The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers will be turning left and right this weekend, as the series makes its first stop at a road course this season with the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. The races at road course tracks are always tricky for Fantasy NASCAR players due to the amount of strategy that goes into the races here, and that trickiness should only be exacerbated by the addition of the Stages. Of course, because of the potential wackiness throughout these races, road course venues usually make a good time for using ‘start save’ drivers in the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing game, particularly in the B and C Groups.
Yahoo! A Group Early Picks and Rankings for Sonoma
Kyle Busch (6 starts remaining) – One of the worst things you can do when Kyle Busch and the #18 team is clicking like they are is go against them. This team is bringing race-winning quality race cars to the track week in and week out, and when Kyle Busch has a good run at Michigan–his worst track–you know he’s on the brink of getting to victory lane. Rowdy is a two-time winner here at Sonoma Raceway, but surprisingly enough those are two of just four top 10 finishes he has here in twelve career starts. Still, there’s no reason to think that the #18 Toyota won’t be in contention this weekend. Kyle Busch has the best average finish (7.0) in the last six Monster Energy Cup Series events and the 2nd-best average driver rating (118.9).
Martin Truex, Jr. (7 starts remaining) – There are plenty of solid ‘dark horse’ options in the Yahoo! A Group this weekend, but the two best options heading into the Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend are Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. The #78 team is clicking just like the #18 team is, but Kyle Busch has a much more consistent record here at Sonoma so that’s why he’s ranked just a bit higher. Still, Truex won the race here back in 2013 and wound up finishing 5th last season as well. Additionally, from 2011 to 2013, Truex never had a driver rating lower than 101.2 in those three Sonoma races. Finally, this #78 team has been nailing it in qualifying lately, so Truex could easily get you some Yahoo! bonus points as well.
If you’re sitting with 9 Jimmie Johnson starts left, it’s worth considering putting the seven-time champ on your Yahoo! roster this weekend. Believe it or not, Johnson has the best average running position (7.8) over the last five races here at Sonoma, and before finishing 13th here last season, he ended up finishing between 1st and 9th in the previous seven. The only thing with Johnson is his up-and-down nature this season; he only has three top 5 finishes this season, but all three of those were wins.
Johnson’s Hendrick teammate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is a nice off-sequence pick in the A Group this weekend. The #88 team is coming off of that 9th-place finish at Michigan last weekend and has now ended up 11th or better in three of the last four Cup races overall. Additionally, Junior has finished 12th or better in each of his last four Sonoma starts, including a 3rd-place run here back in 2014. Joey Logano could be another guy who continues to turn the corner this weekend. He’s coming off of his first top 5 finish in what seems like forever and has wound up 3rd and 5th in the last two Sonoma races. If Logano’s ownership percentage dips below 20% before lockdown, he’d make a great off-sequence pick for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Finally, how about Denny Hamlin? This #11 team wound up finishing 4th last weekend–their third top 5 of the season thus far–and now has seven results of 12th or better in the last eight Cup events. When it comes to road course racing, Hamlin is either really good or really bad, but he did finish 2nd here at Sonoma last season after leading 33 laps. Additionally, Hamlin went to victory lane in the Watkins Glen race last season. The #11 Toyota is always qualifying up front, too, and that pays dividends here at a track like Sonoma.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Kevin Harvick, (4) Joey Logano, (5) Denny Hamlin, (6) Jimmie Johnson, (7) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (8) Brad Keselowski, (9) Matt Kenseth
Yahoo! B Group Early Picks and Rankings for Sonoma
Clint Bowyer (6 starts remaining) – The #14 team had yet another lackluster finish at Michigan last weekend, and Bowyer has now had just one finish better than 14th in the last seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. So you can either look at this one of two ways: 1.) it’s a good thing we’re at Sonoma this weekend, or 2.) the team’s bad luck will continue this weekend despite Bowyer’s record here. Statistically, Sonoma is Clint’s best track on the Cup circuit, as he owns a career average finish of 11.5 with one victory and six top 5s in eleven total starts. Last year, Bowyer finished 40th because of his junk equipment, but he posted four top 5s in the previous five events before that. He should be able to challenge for his sixth top 10 finish of 2017 here on Sunday.
A.J. Allmendinger (9 starts remaining) – The only places where you can pick A.J. Allmendinger with any shred of confidence is road course tracks, and maybe restrictor plate courses if you’re feeling lucky. With that being said, Watkins Glen is, by far, Allmendinger’s better road course track, although you have to believe that he’s going to break out soon here at Sonoma. The thing with A.J. here in wine country is that he always qualifies and practices very well, but then lays an egg on race day; over the last three Sonoma races, Allmendinger has started on the front row for each but has a best finish of just 14th. Still, in a game like Yahoo!, where preserving starts is such a key factor in doing well, you have to put Allmendinger on your roster.
