The Round of 8 continues this weekend with a trip to Texas Motor Speedway. Sunday's AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 is the second race of this round of the playoffs and the second race of the year at the 1.5-mile track. It will also be the 11th race overall at a mile-and-a-half oval, and if you have been reading my Fantasy NASCAR content this season, you already know what my strategy is going to be.
Big names and the big organizations thrive at the 1.5-mile ovals, and this late in the season, we have a good idea of which drivers and teams are going to have speed this weekend at Texas. It is no coincidence that all eight remaining playoff drivers also rank in the Top 10 in points scored at the mile-and-a-half ovals, and I plan to take advantage and build around many of them in Fantasy Live.
I am following suit for the Driver Group Game, being aggressive and using up my remaining starts from some of the top options in Group B and Group C. With a pair of flat tracks in Martinsville and Phoenix remaining, Sunday's race represents the best chance to maximize production from these studs.
Even in Slingshot, I leaned more on proven commodities who are likely to finish in the Top 10 and grab stage points at the expense of place differential points. The strategy comes with some risk if any of my picks have major issues, but as dominant as the top drivers tend to be at tracks like Texas, and I don't see many mid-pack performers overachieving and gaining and a ton of spots.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Harvick has been almost unstoppable at Texas in the seven races since the repave, posting a series-best 3.1 average finish and scoring 29 more points than any other driver. His six Top 5s are also the most in that stretch, and he has won the fall race at the track three years in a row. Starting from the pole, he is a no-brainer play at one of his best tracks.
Fresh of his win last weekend at Kansas, Logano will start on the front row at a Texas track where he has been excellent in recent years. Since the repave, his four Top 5s, 6.1 average finish and 269 points scored at the track are all second in the series, and Logano finished third in the July race at Texas earlier this year. Another Top 5 and double-digit stage points seem like his floor.
While he hasn't quite shown the same ceiling as some of the other title contenders at the 1.5-mile ovals, Keselowski has been as reliable as anyone at these tracks. His nine Top 10s and 7.1 average finish in the 10 races are both tied for tops in the series, and he ranks sixth in points scored in those starts. I'll gladly take advantage of Keselowski's consistency this weekend.
No driver has piled up more points at the mile-and-a-half ovals in 2020 than Blaney, and he has outscored his closest competition by 57 points across 10 races. His 7.1 average finish at the 1.5-mile tracks is tied for the best mark in the series, and back in July, Blaney led 150 laps and won the first two stages at Texas. He should be one of the top scorers this weekend.
It took him a while to find his form, but Bowman suddenly looks like the same driver who dominated the 1.5-mile ovals in the second half of 2019. He has finished eighth, fifth and third in the last three races, and he led 11 laps and finished fifth at Texas last fall. Bowman rolls off inside the Top 5 on Sunday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hang there all afternoon.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch
Bounced from the playoffs and winless in 2020, Busch is having a bad year by his standards, but it is a mistake to act as if he has no fantasy value. He has six finishes of sixth or better in the 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and he ranks in the Top 10 in points scored in those starts. Busch earned 10 stage points and finished fourth at Texas in July, and I want his Top 5 upside available this weekend. Kurt Busch should be a high-floor alternative, and Erik Jones is a high-upside sleeper.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
I've been going chalk with my Group A pick down the stretch, and it has been paying off. This weekend at Texas, Harvick is the no-brainer play. Since the repave in 2017, he leads all drivers with six Top 5s, a 3.1 average finish and 538 laps led in the seven races, and Harvick has won three straight fall races here. Starting from the pole, it should be his race to lose.
Ryan Blaney (B)
He has scored the most points in the 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks this season, and his 7.1 average finish in those starts is tied for the best in the series. One of his best runs of the season came at Texas in July when he led 150 laps and won both Stage 1 and Stage 2. If you have him available, Blaney is the top Group B play this weekend.
Alex Bowman (B)
Bowman has suddenly recaptured his 2019 form at the 1.5-mile tracks, finishing eighth, fifth and third in the last three races. He led 11 laps and finished fifth at Texas last fall, and he will start in the Top 5 Sunday. Based on what he has shown in recent races, another Top 5 could be on tap for Bowman. Erik Jones is another high-upside play, and Kurt Busch is a great option for fantasy owners who are looking to play at safe.
Cole Custer (C)
Tyler Reddick has been the best driver in the tier at 1.5-mile ovals, but Custer has solid in his own right, and I plan on saving my final start for Reddick for Phoenix where he had a Top 5 car earlier this year. Custer has finished 16th or better in the last three races at 1.5-mile ovals, and he has eight Top 20s and a 16.7 average finish in the 10 races overall. He starts 16th and should give me a shot at a Top 15 finish Sunday.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kevin Harvick ($12,600)
I typically don't target the pole-sitter in this format, but while Harvick might not have any place differential upside, I am banking on him winning the race and doing so in dominant fashion. He has won the last three fall races at Texas, posting a 3.1 average and the most laps in seven races on the current track configuration.
Kyle Busch ($11,300)
It has been an unacceptable season for someone as talented as Busch, but he is still producing solid results. He has six finishes of sixth or better in the 10 races at mile-and-a-half ovals, finishing fourth at Texas earlier this year. Starting ninth, Busch should be able to gain a few spots, earn a chunk of stage points and contend for a Top 5.
Ryan Blaney ($11,200)
He has been a force at the 1.5-mile ovals all year, posting a series-best 7.1 average finish and scoring more total points than any other driver. He had the car to beat at Texas in July, leading a race-high 150 laps and sweeping the first two stages. Starting 10th, Blaney should be able to combine a strong finish with some differential points and stage points to finish with a big score.
Tyler Reddick ($8,600)
Reddick has crashed out of the last two races at 1.5-mile tracks, but he has finished 18th or better in eight of the 10 overall, posting a 14.8 average finish. He also has four Top 10s in those starts, including a runner-up effort at Texas in July. Starting deep in the field, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman are safer plays, but Reddick rolls of 19th and has a much higher ceiling in terms of finishing potential. I'll take a chance on his upside.
John Hunter Nemechek ($6,300)
He has been holding his own at the 1.5-mile tracks all year, notching nine Top 25s in the 10 races to go along with a 20.9 average finish. Nemechek has six Top 20s in those starts, including three straight. Set to start 24th, the rookie doesn't have as much place differential upside as he does some weeks, but his Top 20 upside makes him a stronger low-priced play than guys like Ty Dillon, Ryan Preece or Corey LaJoie.
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