Fantasy Auto Racing picks for O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
Special to Yahoo Sports
By Dan Beaver
The early-season schedule is loaded with unrestricted, intermediate speedways. Races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Auto Club Speedway provide a good baseline for fantasy players as they select their O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 rosters and clear-cut favorites have emerged.
This is a week to forget about allocation management and concentrate on who will earn the most points. Similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks are much more predictable than short tracks, restrictor-plate, superspeedways, or road courses.
However, never content to rest on their laurels, Texas Motor Speedway and NASCAR have thrown two new curveballs at players. This will be the first race on a newly repaved and configured track. Fresh asphalt often leads to single groove racing. The track tried to minimize that by flattening and widening turns one and two, but it remains to be seen if that will actually encourage side-by-side racing.
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NASCAR’s curveball continues to be the segment racing. With points on the line at the end of roughly the quarter and half-mark of races, drivers can get a little anxious. Last week, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved Kyle Busch out of the Martinsville Speedway lead just before a segment ended because he wanted to remain on the lead lap. That created a change for the top spot. Chase Elliott captured the flag.
Kyle Busch: No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Yahoo Group A)
His strong run last week was well-timed. Busch got the monkey off his back with a second-place finish in the STP 500 in time to come to a track on which he has five consecutive top-fives. He won the spring Texas race last year and has one other victory in 2013. JGR has a tendency to roll off the hauler fast and that is going to be critical this week in order to qualify up front in case this is truly a one-groove track.
Martin Truex Jr.: No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota (Yahoo Group A)
Last year was a career-definer for Truex. Drivers can win in a variety of ways and easing into Victory Lane with strategy or one strong burst is no substitute for domination. So, when Truex whipped the field into submission at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway last year — and when he swept both segments and the race at Vegas this spring, fantasy players had to sit up and take notice. Truex has a tendency to qualify well and that could provide some bonus points in Yahoo’s game.
Chase Elliott: No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (Yahoo Group B)
Last week was a pleasant surprise for Elliott fans. He did not have a great reputation at Martinsville entering the weekend and it was difficult to make him a favorite. Slow practice times did not matter because qualification was rained out and he started on the front row, but what contributed to his confidence most was that he won the Camping World Truck Series race. This week, he comes to a track that is much more comfortable and he will pick up where he left off in the last few unrestricted, intermediate speedway races: at the lead.
Kyle Larson: No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (Yahoo Group B)
Larson holds the points lead because he has been at the front of the pack in every race this season — until last week at least. Martinsville was his biggest challenge, but he was meeting it until a mechanical failure in the closing laps dropped him outside the top 15 for the first time this year. One cannot forget how close he came to winning each week before the short track, wild card. Larson must still have a huge sense of relief after winning the Auto Club 400 and he will challenge for the win again at Texas.
Jamie McMurray: No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (Yahoo Group B)
If a player is worried about exhausting Elliott and Larson, McMurray’s results are more typically associated with Group B performance. He has had a top-15 capable car each week and he managed to grab top-10s at Atlanta, Vegas, and Auto Club with veteran skill. He will not be nearly as flashy as the two drivers profiled above him at this level, but when the checkers wave he is likely to be in sight of the leaders. He finished outside the top 10 in both Texas races last year, but he scored three consecutive top-10s in 2014/2015.
Ryan Blaney: No. 21 Wood Bros. Ford (Yahoo Group B)
One might notice that neither Brad Keselowski nor Joey Logano is profiled in Group A. There is only so much room on a Yahoo roster and choices have to be made. Penske Racing and their affiliated team of the Wood Bros. are among the most impressive in the field at the moment, so there is a good alternative. Blaney can fill in for them this week in the middle level and give players a result that will be only a position or two behind the veterans.
Erik Jones: No. 77 Furniture Row Toyota (Yahoo Group C)
The rookie continues to impress. Last week he experienced tire trouble and with more maturity than was shown by the veteran McMurray, he came in to have it replaced. That cost him two laps late in the event on a short, flat track where passing comes at a premium. There was no way he could get back in the top 10. He came extremely close, however, and charged back to 12th. He almost certainly would have logged his second single-digit finish without the obstacle and his fifth consecutive top-15 is more than is usually expected from a rookie.
Daniel Suarez: No. 19 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford (Yahoo Group C)
This young gun was thrust into the limelight with Carl Edwards’ unexpected retirement and he struggled in his first race at Daytona International Speedway. On the heels of that disappointment, Suarez finished around the 20th mark in his next two weekends. Once he became comfortable, he rattled off back-to-back top-10s. He was uneasy once more at Martinsville, but with six races of experience it is not going to take nearly as long to rebound this time. Look for Suarez to land in the top 15 and plan accordingly.