UPDATE: The No. 6 of Ryan Newman and the No. 77 of Quin Houff failed inspection on Saturday at Kentucky. Both cars passed on the second time through.
Daniel Suarez is on the provisional pole for the Quaker State 400 on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Does the Stewart-Haas Racing driver merit a spot in your Fantasy Live lineup? We’ve dissected the numbers to offer a suggested lineup worthy of your Fantasy Live consideration. We’ve also included alternates to plug into your lineup if one of the planned cars for your lineup fails post-qualifying/pre-race inspection on Saturday.
RJ Kraft’s Fantasy Live lineup for race day at Kentucky:
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Kurt Busch
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Kyle Busch
5. William Byron
Garage: Aric Almirola
Alternates to swap in if any of the above fail post-qualifying/pre-race inspection (in order and in one instance, very specific): Chase Elliott, Joey Logano (if any of the 2-18-19 go to the back), Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez.
Analysis: I’m sticking with the bulk of my original lineup heading into inspection. We have eight races left so by and large it’s go time with little need to hold back — unless you are down to two uses on a driver (like one that drives the No. 4 — more on that below). I am in a good spot on uses with Keselowski, Truex and Kyle Busch. Keselowski has won here three times and looks pretty strong this weekend. Busch has two wins here and is usually in the top five. Truex has won the last two Kentucky races and he and crew chief Cole Pearn have a knack for delivering in races that transition from day to night. Byron has been a solid performer of late with a knack for stage points, so I’d like to ride the hot hand.
I was planning on riding the Hendrick wave pretty hard for this race, but the averages and starting spots were underwhelming to me. So instead of Elliott and Alex Bowman, I’m going with Almirola and Kurt Busch. Almirola has been a non-factor in fantasy for the past two months, but I love the starting spot and will be banking on stage points from him. If he fails to nab any stage points, he will stay in the garage barring any incidents involving the rest of my lineup. Busch gets my other spot because he’s been super consistent on the 1.5-mile tracks all year and I like the averages he’s had (h/t@SteveLetarte). I am somewhat low on uses with the 2004 champion, but outside of Bristol, I don’t have a track really marked for him as a must.
I’ve gotten some questions on whether or not to play Suarez. I know the final practice numbers and the provisional pole win would say you absolutely play him, but the body of work for him this season on 1.5-mile tracks is extremely suspect. He has scored more than 25 points twice (Atlanta and Texas) and over 30 points once (Texas). In the last three 1.5-milers, he’s averaging 18.3 points per race. If this were earlier in the season, I’d be more apt to take the plunge, but with eight races to go, I’m going with drivers I have more faith in knowing there’s not much to hold back for at this point. If enough of my lineup saw their qualifying times tossed out due to an inspection failure and Suarez’s No. 41 passed, I’d give the play consideration.
One instance where I am holding back is Kevin Harvick. While he does have the most points this season on 1.5-mile tracks, I am down to two uses and I believe Michigan and Darlington are better tracks to utilize the 2014 champ. That said, if I had at least three uses available, he’d be in my lineup. We’ve talked before about stacking your bonus picks with a driver you may have limited usage with and that is what I will do with Harvick. I have the Stewart-Haas driver winning Stage 2 and the race, with Keselowski taking Stage 1.
Each week in this space, we’ll also highlight two Props Challenge items for players.
1. O/U 18.5 lead changes. Past Kentucky results would tell you to take the under. The 2019 racing/rules package would say the opposite. Every 1.5-mile race this season has hit over this mark. The Kansas race two months ago under the lights (much like Kentucky in terms of time of day, same race length) had 23 lead changes. I think those two stats are more accurate barometers to go on and so I will take the OVER.
2. At least five drivers will score 42 or more points. This one is a little tricker than I first thought. I initially thought yes but some studying of the numbers disputed that. It’s only happened once this year on a 1.5-mile track and that was the Coca-Cola 600, which had an extra stage (and more opportunity to earn additional points), so that’s a bit of an outlier. The 2019 data shows that this typically is a three- to four-driver mark that is hit, not five. With that in mind, I am going NO on this one.