Fantasy NASCAR: YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Driver Rankings
The Cup Series heads back to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the fourth and final superspeedway event of the 2020 season. Sunday's YellaWood 500 is also the second race in the Round of 12, and the chaos and carnage that often goes hand in hand with superspeedway racing could have a major impact on the playoff picture.
The remaining championship contenders aren't the only ones who will try to survive Talladega. This race is the biggest remaining hurdle for fantasy owners, as well. In an instant, an entire fantasy lineup can be engulfed in a multi-car wreck, saddling a fantasy owner with a terrible score.
If you are currently at or near the top of your fantasy leagues, Sunday's race is all about minimizing the damage. If you are playing catch-up, the race represents an opportunity to make up a lot of ground in one weekend. If you are going to throw a Hail Mary, a superspeedway like Talladega is the track at which to do it.
Any driver who is still running at the end of the race has a shot at a strong finish, which means you don't need a lineup full of big names to post a big point total. If you are willing to roll the dice on some longshots, you could make a major move in your standings, especially if the chalk picks have problems.
1. Denny Hamlin: Nobody is running better at the superspeedways right now than Hamlin. He is the only driver who has finished in the Top 5 in all three races this season, and he has four straight Top 5s overall. Hamlin's six Top 5s in the last eight superspeedway events are also the most of any driver, and he has a pair of wins during that stretch. He's the chalk Group A option in the Driver Group Game this weekend.
2. Ryan Blaney: Blaney will be gunning for his third straight win at Talladega this weekend, and he is quickly becoming one of the top superspeedway options in the series. He has finished sixth or better in the last four races, and he has scored the most points in the series in the three races this season. Blaney also ranks first in laps led in the last 10 superspeedway events, leading at least 35 laps in both of his Talladega wins.
3. Aric Almirola: His six Top 10s in the last 10 superspeedway races are tied for the most in the series, and Almirola has been unbelievably consistent at Talladega. He has a series-leading eight straight Top 10s at the track, cracking the Top 5 in three of the last four races here. Use him in Fantasy Live this weekend.
4. Joey Logano: He has been involved in late wrecks in several superspeedway races lately, but Logano always seems to be running near the front. In fact, he leads all drivers in points scored in the last 10 superspeedway events, and he ranks fifth in points scored in the three races this season, leading 30-plus laps in two of those. The three-time Talladega winner should be high on your list of Group A options for the DGG.
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse brings a checkers-or-wreckers attitude to the superspeedways, but it has led to a pair of wins in his career and plenty of stage points. He ranks second in points scored in the last 10 superspeedway races, and he ranks sixth in the three races in 2020. Stenhouse was the runner-up at Talladega in June, and he’ll have similar upside this weekend. Starting 26th, he should be particularly valuable for Slingshot Fantasy Auto and DFS contests.
6. Chase Elliott: Elliott is another boom-or-bust option at the superspeedways, but the No. 9 machine always seems to have speed to spare. He picked up the win at Talladega last spring, and he was the runner-up at Daytona to close the regular season. Elliott will have race-winning upside Sunday.
7. Alex Bowman: The Hendrick cars have been fast at the superspeedways recently, and Bowman has taken advantage. He ranks in the Top 5 in points scored over the last 10 races, and he has five Top 10s in that span, including two in the three races this year. Don’t forget about Bowman when building your Fantasy Live roster.
8. Ryan Newman: After reeling off a string of solid finishes at the superspeedways, Newman finished 24th at Talladega in June and 36th in the regular season finale at Daytona. Even with those bad outings, he still ranks in the Top 10 in points scored over the last 10 superspeedway events, tying for the series lead with six Top 10s and posting the fourth-best average finish. Newman remains a quality pick in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
9. William Byron: Have I mentioned that the Hendrick cars have been humming at the superspeedways? Byron picked up the win at Daytona in August, and since the start of last season he ranks seventh in points scored in the seven superspeedway events. Byron has led double-digit laps in four of those starts, leading 11 laps and finishing 11th at Talladega in June. He could be a great contrarian play at Fantasy Live.
10. Kevin Harvick: The veteran tends to be hot and cold at the superspeedways, but he has delivered so far in 2020. He has an 11.7 average finish in the three races, notching a Top 10 at Talladega in June. Between his Top 5 starting spot and his value at other tracks, I won’t have much exposure to him this weekend in fantasy contests. However, I do expect Harvick to have a strong car this weekend.
11. Brad Keselowski: He finally snapped a run of lackluster finishes at the superspeedways with a Top 10 run at Daytona in August, but despite the bad luck, Keselowski has remained a threat. He led 30 laps in this year’s Daytona 500 before crashing, and he has led double-digit laps in four of the last five races at Talladega. He also leads all active drivers with six superspeedway victories, and five of those have come at this track. If you want to be aggressive this weekend, Keselowski could be a real X-factor for any fantasy lineup.
12. Brendan Gaughan: This is expected to be his final Cup Series start, so fantasy owners have one last chance to take advantage of the ultimate superspeedway ringer. Gaughan ranks 10-th in point scored over the last 10 events, gaining an average of 15.9 spots per race. This year alone, he has two Top 10s and a 12.0 average finish in the three races to go along with an average place differential of +27.3. Gaughan will start dead last Sunday, making him a must-own in DFS cash lineups and a no-brainer play in Slingshot.
13. Ty Dillon: Dillon avoids trouble as well as anyone in these superspeedway races. He ranks seventh in points scored over the past 10 events, and his 13.7 average finish in that stretch is the third best. Dillon has gained an average of 10.5 spots per race in those same 10 starts, gaining 21 spots and finishing 12th at Talladega in June. Starting deep in the field, he will have plenty of value in DFS contests, and I love him as a Group C option for the DGG.
