After spending three of the last four weeks at short tracks, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is blowing things wide open this weekend, as drivers are set to compete in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The 2.66-mile oval in Alabama is the longest on the circuit, and routinely provides entertaining and action-packed racing. From a fantasy perspective, predicting races at tracks such as Talladega and Daytona International Speedway is even more difficult than at other tracks, as the nature of restrictor-plate racing makes things even more unpredictable.
Of course, this season has been anything but predictable for fantasy owners, which is where we come in.
You might have a budget, or you might have a limit to the amount of times you can pick a given racer. Whatever your league’s format, we’ve got you covered in determining which drivers to give seats to Sunday, and which ones to stay away from.
Must pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If Earnhardt’s going to have any highlights on his retirement tour, they’re probably going to happen at tracks such as Talladega and Daytona. Still arguably the best plate-race driver in the sport, Earnhardt has 10 career wins between the two tracks, the most recent coming at Talladega in 2015.
Yes, he’s struggled this season, and his issues with staying on the track doesn’t bode well for success on an oval so prone to seeing collisions. But history still matters, and this is the perfect opportunity for fantasy owners to start NASCAR’s most popular driver. Make sure he’s in your lineups.
Stay away: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth is regarded as one of the better plate-racers around, but he hasn’t performed well in these types of races recently. In the last three years, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has just one top-15 finish at Daytona, and none at Talladega. Owners should avoid the veteran driver this weekend.
Sleeper pick: Denny Hamlin
A winner at Talladega in 2014, Hamlin usually races well on restrictor-plate tracks. He’s struggled out of the gate this season, but following back-to-back top-10 finishes, Hamlin looks like he’s turned a corner.
Value pick: Matt DiBenedetto
Listen, we’re not saying Matt DiBenedetto is going to take the checkered flag at Talladega, but he could be a sneaky good play Sunday. He earned a top-15 finish in the Daytona 500, and has had decent success at Talladega in the past. We’re not sure NASCAR’s rookie drivers are quite ready for this type of race, so we’re looking at more experienced value plays.
Thumbnail photo via Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports Images