The first round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is complete. That means it is time to start the Round of 12 and it also means there are only seven races left in the season. So, how are your Driver Group Game lineups performing? It has been so frustrating lately because the drivers I have used have speed in the race, but they continue to have issues. I am running out of races for my luck to change. Hopefully a trip to Texas will get the picks back to the top of our league standings. The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 can be seen Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.
STRATEGY FOR TEXAS
The cream typically rises to the top on the intermediate tracks, so we want to use our top drivers this week. Group A should be a decision between Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron. You really cannot go wrong with any of these drivers. Tyler Reddick is a lock in Group B. You can pair him with Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. or Bubba Wallace. Group C is the tough decision. Ty Gibbs should be a lock, but he hasn’t finished in the top-12 on an intermediate track this season. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Carson Hocevar are all in play in Group C. You should be fine if you stick to this list of drivers.
Here are the picks for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 …
GROUP A DRIVERS
DENNY HAMLIN (5): Hamlin has a lot of momentum entering the Round of 12. He finished second two weeks ago at Kansas and won the race last week at Bristol. His average green flag speed on the 1.5-mile tracks this year is the best in the Cup Series. Hamlin should have a good chance to keep his momentum going with another top-three finish at Texas.
KYLE LARSON (4): Larson has been the best driver in the playoffs this year. He won the race at Darlington, finished fourth at Kansas and second last week at Bristol. Now he gets to compete at a track where he has the best driver rating (125.6) and the best average finishing position (5th) over the last four races at Texas. Larson should be a serious threat to win Sunday at Texas.
(OTHER PICK) WILLIAM BYRON (2): Byron would be the best pivot from Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson, if you are running low with your allocations with those two drivers. Byron enters the playoffs tied with Martin Truex Jr. for the playoff lead. His average finishing position in his last four races at Texas is sixth. Byron should have his No. 24 car running up front Sunday.
GROUP A DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Denny Hamlin 2) Kyle Larson 3) William Byron 4) Christopher Bell 5) Ryan Blaney 6) Chase Elliott 7) Ross Chastain 8) Joey Logano
GROUP B DRIVERS
TYLER REDDICK (2): Reddick is my pick to win Sunday. He won this race last year and he won the race at Kansas two weeks ago (another 1.5-mile intermediate track). Reddick wasn’t on many people’s radar to win the championship, but he should be. He finished second at Darlington and won at Kansas in the Round of 12. The tracks in this round set up nicely for Reddick. I would not be surprised if he won Sunday at Texas and then again at the Charlotte Roval.
BRAD KESELOWSKI (2): Old Man Keselowski has his RFK Racing team running on all cylinders right now. He finished sixth at Darlington, ninth at Kansas and eighth at Bristol in the Round of 12. He won the pole, led 31 laps, scored 11 Stage Points and finished eighth at Texas last year. Keselowski has six consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas. This is by far his best intermediate track. It is a good idea to take a chance with the No. 6 car Sunday.
BUBBA WALLACE (3): Wallace entered the race at Bristol below the cut line. He had a solid, but emotional race that ended up with the No. 23 car advancing to the Round of 12. Can Wallace build on that momentum in the Round of 12? I think he can. He finished fourth at Las Vegas, fourth at Kansas and fourth at Charlotte this year. His car will have top-10 speed Sunday. Wallace just needs to be mistake-free and he should climb in the Playoff Standings following Sunday’s race.
KYLE BUSCH (2): Can the real Kyle Busch please show up this week? This driver who wrecks in practice and has problems in the race is getting old. We all know Busch has the talent to win any race on the schedule. He just needs the car and the pit crew to help him out. Busch finished sixth (Charlotte) and seventh (Kansas) in his last two intermediate track races. I will take a chance with Busch and hope he runs well this weekend.
(OTHER PICK) ERIK JONES (8): Do you feel like swinging for the fences this week? Legacy Motorsports has their cars running well right now, so it may be a good race to take a chance with “That Jones Boy.” Jones has finished fifth and sixth in his last two races at Texas. Both of those races were in the No. 43 car and not his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He also finished third, two weeks ago at Kansas. That stats like Jones to finish in the top-10 this week. He would be a good pivot from Kyle Busch Sunday if you have the guts to pull the trigger.
GROUP B DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Tyler Reddick 2) Brad Keselowski 3) Bubba Wallace 4) Kyle Busch 5) Kevin Harvick 6) Martin Truex Jr. 7) Chris Buescher 8) Alex Bowman 9) Erik Jones 10) Daniel Suarez
GROUP C DRIVERS
TY GIBBS (4): At least we know what we are going to get from Gibbs Sunday. The No. 54 car is going to post some of the fastest laps in practice and then qualify in the top-10. Gibbs will run most of the race in the top-10 and then fall back in the final Stage. That has been his story this year. I have plenty of allocations left with Gibbs so I will have him in my lineup. Maybe this is the week when he puts a complete race together.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. (4): I was cheering for Stenhouse to advance to the Round of 12, but it is just too tough for a single-car team to compete in the playoffs. Stenhouse has had some success on the intermediate tracks this year. He finished seventh at Charlotte and 12th at Kansas. I will take a chance with the No. 47 car this weekend.
(OTHER CHOICE) CARSON HOCEVAR (9): Hocevar will be back behind the wheel of the No. 42 car for Legacy Motorsports. Hocevar has really brought this car to life after Noah Gragson had it in the junkyard. Hocevar finished 17th (Darlington), 20th (Kansas) and 11th (Bristol) in the first round of the playoffs. His average finishing position in those three races was better than Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman. He should be able to finish between 16th and 20th again Sunday at Texas.
GROUP C DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Ty Gibbs 2) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 3) Carson Hocevar 4) AJ Allmendinger 5) Ryan Preece
* Be sure to check back Sunday morning for my starting lineup.
XFINITY SERIES PICKS
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