The recent stretch of short track races in the NASCAR Cup Series comes to an end this weekend, and ironically, it comes to an end at the biggest track in the series. Talladega Superspeedway will host Sunday’s GEICO 500, the second superspeedway event of the 2021 season.
From a Fantasy NASCAR standpoint, superspeedway events can be an absolute nightmare. Between the pack racing that constantly shuffles the running order to the multi-car wrecks that routinely take out big chunks of the field, you are lucky if all of your starters are still on the track when the checkered flag waves, let alone running near the front.
There is no way around the unpredictability of superspeedway races, but you can use the chaos to your advantage in certain formats. You can also minimize any potential damage. In fact, I think these philosophies go hand-in-hand in most fantasy formats, and I have consistently approached superspeedway races with risk reduction in mind.
For contests like Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game, I like to avoid using any driver who I plan to use routinely throughout the course of the season. There is too much that can wrong at a track like Talladega to risk using big names. For Slingshot Fantasy Auto and DFS contests, I load my lineups with drivers starting deeper in the field in order to increase my upside in the place differential category while simultaneously limiting as many negative differential points as possible.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is on an absolute tear at the superspeedways, and over the last 10 races, he leads the series with three wins, eight top-5s, an 8.4 average finish and 347 points scored. He has reeled off six straight top-5s, winning at Talladega last fall and leading a race-high 96 laps in this year’s Daytona 500.
- Joey Logano: Even though he has had some recent wrecks at the superspeedways, Logano remains one of the most productive drivers. He ranks second in points scored in the last 10 events, and he leads the series in points scored in the last 10 races at Talladega. Logano has led double-digit laps in eight of the last 10 races here, leading 30+ laps in both races a year ago.
- Chase Elliott: Elliott has shown plenty of speed at superspeedways throughout his career, Elliott is starting to string together strong finishes. He has three straight top-5s, including runner-up efforts in the last two Daytona races. Elliott also led 41 laps at Talladega last fall, and he won the spring race here in 2019.
- Ryan Blaney: He is a top-5 scorer at the superspeedways over the last 10 races, and Blaney has finished sixth or better in four of the last six events. He has also won two of the three last three Talladega races, leading 30+ laps in both victories. This could be a great spot to use him as a Group A option in the Driver Group Game.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola has been caught up in early wrecks in the last two superspeedway races, but his overall numbers at Talladega remain outstanding. In fact, he leads all drivers with eight top-10s and a 10.5 average finish in the last 10 races here, and his five top-5s in that span are tied for the series lead. I recommend using him in Fantasy Live at the very least.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has been a little more bust than boom at the superspeedways recently, but Talladega has been his better of the two tracks. He was the runner-up here last spring, and his five top-5s in the last 10 races are tied for the most in the series. In that same stretch, Stenhouse ranks third in total points scored. He is in play in all fantasy formats.
- Alex Bowman: He is coming off a surprise win at Richmond, and while the finishes have been inconsistent, Bowman tends to run near the front at the superspeedways. He ranks sixth in points scored in the last 10 events, and he has finished in the top 15 in four of his seven Talladega starts, logging three finishes of eighth or better. His ability to pile up stage points gives him a solid floor for Fantasy Live in particular.
- Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been hot and cold at the superspeedways during his career, but he has three top-10s in the last five races, including a fourth-place effort in this year’s Daytona 500 when he led 17 laps and finished second in Stage 2. After the muscle he showed in the season opener, I’m expecting Harvick to show up with one of the stronger cars this weekend.
- William Byron: He has been leading laps and mixing it up at the front of the field at the superspeedways since joining the Cup Series, and Byron has started to figure out how to finish off these races. He won at Daytona last August, and he finished 11th and fourth in the two races at Talladega in 2020. Byron is a sleeper top-5 threat this weekend, and I really like him for Fantasy Live lineups.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon continues to be one of the steadier superspeedway options in the series, and he ranks seventh in points scored over the last 10 races. He has finished in the top 15 in five of the last eight superspeedway events, logging a 12th-place finish at Talladega last fall and a third-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500. Dial him up in Fantasy Live and the DGG.
- Ryan Newman: Newman’s run of success at the superspeedways has started to trend in the wrong direction, but most of his bad results have come at Daytona. He finished sixth at Talladega last fall, and he has five top-10s in his last seven starts here, including a pair of runner-up finishes. Starting deep in the field, he should be a strong fantasy play in season-long and DFS contests.
- Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has managed just one top-10 in the last 10 superspeedway races, and he has finished outside the top 10 in his last six starts at Talladega. On the flip side, his last top-10 here was a win in 2017, and he leads all active drivers with five Talladega wins. Keselowski offers plenty of upside as a contrarian Group A option in the Driver Group Game.
- Kurt Busch: He has always been a little underrated as a superspeedway option, and Busch has been enjoying a nice stretch at Talladega. He has a 13.4 average finish in the last 10 races here, and he ranks second in the series with six top-10s in that span.
- Kyle Larson: Larson is by no means a superspeedway ace, but he does have back-to-back top-10s. More importantly, his first superspeedway start with Hendrick Motorsports ended with Larson finishing in the top 10 in both stages and in the race in this year’s Daytona 500. HMS has been rolling at the superspeedways, and Larson should get in on the action again this weekend.
