After a three-race stretch of short tracks, Fantasy NASCAR owners have to shift gears in a big way this weekend (pun intended) when the Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR’s biggest track will host Sunday’s GEICO 500. As is the case with any superspeedway event, fantasy success will be mainly about survival.
The two superspeedways, Talladega and Daytona, are easily the most unpredictable tracks on the schedule. The field is bunched in a big pack, drivers change position constantly. It is almost inevitable that a big wreck wipes out a huge chunk of the field before the finish. Unfortunately, there is no safe method for avoiding this chaos, but you can limit the potential damage and even try to use the unpredictability to your advantage.
For Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game, budgeting your driver allocations is probably the most important factor in determining long-term success. Wasting starts from big names can be devastating in both contests, and conversely, being able to maximize production out mid-level drivers in Fantasy Live or the weaker drivers in each DGG tier will set you apart from the competition.
Despite being an unpredictable headache, superspeedways provide fantasy owners the opportunity to post some hefty point totals without relying on a lineup full of big names. Yes, a lineup loaded with midrange and sleeper picks can still be wiped out before the finish, but a lineup full of household names can easily suffer the same fate.
Fantasy owners don’t want to be saddled with a lineup full of wrecked cars and minimal points, but if it happens, you don’t want to compound the damage by losing starts from some of the best drivers. Instead, take a chance on some alternative options. Not only do you have a chance at getting the most of these drivers, but you won’t sacrifice any long-term lineup flexibility for the long list of more predictable tracks still to come.
My strategy is different for Slingshot Fantasy Auto, but damage control is still the name of the game. Since points are awarded for spots gained and deducted for positions lost, drivers starting deep in the field have the most to gain and the least to lose when it comes to these place differential points. Given the crash frequency and high attrition at superspeedways, my goal is to build as much differential upside into my lineup as possible. All of the drivers I will roster this weekend will be starting outside the top 25. At least for Talladega, a driver’s position on the starting grid outweighs the name of the driver.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Almirola has been in a league of his own in terms of consistency at Talladega. His eight top-10s and 10.5 average finish in the last 10 races here are both tops in the series, and his five top-5s are tied for the most of any driver. Almirola doesn’t have the week-to-week upside to be a regular starter, so why not take advantage of his reliability and one of the most unpredictable tracks on the schedule.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Whether he makes it to the finish or not, you know you are going to get your money’s worth with Stenhouse at a superspeedway. Despite his aggressive style at these tracks, he ranks in the top 10 in points scored in the last 10 races. He also has six top-10s, including five top-5s, in the last nine Talladega races. Stenhouse’s fantasy value enjoys a massive bump at superspeedways, and you should try to capitalize.
A late crash saddled him with a 17th-place finish in the Daytona 500, but Wallace looked strong his first superspeedway start in the No. 23 Toyota. He finished in the top 10 in both stages, finishing third in Stage 2 and earning 12 stage points overall. I expect Wallace to work with the Joe Gibbs Racing guys and run near the front again this weekend.
I typically avoid big names entirely at these superspeedway events, but Harvick hasn’t been performing at an elite level in 2021, and I honestly don’t see using all 10 of his starts. That being said, his best run of the year came in the first superspeedway event when he finished fourth in the Daytona 500 while leading 17 laps and finishing second in Stage 2. I’m expecting the No. 4 Ford to be fast on Sunday/
He ranks seventh in points scored over the last 10 superspeedway events, and Dillon has cracked the top 15 in three of his last four starts at Talladega. He also had one of the strongest cars in the Daytona 500 back in February, finishing third and cracking the top 5 in both stages. This is a golden opportunity to get a top-5 performance out of a middle-of-the-road driver.
Garage Driver – Michael McDowell
His upset win in the Daytona 500 had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time, but McDowell is no stranger to putting himself in a good position at the superspeedways. He has six finishes of 18th or better in his last seven starts, and he has five top-15s in that span, including a top-5 run at Talladega in 2019. Throw in the fact that Ford has dominated at Talladega overall, and I like McDowell as an alternative off the bench.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Denny Hamlin (A)
With plenty of elite options in this tier, I decided to go with the hottest superspeedway driver in the series. Hamlin has six straight top-5s, winning at Talladega last fall and leading a race-high 98 laps in this year’s Daytona 500. Over the last 10 superspeedway events, he leads the series with three wins, an 8.4 average finish, and 347 points scored, and his eight top-5s in that span are twice as many as any other driver. Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano should also be strong plays.
READ MORE: Denny Hamlin Embraces Being a Driver
Aric Almirola (B)
Almirola crashed at Talladega last fall, but he still leads all drivers with a 10.5 average finish over the last 10 races here. His eight top-10s in that span are also tops in the series, and his five top-5s are tied for the most. You won’t find another Group B driver with his combination of reliability and upside at Talladega.
Ryan Newman (B)
He has been one of the steadier superspeedway options in recent years, and his five top-10s in the last 10 races are tied for the most the second most in the series. Newman has been particularly solid at Talladega, logging five top-10 in his last seven starts. He has a pair of runner-up efforts in that stretch, and he finished sixth here last fall.
Ryan Preece (C)
I’d normally use Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at a superspeedway event, but Stenhouse has actually been one of the strongest Group C options so far in 2021. Instead, I’ll use Preece, who picked up a top-10 in the Daytona 500 to open the year and has quietly built an excellent resume at Talladega. He has finished 18th or better in all four starts here, notching a pair of top-10s and posting an 11.5 average finish, the fifth-best mark in that span.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Ryan Newman ($10,000)
Newman has been a little more hit and miss at the superspeedways recently, but his five top-10s in the last 10 races are still tied for the second-most in that stretch. He has also finished in the top 10 and gained at least nine spots in five of the last seven Talladega races. Staring back in 28th, he has a legitimate chance to finish among the top scorers in this format.
Harrison Burton ($7,500)
Yes, there are some obvious risks using a young driver who is making his Cup Series debut with a part-time team, but I suspect Joe Gibbs Racing while making sure Gaunt Brothers Racing can field a competitive car Burton. More importantly, Burton will be starting in the final row Sunday, which means the worst-case scenario is he loses a single spot. As far as gambles go, this one has little risk and plenty of upside.
Ryan Preece ($7,400)
Preece will have plenty of place differential points available from the 29th starting spot, and he has proven he can capitalize at Talladega. He has an 11.5 average finish in four starts here, gaining an average of 17.5 spots per race and gaining at least 12 spots in every start.
Justin Haley ($7,000)
His early mechanical problems bogged down my lineup last weekend, but I’m going back to Haley this weekend. Sure, his win at Daytona in July of 2019 was a rain-aided fluke, but he followed up the win with top-15s in his next two superspeedway starts, gaining 20 and 24 spots, respectively. He also won three superspeedway races at the XFINITY level last year. Haley seems to know what he is doing at these tracks, and starting back in 34th, he has nothing but upside in the differential category.
Kaz Grala ($6,900)
Grala made his first Cup Series superspeedway start in this year’s Daytona 500, and while he crashed and finished 28th, his performance was a perfect example of why I like stacking my lineup with drivers starting in the back. Despite wrecking out of the event, Grala still finished with a differential of +12. He is set to start 38th Sunday, bolstering his floor by all but guaranteeing that he pads his point total with place differential points.
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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