It’s kind of hard to believe but we’re already at the end of the first round in this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch are already guaranteed to advance to the next round, and pretty much everyone that is currently inside the top 10 should be good unless something disastrous happens on Sunday. That leaves the final 2 spots in Round 2 to be decided between these six drivers: Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, and Kasey Kahne. McMurray has a 9-point cushion over the cut line heading into the weekend but he’s nowhere near safe.
I will post my official Yahoo! roster for Loudon 2 on Twitter on Thursday evening before lockdown on Friday morning. Please follow me there: @FanRacingOnline
PLEASE NOTE: We have a similar schedule this weekend as we did at Loudon last weekend, with a practice session and qualifying happening on Friday followed by two more practice sessions on Saturday. Be sure to check back to this post on Saturday evening for my final notes and my official starters for Sunday afternoon’s race at “The Monster Mile.”
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Dover 2
Martin Truex, Jr. (3 starts remaining) – Martin Truex, Jr. is still, by far, the top driver heading into the race weekend. He won this race last year and has led at least 100 laps in three of the last five Dover races. He’s also finished 9th or better in six of the last seven events at this track. Personally, I only have three Truex starts left in Yahoo!, so I’m seriously considering leaving him off my team this weekend, as we still have quite a few intermediate tracks left. Additionally, over 50% of Yahoo! teams will roster Truex this weekend, so if something would happen to him on Sunday…. oh, who am I kidding, nothing’s going to happen to Truex.
Kyle Busch (2 starts remaining) – The #18 Toyota has been a threat to win for pretty much the last three months, and that’s not suddenly going to change this weekend. Remember, Kyle Busch sat on the pole here at Dover back in June, but had a tire come off after an early pit stop and ended up finishing 16th. So, in a way, you could say Rowdy could be out for some redemption this weekend. Kyle Busch is a two-time Dover winner in the Cup Series and has finished inside the top 5 in just under half of his 25 career starts here. As far as the October race goes, Rowdy has wound up 2nd in the last two and will have the car to make it three in a row here on Sunday–that is, of course, if he doesn’t bank another win.
Kevin Harvick is a always a great choice here at Dover even though the last two races haven’t gone that well for “Happy.” Still, Harvick absolutely dominated this fall race here two years ago and he has led a combined 810 laps here over his last seven starts. Just for comparison, there’s only five active drivers that have led that many laps over their entire careers at this race track. As far as the playoffs go, Harvick should be good to advance despite the bad finish at Loudon last weekend, but he’s still going to need a solid effort here on Sunday. The only bad thing I have to say about him is that it’s been a while since that #4 Ford has been a legitimate threat to dominate and win.
One driver that I thought could go under-owned this weekend is Jimmie Johnson, but he’s already at 23% ownership in Yahoo!. So you’re not going to be extremely different going with Johnson, but he’s still worth considering; “Seven Time” is an eleven-time winner here at Dover International Speedway and is also the most recent winner here despite leading only 7 laps back in June. This #48 team hasn’t shown race-winning potential in quite a while, but you know how they have a knack for “turning it on” during the playoffs…
Matt Kenseth finished 3rd last week at Loudon and continues to be a weekly top 5 threat. Unfortunately, he’s not the kind of driver that’s going to go out and dominate a race, so Kenseth ends up being severely under-owned in leagues like Yahoo!. Still, Matt won here at Dover last season and has finished 7th or better in six of the last eight races at this track. Can you say off-sequence pick? As of Thursday afternoon, only 11% of Yahoo! teams had Kenseth rostered.
Matt Kenseth’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, isn’t great at Dover so it’ll probably be best to stay away this weekend. Yeah, this #11 Toyota has had a whole bunch of speed over the last three months, but Hamlin hasn’t had a top 5 finish here at Dover since 2014–and before that his last one came in 2010. I guess you could say he’s due, but there are just far too many other options in the Yahoo! A Group this weekend to take a chance with Denny.