- Michael McDowell: He might not be able to pull off another upset win like he did in the Daytona 500, but McDowell was already running well at superspeedways prior to the victory. He has cracked the top 20 in seven of his last nine starts, finishing in the top 15 six times and notching three top-5s. Keep him in mind as a Group C option in the DGG.
- Kyle Busch: He is a former winner at both Daytona and Talladega, but his recent luck at both tracks has been terrible. Between mechanical issues and wrecks, Busch has failed to finish four of the last five superspeedway events. In the last 10 races, he has just two top-10s and a 21.1 average finish. This is not the week to use him.
- Ryan Preece: Preece has quietly become an excellent sleeper in many fantasy formats at the superspeedways. He has a 17.6 average finish in nine career starts, and he has logged four top-10s, including a sixth-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500. Preece has also gained an average of 8.3 spots per race at the superspeedways, and he could pile up some serous place differential points from the 29th starting spot this weekend.
- Bubba Wallace: Wallace has been respectable at the superspeedways, and he has finished 17th or better in four of his last five starts. He is definitely in the mix as a Group C option for the Driver Group Game, and starting 24th, Wallace could make a great DFS play in GPP contests.
- Christopher Bell: His 23.6 average finish in five superspeedway starts doesn’t jump off the page, but Bell has finished 16th or better in two of his last three races. Bell has taken a sizeable leap overall in his sophomore season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a solid showing at Talladega. On the flip side, a top-10 starting spot severely caps his fantasy appeal this weekend.
- Erik Jones: Jones crashed early in the Daytona 500, but he has proven to be a solid superspeedway performer overall. He is a former winner at the July race at Daytona, and he has three top-10s in the last five Talladega races, including back-to-back top-5s. Starting just outside the top 20, he should be on your list of GPP contrarians for DFS contests.
- Ross Chastain: He was able to deliver solid results at the superspeedways even while driving for smaller teams, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him notch a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Chip Ganassi. He has an 18.8 average finish in eight superspeedway starts overall to go along with an average place differential of +14.7.
- Tyler Reddick: Reddick has had his issues avoiding trouble at the superspeedways at the Cup level, but he XFINITY Series wins at both Daytona and Talladega, and he did break through with a seventh-place finish at Talladega last fall. Throw in his RCR equipment, which always seems to perform at these tracks, and a mid-pack starting spot, and Reddick has upside as a contrarian play in DFS contests.
- Martin Truex Jr.: He will certainly have the equipment to win this weekend, but Truex just hasn’t been able to deliver decent results at the superspeedways. He has finished 20th or worse in nine of the last 10 races, and he has just five top-5s and 13 top-10s in 64 career starts. I’ll pass on Truex in all formats this weekend.
- Justin Haley: Last week’s early exit at Richmond with equipment issues was a reminder that drivers from smaller teams always carry some risk, but Haley deserves your full attention this weekend. Yes, it was dumb luck that he won the rain-shortened Daytona race in 2019, but he has cracked the top 15 in both of his superspeedway starts since then and gained at least 20 spots in his last three. He also won three superspeedway races at the XFINITY level last year. Set to well outside the top 30, I plan on using him in Slingshot and in DFS lineups.
- Chris Buescher: Buescher has had forgettable outings in the last two superspeedway races, but he still has five top-20s in his last seven starts, including three top-10s in his last five. You’d like to see him starting a little deeper than 21st, but he still has enough spots to gain to be on your radar as a contrarian-type play for DFS contests.
- Corey LaJoie: For a driver that typically runs around at the back, LaJoie has been shockingly effective as a fantasy option at the superspeedways. He has a 15.6 average finish in the last 10 races, logging four top-10s and gaining an average of 14.6 spots per race. Starting outside the top 25, don’t overlook LaJoie in Slingshot or DFS contests.
- Harrison Burton: The son of Jeff Burton will make his Cup Series debut this weekend when he drives the No. 96 Toyota, and while experience is obviously not on his side, he does have starting position working in his favor, at least from a fantasy NASCAR perspective. Burton will start in the last row, giving him nothing but upside in the all-important place differential category. I have no problem using him DFS contests.
- Kaz Grala: He made his first Cup start at a superspeedway in this year’s Daytona, and Grala gained 12 spots and finished 28th after eventually crashing out. He will have to start 38th this weekend, which means even if he crashes, he has a good chance of finishing with a positive place differential. Grala is positioned to be a viable option in DFS contests and for Slingshot Fantasy Auto.
- Matt DiBenedetto: I love the fact that he has Team Penske equipment to work with, but for whatever reason, DiBenedetto hasn’t been able to take advantage at the superspeedways. He has one top-15 and no top-10s in five starts in the No. 21 Ford, and a top-15 starting spot essentially eliminates the opportunity for place differential points. It all adds up to DiBenedetto having limited fantasy appeal this weekend.
- Cole Custer: His overall superspeedway resume remains ugly, but Custer showed signs of life with an 11th-place effort in this year’s Daytona 500. Factor in a starting spot outside the top 25, and he at least has potential as a DFS lottery ticket.
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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