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With the playoffs underway, the drivers of the Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series head north to run the 21st Annual ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It will take the winner at least 300 laps to take the checkered flag which will give us plenty of chances to rack up those extra ‘laps led’ bonus points. If we take a look back at the last three races run here we find that Martin Truex Jr. ($10,500) has led 137 laps earlier this season, 141 laps last fall and another 123 laps in the spring of 2016. Although he did win last weekend’s race in Chicago which gave him a free pass to the next round, I’d look for the driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Ford to be a force to be reckoned with as he has been all season.
Since the playoff points roll over Truex will try to accumulate as many as he can get in his quest to rack up his first championship. He will start fifth when the green flag drops on Sunday afternoon. Okay, now that the most obvious play is out of the way let’s take a look at some of the other drivers who may or may not give you an advantage for Sundays contests.
We may as well stay up in the rare air as Kyle Busch ($10,700) comes into this one as the most expensive driver in the contest. Busch is 35 points away from the top slot in the standings and has won the pole for the 21st Annual ISM Connect 300. The driver of the #18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota has chalked up six top 10 finishes in the last seven races this season. Furthermore his seven top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts here in New Hampshire is tied with Brad Keselowski along with Jimmie Johnson and is second only to Matt Kenseth, who has eight.
Speaking of Matt Kenseth ($9,400), he is just 13 points above the playoff cut line for the second round of the playoffs and should be looked at in this spot to improve on his position. Besides snagging eight top 10 finishes in the last 10 starts here, he has also taken the checkered flag in three of them, which is the most of any driver over that time frame. The driver of the #20 SiriusXM Toyota has had a nice run of seven top 10 finishes in the last nine races this season which includes that mishap in Richmond which some could say wasn’t his fault. Kenseth will start 10th on Sunday and should be in the top 10 for most if not all of the day.
Despite a fifth place finish last week and a win the race before Kyle Larson ($9,500) has seen his salary drop $900 from last week. This is a bit puzzling to me as he has four top 10 finishes in the seven races he has started at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He does have a fast car this weekend as he has qualified in the outside row and is a candidate to lead a lot of laps.
Obviously both Brad Keselowsi ($10,200) and Jimmie Johnson ($9,600) run well here and since both are in the playoffs, neither should be counted out. Keselowski will start 13th while Johnson starts just ahead of him in 12th.
Joey Logano ($8,700) will start from the last position on the grid as he did not run any qualifying laps for Sunday’s race. The driver of the # 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford has had some success here, especially in the fall races as he has chalked up four top 10 finishes in his last five October starts. Although he isn’t in the playoffs he can still get us some fantasy points, which is exactly what we are looking for.
After stringing together four straight top 10 finishes five races ago Daniel Suarez ($7,500) has found the top 10 just once since. The driver of the #19 Comcast/Arris Toyota had a nice finish here earlier this season as he came home sixth after starting from the 14thposition. He will start from the 25th position, which leaves plenty of room to move up especially since he put together two decent runs in the final two practices.
Ryan Blaney ($8,000) has looked impressive all weekend as he will start the race from the fourth position while running inside the top six in all three practices. The driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center Ford may remind some of Kyle Larson from last year as he always seems to have a fast car week in and week out but just can’t finish on a consistent basis. He has started 16 of the last 17 races inside the top 15 but only been able to finish 15th or better in nine of those starts. Blaney is currently 10th in the points but will need to be a little consistent to make it through to the next round.
As we work our way down to the lower tired drivers we must take a look at Paul Menard ($6,300). Yes he is almost always hit or miss in terms of finishing in the top 15 but he has racked up six top 20 finishes in his last eight starts this season. This bodes well for a driver at this price point who has not finished lower than 25th in any of his last 10 starts here in New Hampshire. The only drawback that the driver of the #27 Sylvania/Menards Ford may have is the fact that he will start 19th when the green flag drops Sunday afternoon.
Aric Almirola ($6,500) is pretty much a mirror image of the aforementioned Menard as he has grabbed four top 20 finishes in the last eight starts this season. The driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford has had about the same kind of luck here in New Hampshire as well. Besides the fall race back in 2015 where he crashed out, Almirola has come home with five top 20 finishes in the other nine races he has started over the last five years. He starts 29th which should be just good enough to get us some positive fantasy points this weekend.
Looking at the playoff picture we find Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman all on the outside looking in if the second round were to start today. Fortunately for them it doesn’t as just 15 points separate the 16th place Newman from the 10thplace Blaney. All this means is that if one of these drivers has a problem today, their chances of moving forward seem very unlikely.
That will put a wrap on another week of Nascar analysis. Be sure to check back next week as we take a look at the third and final race of this portion of the playoffs. As always, follow me on twitter @elctrceye and good luck in your contest this weekend.