Martin Truex Jr. will start on the pole for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Kevin Harvick has the most wins with eight at the track and is searching for his third straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win early in 2018. With all three practice sessions for this race in the books, we’ve dissected the numbers and 10-lap averages to offer a look at three drivers worthy of your Fantasy Live consideration as you go to make roster decisions for the fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of 2018.
1. Chase Elliott. Elliott was in the the top three in 10-lap averages for both practice sessions on Saturday and has had speed all weekend long as evidenced by his starting spot of third. He led 140 laps in the last two races at the 1-mile track and his 7.8 average finish at ISM Raceway is the best among Sunday’s field.
2. Alex Bowman. He had the fifth-best 10-lap average in final practice and qualified fourth. The Arizona native knows his way around the 1-mile track as he led 194 laps here in the fall of 2016 from the pole en route to a sixth-place finish. Bowman the Showman is a little more on the high risk, high reward side for fantasy players.
3. Aric Almirola. I touted Almirola as a sleeper heading into the race weekend and I am not backing away from that. He was fourth on the board in final practice and had the third-best 10-lap average in that session. He didn’t qualify well (22nd) but he qualified in that same spot last fall in the No. 43 and finished ninth in that race.
RJ Kraft’s revised Fantasy Live lineup following practices and qualifying:
1: Kevin Harvick
2: Denny Hamlin
3: Chase Elliott
4: Kyle Larson
5: Erik Jones
Garage: Alex Bowman
Analysis: I’m making two changes from my original lineup. One is for Kyle Larson in for Joey Logano, and the other is my garage driver (detailed below). I scripted out certain driver usages and I had Kevin Harvick earmarked for the past three races (Atlanta to Phoenix). He’s too good at Phoenix — his eight wins are the track record — and he posted the best 10-lap average in final practice (while also leading both Saturday practices). Hamlin led 193 laps last fall at Phoenix and topped the 10-lap board in second practice. Outside of short tracks, not sure where else I will use him, so going with the play here. Elliott is strong here — see reasons above — and I have yet to use him. Larson will be on the front row and has two top-three finishes in his last three starts there. Jones has a good record here in his young career and the No. 20 car won this race last fall.
For the garage, I went back and forth between Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola. I expect Almirola to be solid and consistent all year in the No. 10 Ford, where as I think Bowman will have peaks and valleys during the season. I think Phoenix will be a peak for him and so I am sticking him in my garage and will see how he runs in the first two stages.
As for why I am staying away from Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch … I happen to like my opportunities with the Toyota drivers at other tracks coming up — notably Fontana and Martinsville in the next two weeks — a bit better. Because I have gone heavy on Harvick early in 2018, I am trying to be a little more conservative with some of the other top drivers. I plotted out my usage for the defending series champion Truex at the start of the year. While the pole gives me something to think about, I’m inclined to stay the course based on his overall numbers at ISM Raceway. I want him for all the 1.5-mile tracks, plus Darlington, Dover and likely New Hampshire.
Remember to set your roster and bonus picks ahead of Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. ET start time and to keep tabs on your team during the race with the ability to go to the garage locking at the completion of Stage 2.