The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Sparta, Kentucky this week for the Quaker State 400. The race can be seen Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Be sure to test your knowledge of NASCAR by competing in the Fantasy Live game on nascar.com.
Kentucky is the newest track and the circuit and it was already repaved. Last year the drivers complained there was only one racing groove in the track. Hopefully the winter aged the track a little bit or we could see very little passing Saturday night. That will mean the driver’s starting position will be very important this week.
The best strategy at the 1.5-mile tracks this season has been to focus on dominator drivers (drivers who lead the most laps and score fastest laps in the race) and drivers who can finish both Stages in the top 10. I will be selecting two dominators and two mid-tier drivers I think can finish each Stage in the top 10 and one cheap driver who can improve his position in the race. This format has scored well before so I will stick with it.
Martin Truex Jr. ($28.00) is the best driver in the sport when it comes to 1.5-mile tracks. His average finishing position on these tracks this season is 4.2. That includes wins at Las Vegas and Kansas. Truex has led a series-high 609 laps in these races this season. His stats at Kentucky are not great but I would not bet against the No. 78 car winning the race Saturday night.
Kyle Larson ($27.75) has been very good at every track this season. He has finished five of the seven races on large ovals this season in the top two, with wins at California and Michigan. Larson has also led 213 laps in these races. His best finish at Kentucky is 19th, but Larson has been running very well in the new aerodynamics package that the Cup Series is using this season. The No. 42 car will be up front at the end of the race Saturday night.
Kevin Harvick ($27.50) is always fast on the 1.5-mile tracks and that should not change at Kentucky. He has finished four consecutive races at the track in the top 10. Harvick won the pole, led a series-high 128 laps and finished ninth last year. The No. 4 team started the season slow but they are finally adjusting to the new Ford chassis. Harvick should easily finish in the top 5 this week.
Kyle Busch ($27.25) is the best driver who has yet to get to Victory Lane in 2017. That should change this week. Busch has won two of the six races at Kentucky. He has also finished three of his last four races at the track in the top five. Busch is a safe pick because he has never finished worse than 12th at Kentucky. Busch has led 162 laps in the last three large oval races (Kansas, Charlotte and Michigan). He also has an average finishing position of 4.5 in those races. Busch will finally get to take a bow in Victory Lane this week.
Brad Keselowski ($27.00) has been the most dominant driver at Kentucky. There have been six races at the track and Keselowski has won half of them. Keselowski has also led a series-high 483 laps at the track. The No. 2 car has run well on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Keselowski won at Atlanta and finished in the top five at Las Vegas and Kansas. He should add another top-five finish to his resume this week.
Matt Kenseth ($25.75) is still looking for his first win this season and he will have a good chance to get to Victory Lane Saturday night. Kenseth won the race at Kentucky in 2013 and he has never finished outside the top eight at the track. Kenseth may need a win to make the playoffs this season so I expect the No. 20 team to bring their best car to the track this week.
Austin Dillon ($21.25) is one of the drivers who tested at Kentucky so the team should unload from the hauler with a fast car this week. Dillon is starting to show some speed after a slow start to the season. The switch from Slugger Labbe to Justin Alexander seems to be paying off. Dillon won the race at Charlotte and should finish in the top 10 Saturday night.
Ryan Blaney ($19.00) has been one of the most consistent drivers on the large ovals this season. He has top-10 finishes Las Vegas, California and Kansas. Blaney won the race at Pocono and the horsepower the Wood Brothers Racing Ford had in that race should translate into a lot of speed this week. Blaney is a good pick for your fantasy team this week.
Chris Buescher ($12.00) has been a good value pick on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 21st at Texas, 18th at Kansas and 20th at Charlotte. Buescher has scored an average of 9 position differential points in these races as well. If Buescher qualifies outside the top 20 Friday he will be a good pick for your team.
Michael McDowell ($10.25) has had a career year in 2017. He is a good driver and now the team has a closer alliance with Richard Childress Racing and the cars are a lot faster. The only problem with McDowell is that he is starting to qualify in the top 15 on a regular basis. This hurts his value a bit because it limits his ability to score position differential points. If McDowell qualifies out the top 20 Friday he will be a good pick for your team.
Here are my pre-qualifying picks for the Quaker State 400:
Driver 1: Martin Truex Jr. $28.00
Driver 2: Brad Keselowski $27.00
Driver 3: Kurt Busch $20.25
Driver 4: Ryan Blaney $19.00
Driver 5: Landon Cassill $5.75
Pick to Win: Kyle Busch
* Kyle Busch is not on the team because I was 25 cents short. I do like him more than Brad Keselowski this week (That could change after practice Friday).
I will have my picks updated on my website (Fantasy Racing Tips) Saturday