We are finally putting short track racing in our rearview mirrors and moving to the spacious turns and straightaways of the Talladega Superspeedway. If you are new to the biggest and baddest course on the circuit, you are in for a treat. The GEICO 500 features 188 laps around a 2.66 mile monster. You’ll see bump drafts galore and plenty of three-wide action. All of this while drivers attempt to avoid, “the big one.” This is a wreck that happens almost every year, and ruins many a driver’s day. Although for you, “the big one,” could come in the form of a big payday if you get your calls right in your Monkey Knife Fight contest.
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Here are some of my favorite plays from this week’s contests. Scoring in these contests is based on finishing positions inside the Top 20 with 20 points awarded to first place. An additional 0.1 points are tacked on for each lap led. Below are some picks to help you get started in your MKF contests.
More Or Less
Denny Hamlin More Than 13.5 Fantasy Points
Very few drivers are running as hot as Denny Hamlin has been lately. Over the last six races, he finished fourth or better in all of them. He’s also led 483 laps in the last two races alone. On the season, the only race in which he finished outside of the top-10 was his 11th place outing at Homestead. The FedEx Camry has been dominant and has a legitimate shot at repeating as the winner at Talladega.
Last fall, Hamlin started on the pole. By the end of the race, he finished in the same position he started. He led 24 of the first 26 laps before surrendering it for a large chunk of the race. It wasn’t until the final turn of the last lap of overtime that he took the lead again. That final pass took him across the finish line and onto victory lane.
This week NASCAR has run their drivers through the starting formula again. After all the calculations finished, Hamlin was awarded the pole position for the second time in a row. We’ve seen what he can do from that position on the grid. What’s more, all it will take to reach this low a bar is to finish in 7th place. Seeing as though he’s only failed to do that once this season, this is basically a slam dunk.
Joey Logano More Than 12.5 Fantasy Points
Laps are at a premium on the Talladega Superspeedway. All told in this GEICO 500 race, there will be 188 rotations around the track. So, for a driver to to lead 314 times over the last 11 races is quite the accomplishment. In fact, no one has led more laps than Joey Logano has in that span. Even better is the fact that he’s won twice here since 2016. His lack of a decent finish here over the last three races may make you give pause. That said, should he stay clean, he could very easily turn that around.
This week, he starts in the front row alongside Hamlin which could result in some early laps led. To reach his prop he’ll need to notch a finish of at least 8th place. So far this season, he’s accomplished that five times in nine tires. These five include four top-3 finishes. Logano has been in the mix all season long and will stay there making this bet a good one.
Chase Elliott More Fantasy Points Than Ryan Blaney (+0.5)
Both of these drivers are similar in many ways as it pertains to both their 2021 seasons, and their performances on this track. Ryan Blaney has made 13 Cup Series starts at Talladega and has finished inside the top-10 four times. Two of those came by way of back-to-back wins in the fall race of 2019 and the Spring race of 2020. While all of that seems positive, the majority of his time in Alabama hasn’t been that kind.
Four times he’s finished 25th or worse. Four times he’s either suffered engine problems or has crashed, including the last time he raced here. So far he’s put in a solid effort to start the season. He already has four top-10 finishes with a win in Atlanta under his helmet. He’ll have his work cut out for him though as the last time he was on a Superspeedway he didn’t have that great of a day. In the Daytona 500, he was wrecked and had to settle for a 30th place finish.
As for Chase Elliott, he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates are having one helluva start to the season. Like Blaney, he too has four top-10 finishes with a victory on the Daytona road course on his 2021 resume. Also like Blaney, Elliott has made a handful of Cup starts on this track. The driver of the #9 Chevy Camaro has 10 career appearances here with five top-10 finishes and one checkered flag.
The reigning series champion was dialed in at the Daytona 500 and finished second there. He’s starting from the 8th position Sunday, coincidentally one spot behind Blaney. The difference though, is that Elliot will have two of his teammates in Alex Bowman right in front of him. Should those three link up, it could cause trouble for the rest of the field.
Kurt Busch More Fantasy Points Than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+0.5)
Kurt Busch has roamed the turns of Talladega since 2001. In that span he has made 40 starts in the Cup series. More than half of those have been top-10 performances. His last five years here though have been all over the board in that he’s had just as many top-10 finishes as he’s had finishes outside of 25th place. So, for this prop to hit, you’ll need to buy into the fact that he’s never had back to back poor finishes in that span. His last time out here ended with a 32nd place effort because of a wreck.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. does not have as many starts here as Busch, but he has done fairly well in them. In 15 career starts, he has placed in the top-10 nine times. He also has a win here that he picked up in the Spring of 2017. Like Busch though, he’s had more than his fair share of disappointing finishes. He’s suffered three races in which he’s crashed and four times has finished outside the top-25.
Neither driver has enjoyed much of the current season. Busch only has one top-10 finish all year, while Stenhouse Jr. only has one. What you are looking for in this prop is for Busch to lean on his years of experience to keep him in or around his starting position of 15th. That puts him automatically two spots ahead of Stenhouse Jr. who rolls off from the 17th position. If they maintain that interval, you win this prop.