With NASCAR doing its best to keep drivers and crew members safe while still keeping cars on the track, the Cup Series return continues Wednesday night with the second consecutive race at Darlington Raceway.
The Toyota 500 will be shorter than Sunday's The Real Heroes 400, but just like this weekend's race, there will be no practice or qualifying. This time around, the field will be set by inverting the Top 20 finishers from Sunday's race, which puts Ryan Preece on the pole and winner Kevin Harvick starting 20th. The rest of the drivers will start where they finished this weekend.
We can obviously use the results from this weekend's race to build our lineups for Wednesday night, and while a lot of the stronger cars will be starting in the middle of the pack, I still expect many of the same drivers to be fast and deliver strong results. Not surprisingly, my Fantasy Live and Driver Group Game lineups have a lot of repeat appearances.
On the flip side, I found it grueling to settle on a lineup for Slingshot Fantasy Auto. Not only do you have the top finishers from Sunday starting in the middle of the field, but you also have guys like Jimmie Johnson and William Byron, who ran up front before crashing, starting outside the Top 30. Cheap options with upside are also tough to come by because the inversion procedure has these drivers starting up in the Top 15, killing their place differential appeal.
I finally decided on a lineup where I essentially punted my No. 5 driver for the cap room. With so many big names in the middle of the pack or deeper, I think a top-heavy approach is the way to go. There are a lot of quality options, and there are going to be some big scores posted in this contest.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
I tabbed Harvick as the centerpiece of my lineup at Darlington over the weekend, and after a dominating victory that saw him collect 14 stage points, he's going to stay in my lineup for Wednesday night's return trip to the track. Yes, he has to start 20th, but I don't think he will have much trouble getting to the front. After all, he has six Top 5s and a 3.7 average finish in seven Darlington starts with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Busch stayed hot at Darlington climbing from 22nd to finish third-place finish Sunday. He also grabbed five points in Stage 2, and he has now finished seventh or better in five of his last six starts here. Busch will actually start a little closer to the front this time around, and I expect him to challenge for another Top 5 Wednesday while adding even more stage points.
Yes, he faded to 13th late, but Keselowski still picked up 16 stage points at Darlington Sunday, and he won Stage 1. Plus, the late slide has him starting up inside the Top 10, putting him in prime position for stage points again Wednesday night. I think Keselowski's floor is a Top 10 and double-digit stage points.
He finished a respectable eighth at Darlington over the weekend, but it looked like he was heading for a Top 3 finish until a loose wheel on the final run. He will start seven spots better Wednesday night, and don't forget that he won here last year in a race that was held under the lights. Jones owns a 5.5 average finish in his four Darlington starts, grabbing points in six of the eight stages. I love his upside.
If there was a question of whether Hendrick Motorsports' speed was legit, look no further than Bowman's performance Sunday. He had never finished better than 18th at Darlington, but he went out and piled up 17 stage points on his way to a runner-up finish. Bowman will have to start 19th Wednesday, but after what I saw from the No. 88 this weekend, I'm all in.
Garage Driver – Clint Bowyer
Bowyer is a riskier option on baseline, but while he finished 17th at Darlington Sunday, he had finished seventh and fifth in the first two stages and appeared to have a strong car. The Late fade has him starting up in fourth, so he is positioned for a strong run if he can recapture the speed. If Bowyer is sitting on 10-plus points after Stage 2, I may sub him in and hop he can seal the deal this time.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
Harvick worked out pretty well for me over the weekend, so I am going back to the well Wednesday night. Yes, he has to in the middle of the pack, but his 3.7 average finish in seven Darlington starts with Stewart-Haas speaks for itself. At worst, I think Harvick delivers a Top 5 and 10-plus stage points.
Alex Bowman (B)
Erik Jones delivered a rock solid performance for me over the weekend, and it would have likely been a Top 5 finish had he not had a loose wheel on the final run. That being said, Bowman appeared to have one of the best cars in the field, finishing second while providing 17 stage points. Jones has the better overall record here, but I am taking a swing on Bowman's upside.
Kurt Busch (B)
I went with Jimmie Johnson over Kurt Busch on Sunday, and while Johnson looked like he had a car capable of winning, he inexplicably crashed himself while leading at the end of Stage 1. Meanwhile, Busch finished third, giving him five finishes of seventh or better in his last six Darlington starts. With Johnson starting back in 37th, I'll take Kurt this time around.
Tyler Reddick (C)
I was expecting a solid run from Reddick Sunday, but he even exceeded my expectations when he delivered a seventh-place run in his Darlington debut. He drove from 29th into the Top 10 in that race, so another Top 10 is definitely on the table Wednesday night when he starts 14th. Matt Kenseth's impressive return to the Cup Series was proof that he also offers Top 10 upside in this tier.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kevin Harvick ($13,000)
I also considered Kyle Busch for this spot, but while he starts deeper in the field, Harvick won in dominating fashion here Sunday and starts 20th in his own right. He still has plenty of place differential points to gain, and I think he has a strong chance to go back to victory lane and chip in a bug chunk of stage points.
Alex Bowman ($11,800)
Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and William Byron were some of the drivers I considered for this spot, but Bowman was impressive from start to finish at Darlington over the weekend. Not only did he finish second, but he finished inside the Top 3 in both stages. Rolling off 19th on Wednesday, he should also be able to pad his score with differential points.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,800)
The bad news is that he will start back in 37th Wednesday night. The good news is that Johnson was leading at Darlington this weekend when he crashed, so he should have a fast car to work with. With all those differential points up for grabs, he is going to be able to post a massive score if he can just approach the Top 10.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,100)
It pains me a little to pick Stenhouse, especially after he couldn't complete a lap without crashing here Sunday. However, he's not only affordable, but he will start dead last and has nothing but points to gain in the place differential category. If he can just finish in the middle of the pack, Stenhouse will deliver a solid score.
Corey LaJoie ($6,100)
Since I was unable to find a balanced lineup that I was satisfied with, I will go with a punt play to round out my lineup. LaJoie isn't going to pull off a shocking Top 10 like John Hunter Nemechek did for me Sunday, but he starts 31st and could sneak into the Top 25.