Fantasy cheat sheet for Texas Motor Speedway

Kyle Busch greets fans during driver introductions prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Kyle Busch greets fans during driver introductions prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Martinsville Speedway. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Special to Yahoo Sports
By Dan Beaver

NASCAR took a week off from unrestricted, intermediate speedways to run the short track of Martinsville Speedway. They return to the most familiar track type this week for a 500-mile contest at Texas Motor Speedway and that creates a bit of a challenge. Fantasy owners need to balance the importance of recent momentum with skill on the high-speed, 1.5-milers and find where the intersections best meet.

1. Chase Elliott: If Elliott was going to struggle anywhere at the start of the season, it would have been at Martinsville. Now that he has cleared that hurdle, he’ll challenge for a win on track where he’s swept the top five.

2. Kyle Busch: Last week, Busch was frustrated with his second-place finish, but he is finally getting the results he deserves. Texas is a track on which he has seven top-fives in his last eight starts.

3. Kyle Larson: For most of the STP 500, Larson was a fish out of water. He finally found his rhythm toward the end of the race only to experience mechanical failure. He’ll return to the front at Texas.

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4. Martin Truex Jr.: Texas is the type of track that should perfectly suit Truex. Last fall’s third-place finish on this track was his first top-five in seven races, but it was his fourth straight top-10.

5. Brad Keselowski: He struggled last year at Texas with an 18th and a 14th, but Keselowski had three straight top-fives entering that race. He could get his third win of the season this week.

6. Joey Logano: The No. 22 was probably the best car last year at Texas without a win. Logano finished third in the spring and second in the fall, and the smart money says he could easily get another top-five this week.

7. Jamie McMurray: Pitting under green usually costs multiple laps at Martinsville, but McMurray saw how dangerous it is to ignore a tire rub on even the shortest of tracks.

8. Jimmie Johnson: One would like to have more faith in Johnson, but last week’s struggles at Martinsville shook confidence. At Texas, he has earned five wins in his last nine starts.

9. Ryan Blaney: The Wood Bros. have elevated their program to be almost on par with Penske Racing South. Blaney is overlooked more often than Logano or Keselowski and that makes him a good differentiator.

10. Clint Bowyer: Fantasy players need to recalibrate their expectations of Bowyer. He is going to be a weekly threat to finish in the top 10 for the entire season and will win on one of the drivers’ tracks.

11. Kevin Harvick: At any moment this driver can break out and start to dominate again, but Harvick does not currently have the same level of domination as he has demonstrated in the past.

12. Erik Jones: When Jones had to pit out of sequence late in Martinsville, no one really expected him to recover. He did and earned his fifth straight top-15. This rookie is the real deal.

13. Matt Kenseth: The driver of the No. 20 might have had one of the toughest battles in last week’s STP 500. Given the depth of misfortune faced by Kenseth all year, he really could not afford to be very aggressive and settled for ninth.

14. Kasey Kahne: A seesaw STP 500 witnessed highs and lows for Kahne. He ended the day in 14th and that is enough to make him attractive this week so long as players don’t expect too much.

15. Ryan Newman: Even if a player discounts Newman’s Phoenix win because of pit strategy, the No. 31 must be considered a good value with a worst result of 17th in the last four races.

16. Denny Hamlin: He should have challenged for the win at Martinsville, but damage to the No. 11 kept Hamlin from getting a top-10. With only two strong runs this year, he will not grace many rosters.

17. Daniel Suarez: At Martinsville, Suarez learned why NASCAR drivers are widely considered to be the best in auto racing. He will start the Texas weekend with shaken confidence, but will improve as the weekend progresses.

18. Austin Dillon: The No. 3 team used some strategy to gain track position at Martinsville, but Dillon maintained his position and had a legitimate shot at the win. Texas will not be as kind, but he could be a hidden gem.

19. Aric Almirola: Richard Petty Motorsports was one of the more pleasant surprises at Martinsville. Almirola needs to show a little more consistency before he is a weekly threat for top-15s, however.

20. Kurt Busch: Some drivers just seem to attract trouble. Busch has run well, but until he avoids bad luck in consecutive races it is difficult to recommend starting him.

21. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Last week’s poor finish was not Earnhardt’s fault, but how long can fantasy players make excuses for him before they park him for the season?

22. Ty Dillon: This driver is certainly capable of scoring top-15s, but until Richard Childress Racing gets that level of results on a consistent basis, it is difficult to expect the Germain Bros. to follow suit.

23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Last week was another example of Roush-Fenway Racing’s potential. Stenhouse and his teammate Trevor Bayne can be frustrating by the amount of mistakes they make, however.

24. AJ Allmendinger: JTG-Daugherty Racing gave Allmendinger and his teammate Chris Buescher a great run last week at Martinsville. That was expected, but this 1.5-miler will not be nearly as kind.

25. Trevor Bayne: Some of Bayne’s earliest success came at Texas with the Wood Bros. and that gives him much-need confidence entering this weekend. Jack Roush power should take care of the rest.

26. Paul Menard: More was expected from Menard at Martinsville. He failed to crack the top 15 and now he needs to be handicapped strictly by the numbers until he finds another track where he has a superior record.

27. Landon Cassill: Winning and losing in fantasy NASCAR is not always about picking the first-place driver. Cassill has been among the most consistent in the field with four results of 27th or 28th.

28. Chris Buescher: Racing in front of the hometown crowd will subtract a few tenths of a second from the stopwatch for Buescher, but that will not be enough to make him a good value O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

29. Matt DiBenedetto: With a six-race streak of 20-something results on unrestricted, intermediate speedways, DiBenedetto could easily be one of this week’s best values at his level.

30. David Ragan: Consistency is important in handicapping NASCAR races. Ragan finished exactly 33rd in both Texas races last year in similarly equipment to what he will campaign this week.

31. Danica Patrick: There have been some strong runs for Patrick on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Unfortunately, they have not come with enough regularity to effectively handicap her odds.

32. Michael McDowell: The No. 95 team continues to be one of the better dark horses each week, but they are a long way from anchoring anyone’s roster.

33.Reed Sorenson: While he is certainly not the first driver who comes to mind, Sorenson’s average finish of 31.4 on unrestricted tracks this year has made him a very good value in some games.

34. Cole Whitt: Last week was Whitt’s best performance in 2017, but Martinsville is a drivers’ track where horsepower is a smaller percentage of the equation than on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks.

35. Gray Gaulding: With a best finish of 34th in three races on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year, Gaudling is unlikely to excite very many fantasy owners.

36. Corey LaJoie: Last week, LaJoie raced within his limitations. He was still running at the end of the STP 500 and that meant that he had an opportunity to develop a mental set of notes.

37. JJ Yeley: Tommy Baldwin Racing will roll out the No. 7 for a rare appearance in 2017 and without much data, it is hard to project how Yeley will run.

38. Timmy Hill: The best thing to be said for Hill at the moment is that he is gaining experience and running all the laps he can. Not much more is expected of this moderately-funded team.

39. Jeffrey Earnhardt: In his last three races, Earnhardt has been either been last or moved up only through attrition. He will not fare much better on a track that rewards a perfect combination of handling and horsepower.

40. Derrike Cope: Premium Motorsports took last week off on the short track so they could focus resources on the higher-visibility Texas Motor Speedway. It will not help move them up the grid, but they will get more bang for their buck.

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