After a trip to Talladega, a doubleheader at Pocono and last weekend's visit to Indianapolis, the Cup Series' tour of the biggest tracks on the schedule comes to an end this weekend when NASCAR heads to Kentucky Speedway. The bumpy, 1.5-mile oval will host Sunday's Quaker State 400, the 10th Cup Series event at the track.
Sunday's race will also be the sixth time the Cup Series has visited a mile-and-a-half track this year, and while the top drivers and top teams typically dominate these 1.5-mile ovals, Kentucky has been a bit more unpredictable than the other "cookie-cutter" tracks. Yes, drivers from the powerhouse teams have still enjoyed the most success here, but Kyle Busch is currently the only driver with Top 5 finishes in at least half his starts at Kentucky, and only five total drivers have at least three Top 5s here.
With Kentucky trending to be a little more variable than most intermediate ovals, this is a track where I like to mix in a sleeper pick or two, depending on the format. I will still have exposure to upper-echelon options like Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney in my fantasy lineups, but it also makes sense to roll the dice on high-upside midrange options like Kurt Busch, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.
The numbers say that a few big names are likely to have issues this weekend, and that means opportunities for other drivers to take advantage. Don't forget that last year, Kurt Busch went to victory lane at Kentucky, and Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were among the names who finished in the Top 12 spots.
1. Kevin Harvick
Kentucky hasn't been his best track, but he is fresh off his fourth win of the season, and nobody is running better than Harvick these days. Plus, he does have five Top 10s in six starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, and no one has led more laps at 1.5-mile tracks in 2020. At a track that has shown a decent amount of variability, I think Harvick is the safest play this weekend.
2. Brad Keselowski
His three wins at Kentucky are the most in series history, and Keselowski's 524 laps led rank second. In fact, he has led 30-plus laps in six of the nine races here, leading 60-plus laps five times. Keselowski is also the only driver who has cracked the Top 10 in all five races at mile-and-a-half ovals in 2020. He should provide both a high floor for season-long games and dominator upside for DFS contests.
3. Denny Hamlin
A cut tire in the closing laps cost him a Brickyard win, but Hamlin continues to show elite speed week in and week out. He finished fifth at Kentucky last year and has three Top 5s in the last five races here. I think you can count on him bringing a fast car Sunday.
4. Chase Elliott
It has been a quiet stretch for the No. 9 team, but I expect Elliott to make plenty of noise this weekend. He has a win and two runner-up finishes in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2020, scoring the second-most points and leading at least 26 laps in all five starts. Elliott should be on your short list of dominator candidates for DFS contests, and I love him as a Fantasy Live play.
5. Ryan Blaney
Blaney has three straight Top 15s at Kentucky, including a runner-up effort in 2018, but it is his record at 1.5-mile tracks this season that really has my attention. His 4.8 average finish and 231 points scored in the five races are both the best in the series, and Blaney also leads all drivers with four Top 5s in those events. He could deliver big results in all fantasy formats.
6. Kyle Busch
In terms of overall numbers, nobody has been better at Kentucky than Busch. His 4.7 average finish, seven Top 5s, eight Top 10s, 396 points scored and 621 laps led are all tops in the series. Last year, he led 72 laps and finished second after a thrilling duel with his brother. Still, Busch just hasn't shown elite speed in 2020, and he has only led nine total laps in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks. I still expect a Top 10 out of him Sunday, possibly a Top 5. However, I don’t think you can expect Busch to carry your fantasy lineups.
7. Martin Truex Jr.
After smashing the field at Kentucky in both 2017 and 2018, Truex had a forgettable 19th-place finish here a year ago. It has been a bit of a mixed bag for him at the 1.5-mile tracks this season, but we saw him contend for the win in the Coca-Cola 600 and at Atlanta, and he ranks fifth in points scored in the five races overall. Truex is a bit of a riskier play among the big names, but he has the potential to carry a lineup.