14. Chris Buescher: Only three drivers have cracked the Top 10 in all three superspeedway events in 2020, and Buescher is one of them. He has a 6.0 average finish in those starts gaining an average of 13.0 spots per race and scoring the third-most points in the series. You may want to try to take advantage of his momentum at the superspeedways and steal a start from him in the Driver Group Game.
15. Erik Jones: Jones's results have been all over the map at the superspeedways, but he has shown a high ceiling. He has four Top 10s, including three Top 5s, in his last nine starts, winning the July race at Daytona in 2018 and finishing fifth at Talladega in June. Jones isn't starting deep enough in the field to generate much buzz for DFS contests, but he could be a solid contrarian play at Fantasy Live.
16. Kurt Busch: There hasn't been much middle ground for Busch at the superspeedways recently, and in the last six races, he has three Top 10s and three finishes of 28th or worse. A front row starting spot kills his value for DFS contests, but he offers Top 10 upside and is worth considering in most season-long contests.
17. Austin Dillon: Daytona has been his better of the two superspeedways, but Dillon finished sixth at Talladega last fall and has finished 17th or better in three of his four starts here. Dillon is worth a look as a Group B option for the DGG or as a sleeper in Fantasy Live, but starting 12th, he won't have much DFS appeal.
18. Bubba Wallace: Wallace has an underrated superspeedway option throughout his young career, but he has been on another level in 2020. He has cracked the Top 15 in all three races, scoring the seventh-most points and posting an 11.7 average finish. He's worth a look as your Group C option for the Driver Group Game, and starting outside the Top 25, he has plenty of DFS upside, as well.
19. Kyle Busch: Busch hasn't cracked the Top 30 in any of the superspeedway races this year, but if you want to go with a Hail Mary Group A option in the DGG, he could be your man. He was leading the Daytona 500 when he suffered an engine failure, and he has led 30-plus laps in two of the three races, leading the fourth-most laps overall.
20. Corey LaJoie: LaJoie has quietly been a fantasy stud at the superspeedways since joining the No. 32 team. He has a 12.4 average finish in seven starts, logging three Top 10s and gaining an average of 18.6 spots per race. Set to roll off 29th Sunday, LaJoie should be an excellent play in Slingshot and a staple of DFS lineups.
21. John Hunter Nemechek: You can’t argue with Nemechek has been able to accomplish at the superspeedways in his rookie season. He has finished 11th or better in all three races, gaining an average of 13.0 spots and gaining at least 12 spots in each start. Nemechek could be a great Group C option for the Driver Group Game and a useful addition to DFS lineups.
22. Michael McDowell: He has been better at Daytona than Talladega, but McDowell has been enjoying a solid stretch at the superspeedways overall. He has five straight finishes of 18th or better, gaining at least eight spots in every start and logging an average place differential of +12.8. Rolling off 24th, McDowell could be a key lineup addition at the DFS sites or for Slingshot.
23. Clint Bowyer: The two-time Talladega winner has become a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option at the superspeedways. Yes, he was the runner-up at Talladega in the fall of 2018, but that is one of just two finishes of better than 20th in his last 10 superspeedway starts. He also starts in the Top 10 Sunday, giving him no upside for DFS contests.
24. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson's recent results at superspeedways leave a lot to be desired. He has just one Top 10 in his last six starts, and he has three finishes outside the Top 30 in that span. On the flip side, he has been able to earn enough stage points to rank 10th in points scored over the past 10 superspeedway events. The No. 48 machine should have some speed Sunday, and Johnson could be a GPP lottery ticket at the DFS sites.
25. Tyler Reddick: His four superspeedway starts have all ended with finishes of 20th or worse, and he has a 26.0 average finish in those events. However, Reddick has shown more speed than his finishes suggest, and he led 19 laps and won Stage 1 at Talladega in June and finished third in Stage 1 at Daytona in August. Throw in a bad starting spot, and Reddick is worth a roll of the dice in DFS contests.
26. Matt DiBenedetto: DiBenedetto finished 12th at Daytona in August, but despite having Team Penske equipment, he has just been okay at the superspeedways. Meanwhile, last weekend's strong run has him starting 13th, reducing any place differential upside. I think he could crack the Top 20 Sunday, maybe the Top 15, but DiBenedetto isn't positioned to make much of a difference in any fantasy format.
27. Ryan Preece: Daytona has been rough on Preece, but he has held his own at Talladega. He has finished 18th or better in all three starts, logging a third-place run last spring and gaining at least 12 spots in every race. Preece is set to start 25th, so don't hesitate to plug him into DFS lineups.
28. Martin Truex Jr.: He had a rare strong outing in the last superspeedway event, leading 14 laps and finishing fourth at Daytona. However, that was only the fifth Top 5 in 62 career superspeedway starts for Truex. Factor in a third-place starting spot, and he isn't a great fit in any fantasy format.
29. Matt Kenseth: His return to the Cup Series hasn't exactly been memorable, and Kenseth has finishes of 40th and 28th in two superspeedway starts this year. I'm not interested in him for season-long leagues, and his mid-pack starting spot doesn't provide enough place differential upside to justify the gamble for DFS contests either.
30. Justin Haley: Haley will drive for the No. 77 team this weekend, the same team he took to victory lane at Daytona last July. Sure, that win came courtesy of Mother Nature, but Haley has proven to be a force as the superspeedways at the XFINITY level, and he gained 20 spots and finished 13th in the Daytona 500 back in February. Starting 35th, he is certainly worth a flier in DFS contests.
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