We’re officially in the second-to-last round of the Playoffs, and to kick off the Round of 8, the NASCAR Cup Series is going racing at Texas Motor Speedway with the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 on Sunday afternoon. We’ve actually raced here at Texas once this season, but it wasn’t a typical race. Instead, it was the All Star Race that had all of the re-shuffling and everything, but still, Kyle Larson ended up in victory lane (shocker). Similar tracks to look at this weekend are the two Las Vegas races as well as the Kansas race and the Charlotte race. All four of these tracks are considered “low-wear” 1.5-milers.
*Please note: the picks and suggestions below are my opinions and strategy for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. These are not meant to sway your thinking in any way, but rather give you insight into the drivers I am most likely to pick on race day.*
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Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest Picks for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas
Denny Hamlin ($12,400) – It’s hard to bet against Denny Hamlin right now, and as I said on the Stacking Dennys podcast this week, I think it’s going to be the #11 Toyota punching the first ticket official to Phoenix here on Sunday. The algorithm agrees with me. Hamlin and this #11 team have turned things up in a major way since these Playoffs have started, and he ranks inside the top 4 in both average running position as well as average finish on the “low-wear” 1.5-mile tracks this year. The same can be said about the 550hp package overall. Hamlin starts 2nd on Sunday so there’s basically no place differential potential, but he can win both Stages and the race if everything goes right. Plus, Joe Gibbs Racing seems to have an advantage overall here at Texas Motor Speedway; Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have combined for seven career wins at this track.
Kevin Harvick ($12,200) – Does Kevin Harvick have race-winning upside on Sunday afternoon? No. Does he have top 5 finishing upside? Probably not. But he should be able to pull off a top 10 finish, and with him starting back in 24th for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 on Sunday, that will equal a pretty solid fantasy score in this Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest while also being a relatively safe pick compared to the two other drivers priced above him (if bad luck strikes any of them). In the four “low-wear” 1.5-mile track races this season, Harvick has posted three top 10 finishes, and he’s 8-for-10 in the 550hp package when it comes to finishing 11th or better this year.
Kyle Busch ($11,800) – Kyle Busch is the lowest-priced of the three main contenders on Sunday–at least according to the algorithm–and also starts 3rd, which gives him a tiny bit of place differential upside compared to Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin (starting on the front row). I will say, all three of these drivers are very good picks on Sunday, but I like the price discount with Kyle Busch. He has an average finish of 2.5 on the “low-wear” 1.5-mile tracks this season and a crazy-good 3.7 average finish in the ten 550hp package races. Rowdy is also the defending winner of this race and should contend again here on Sunday.
William Byron ($11,300) – William Byron has definitely had some major “dud” finishes at low-wear 1.5-mile races throughout his career, but this season he’s been pretty solid, with finishes of 4th, 8th, and 9th before the Las Vegas Playoff race, where he finished 18th thanks to some bad luck. Overall, Byron ranks 5th in average running position (7.2) on the “low-wear” 1.5-mile tracks this year, and is 3rd-best in that statistic (7.6) with the 550hp package overall. On Sunday, Willy B will start from back in 12th but he should have enough speed to contend for a top 5 finish.
Ryan Blaney ($10,700) – If there’s one driver that could come out of left field (kind of) and get a win here on Sunday afternoon, it’s going to be Ryan Blaney. Six of the last seven races in the Lone Star State have ended with Young Ryan Blaney in 8th or better, and he’s led 148+ laps in two of the last eight races at this track–including this exact event last season. This year, Blaney posted top 5 finishes in both Las Vegas races and came home 5th here at Texas in the All Star Race back in June.
Ross Chastain ($8,800) – Ross Chastain will start from back in 25th on Sunday at Texas, and while that creates a huge opportunity for place differential points, make sure you proceed with caution. Chastain has been significantly worse with the 550hp package this season than what we’re used to seeing out of him. He ranks 28th-best in average finish (24.3) over those ten races and his average running position (22.0) isn’t much better, coming in at 25th-best. Additionally, Chastain has zero top 10s and only three top 20s over those ten races. There’s definitely place differential upside here, but I don’t think the #42 Chevrolet is a slam dunk pick on Sunday.
“Race Winner” Pick = Kyle Larson – The algorithm says it’s going to be Denny Hamlin, and I think Kyle Busch also has a shot at this one, but how can you bet against Kyle Larson? We all know he’s going to be a contender on Sunday afternoon, and the 500-mile race really plays into his hands considering how the #5 team is so good at making the car better as the race goes on. “Yung Money” has the best average running position in the 550hp package this season (by a significant margin) and also ranks #1 in that statistic on the “low-wear” 1.5-mile tracks in 2021 (again, by a significant margin).