It's a good thing I had already lowered my expectations heading into Talladega, because NASCAR's largest track sure gave me one heck of a beating. I invested heavily in Dale Earnhardt Jr., but while his ultra-conservative strategy kept him out of trouble, it also kept him completely out of contention and outside the top 25 at the finish. My other big gun, Matt Kenseth, was swept up in a wreck triggered by Brad Keselowski, who apparently had nothing better to do than cause problems while he was already six laps down. Last but not least, my favorite sleeper, David Ragan, was taken out in a late wreck, dealing me another major blow in all formats. On the plus side, I actually picked eventual winner Denny Hamlin in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live and runner-up Greg Biffle in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing, but those picks weren't nearly enough to offset the damage.
I guess the silver lining is that this weekend's race at Kansas Speedway should provide a golden opportunity to start the recovery process from my nightmarish trip to Talladega. As is the case with numerous 1.5-mile tracks, many of the top drivers in the series have been downright dominant at Kansas, and I'll take advantage of the track's predictability by being a little aggressive with my fantasy lineups and loading up on big names. When I do dip into some sleeper picks, I am definitely going to look back at the first two 1.5-mile track events of the season. While no two tracks are identical, setups do tend to translate fairly well from one 1.5-mile oval to the next within a season. By looking back at the results from Las Vegas and Texas, you can definitely find some bargain picks.
Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing
Matt Kenseth (A): I have plenty of starts left for Kenseth in this format, so I won't hesitate to use the defending winner of this weekend's race. I also love the fact that he has four top-four finishes in the last five races at Kansas, including two wins in three appearances since the track was repaved. I'm looking for a high ceiling out of my A-List pick, and he certainly offers that.
Joey Logano (B): His career numbers are Kansas aren't much to look at, but Logano did finish a career-best fourth last fall in just his second start at the track with Team Penske. More importantly, he has been a stud at the 1.5-mile tracks in 2014, finishing fourth at Las Vegas and winning at Texas. I have no problem overlooking his 23.7 average finish at Kansas.
Paul Menard (B): Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle make tempting options, but I have already used both drivers three times, and Menard still gives me a great shot at a solid finish. In fact, he has top-10s in all three starts at Kansas since the repaving, and he has finished inside the top 20 in his last seven starts at the track. Final results are what matter most in this format, and Menard should be good for at least a top-15.
Ryan Blaney (C): He is pretty much an unknown this weekend as he prepares to make his Cup Series debut this weekend, but I'll roll the dice because he offers me a chance to save a start from Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, while giving me a shot at a solid finish. After all, he will be driving a third Team Penske entry this weekend, and the organization has regularly had the strongest equipment on the track this year.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Matt Kenseth ($28.25): Kenseth ranks second at Kansas in a majority of the scoring loops, including laps led and fastest laps run, which factor heavily into the scoring system in this format. He has also won two of the three races at Kansas since the track was repaved, leading a series-high 262 laps on the new surface.
Jimmie Johnson ($27.25): Not only has Johnson been the most consistent performer at Kansas, but he has also been dominant in the loop data categories that this format uses for scoring. His 7.5 average finish at the track is the best in the series, and since 2005, his 542 laps led lead all drivers and his 470 fastest laps run are more than twice as many as any other driver. He is worth his price tag this weekend.
Joey Logano ($26.25): Logano has been fast all year, and his ability to run near the front and lead laps has him ranked sixth in scoring in this format. More importantly, two of his best performances have come at the 1.5-mile tracks. He led 44 laps and finished fourth at Las Vegas and led 108 laps and won at Texas. A similar showing at Kansas Saturday will allow Logano to pile up a ton of points in this scoring system.
Landon Cassill ($8): Cassill is currently the biggest steal in this format. He is currently ranked in the top 20 in scoring but is priced close to the minimum. The secret to his success has been his ability to consistently move forward from his starting spot. For the year, he has a 35.9 average starting position, but his average finish is 23.5. Since the scoring system uses place differential as a scoring category, Cassill is getting about 12 free points on top of the points he earns for finishing in the top 25. You can't beat his production for the price.
Ryan Blaney ($7.50): I was hoping Blaney would be priced reasonably as he prepares to make his Cup Series debut, and I was pleasantly surprised to see his near-minimum price tag. Granted, I know he has no experience at the Cup level, but he is a talented, young driver that already has a Nationwide win to his name. More importantly, he will be driving a third Team Penkse entry this weekend, and the organization has won the first two races of the year at 1.5-mile tracks.
NASCAR.com Streak to the Finish
Jeff Gordon: I was right about Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoiding the wrecks, but since he stayed out of trouble by running way in the back at the end of the race, I was wrong about him extending my streak. As I start over yet again, I'll go with Gordon. His 10.6 average finish at Kansas is the fourth best in the series, and in 16 starts at the track, he has 11 top-10s, including nine top-five finishes.
FOX Fantasy Auto Racing
Matt Kenseth (captain): Only Jimmie Johnson has been better at Kansas over the past few seasons, but since I have only used Kenseth once this year, he gets my nod as team captain this weekend. He is averaging a top-five finish over the past seven races at Kansas, and he has been to victory lane twice in his last three starts at the track.
Joey Logano: History says that drivers that run well at 1.5-mile tracks early in the year tend to do so throughout the year, and Logano has been as strong as any driver at the cookie-cutter ovals this year. He sat on the pole and finished fourth at Las Vegas, and he led the most laps and won at Texas. I have two starts left for Logano this segment, and I'll gladly use one up this weekend
Paul Menard: I have a couple of starts remaining from Menard in this segment, and I'll use one up this weekend because of his recent success at Kansas. He has seven straight top-20s at the track, and during the stretch, he has five top-12s. Menard also has top-10s in three straight starts at Kansas, giving him some upside to go along with the reliability that is so important in this format.
Brian Vickers: I like Vickers this week for a couple of reasons. For one, I have used him only once this year, so I have plenty of starts left. More importantly, he has been reliable at the 1.5-mile tracks, logging a 13th-place finish at Las Vegas and a fourth-place finish at Texas. He is also sitting 10th in points, so he has been pretty darn reliable in general this year.
Aric Almirola: Since a rough start to the year, Almirola has rebound with four finishes of 17th or better in the last five races. Meanwhile, he managed to crack the top 10 in both races at Kansas last year, finishing a career-best eighth in the spring event. I have yet to use a single start from him this year, but I think he can provide a top-15 run this weekend.