The Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway this weekend for a doubleheader at the triangle-shaped, low-banked track. Up first is Saturday's Pocono Organics 325, and thanks to the track's massive, 2.5-mile layout, we only have 130 laps on tap in the opening event.
Pocono's unique configuration makes it almost impossible for drivers to feel comfortable in all three sets of corners. Add in minimal tire wear, and track position means everything this weekend. As a result, drivers will be extra aggressive on restarts, and crew chiefs won't be shy about using various strategies to try to get their drivers in clean air.
The 550-horsepower package will be in play this weekend, but when looking for potential comps, Pocono's lack of banking is similar to tracks like Phoenix, Richmond, and potentially Nashville, all of which used the 750-horsepower package. I expect weekly studs like Kyle Larson and Pocono aces like Denny Hamlin to be fast again this weekend, but it will be interesting to see if any surprise drivers emerge.
When assembling lineups for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group, I tried to stick mainly to drivers who have decent starting spots which have either had success at Pocono in the past, have shown speed at flatter tracks this year, or both. I think an argument can be made to save some starts from the elite options this weekend, especially in the opener. Since the top 20 finishers will be inverted for Sunday's race, there isn't exactly an incentive to finish for drivers to fight for every spot in the closing laps.
For that reason and because of the potential for pit strategy to jumble the running order, I did not roster Kyle Larson in either format this weekend despite him being my top-ranked driver.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
He ran in or around the top 5 all afternoon Saturday, finishing fourth and leading 11 laps. Hamlin has now finished sixth or better in his last five Pocono starts, compiling a 2.8 average finish and two wins in that span.
Pocono has been one of his best tracks, and Harvick came through with a solid effort. He earned a top-5 finish in Stage 1 and came away with a top-10 in the race. I think he at least runs in the top 10 again Sunday. Kyle Busch is another driver to consider, but I think he has more week-to-week potential than Harvick.
After scoring a race-high 50 points in Saturday's race, Byron isn't going anywhere.
Betting on the Hendrick Motorsports speed paid off when Bowman picked up the win on Saturday. I don't know if he can sweep the weekend, but I'll keep him in my starting lineup and find out. At worst, he should have top-5 potential.
He finished seventh in the weekend opener, and thanks to top-5 finishes in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, Logano's 45 total points scored were tied for third overall. His solid all-around performance earned him a spot in my lineup Sunday.
Garage Driver – Kurt Busch
Busch piled up 45 points in Saturday's race, winning Stage 2 and finishing sixth overall. I'm not sure if he can duplicate the performance, but I like the three-time Pocono winner as a bench option.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Denny Hamlin (A)
Hamlin finished fourth in Saturday's opener, and he now owns a 2.8 average finish in the last five Pocono races.
Kurt Busch (B)
He delivered a throwback performance at Pocono on Saturday. Busch finished seventh in Stage 1, won Stage 2 and ended up sixth overall. I'm hoping he can hang around the top 10 again Sunday.
William Byron (B)
Byron finished third in the opener Saturday and earned 16 stage points on his way to a race-high 50 points. I'll stick with him in the second race.
Daniel Suarez (C)
He had put up solid numbers at Pocono in the past while driving for bigger organizations, and Suarez didn't disappoint in his track debut with Trackhouse Racing, finishing 13th and earning a couple of stage points. He will start in the top 10 Sunday, and I think he can at least deliver another top-15.
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Kyle Busch ($12,000)
Busch was up front at Pocono all afternoon, winning Stage 1 and leading a race-high 30 laps in a runner-up effort. He should be a contender for the win again Sunday, and the inversion procedure means he starts 19th, putting him in position to pad his score with place differential points.
Denny Hamlin ($11,800)
The six-time Pocono winner was strong from start to finish on Saturday, finishing fourth in the race and sixth in both Stage 1 and Stage 2. He will roll off 17th after the invert Sunday, giving him the chance to earn upwards of 30+ place differential points.
William Byron ($10,900)
Byron had one of the fastest cars in the Saturday's opener, finishing third and logging 16 stage points. The invert has him starting 18th, and I like his chances of delivering a top-5 finish and 20+ differential points.
Ross Chastain ($7,600)
He had another solid running going Saturday when he got into the wall and suffered damage that essentially ruined his day. Prior to the incident, Chastain showed top-10 upside, and at worst, I think he was going to battle for a top-15. Set to start 33rd on Sunday, I think he easily gains double-digit spots with the potential to gain 20+ positions.
Cole Custer (7,300)
Custer never had a chance to show what type of car he had on Saturday after being dumped by Brad Keselowski just 13 laps into the race. He will start dead last (38th) in the second leg Sunday, giving him nothing but upside in the place differential category. Custer is a cheap, low-risk pick.
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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