The NASCAR Cup Series will make its first trip to Nashville Superspeedway this weekend, and for both the drivers and team and for fantasy owners, Sunday's Ally 400 will come with plenty of unknowns.
We obviously won't have any track history to look back on to help assemble lineups, but we can look at tracks that have some similarities. Nashville is a 1.33-mile, concrete oval with relatively low banking, so tracks like Darlington, Phoenix and Dover could all be decent predictors. Perhaps more importantly, NASCAR will be using the 750-horsepower package this weekend, so looking at previous results with this package should prove useful.
Of course, Hendrick Motorsports has been so fast in recent weeks that simply loading up on HMS drivers could be a winning move. However, I think the gap between HMS and other big organizations like Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske is smaller at the 750 tracks than at tracks that have featured the 550-horsepower package.
Combine that with the fact that Nashville is making its series debut, and I am actually fading Kyle Larson and most of the HMS bunch this weekend. Again, I will not be shocked in the least if Larson goes and wins again Sunday. However, I am much more confident that he is going to be the man to beat at the next 550h-horsepower oval.
I am not going to risk wasting starts from Larson or Chase Elliott, especially when we have data that suggests there are drivers who offer equal, if not more, upside with the 750-horsepower package.
Now that practice and qualifying are in the books, I have added my Slingshot picks to the bottom of the article. I have also made a few minor changes to my Fantasy Live and Driver Group Game lineups.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
His season continues to be a bit overlooked because he hasn’t won a race, but Hamlin has probably been the steadiest driver overall. He has a 7.7 average finish, and he has a 3.83 average finish in the six oval races that have featured the 750-horsepower package. At worst, he should be a top-5 option this weekend.
Although the No. 22 team is still searching for speed at the 550-horsepower tracks, Logano has the 750-horsepower package figured out. He has logged eight finishes of sixth or better in those nine races, finishing third or better five times. After a third-place run in qualifying today, I think he is a legitimate threat for the race win and stage wins.
Byron has been a steady top-10 option all year, and if your throw out the road course events, he hasn't finished worse than eighth with the 750-horsepower package. Recent finishes of fourth at both Dover and Darlington are particularly promising heading into Nashville, and after a top-5 qualifying effort, I'm expecting Byron to be near the front most of the day.
While it is true that race-winning speed has eluded the No. 4 bunch this season, Harvick is still sitting on 11 top-10s through 16 races, and some of his best runs have come at 750-horsepower tracks. He has logged sixth-place finishes at Phoenix, Darlington and Dover, all tracks that have been mentioned as having some similarities with Nashville. Starting just outside the top 10, I like his chances this weekend.
With a decent amount of starts remaining from Blaney, I am hoping to take advantage of his steady floor at what is a bit of a wild-card track. He has cracked the top-15 in 12 of the 16 races this year, notching seven top-10s and finishing 12th or better 10 times. He ranked in the top 10 in practice Saturday and qualified 10th earlier today, so it appears to be business as usual for the No. 12 bunch. Blaney might not have the highest ceiling, but he should deliver a solid result.
Garage Driver – Aric Almirola
I originally had Martin Truex Jr. penciled into this spot, but after he messed up on his qualifying lap, I decided to switch gears. I still think he will be a factor for the win when all is said and done, but when you use a start from Truex, you also need to maximize stage points. Instead, I am going to roll the dice on Almirola. He has had a terrible year, but he grabbed the pole for the race after posting borderline top-10 speed in practice. If he can hang near the front, I'll squeeze an unexpected start out him.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Denny Hamlin (A)
With a 7.7 average finish overall in 2021, Hamlin's high floor should come in handy at a track making its Cup Series debut. Of course, it should also help that he has been excellent with the 750-horsepower package. He has finished in the top 15 in every race, and if you only look at the ovals, Hamlin has a 3.83 average finish in six starts.
Kyle Busch (B)
I was planning on using Christopher Bell today, but a lackluster qualifying effort combined with Busch starting on the front row caused me to change course. In addition to great track position, Busch also has the advantage of having run the XFINITY race yesterday. I think he hangs in the top 5 all day.
William Byron (B)
He is having an excellent season overall, but Byron has been especially locked at the ovals that have featured the 750-horsepower package. His worst finish in these races was an eighth-place run at Phoenix, and he finished fourth at both Darlington and Dover in recent weeks. He qualified fourth, and I think double-digit stage points and a top-5 finish could be on tap.
Ross Chastain (C)
Chastain has made some noise in recent weeks with a couple of excellent runs at Sonoma and COTA, but he has been solid at the 750-horsepower tracks all year. He logged top-20s at Phoenix and Martinsville, and he finished in the top 15 at Richmond, Darlington and Dover. I think he offers the best floor and most upside among the Group C options this weekend, especially after his strong showing in practice.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,100)
He botched his qualifying lap, forcing him to start back in 35th and making Truex a must-own option in this format. He has won a series-high three races with the 750-horsepower package this year, and I fully expect to gain 30+ spots today.
Denny Hamlin ($11,900)
Hamlin has been one of the best in the business with the 750-horsepower package this year, and he has been excellent at the 750 oval tracks, posting a 3.83 average finish in six starts. Rolling off 13th, Hamlin is positioned to be an all-around force in the format. I think he can earn double-digit differential points and stage points while contending for the win.
Tyler Reddick ($9,500)
Although Nashville doesn't have his preferred high groove, I still think Reddick is headed for a strong outing. He cracked the top 5 in terms of fastest lap and 10-lap average speed in practice, and he has finished 12th or better in eight of the last 10 races this year. Starting 26th, I don't think 30+ differential points are out of the question.
Kurt Busch ($8,800)
It has been a boom-or-bust season for Busch, but I am going to roll the dice on him today. He posted a top-10 lap in practice Saturday, and he will have nothing but upside in the place differential category after qualifying 30th. I think the potential reward is worth the risk.
Ross Chastain (7,600)
Chastain starts 19th today, but he posted the second-best 10-lap average speed in practice, and he has been solid with the 750-horsepower package. He cracked the top 15 at Richmond, Darlington and Dover, and he logged top-10s at COTA and Sonoma. Chastain could be a sneaky top-10 threat, and I think he at least gains a few spots and delivers a decent finish.