The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at the intermediate tracks 11 times throughout the season. That is 30 percent of the schedule. Intermediate tracks include all 1.5-mile oval tracks (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Charlotte, Kentucky, Chicago and Homestead). Fantasy teams who have a hard time selecting the right drivers at these tracks will not be able to finish at the top of their league standings.
NASCAR decided to make drastic changes to the rules for the 2017 season. The new Stage racing format is the biggest change, but there are many more. There will be 300-350 pounds of down-force taken off the cars, softer tires used in the races, teams will be required to race on the tires they qualify on, there will be less practice time and teams cannot return to the track after making cosmetic repairs to the car as a cause of an accident. All of these changes will affect your fantasy team.
The drivers who dominated on the intermediate tracks last season may not be the same who dominate this year. Drivers who won early in the season last year usually went into research and development mode since their position in the Chase was secure. That will not be the case in 2017. Some teams will be forced to race harder this year and try to capture as many Stage points as possible.
Here are the top drivers for Fantasy Racing Tips on the intermediate tracks in 2017…
1. Jimmie Johnson is our No. 1 driver for the intermediate tracks this season. Last year Johnson scored the second-most points in Fantasy Live and the third-most points in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing on the 1.5-mile tracks. The No. 48 team should be even better in 2017.
Johnson is one of the drivers who usually wins a race early and then tests different set-ups to prepare for the Chase. Last year Johnson won at Atlanta and then had a 13.1 average finishing position in the final races before the Chase began. In the Chase his average finishing position increased to 10.6, including wins at Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead. Fantasy teams should expect the No. 48 team to perform the way they did in the Chase last year because of the rule changes for the 2017 season.
Strategy will play a significant role into which drivers win races this season. Chad Knaus is one of the best crew chiefs in the sport and he will consistently put Johnson in position to win the race. The combination of Johnson’s skill as a driver and Knaus’ skill as a crew chief make the No. 48 team the top choice on intermediate tracks this season.
Johnson is at his best at Atlanta, Texas, Kansas and Charlotte.
2. Joey Logano had a good but not great season on the intermediate tracks in 2016. He scored the eighth-most points in Fantasy Live and the seventh-most points in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing on the 1.5-mile tracks. So why is Logano No. 2 in our rankings on intermediate tracks?
No driver ran as well as Logano on the 1.5-mile tracks to end the season last year. He finished second at Chicago and Texas, third at Kansas and fourth at Homestead. Logano is maturing as a driver and Fantasy Racing Tips expects the No. 22 team to take their performance to the next level in 2017.
Todd Gordon is one of the best crew chiefs at thinking outside the box. No two teams work as well together as the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the No. 22 Team Penske cars. Fantasy teams should expect Team Penske to be the first to figure out a strategy to take advantage of the new Stage format. The combination of speed and strategy should make Logano one of the dominate drivers on the intermediate tracks in 2017.
Joey Logano is an excellent choice at Las Vegas, Charlotte and Chicago.
3. Kyle Busch does not have any weakness. He is good at every type of track and the intermediates are some of his best. Last year Busch scored the fourth-most points in Fantasy Live and the second-most points in Yahoo Fantasy Racing on the 1.5-mile tracks. He won races at Texas and Kansas and had a series-best 7.65 average finishing position the last two seasons on the intermediate tracks.
The new Stage scoring format will play right into the hands of Busch. Drivers who drive aggressive during the race and are able to gain spots on the restarts will be rewarded in 2017. No driver is more aggressive or better on the restarts then Busch.
Joe Gibbs racing dominated the first half of the 2016 season on the intermediate tracks. We expect JGR to start the season strong. Busch performs very well at Atlanta, Texas, Kansas and recently, Kentucky.
4. Martin Truex Jr. was the most dominant driver on the intermediate tracks in 2016. He scored the most points in Fantasy Live (202 points more than second place) and the sixth-most points in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing. We still think Truex will be good this season, but he should come back to the pack a little bit.
The reason why Truex is not No. 1 on our list is because we wonder if his stats would have been the same in 2016 if other teams needed the win as bad as the No. 78 team. It is hard to tell if Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick were racing at 100 percent. Our belief is that they were more concerned with the Chase and that led to some of the success for the No. 78 car.
Cole Pearn is one of the best crew chiefs in the sport. He is very good at setting up a car to turn fast laps. The problem with the No. 78 team is that they consistently have bad luck, but how long can that last? Their luck has to turnaround sometime.
