Toyota / Save Mart 350k

Twice a year, NASCAR forces the drivers to turn both left and right.

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 26:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Cares Toyota, races Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2016 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

There was a time when they simply endured this humiliation and tried to salvage as many points as possible. Now, the best drivers in the NASCAR field on ovals can also regularly be counted on as top contenders on road courses. That not only changed every racer’s strategy, it also impacted fantasy players.

When half the field struggled simply to keep all four wheels on the pavement, road ringers were good choices to finish in the top 20 and grab the occasional top-10. That allowed us to save an allocation for drivers like Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, or Kyle Busch. Now, each of those drivers regularly score top-fives.

There are still some surprise faces that grace the front of the field to a greater percentage than on ovals, such as AJ Allmendinger and Clint Bowyer, but true road ringers are hard to find.

This week, three teams will employ road specialists and none of them are particularly strong organizations. That means that no matter how good the driver is, he is unlikely to be able to overcome his equipment. One exception might be Alon Day, who becomes the first NASCAR Euro driver to compete in the Cup series. His salary cap is going to be low in most games—when he is available at all—at that will stretch the budget at the top.

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FireKeepers Casino 400

It is certainly a matter of subjectivity, but the two-mile tracks may be among the best NASCAR offers.

DOVER, DE - JUNE 02:  Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway on June 2, 2017 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The radiuses of the corners at Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway compared to the track length most often contribute to two- and three-abreast racing. Those multiple grooves mean drivers have an opportunity to move around and find the line that works best for them.

The balance of maneuverability and speed seems to be replicated on the similarly shaped, three-fourths-mile oval of Richmond International Raceway, so that short track can also be used as a comparative.

Qualification is important—but not prohibitively so. Poor track position can be overcome if a driver has a superior car. Given the length of the race, strategy often plays an important role, but the speeds obtained on this speedway type means that pitting is going to cost a lap, so one must be careful.

These traits are going to be even more important with the addition of segments. There are now three opportunities per race to be in the top 10 when points are on the line. And since no one truly knows how big a factor each individual segment bonus point is going to matter, it is a wild card that cannot be ignored.

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Axalta Presents the Pocono 400

NASCAR leaves one of its most unique tracks and heads to another. But while it is difficult to find a suitable comparative to Dover International Speedway, the same is not true of Pocono Raceway.

HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 05: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Autotrader Ford, affixes the winner’s decal to his car in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5, 2017 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The triangular shape of Pocono certainly makes it one of NASCAR’s oddest looking courses, but the length of the track and flat corners has a lot of similarities to the rectangular Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both tracks are out of NASCAR’s norm in terms of their geometry and that fact is significant because it changes a drivers approach on entry.

There are two factors that allow drivers to race hard into the corners of a similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile track. One is the steeper banking used on those tracks than NASCAR’s flat corners. But the other is the shape of the corners that allow racers to set and even change their groove once they are committed to the turn. At Pocono and Indy, the line is determined on entry, not nearly as much time is spent in the corners compared to the rest of the track, and it is difficult to overcome a mistake.

Even if a driver does not make any mistakes, they can be put in a difficult situation if another car gets to their inside. There is not a lot of two abreast racing through the corners, but that does not mean there is not a lot of passing.

In order to overtake another driver, one has to back up to the previous corner. The most successful drivers on most courses are those who get the best run off the turn, but this is particularly true on flat tracks. A car must enter easily and the driver must accelerate at the perfect spot at the apex.

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AAA 400

Dover is one of NASCAR’s unique tracks.

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 31: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 31, 2017 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For many years, we used Bristol Motor Speedway as a comparative because, despite the difference in length, the two courses were high-banked and paved with concrete. The Tennessee short track began making so many changes, however, that the contrast became less apparent.

There is still some similarity between how drivers approach each track and Bristol should be given a little more consideration than other courses, but it is not as close as it was.

The same is true of Darlington Raceway. Concrete tracks are tough on tires as is the abrasive surface of that racetrack. The challenge with comparing these two courses is that since their single race has moved back to its traditional slot in the summer, Darlington is also largely impacted by the hot weather that changes the surface even more.

Dover can get hot during either of their races, but with one contest in the spring and another in the fall, that is not a defining characteristic. For that reason, it is best to concentrate on a driver’s Dover record first and then use other factors to fill in the gaps. .

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Coca-Cola 600

For the third consecutive week and the second time in a points’ paying race, NASCAR visits one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 13:  Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, places the winner's decal on his car in Victory Lane during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 13, 2017 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Kansas Speedway and the GoBowling.com 400 turned out to be a pivotal event, but not in the way most expected. Accidents in the pits and on the track ended “cookie-cutter” streaks for two of NASCAR’s hottest drivers and sent two other racers to the infield care center.

Joey Logano exploded a brake rotor on lap 199 of the GoBowling.com 400, veered left into Danica Patrick and the pair collected Aric Almirola. Logano and Patrick climbed from their cars; Almirola dropped his window net to signal he was okay, but on further review, had to be cut from the cockpit.

In a season that has seen her enthusiasm wane progressively, Patrick was as dejected as ever before. Logano was visibly shaken by the impact taken by Almirola, and the driver of the No. 43 will be out of the cockpit indefinitely as a lower vertebra heels. Regan Smith has been named as his replacement for now.

Chase Elliott made heavy contact with Michael McDowell in the pits early in the race when either his crew chief or spotter cleared him too soon. This Young Gun has been mostly unflappable during the season-to-date, but even though McDowell was not at fault, Elliott rammed the back of his stocker after leaving the pits.

