For the first time since 1956 and just the second time ever, the NASCAR Cup Series will visit Road America, a 4-mile, 14-turn road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The track did become part of the XFINITY Series schedule in 2010, but Sunday’s Jockey Made in America 250 will be the first time many drivers have ever raced at Road America.
As I’m sure you all remember, Tim Flock took the checkered flag in the inaugural Cup race here, but since that was over six decades ago, NASCAR has decided to give teams a little extra track time this weekend. In addition to a practice session on Saturday, there will be traditional qualifying to set the field on Sunday, a few hours before the race. The schedule of activities will slow down to the timeline for my Fantasy NASCAR content a bit, but an actual qualifying session could create some intriguing lineup possibilities. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, I built my initial rankings mainly off past results at road courses. We have already had three road races in 2021, the Daytona Roval, COTA, and Sonoma. Throw in Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval, and we have a variety of tracks to look at when determining which drivers and teams should have speed this weekend at Road America.
I view road races as a great chance to save starts in the Driver Group Game and Fantasy Live. Not only do we get a couple of road course ringers added to the driver pool in A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric, but several series regulars have a background in road racing and enjoy a significant boost in value.
Yes, week-to-week studs like Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have also been killing it at the road courses, but this is a track where you can get top-10s, maybe even top-5 finishes, out of drivers who are usually mid-tier options. There aren’t many opportunities to build quality lineups that don’t rely heavily on big names, so you need to take advantage and save some starts without sacrificing much in the way of production.
- Kyle Larson: He didn’t have a reputation as a road racer before this season, but Larson could have easily won all three road course events so far in 2021. He crashed while trying to make a three-wide pass for the lead at the Daytona Roval, he finished second in the weather-shortened race at COTA, and he led a race-high 57 laps in a win at Sonoma. Larson remains atop my rankings ahead of Road America.
- Chase Elliott: Elliott is the other driver who has flirted with wins in all three road races this year. He led the most laps at the Daytona road course before picking up a win at COTA and a runner-up finish at Sonoma. Elliott has won five of the last seven road races overall and six of the last 10, leading double-digit laps seven times in that span and 30+ laps five times.
- Joey Logano: He is absolutely locked-in with this rules package at the road courses. Logano has top-10 finishes in the last six road races, posting a 5.0 average finish in that span. He has finished second, third, and fourth in the three road course events in 2021, leading at least five laps in every race. He is my top alternative to Chase Elliott in Group A for the Driver Group Game a and no-brainer play in Fantasy Live.
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has been slumping a bit in recent weeks, but a trip to a road course should be just what the doctor ordered. He finished third at Sonoma a few weeks back, and over the last 10 road races, he ranks second in the series with five top-5s, 363 points scored, and an 8.6 average finish.
- Kyle Busch: He is coming off a win in the second Pocono race, and Busch has shown a little muscle at the road courses this year. He won the Busch Clash at the Daytona Roval to kick off Speedweeks, won Stage 2 on his way to a top-10 at COTA, and logged a top-5 at Sonoma. Busch should have a strong showing on Sunday.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been one of the more consistent road course performers for a while now. He has finished third, 14th, and eighth in the three events this year, and he has a 9.4 average finish and just one finish outside the top 15 in the last 10 road races overall. Hamlin might not win Sunday, but he is one of your best bets for a solid finish.
- Alex Bowman: He had made 11 career road course starts for Hendrick Motorsports, and Bowman has never finished outside the top 15. He has a 9.5 average finish in those races, and he has cracked the top 10 in all three road races in 2021. Bowman should be a safe play in any season-long contest.
- A.J. Allmendinger: The road racing ace will pilot a Kaulig Racing entry this weekend, and Allmendinger continues to show why he is one of the best to wheel a car around a road course. He followed up a seventh-place finish at the Daytona Roval with a fifth-place run at COTA for Kaulig earlier this year. He should be a top-10 play with top-5 upside Sunday at Road America already owns an XFINITY Series win.
- Kurt Busch: Busch had always been one of the better road racers in NASCAR, and he is showing no signs of slowing down. He has finished in the top 15 in eight of his last 10 road course starts, finishing sixth at the Daytona Roval and fourth at Sonoma this season. He has legitimate top-5 upside, and Busch is one of my favorite Group B options in the DGG this weekend.
- Ryan Blaney: Blaney might not have as much upside as some other big names, but he has been dependable when it comes to road racing. He has a 10.7 average finish and six top-10s in his last 10 starts, and he has finished outside the top 15 just twice in that stretch.
- William Byron: He has been a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option at the road courses, and in his last 10 starts, Byron has five finishes of 11th or better to go with five finishes of 19th or worse, including three finishes outside the top 30. He has also led 20+ laps three times in that span. Byron has the upside to be a real X-factor for a fantasy lineup, but I’d limit his usage to DFS contests this weekend.
- Michael McDowell: If not for a bump from Daniel Suarez on the last lap at Sonoma, McDowell would likely have top-10 finishes in all three road course events this season. He still has three top-10s and four finishes of 12th or better in his last six road races, and McDowell should be in the mix for another solid finish this weekend. A former XFINITY winner at Road America, I love McDowell as a Group C option in the DGG and as a Fantasy Live starter.
