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Kraft’s Korner: 10 NASCAR Fantasy Live rules to set rosters by

RELATED: Sign up for NASCAR Fantasy Live today! | How the new game works

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season fast approaching, we have already run through the enhancements and changes to this year’s NASCAR Fantasy Live game.

How should that impact your fantasy roster in terms of who to play and who to sit? Leagues are open to sign up and you can set your lineup picks today!

NASCAR.com fantasy expert RJ Kraft has some guidelines for you to keep in mind while setting your fantasy roster on a weekly basis. Will these guidelines guarantee you league superiority? Hopefully, but not every situation is as cut and dried as “leave the gun, take the cannolis.”

On a weekly basis, Fantasy Fastlane will provide insight into each race weekend. But before we get into that, having a code or guidelines can be helpful in building out a roster, especially at the start of the year, so here are 10 helpful nuggets for playing.

1. Have a routine and stick with it
When I am plotting out my fantasy roster for the week, I typically set it initially on Tuesday when the week changes over. And then circle back after qualifying and practices while evaluating 10-lap averages to set my final roster and bonus picks. You don’t have to do it that way, but the point is to get into a pattern — based on that weekend’s particular schedule — where setting your roster and making changes becomes a habit. Also of note, rosters do not carry over week to week, so it’s important to get into the game to set it.

Chris Graythen | Getty Images

2. Scripting out certain driver’s usage is highly advisable
With a cap on using drivers for 10 races, owners need to be judicious about how certain drivers — namely the big point scorers are used. For example, you want to devise your strategy around making sure that 1.5-mile beast (and defending series champ) Martin Truex Jr. is available to you for all tracks of that particular length in the first 26 races — FYI, that’s seven races (eight if you want to throw Darlington in there, which is close enough in length). Following that logic, you’d want to make sure to have Kyle Larson at the three 2-mile races. And in the case of Kyle Busch who’s good nearly everywhere, it’s advisable to know which tracks to shy away from with him — Talladega, Michigan and Daytona.

3. Be prepared to veer from the script
While we like scripting out driver usage, sometimes life is like a Bruce Springsteen concert where the set list changes on the fly and ad-libbing and audibles are called for. A driver might start to get on a roll and you need to adjust to take advantage of that. With the number of young drivers coming into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ranks in the past few years, it will be difficult to rely on track history. Owners will need to rely on the eye test, lap times, speeds and more. Doing that will require being willing to drop the script like it’s hot in favor of who looks particularly strong over a consistent stretch.

4. Restrictor-plate races are unpredictable
The draft is known as the great equalizer and could really jumble up the fields at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. In addition to that, pack racing tends to lead to sizable wrecks that wreak havoc on your lineup (thankfully in 2018 you will have a garage driver – more on that in a bit). Parity abounds in these races: Twenty-four different drivers notched top 10s in the four plate races in 2017. Among the drivers not to use: Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. The point being — while there are exceptions to this rule (Brad Keselowski) — it is prudent not to burn one of the expected top drivers’ races on a restrictor-plate event.

5. Ford power needs to be a priority at Daytona and Talladega
Ford swept the restrictor-plate races with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning twice, while Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski each won once. Going back to the summer Daytona race, Fords have won 11 of the past 14 plate races. The numbers illustrate just how strong the blue oval was at plate tracks in 2017. Ford teams scored 19 of a possible 40 top 10s in these races (47.5 percent); Chevrolet had 16 while Toyota had five. A similar tale can be told with laps led as Ford teams led 353 of a possible 742 circuits (47.5 percent), while Toyota led 198 laps and Chevrolet led 191 laps. Stacking your Daytona and Talladega lineups with Ford drivers has a strong likelihood of paying off so load up on Keselowski, Stenhouse, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and more for these races. Michael McDowell and David Ragan are ideal sleepers for those races.

David Becker | Getty Images

6. Get ready to go to the garage
This season’s Fantasy Live game features a garage driver. If you play other fantasy sports, consider this your bench for the given race. However, unlike other sports you can dip into the garage mid-race to make a change if you so desire due to performance or if an incident/wreck by one of your starters requires you to make a change to try and gain more points. Given the wealth of young talent with plenty of upside but not much history in the sport’s top series, I am going to plan my garage strategy early on around drivers in that classification since you just don’t what to expect. Think along the lines of Erik Jones, Darrell Wallace Jr., Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman or William Byron. There is something to be said for going the steady-hand route with a veteran in the garage like Jamie McMurray or Jimmie Johnson. Utilizing the garage play means having your finger on the pulse of what is happening in a race. This is an application that can pay big dividends on your roster over the course of the season.

7. Scoring stage points should be a priority
With the scoring shifting to exactly how drivers earn points in races, stage points should be something fantasy owners target. Stage points were a part of the game last year, but so were laps led, fast laps and place differential. The latter three are no longer part of the scoring, placing an extra premium on getting stage points. Strategy plays can shake up the order in a race, especially at short tracks and plate tracks, but using last year’s stage points totals can also serve as a guide early on in the season.

8. Recent results really do matter
The phrase “What have you done for me lately” comes to mind here. I tend to be a bigger believer in what a driver has done in the last three years over career numbers. A great example of this is Martin Truex Jr., especially since that time period coincides with being paired up with crew chief Cole Pearn. A similar example would be Kyle Busch as he has been paired with crew chief Adam Stevens during that same stretch. Two tracks that Busch has been strong at in the past three years — Kansas (one win, 5.2 average finish) and Martinsville (two wins, 2.8 average finish) — are not ones he has necessarily been good at over his whole career. At Martinsville, 813 of his 1,300 laps led have come in the last five races at the short track. Before his last five races at Kansas, Busch’s average finish there was 21.4 and his overall finish is 17.4. If you looked at the overall body of work, you might dismiss the idea. Yet, a closer look at the recent numbers proves why “Rowdy” would be a good play there.

MORE: Stats and more with Racing-Reference.info

9. Going bonkers for bonus points
There are added ways to get bonus points in this year’s game. In addition to selecting the race winner (30 points for correct pick) and winning manufacturer (10 points for correct pick), players can now select a pole winner (five points for correct pick) and Stage 1 and 2 winners (10 points for correct pick). When qualifying is held on Friday of a race weekend, teams typically do a run in qualifying trim at some point in the Friday practice session. Qualifying picks have to be set ahead of the qualifying session as picks should lock about five minutes before it starts. Selecting Stage 1 and Stage 2 winners is far from an exact science, but it’s usually solid reasoning that the cars that look strongest in practice can be expected to be up front in the end.

10. The not-so secret sauce
It’s one thing to look at speeds from practice, but those do not tell the full story for the race weekend. 10-lap averages paint a more complete picture of what could be in store for the race. The 10-lap averages are an invaluable fantasy tool to measure longer run speed over 10 consecutive laps of practice. These stats are more frequent for the last two practices and give a solid indication of who are the drivers that should have the speed to be factors in the race. These numbers tend to have little importance at restrictor-plate tracks and carry major value at the intermediate tracks.