The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at Talladega Superspeedway this week for the Alabama 500. The race can be seen Sunday at 2pm ET on NBC.
I followed up my highest point total in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing at Dover with one of my worst performances at Charlotte. My Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing picks scored 183 points and dropped my picks to the top 97 percentile (1,082). I have a lot of work to do in the last six races to finish in the top 99% again.
My Fox Fantasy Auto Racing and Fantasy Live picks were good but not great. I scored 200 points in the Fox Fantasy Auto Racing game and now my picks rank 54th overall. Talladega is a great race to score high in the Fox game so I am expecting a big race this week. Fantasy Live continues to be my best game. My picks scored 272 points and rank in the top 99.7 percentile (566 overall).
The first race in the Round of 12 is complete and now some drivers find themselves in a hole they do not want to be in. Talladega is the most unpredictable track on the circuit and a top-10 finish in never a guarantee. The race Sunday will surely shake up the playoff standings.
This is an important week to know the scoring rules for the fantasy NASCAR game you are playing. Talladega is the most unpredictable track on the circuit. Any driver who starts their engine will have a decent chance to finish up front this week. You must start the drivers who qualify in the back if your league awards position differential points. Qualifying position is meaningless at Talladega and you MUST score as many position differential points as possible. There are only 188 laps in the race Sunday so leading laps will not be a priority.
Pick to Win
Brad Keselowski currently sits 10th in the playoff standings and only the top eight drivers advance to the next round. He needs a good finish at the most unpredictable track. This is familiar territory for the No. 2 team. In 2014 they were in a “must win” situation at Talladega and Keselowski found his way to Victory Lane. I think he can do it again Sunday. Keselowski has become the best restrictor-plate driver in the sport. He has four wins at Talladega and he has completed 97% of the laps. The Blue Deuce is my pick to win the Alabama 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. would love to finish his career with one more win on his resume. It is no secret that Junior thinks Talladega gives him the best chance to win. He has a series-best six wins at Talladega and a series-high 960 laps led. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon were able to find Victory Lane in their final seasons in NASCAR. It would be a great story in Earnhardt could take the No. 88 car to Victory Lane at one of the tracks where the fans love him the most.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been the best restrictor-plate driver this year and he has to be the favorite to win Sunday. Stenhouse won the last two races on the Superspeedways (Talladega in May and Daytona in July). He will be looking to match Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the only driver to win three consecutive plate races. Stenhouse has a seventh-place average finishing position at Talladega in the last four races at the track. That is incredibly consistent at such an unpredictable track. Stenhouse is the best pick in the field this week.
Denny Hamlin is better at Daytona then he is at Talladega but that does not mean the No. 11 car is not a great pick this week. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars road in the back of the pack at Talladega last year because they were already locked into the Round of 8. Hamlin was the only driver from the team that had to finish up front in order to advance in the playoffs. Hamlin got the job done with a third-place finish. Stage racing will prevent teams for riding around in the back this week. Hamlin will be one of the best picks for the race Sunday.
Kyle Busch only has one win at Talladega (2008) but he is one of the best drivers at running up front. Busch has finished two of the last three races at the track in the top three. The only race when he finished outside the top three was when the No. 18 and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates decided to run in the back on purpose. That will not happen this week. I expect the JGR cars to lineup at the front of the field and dare the rest of the drivers to try and pass them (the same way they did in the 2015 Daytona 500).
Kevin Harvick is one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in the sport. He used to use the strategy of riding around the back and waiting until the end of the race to make his way to the front. That is how he got his nickname “The Closer.” Harvick changed his strategy in the last two years. The No. 4 car tries to stay up front to be ahead of the wrecks when they happen. I expect Harvick to qualify up front and run in the top 10 the entire race this week.
Austin Dillon had a streak of 14 races on Superspeedways without a wreck going until I started to brag about him in the last race at Talladega. Dillon was caught up in another driver’s mess and his no-DNF streak came to an end. There is something special about that No. 3 car at Talladega. A race in Alabama would not be right without the No. 3 car up front. Dillon learned at lot about restrictor-plate racing from the Earnhardt’s. I expect him to run well Sunday.
Chase Elliott will have the best chance to qualify up front and lead laps Sunday. The No. 24 car has the best average starting position in the last five races at Talladega (won 3 of the last 5 poles). Elliott has three career races at Talladega in the MENCS. He finished 12th, 5th and 30th. He was running up front in May when he was caught up in the big wreck. Hendrick Motorsports brings fast cars to this track so I expect Elliott to qualify in the top four and run in the top five Sunday.
Joey Logano may be overlooked this week because he is having a down year. Do not make the mistake of forgetting about the No. 22 car. Logano is one of the best drivers in the field at this track. Logano won the last two fall races at Talladega and he has led laps in four consecutive races at the track. Logano is one of the safest picks in the field this week.
Paul Menard does not make my list often but this is one of the weeks where he deserves a spot in the contenders list. Menard has been one of the most consistent drivers in the field at Talladega. He has an average finishing position of 11.1 in his last five races at the track. He has qualified in the top 10 in the last three races at Talladega and finished four of his last five races in the top 13. Menard will not be a popular pick this week, but he is a driver who could really help your fantasy team.
Clint Bowyer is another driver who knows how to get around the Superspeedway tracks. Bowyer finished in the top 18 even when he drove for HScott Motorsports. Bowyer will be even better now that he has Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to help get him through the field. Bowyer qualified 17th, led 10 laps and finished 14th in the May race at Talladega. I think he can improve on those numbers this week.
I will have my picks updated on my website (Fantasy Racing Tips) after qualifying on Saturday.
If you need any further advice with your team or want to see my updated picks after Happy Hour practice, look for me on Twitter (@MrFantasyNASCAR).