8. Joey Logano
Logano has been the model of consistency at Kentucky with Team Penske. In seven starts here in the No. 22, he has logged six Top 10 finishes, including a seventh-place run last year. He has also led laps in five of the races in that stretch, although never more than 37 in a single race. Logano probably won't end up in victory lane this weekend, but he is a safe bet for a strong point total, giving him plenty of value in Fantasy Live and for cash contests at the DFS sites.
9. Erik Jones
He has had some horrible luck this season, and while Jones is far from a safe play this weekend, you have to love his upside. He has a 5.3 average finish in three starts at Kentucky, finishing seventh or better in every start and notching a third-place finish last year. The reward could be worth the risk with Jones this weekend, especially at Fantasy Live and in the Driver Group Game.
10. Aric Almirola
Almirola has finished eighth and 14th in his two starts at Kentucky with Stewart-Haas Racing, but more importantly, he seems to have found some serious speed in recent weeks. Almirola has reeled off five straight Top 5 finishes, including a fifth-place finish at Homestead, another 1.5-mile oval. You may just want to play the hot hand this weekend, especially in the Driver Group Game.
11. Alex Bowman
His traditional numbers don't jump off the page this season, and in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks, Bowman has an 18.6 average finish and has yet to record a Top 10. However, he also ranks 10th in total points scored in those five races, and for the year, he ranks eight in green flag speed and fourth in fastest laps run. Yes, he ultimately needs to get the finishes he deserves to be a valuable fantasy option, but Bowman's upside is undeniable. He could be an X-factor this weekend, especially for DFS contests.
12. Kurt Busch
Busch is the defending winner at Kentucky, and he has been one of the best in the series at the track throughout his career. He has six Top 10s in the nine races, and he has led double-digit laps and finished sixth or better in three of the last four. Busch has managed three Top 10s in the five races at mile-and-a-half ovals in 2020, and he should be a Top 10 contender Sunday.
13. Clint Bowyer
He has been steady at Kentucky since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, cracking the Top 15 in all three starts and leading 40 laps and finishing sixth last year. Bowyer hasn't been overly dependable at the 1.5-mile tracks, but he has flashed Top 10 speed and was a major player at Atlanta. Consider him a high-risk, high-reward midrange play this weekend.
14. Tyler Reddick
Reddick has been stout at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, finishing 18th or better in all five races and posting a 12.0 average finish overall. He was also stout at Kentucky at the XFINITY level, picking up a win and compiling a 5.0 average finish in four starts. He's the No. 1 Group C option in the Driver Group Game.
15. Austin Dillon
He has never cracked the Top 15 at Kentucky, but Dillon has been surprisingly strong at the mile-and-a-half tracks in 2020. He has an 8.8 average finish in the five races overall, and he has yet to finish worse than 14th. At worst, Dillon could be worth a look in DFS contests, and he could even be a Group B sleeper in the DGG.
16. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto's move to Wood Brothers Racing has definitely provided him a boost at the 1.5-mile ovals. He has a 14.6 average finish in the five races, cracking the Top 15 three times. DiBenedetto could be a Group B sleeper in the DGG, and if he starts outside the Top 20, you won't want to overlook him in DFS contests.
17. William Byron
Two trips to Kentucky have yielded mid-pack finishes for Byron, and it has been an inconsistent 2020 season, at best, for the driver of the No. 24. Still, the speed has been there, and Byron ranks in the Top 15 in point scored at the 1.5-mile tracks despite a 19.2 average finish in those five races. He has the upside that could make him a key part of a GPP lineup at the DFS sites.
18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
He had one of his best runs at Kentucky last year when he led 21 laps and finished 12th. Perhaps more importantly, he has shown some surprising upside at the 1.5-mile tracks in his first season with Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has three Top 15s in the five races, including Top 5 efforts at Las Vegas and the second Charlotte race. He could be someone to take a flier on this weekend, especially in the big DFS contests.
19. Christopher Bell
Bell still has a bad habit of delivering some horrible finishes, but while he remains inconsistent, we are starting to see his upside on a more frequent basis. In fact, if you throw out his terrible run at Las Vegas in the second race of the year, Bell has a 14.0 average finish and a pair of Top 10s in the next four races at 1.5-mile tracks. His Top 10 potential makes him one of the stronger Group C options in the DGG.
20. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth is a former winner at Kentucky and has solid numbers at the track overall, but his lack of speed at the 1.5-mile tracks since jumping in the No. 42 is concerning. He has a 22.2 average finish in those four starts, and his best finish is a 15th-place effort at Atlanta. Kenseth is still a viable Group C option in the Driver Group Game, but you need to set your expectations at a Top 20 finish.
21. Ryan Newman
He had a Top 10 run at Kentucky last year, but decent results at the 1.5-mile tracks have been tough for Newman to come by in 2020. He has one Top 15 in four starts, posting a 22.0 average finish and finishing 27th or worse twice. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Newman salvage a mid-pack finish Sunday, but this isn't a track where I will target him in most fantasy formats.
22. Bubba Wallace
His numbers at the 1.5-mile tracks in 2020 are bogged down by a pair of mechanical issues at Charlotte, but Wallace has a 13.3 average finish in the other three races. In fact, he hasn't finished worse than 22nd at any track in the eight races since the Charlotte doubleheader, notching five Top 15s. Wallace has become one of the best Group C option in the DGG and a legitimate sleeper in contests that include place differential in their scoring.
23. Chris Buescher
Buescher delivered a Top 10 finish at Kentucky last year, but his magic at the 1.5-mile tracks seems to be fading a bit. After a Top 15 run at Las Vegas and a Top 10 effort in the Coca-Cola 600, he has finished outside the Top 20 in the last three races at 1.5-mile ovals. Buescher could still be worth a look at the DFS site or for Slingshot Fantasy Auto if he starts outside the Top 20, but he is no longer a must-own sleeper at these mile-and-a-half tracks.
24. Cole Custer
The rookie is coming off the first Top 5 finish of his career, but you should expect much more pedestrian results from him this weekend. Custer has an 18.0 average finish in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and he has finished between 18th and 22nd in four of them. You can do worse when looking for a Group C option in the Driver Group Game, but there are also options with much higher ceilings.
25. John Hunter Nemechek
He picked up another Top 15 last weekend at Indianapolis, and Nemechek continues to outperform expectations. He has a 19.0 average finish in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks, and he has just one finish outside the Top 25 all year. Whether you use him as a Group C alternative in the DGG or as a low-priced DFS play, Nemechek can be a useful option in multiple fantasy formats.
26. Michael McDowell
What has gotten into McDowell lately? He has finished 18th or better in five of the last six races this season, picking up a Top 15 at Homestead, a 1.5-mile track, and logging two Top 10s in the last three races. McDowell has suddenly become a legitimate source of cap relief at the DFS sites and for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto game.
27. Justin Allgaier
There is a chance that Jimmie Johnson is back behind the wheel of the No. 48 this weekend, and if he is, I'd slot him just outside the Top 15 of my rankings. However, I contracted COVID-19 from my other job and continued testing positive for nearly a month despite being completely asymptomatic the entire time. I think there is a good chance Allgaier is back behind the wheel at Kentucky, and he's no more than a DFS lottery ticket.
28. Ty Dillon
Dillon opened the year with a Top 10 finish at Las Vegas, but he has finished 25th or worse in the four races at 1.5-mile tracks since then. Not to mention that his numbers have been sliding in general. After logging four Top 20s in the first six races of 2020, Dillon has managed just two Top 20s in the last 10 races. He's become a qualifying-dependent, shot-in-the-dark DFS play.
29. Ryan Preece
While bad luck has played a part in Preece's struggles this year, he has never shown much potential at the 1.5-mile tracks. He has a 26.6 average finish in the five races, finishing 22nd or worse in all of them. Even if he starts outside the Top 30, he is still a Hail Mary DFS play.
30. Corey LaJoie
LaJoie has shown he can take advantage of high attrition or late cautions to steal Top 20 finishes, but when races don't break in his favor, he has a tough time cracking the Top 25, especially at these 1.5-mile tracks. His value is limited to DFS contests, and even then, he is a GPP-only, roll-of-the-dice play.