As far as what to expect from the Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as usual the former is a much better option than the latter. Keselowski and this #2 crew are coming off of a very solid race at Loudon, and Keselowski has finished 6th or better in six of the last ten races here at Dover. That includes his win here back in 2012. Logano, on the other hand, hasn’t even sniffed a legitimate top 5 in months and hasn’t finished better than 6th here at Dover since the 2014 season.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Martin Truex, Jr., (2) Kyle Busch, (3) Matt Kenseth, (4) Kevin Harvick, (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Jimmie Johnson, (7) Denny Hamlin, (8) Joey Logano, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Post-Qualifying A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Kevin Harvick, (4) Jimmie Johnson, (5) Matt Kenseth, (6) Brad Keselowski, (7) Denny Hamlin, (8) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (9) Joey Logano
Final Notes: Martin Truex, Jr. might have won the pole this weekend but Kyle Busch has the best car. The #18 Toyota ranked P1 in both practice sessions when it came to ten-lap average. Even worse for Truex is that the #78 Toyota was just off in both practices on Saturday. I don’t think it’s something to be overly concerned about, but I don’t think we’ll see a Truex domination on Sunday by any means. Those two are head and shoulders better than the rest of the field, but if you want to start someone else in the A Group, Kenseth looked solid on Saturday. Additionally, Jimmie Johnson loves this race track, has 11 wins here, and was 2nd-fastest in Happy Hour. That #48 Chevrolet starts mid-pack on Sunday but should contend for the win before it’s all said and done. Finally, Kevin Harvick was fast in both practice sessions Saturday, and looks to be a solid top 5 contender. Still, it’s hard to imagine any A Group driver (other than Busch and Truex) leading a significant amount of laps on Sunday.
My Starter: Kyle Busch over Martin Truex, Jr.
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Dover 2
Kyle Larson (2 starts remaining) – Kyle Larson has been good at Dover International Speedway ever since he started racing in the Cup Series, but just recently he’s turned into a legitimate threat to win; over the last three races here at “The Monster Mile,” the #42 Chevrolet has finished 2nd twice and has led a total of 326 laps, including a race-high 241 in the first race here this season. Overall, Larson has three top 5 finishes in seven career starts at this track and has finished worse than 11th only once. Momentum-wise, this #42 team doesn’t quite have the speed of the Toyotas, but they’re probably the closest. Larson has four top 5 finishes in the last six Cup Series races overall and that includes two wins. He needs to be on your Yahoo! team for Dover this weekend, but whether we’ll have to wait until after qualifying and practice to see if he’s worth burning one of those precious remaining starts.
Kasey Kahne (8 starts remaining) – On Sunday, it’s probably going to take the best race of Kasey Kahne’s season for him to advance into the next round, but with the amount of speed the #5 Chevrolet had at Loudon last weekend, that’s definitely something that this team can build on. And the good news is that Dover has been one of Kasey Kahne’s best tracks over the last few years; over the last five races here at “The Monster Mile,” Kahne has posted four finishes of 12th or better, including three results inside the top 6. He’s not going to go out there and dominate the race on Sunday, but a top 10 is possible. It’s always a risk putting Kasey Kahne on your roster in Fantasy NASCAR, but he’s a great off-sequence pick this weekend, especially considering he’s still a playoff driver.
Chase Elliott (3 starts remaining) – Last weekend proved once again that Chase Elliott is what he is at certain tracks, and when it comes to Dover International Speedway, you can file him under “very good.” Chase has yet to lead a lap here at “The Monster Mile” but he has never finished worse than 5th in his three Cup Series starts at this track. What’s even more impressive is that he’s never had a qualifying effort better than 9th here. This #24 team showed at Chicagoland a couple of weeks ago that they’re capable of running with the big dogs, and if Chase can get a top 5 starting spot this weekend, he might just challenge for the win yet again. It’s hard to pass up consistency at a track like Dover, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t be on your Yahoo! team this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (4 starts remaining) – Putting only two B Group studs in the lineup could backfire this weekend, but don’t forget that we still have to make the math work here in terms of starts. There’s 8 races left in the 2017 season and that means we’re looking at 16 more starts out of B Group drivers. Anyway, looking at Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. this weekend, he mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Dover is probably this #17 team’s best shot in the playoffs, which was surprising considering Talladega is coming up. Still, when a driver makes a declaration like that, you have to take notice. Ricky has had a few terrible results here at Dover in his ten career starts, but he’s finished between 8th and 14th in half of them, and he’s going to need another race like that on Sunday if the #17 team is going to make it to Round 2.
Ryan Newman hasn’t been great here at Dover over the last few years–just one finish better than 16th in the last five races–but there’s actually quite a few things to like about “The Rocketman” this weekend. First, this #31 team has had a couple of mediocre weeks to start out the playoffs, but this is the same team that has five finishes between 3rd and 7th in the last nine Cup Series races overall. Additionally, Newman came home 4th here at Dover back in June. I may be a little too high on him this weekend, but I’m expecting a good finish out of him on Sunday.
