points in their scoring, it can be frustrating to roster several of the top drivers and watch them come up empty on stage points. With the level of unpredictability a little bit higher than normal, I like to utilize the high-upside midrange options.
I still want to give my chance at strong finishes, but I don't want to roll out all of the top options. Sure, they may still end up with a Top 5 finish, but when you use someone like Kevin Harvick, you expect a Top 5 and 10-plus stage points.
We also have the doubleheader format to consider. Just like when we had back-to-back races at both Darlington and Charlotte, we can use Saturday's race as a scouting mission of sorts. We can probably find another midrange sleeper or two that we can take advantage of on Sunday.
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It has been an all or nothing-type season for Busch, but history says you can count on him delivering a strong performance at Pocono. He has cracked the Top 10 in the last seven races here, winning three times and leading 50-plus laps five times. Busch led 79 laps in a win here last June and led 56 laps and won Stage 1 in the July race before bad pit strategy cost him a shot at a season sweep.
After finishing sixth in the June race in 2019, Hamlin cracked the Top 5 in both stages and picked up the win at Pocono last July, giving him five career wins at the track and bolstering his impressive resume. He has a 12.0 average finish in 28 starts overall, and he has only finished outside the Top 15 in two of the last 12 races. Starting third, he could spend the entire afternoon in the Top 5 and go to victory lane.
While his only win at Pocono came back in 2011, Keselowski has been the most reliable driver at the track the last several years. His 8.7 average finish over the last 10 races is the second best in series, and during that stretch, he ranks third in points scored and leads all drivers with seven Top 5s. I want his high floor in my lineup.
I won’t argue if you want to roll out heavy hitters like Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott or Martin Truex Jr. this weekend, but because of the potential for stage point volatility, I am to try to take advantage of some drivers in the middle tier. With a series-best 8.3 average finish at Pocono, Jones has to be at the top of the list. He has cracked the Top 10 in five of his six starts here, reeling off three straight Top 5s and finishing third and second in the two Pocono races last season.
His overall numbers at Pocono don’t jump off the page, but Bowyer has been solid at the track since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has finished 11th or better in four of his six starts here for SHR, notching a Top 5 here last June. Starting 18th isn't ideal, but I like the speed he has shown this season and at Pocono in the past. Kurt Busch could make a solid pivot if you prefer someone with better track position.
Garage Driver – William Byron
Byron's inability to finish off races is a concern, but he has shown Top 10 speed on a weekly basis all year. He also has a strong resume at Pocono. He has three Top 10s in four starts here, leading double-digit laps twice and posting a 9.2 average finish overall. If he is able to pile up a lot of points in the first two stages, I may throw him in the starting lineup.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
Harvick has been the most consistent performer this season, and he's also been the model of consistency at Pocono. He has a 9.7 average finish, six Top 5s and eight Top 10s in the last 10 races here, leading at least 30 laps in three of the last four races. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are aggressive options, and Brad Keselowski should be another safe play.
Erik Jones (B)
His 8.3 average finish at Pocono is currently the best in the series, and in six starts, Jones has five Top 10s and four Top 5 finishes. In fact, he has reeled off three straight Top 5s at Pocono, and he finished third and second in the two races here last year. This is a golden opportunity to get an elite finish out of Jones.
William Byron (B)
He has had an unfortunate habit of turning fast cars into mediocre finishes this season, but Byron's numbers at Pocono speak for themselves. He has a 9.2 average finish in four starts, reeling off three straight Top 10s and finishing a career-best fourth here last July. Byron gives me a realistic shot at a Top 5 while allowing me to save some of the elite Group B plays for another week.
Bubba Wallace (C)
Wallace took a big step forward at Pocono in 2019, finishing 21st and 22nd in the two races after finishing outside the Top 30 in both of his starts at the track as a rookie. He has also been a Top 20 performer for much of 2020, and he has cracked the Top 15 in four of the five races heading into the Pocono doubleheader. Tyler Reddick is still my top play in this group if you have the starts to spare, but I like Wallace as a fallback.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kyle Busch ($12,300)
I know it hasn't been a dominant 2020 campaign for Busch, but he has been in a league of his own at Pocono recently. He is riding streak of seven straight Top 10s here, winning three times during that span and leading 50-plus laps five times. I'm giving up place differential points with the hope of piling up stage points and grabbing a win.
Ryan Blaney ($10,900)
He is a high-risk play after drawing a spot on the front row, but Blaney has been one of the strongest performers all year, and he is a former winner at Pocono. I think he can challenge for another win Saturday, and at the very least, I like his chances of logging a Top 5 and double-digit stage points. Clint Bowyer and William Byron are potential options if you want some more differential upside.
Erik Jones ($10,600)
He has been fast at Pocono since joining the Cup Series, compiling an 8.3 average finish and five Top 10s in six starts. Jones has cracked the Top 5 in each of the last three races here, finishing in the Top 3 in both 2019 events. Starting 19th, he could be looking at 30-plus place differential points and well over 100 total points.
Christopher Bell ($8,400)
Bell will be making his first Cup start at Pocono, but after drawing the 36th starting spot, he has the place differential category working in his favor in a big way. Yes, it has been an inconsistent rookie campaign for Bell, but he has shown Top 10 upside, and he usually challenges for a Top 20. He's a low-risk, high-upside play in this scoring system.
Ty Dillon ($7,400)
His ceiling is probably a Top 20 finish, but starting back in 34th, Dillon should have no problem using the place differential category to his advantage. At worst, I think he cracks the Top 25 and adds 20 bonus points to his final score. Chris Buescher from 24th is another cheaper option to consider if you want to play it a little more aggressive.