Truex will once again lead many laps on the intermediate tracks. He should win a couple of the races, but Truex will have more competition in 2017.
Truex is a must start at Charlotte and he is also good at Texas and Homestead.
5. Kevin Harvick would be at the top of the list if he was not facing so much adversity this season. The switch to Ford was not going to be a problem for the No. 4 team until NASCAR made changes to the scoring format and the amount of practice time allowed each weekend.
Harvick likes a car that is good on the long runs. The new Stage format requires drivers to pick up spots quickly. This does not favor the No. 4 team.
Rodney Childers is one of the smartest crew chiefs in the sport. He is great at giving Harvick what he needs to run up front. As smart as Childers is, the team may be behind the competition early in the season due to the lack of practice time. We expect Harvick to be much better latter in the season than he is in the races before Charlotte (except Phoenix. He should still run well at his favorite track).
Harvick is a good choice at Homestead, Kentucky and Kansas.
6. Brad Keselowski was either very good or very bad on the intermediate tracks last year. We believe the reason for this is that the No. 2 team won early in the season at Las Vegas and then took some unnecessary risks in order to win more races. Sometimes it paid off and sometimes they failed. We expects Keselowski to gamble more than the other teams this season, but expect it to be more of a calculated risk and not one where the car will run out of gas on the last lap.
Paul Wolfe is our No. 1 crew chief when it comes to strategy. The new Stage format should benefit the No. 2 team. Fantasy teams should expect Keselowski to be one of the best drivers early in the season. It will take the other teams a while to figure out the strategy that Wolfe and Keselowski use to get their car out front.
Keselowski is the type of driver who usually qualifies well and runs in the top five at most 1-5-mile tracks. If he was able to lead more laps and win more races he would be higher in our rankings.
Keselowski is a must start at Kentucky and Las Vegas. He is also good at Chicago.
7. Matt Kenseth ran well last season on the intermediate tracks. He scored the fifth-most points in Fantasy Live and the fourth-most points in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing on the 1.5-mile tracks.
How will Kenseth perform under the new Stage format? He usually is not very good at qualifying and Kenseth likes to slowly make his way to the front. That type of racing doesn’t seem to set up well in the new format.
Kenseth still drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and that alone makes him a top 10 pick on the intermediate tracks. He should be much better in the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game than he is in Fantasy Live because he usually does not lead the majority of the laps.
Kenseth is at his best at Kentucky, Texas and Kansas.
8. Kyle Larson is our most underrated driver on the intermediate tracks. Larson had no time to work with his crew chief (Chad Johnston) before the season began in 2016. The No. 42 team started off slow and then worked well the second half of the season. We expect their success to carry over into the 2017 season.
Another reason why we like Larson so much this season is because of the changes to the car. The new lower down-force package should set up nicely for Larson. His dirt track racing background makes him very good at driving a car that is on the edge of control. NASCAR used this package at Michigan last year and Larson won the race.
Larson is a must start at Homestead and he is also good at Chicago.
9. Chase Elliott will be looking to build upon his Rookie of the Year season and avoid a sophomore slump. While many drivers do struggle in their second year, we doubt it will happen to Elliott.
Elliott is still looking to win his first race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Our prediction is that the young driver gets the monkey off his back early in the season at Atlanta. Hendrick Motorsports is very good at this track and Elliott is good at searching for a fast line on a worn out track. It would not surprise us to see him go to Victory Lane at his home track before it is repaved for the 2018 season.
Hendrick Motorsports found some speed in the Chase last year. Usually when a team ends the season with an advantage over the field, they begin the next season with fast cars as well. HMS will be good cars to target early in the season.
Elliott has run well at Atlanta, Chicago and Texas.
10. Kurt Busch was one of the most consistent drivers on the intermediate tracks last year. He finished in the top 10 in seven of the 11 races. Busch also completed more laps than any other driver in the series at the 1.5-mile tracks. The No. 41 team needs to turn the top 10s into top 5s if they want to be considered one of the best on intermediate tracks.
Much of the success that Busch had last year can be contributed to his crew chief Tony Gibson. The two worked well together and they should finish many of the races on the intermediate tracks in the top 10 this season.
Busch will be one of the best options in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing since he was placed into Group B. Fantasy teams need to use his allocations wisely. He runs well at Kentucky, Charlotte and Kansas, but make sure you use him at Atlanta and Phoenix as well.
Others to Consider
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Denny Hamlin
- Kasey Kahne
- Ryan Newman
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