Looking at the Ford trio of Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, and Kurt Busch: they all have top 10 potential on Sunday but it all comes down to how much you trust them. Blaney finished 8th in his first career start here at Dover but has followed that up with 38th- and 32nd-place results. Bowyer hasn’t had a top 10 here since he was with Michael Waltrip Racing, but in the nine races from 2011 to 2015 he never finished worse than 10th at Dover–and it’s not like he’s suddenly forgot how to race here. With Kurt Busch, the #41 team has lost all momentum after last weekend and Kurt might need a win on Sunday to advance. He won here at Dover back in 2011 but has just one finish better than 11th in the eleven races since.
Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon are really the only other viable options this weekend. Jamie Mac has three top 10s in his last five Dover starts and even led a couple of laps here back in June before finishing 7th. Austin Dillon, on the other hand, was terrible here at “The Monster Mile” in his first six Cup Series starts, but he wound up 8th in this race one year ago and then posted a 13th-place finish when we raced here back in June. I like McMurray quite a bit better than Austin this weekend, but the latter provides a pretty good off-sequence pick for Sunday.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Chase Elliott, (3) Ryan Newman, (4) Ryan Blaney, (5) Clint Bowyer, (6) Jamie McMurray, (7) Kurt Busch, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Aric Almirola, (12) Danica Patrick, (13) Trevor Bayne, (14) Paul Menard, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Chris Buescher
Post-Qualifying B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Chase Elliott, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Ryan Newman, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Kurt Busch, (7) Clint Bowyer, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Aric Almirola, (12) Danica Patrick, (13) Trevor Bayne, (14) Paul Menard, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Chris Buescher
Final Notes: There weren’t many surprises in the B Group this weekend, as Kyle Larson looks like a legitimate contender to lead a bunch of laps and contend for the win this weekend, and Chase Elliott should be a top 5 car by the checkered flag as well. In fact, the biggest surprise was probably Jamie McMurray, who had his worst qualifying effort of the season on Friday. However, the #1 team made wholesale changes to that car and, honestly, McMurray looked like he could contend for at least a top 10 on Sunday during the practices. Still, it’s always a risk to take someone starting that far in the field (26th) and I personally can’t justify running McMurray over either Elliott or Larson. If you’re down to your final Larson/Elliott start, though, you might consider it. Ryan Blaney has top 10 potential this weekend, as does Ryan Newman. I like the former a little better after practice, though. Everything else pretty much stayed the same from before lockdown, as it’s mostly going to come down to how this race plays out for a lot of these mid-pack drivers.
My Starters: Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson over Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Dover 2
Suddenly the situation in the C Group is turning into “I hope some of the 2018 Cup rookies get some starts to close out the year,” as Ty Dillon has turned into a driver that qualifies back in the 30s and is fighting to stay on the lead lap. And at a track like Dover, starting back in the 30s is a major disadvantage. The good news is that Ty finished 14th here at Dover back in June and even led 27 laps in that race, but that was more due to strategy than anything else. As far as the Erik Jones or Daniel Suarez decision goes, as usual, Jones should have more speed this weekend but Suarez is generally a safer pick in Fantasy NASCAR. Back here in June, Jones wound up finishing 15th while Suarez came home 6th, but it wouldn’t be surprising if those finishes flipped here this weekend. In reality, it’s going to come down to how many starts you have left with each as far as who to roster, and since I have 2 Jones left and 1 Suarez, I’m leaning toward the former. I’ll be pairing my decision with Ty Dillon in hopes of saving a “stud” start.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) Landon Cassill, (6) David Ragan, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Post-Qualifying C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) David Ragan, (5) Michael McDowell, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Final Notes: Both Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones look to have top 10 cars this weekend, although you have to give the nod to the former heading into Sunday, as not only did Suarez out-qualify Jones, but the #19 Toyota looked a little bit better than the #77 Toyota in practice on Saturday as well. If you’re going to max points, starting one of those two is definitely the way to go. As far as saving starts, though, it’s slim pickings. Ty Dillon and the #13 team still haven’t quite figured out how to find speed, and Michael McDowell and his team are still struggling as well. One guy to keep an eye on Sunday, however, is David Ragan, as the #38 Ford was 17th- and 21st-fastest in the two practice sessions on Saturday, and Ragan has finished between 13th and 22nd in three of his last five starts here at Dover.
My Starter: Erik Jones over Ty Dillon