Kurt Busch (5 starts remaining) – Kurt Busch is very capable of winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 this weekend, so even though you may be running a bit low on starts already, it’s probably worth rostering him just in case. My personal strategy this weekend is two have two ‘heavy hitter’ studs in the B Group and then two ‘start save’ drivers as well. A.J. Allmendinger kind of fits into both of those categories, but he is a ‘start save’ option in my eyes. Anyway, Kurt Busch won here at Sonoma back in 2011 and even finished 3rd here the next season while driving an underfunded Phoenix Racing car. Over his last six starts here at Sonoma, Kurt has posted four top 5s and no result worse than 12th.
Kasey Kahne (8 starts remaining) – For all intents and purposes, Kasey Kahne is one of the worst picks in Fantasy NASCAR right now. He has had problems in pretty much every race for the last couple of months, and if you follow him on Twitter, you can tell he is getting extremely frustrated with both himself and his team. However, sometimes in this Fantasy NASCAR world you have to ignore some things. The fact of the matter is that Kasey Kahne has a very good record here at Sonoma, and it’s not like he has bad equipment; the #5 Chevrolet has came home between 6th and 9th in each of the last four races here in wine country, and Kahne has a win to his credit here back in 2009.
If you want a safer option than Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman is a pretty good one. He has finished 8th, 9th, and 11th in the last three Sonoma races and also has three straight top 15s in Monster Energy Cup Series action after finishing 15th at Michigan last week. The same can’t be said about his teammate, Austin Dillon, though, as he has never finished better than 17th here at Sonoma. If the #3 team was running better this year, Austin could have been a solid off-sequence pick, but that simply isn’t the case. The oft-forgotten third Richard Childress Racing driver, Paul Menard, is actually decent here at Sonoma, with finishes between 4th and 16th and each of the last four races here. He’s worth a shot if you want a deep sleeper on your Yahoo! team.
Jamie McMurray is typically a mid-teens driver at Sonoma, but with the way the Chip Ganassi cars are running right now, there’s no reason to think he won’t challenge for a top 10 finish here on Sunday. Remember, Jamie Mac does have five front row qualifying efforts here in his 14 career starts. He also finished 8th at Watkins Glen last year. The other CGR driver, Kyle Larson, is fresh off his win at Michigan, and should be a top 10 threat at Sonoma this weekend. He has qualified inside the top 5 in each of his three starts here and has finished 12th and 15th the last two years here. With that being said, Larson starts are much more valuable on the intermediate race tracks, so it’s time to give him a break in Yahoo! for a couple of weeks. This isn’t the week to use Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney either. Like Larson, their starts are far too valuable at intermediate race tracks. There’s a 0% chance that any of those three drivers are on my team this weekend.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Clint Bowyer, (2) Kurt Busch, (3) Kyle Larson, (4) A.J. Allmendinger, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Chase Elliott, (7) Ryan Blaney, (8) Kasey Kahne, (9) Ryan Newman, (10) Paul Menard, (11) Austin Dillon, (12) Trevor Bayne, (13) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (14) Danica Patrick, (15) Chris Buescher
Yahoo! C Group Early Picks and Rankings for Sonoma
The days of road course ringers being solid Fantasy NASCAR options are over. About ten years ago (or even more), people would hop all over guys like Boris Said and Ron Fellows in hopes of getting a good finish out of a lesser-known guy–especially in salary cap games. Nowadays, whenever Boris Said races–he will be in the #33 in replace of Jeffrey Earnhardt this weekend–you know it’s highly unlikely he finishes better than 20th. The rest of the competition has simply caught up. One ‘ringer’ to watch this weekend, though, is Billy Johnson, who will be piloting the #43 Ford. He has ten years of road course racing experience and is in pretty good equipment. As far as the Yahoo! game goes, Johnson is a great potential start save option, and should probably be on your roster, in part because the C Group studs have never raced a Cup event here at Sonoma. If you want to really go big with start saving, Michael McDowell is running really well right now, and has shown flashes of being decent on road course tracks in the past. He has never finished better than 21st at Sonoma but that could honestly very well change this weekend.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Billy Johnson, (5) Michael McDowell, (6) Cole Whitt, (7) Landon Cassill, (8) Alon Day, the rest