- Ross Chastain: The sample size is small, but Chastain has certainly shown some road racing chops in his first season with Chip Ganassi Racing. After crashing early at the Daytona Roval, he has logged a fourth-place finish at COTA and a seventh-place finish at Sonoma. Chastain is the top Group C option in the Driver Group Game, and he even has some sleeper potential in Fantasy Live.
- Brad Keselowski: Keselowski logged a top-5 at the Daytona Roval early in the year, but he followed up that performance with finishes of 15th and 19th at COTA and Sonoma. He also has just one top-10 in his last five road course starts, and while his 15.0 average finish in his last 10 races is respectable, this probably isn’t the week to target Keselowski if you want the most bang for your buck.
- Austin Cindric: He made his first road course start at the Cup level earlier this year at COTA, and while he ended up 25th, Cindric finished in the top 5 in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 and probably would have logged a top-15 had the race not been called early for bad weather. He is a road racing stud, and he won an XFINITY race at Road America last year. Cindric will have legitimate top-10 potential on Sunday. Cindric is a high-upside sleeper in all formats.
- Kevin Harvick: Road racing isn’t his specialty, but Harvick has managed to post a 12.8 average finish in his last 10 starts. He has six finishes of 11th or better in that span, including a sixth-place finish at the Daytona Roval this year. I recommend saving Harvick for another week in most fantasy contests, but he should end up flirting with the top 10.
- Chris Buescher: Buescher has logged finishes of 11th, 13th, and 16th in the three road course events this season, and if you go back to 2017, he has cracked the top 20 in each of his last 12 road course starts. He isn’t as likely as some other midrange options to deliver a surprise top-10 on Sunday, but a solid floor makes him worth a look, especially if he happens to start in the back half of the field.
- Christopher Bell: Since taking the checkered flag at the Daytona Roval, Bell has had issues staying out of trouble at both COTA and Sonoma. Granted, the loop data suggests he had a top-15 car at Sonoma, but Bell looks like more of a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option this weekend. I’d limit his usage to DFS contests.
- Erik Jones: The move to Richard Petty Motorsports has taken a toll on Jones’ production this year, but he has proven to be a legitimately talented road racer, if nothing else. He has finished 16th or better in all three road course events in 2021, gaining a combined 43 spots in those starts. Jones is a Group B sleeper in the DGG, and if he qualifies deeper in the field, plug him into DFS lineups.
- Daniel Suarez: Suarez had a mechanical issue ruin his day at COTA, but his other road course starts this year produced a 16th-place finish at the Daytona Roval and a 12th-place finish at Sonoma. He should have top-15 potential at Road America on Sunday, putting him on the shortlist of Group C options in the Driver Group Game. Suarez could also be a value play at the DFS sites depending on where he ends up starting.
- Chase Briscoe: He has a background in road racing and has a couple of XFINITY wins, but Briscoe is still searching for consistency at the Cup level. He crashed at the Daytona Roval, finished sixth at COTA, and ended up 17th at Sonoma. Briscoe has plenty of upside, but he is better suited for DFS contests than the DGG or Fantasy Live this weekend.
- Austin Dillon: Before this season, Dillon had made a career out of delivering lackluster results at road courses. However, he has since logged back-to-back top-15s at COTA and Sonoma in what has been a breakout 2021 season for him overall. I still don’t think a road course is the best place to target him for fantasy, but Dillon could end up in the top 20 on Sunday.
- Tyler Reddick: He crashed at the Daytona Roval early in the year, but Reddick is proving to be a respectable road course racer overall. He finished inside the top 20 in his other four starts, finishing 12th at the Charlotte Roval last year and winning the pole, and finishing ninth at COTA back in May.
- Cole Custer: Outside of a wreck in the rain at COTA, Custer has held his own at the road courses. He has finished 22nd or better in his other four starts, logging a pair of top-15s. Custer could be a qualifying-dependent fantasy play for Slingshot or DFS contests.
- Matt DiBenedetto: For whatever reason, DiBenedetto’s numbers have sharply declined at the road courses since joining Wood Brothers Racing. He has a 24.0 average finish in five road races in the No. 21 Ford, and he has finished outside the top 20 four times. DiBenedetto will have to qualify in the back of the pack before I consider taking a chance on him this weekend.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola’s road course numbers have been trending in the wrong direction, and he has failed to crack the top 15 in each of his last five starts, posting a 22.0 average finish. He is another driver who will have to start deep in the field to get my attention.
- Ryan Preece: He has shown some signs of life at the road courses, logging top-15s in two of the three events this year and finishing 23rd or better in his last six starts. Preece isn’t one of the top sleepers, but he has top-20 potential. He could end up being a useful low-priced play for DFS contests if he starts towards the back.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Even at his best, Stenhouse was only a top-20 performer at the road courses, and after three races this year, he owns a 25.7 average finish. The best-case scenario is probably a mid-pack finish, and I don’t expect to use Stenhouse much, if at all, this weekend.
- Ryan Newman: Newman was never an elite road racer, but he hasn’t even been able to salvage decent finishes in recent years. He has finished 19th or worse in his last seven road courses, posting a 26.3 average finish. In the three road races this year, Newman owns a 25.7 average finish. You can find a better fantasy option.
- Bubba Wallace: Road racing has largely been a nightmare for Wallace, but he finally broke through a bit with a 14th-place run at Sonoma. That being said, he still owns a brutal 26.6 average finish in 11 road course starts overall, and I wouldn’t count on another solid run out of him Sunday at Road America.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.
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