Folks: Summer isn’t even here yet and tempers are boiling.

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GoBowling.com 400

The unrestricted, intermediate speedways will dominate the schedule for a while.

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30:  Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 30, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joey Logano

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

After this week’s GoBowling.com 400 at Kansas Speedway, the series heads home for the All-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and then the World 600. Two weeks after that, they challenge to unique Pocono Raceway and then head to another similarly-configured two mile track: Michigan International Speedway.

Horsepower and handling are going to be the keys to success until the series visits back-to-back wild card tracks this summer. Sonoma Raceway and Daytona International Speedway will give players an opportunity to shakeup their roster, but until then, a lot of the same cast of characters will be featured each week.

That is largely what happened at the beginning of this season when Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano found their momentum at Atlanta Motor Speedway through Auto Club Speedway before the short track season began at Martinsville Speedway.

Since then, the streaks have been broken up. Currently, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the best active string with three top-10s and five top-15s. On cannot automatically assume that the strongest drivers before this current spate of short track and the superspeedway offerings will pick up where they left off. In fact, one or two of them probably will not.

The best guess is that the drivers with the least experience are the most likely to fall off, but Larson and Elliott have the added benefit of “the changing of the guard.” It is not as if the competition level has decreased, but several marquee drivers who stood in their way over last year are no longer in the equation while they have taken their place. Maturity and potential are not the same thing, however, so be cautious.

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Geico 500

Four times a year, fantasy players can take all their analysis and throw it out the window. Both Talladega SuperSpeedway and both Daytona International Speedway’s races defy any attempt to build an accurate predictive model.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Drivers including Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Ford, Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Aspen Dental Ford, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 26, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

That uncertainty can be exciting for fans without any skin in the game. Fantasy players have a different set of concerns, however, and that make this race much less enjoyable.

There a few statistics that suggest who is going to run well, but nothing screams that any given driver is a must-have. In 2015, Dale Earnhardt Jr. swept the top-three in all four restrictor-plate, superspeedway races. The next year, he could not crack the top 20.

And, of course, there are those nagging exceptions that try to draw players into a sense of believing that something is truly predictive. Kurt Busch has finished 12th or better in nine of his last 10 plate races and he was going to get another top-10 at Daytona last July before he was spun out of fourth on the final corner of the final lap.

Of course, the fact that he was on this writer’s Draft Kings lineup that week probably had something to do with his misfortune as well.

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Toyota Owners 400

Richmond is a track that caters to a wide variety of skills. Its three-quarter-mile distance and sweeping front stretch makes it behave both as a short track and an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. The result of that is drivers who perform well on both disciplines tend to excel at Richmond.

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 09: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, puts the winner's sticker on his car after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Fantasy owners can look to the two-mile tracks and the short courses.

A few weeks back, Kyle Larson’s completed his dominant start to the season with a victory at Auto Club Speedway. It virtually locked him into the playoffs and established him as one of the early frontrunners as a place-and-hold favorite on most tracks.

Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson won the first two short track races of the season and that also put them on the radar screen for fantasy players looking to that track type as the primary source for handicapping.

But there is also some significant overlap between the two types and that is where some of the best drivers will come from this week. Joey Logano swept the top five at Auto Club Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, and Bristol Motor Speedway. Clint Bowyer has a worst finish of seventh on those three courses, while Chase Elliott has top-10s in all. If not for mechanical problems last week, Keselowski would certainly have added his name to the mix.

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Food City 500

For many fans, Bristol Motor Speedway is the king of the short tracks.

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 18:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Ford, stands in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 18, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

This bullring has one of the longest and most interesting histories in the sport, morphing through several iterations. No matter what track officials do to it, the competition has almost always remained intense.

There was a brief period of time when this track developed a single groove, but that seems to be in the past. And with NASCAR’s insistence on parity, it is almost impossible for one driver to run away from the field. Factor in the mandatory cautions at the end of segments one and two, plus some inevitable slow-downs along the way, and there is the potential for more cars than normal on the lead lap at the end of the Food City 500.

There are going to be plenty of dark horse options this week.

Last summer, the second- through fifth-place drivers, plus the seventh- and ninth-place drivers, had all finished outside the top 15 in the spring, which is a distribution of wealth rarely seen in NASCAR.

In the spring, dark horse top-10s were earned by Matt DiBenedetto and Trevor Bayne. In the summer, Stenhouse earned a runner-up finish. Chris Buescher was fifth. If there was ever a justification for rolling the dice and taking some fantasy risks, this is the week to do so.

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O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

It is almost as if NASCAR can’t quite figure out what to do with Texas Motor Speedway. And that’s all right. The state of Texas has always been iconoclastic, so the race might as well be also.

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 25:  Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 25, 2017 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Depending on where one lives in its confines, Texas either considers itself a Western state or part of the South. Dallas is has a more Southern feel, while Fort Worth with its heritage as a cattle hub is more Western.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 could easily be part of the Western Swing, but it’s not. Instead, it currently interrupts what would be a three-race, short track schedule. So, the Texas race stands alone just as many inhabitants the want state itself to.

Each track is different than the other, but perhaps the best way to think of them is as siblings. Sharing many of the same life experiences, they develop their own personalities, but there is always a certain commonality.

Putting aside the impact that has on fans, the proliferation of this type of track is not a bad thing for fantasy players. One can look back at the most recent “cookie-cutter” race and use that as a baseline to set this week’s roster. In the first two races on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year, three drivers swept the top five, four more finished between sixth and 10th, and another three swept the top 15.

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