Daniel Hemric is on the pole for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Is the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender worthy of a spot on your roster? How should you navigate the playoff game format? We‘ve dissected the numbers to offer a suggested lineup worthy of your Fantasy Live consideration.
RJ Kraft’s Fantasy Live lineup for race day at Kansas:
Playoff driver 1: Brad Keselowski
Playoff driver 2: Martin Truex Jr.
Non-playoff driver 1: Kurt Busch
Non-playoff driver 2: Aric Almirola
Garage: Kyle Busch
Analysis: The most recent winner at Kansas — Keselowski — is the anchor to my lineup. He’s been solid here throughout his career and was solid in practice. I also like that given his position to the cutline (+20) that he and crew chief Paul Wolfe will be aggressive in maintaining track position and nabbing stage points. I also like Truex at this track. He swept the 2017 races here and I like the momentum he has in the playoffs.
For the garage, I am absolutely taking a playoff driver. The pick here centered around Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney. Blaney qualified the best of the three — third — but his 1.5-mile tracks numbers have been disappointing for much of the year with just three races of at least 30 points. Busch had great lap averages in final practice and his starting spot of 18th indicates the No. 18 team is all set in race trim. The bugaboo with him has been the inconsistency in the playoffs, but I think they have something to prove this weekend. And then there’s Harvick — who has been tremendous at this track with crew chief Rodney Childers — but will start all the way at the back in 40th. The lap averages for Harvick were solid. Starting toward the back didn’t bother Chase Elliott (52 points) or Kyle Larson (37 points) in the spring as each scored points in both stages as well. It’s more of a coin flip than I originally thought and I’m going with Busch for the better starting spot and lap averages.
On the non-playoff side, I thought Kurt Busch looked the best in practice and has been a steady hand on the intermediates all year. The second spot is a close call and I am not going to be fooled by all the teams that trimmed out their cars for a strong starting spot. This spot for me is between Jimmie Johnson and Almirola. I like Almirola’s recent Kansas results — four straight top 12s, while Johnson has been solid of late on the 1.5-mile tracks (five races with at least 26 points in the past six on that track length). The seven-time champ is a more popular play among users and I like being a little bit of a contrarian so I’ll take the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.
On the bonus picks side, I will take Keselowski to win Stage 1, Kyle Busch to win Stage 2 and Harvick to win the race with Toyota as the manufacturer pick.
Each week in this space, we‘ll also highlight two Props Challenge items for players.
1. Does a driver below the cutline advance to the Round of 8? The drivers below the cutline are Alex Bowman (-18), Chase Elliott (-22), Clint Bowyer (-24) and William Byron (-27) with reigning series champion Joey Logano holding the final transfer spot. I don’t see Logano or his Penske teammate Keselowski or even Harvick — starting at the back — coming up short of advancing and I think everyone above them is relatively secure. My pick here is NO.
2. O/U 8.5 playoff drivers will score stage points at Kansas. The playoff drivers are pretty strung out in the starting grid due to some non-playoff teams going all in on qualifying trim. That said, the better long-run cars belonged to the playoff field and I think that will show itself in stage points. So while the starting spots may say under, I am going OVER as I expect the cream — in this case playoff drivers — to rise to the top in each stage.