The Easter break gives fantasy owners an opportunity to look back at the unrestricted races this season. Momentum is a powerful force that is subject to rapid changes—but it cannot be ignored. Kyle Larson’s win at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago gave him the confidence needed to come from the back twice at Texas Motor Speedway and finish second.
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally had breakthrough races with solid results in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, but there is still an open question about whether they will be able sustain that.
Regular Season Races Remaining: 19 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 6
Eligible on Wins
Brad Keselowski (2 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 274 points)
Last-six Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 4
Since leaving Daytona, Keselowski has been almost perfect. He won the QuikTrip 500 miler at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the STP 500 lapper at Martinsville Speedway. That showed versatility on two track types that dominate the NASCAR schedule. Last week was his worst result on an unrestricted track: He was sixth in the O'Reilly 500 at Texas.
Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 4 Stage Wins / 275 points)
Last-six Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 3
Truex has been capable of winning on every similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track for the past two years, but this team is prone to making mistakes at the wrong time. Perhaps that is a function of their shops being located in Colorado, far from the NASCAR hub.
Kyle Larson (1 win / 1 Stage Win / 315 points)
Last-six Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 1
Larson has easily been the dominant driver in the six races since NASCAR left Daytona International Speedway. His average finish is slightly marred by a mechanical failure at Martinsville, but since he was not supposed to fare well in that race, the impact on fantasy players was minimal.
Jimmie Johnson (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 141 points)
Last-six Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 11
Winning the O'Reilly 500 was a huge relief for Johnson. It will silence his critics for a little while, but that is only because they tend to have short memories in a narrow media cycle. Johnson is not recommended as a place-and-hold fantasy driver until he earns consecutive top-10s.
Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 163 points)
Last-six Ranking: 15
Points’ Standings: 13
Newman’s victory in the Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway skews his average finish positively, but there have been a greater number of disappointments. He was 35th at Atlanta and 26th at Texas. Since that track type dominates the schedule to a higher degree than the short, flat tracks, fantasy players should be a little concerned.
Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 151 points)
Last-six Ranking: 26
Points’ Standings: 15
Busch is only 15th in the standings and has the 26th-best, six-race average, but for the moment that is good enough. Last week’s 10th-place finish at Texas snapped a four-race, sub-20th-place streak. That might lift some weight off his shoulders and allow him to challenge more consistently for top-15s.
Eligible on Points
Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 Stage Win / 198 points)
Last-six Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 10
Like his teammate Busch, Harvick was also able to reverse his fortune last week in Texas. His fourth-place finish was the first top-five of the season, but he has been strong during the middle stages of races. His three stage wins are second only to Truex’s four and that provides much needed bonus points for the playoffs.
Chase Elliott (0 wins / 2 Stage Wins / 298 points)
Last-six Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 2
Elliott is comfortably second in the standings with a 23-point advantage over Truex. That should allow this team to take a few risks and get that elusive first victory. If they start to gamble, however, fantasy owners might want to take a step back and see how this plays out before committing long-term resources to the No. 24.
Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 2 Stage Wins / 224 points)
Last-six Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 6
Blaney’s two stage wins last week rockets him up the list. If the playoffs started tomorrow, he would be tied with Elliott for the seventh seeding. That domination of the first half of the race was important, but now the Wood Bros. need to figure out how to close the deal. One has a sense that is not too far in the future.
Joey Logano (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 207 points)
Last-six Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5
Arguably, Logano has been the second strongest driver in the field during the first seven weeks. Larson has a clear lock on the first spot, but Keselowski and Elliott would challenge the driver of the No. 22 for the runner-up position. With a veteran and patient outlook, Logano is probably a safer bet for players.
Kyle Busch (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 211 points)
Last-six Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 7
Busch’s 15th-place finish at Texas was a disappointment. He started in the back of the pack, but never really seemed to have the same level of strength as drivers like Johnson, Larson, and Elliott. It is difficult to think of Busch as one of the old guard, but his fantasy owners need to be aware of imminent change.
Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 204 points)
Last-six Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 9
Bowyer lost a spot in the standings last week because of Jamie McMurray’s stellar run, but that should not fool fantasy players. This driver and team continue to be one of the best options in most games—especially since they were undervalued at the start of the season in salary cap formulations.
Erik Jones (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 159 points)
Last-six Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 14
For perhaps the first time this year, Jones looked like a rookie at Texas—and that is ok. After all, he is a freshman with relatively little experience in NASCAR’s top tiers. It humanizes the phenom and might have the competition overlooking him in the coming weeks. That would be a mistake.
Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 209 points)
Last-six Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 8
With four top-10s in the last six races, McMurray has been stout on unrestricted speedways. He could easily have a sweep of the top 10 if for problems on the short, flat tracks of Phoenix and Martinsville. He is not putting up the numbers of his teammate Larson, but the potential for top-fives is there on tracks where he has a good three-year record.
Trevor Bayne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 164 points)
Last-six Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 12
Considering where Roush-Fenway Racing has been for the past few years, Bayne’s current position as a playoff contender is impressive. He has the 12th-best average finish on unrestricted tracks and that gives him a little breathing room until the drivers below him in the standings roll the dice and record victories.
Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 151 points)
Last-six Ranking: 23
Points’ Standings: 16
Hamlin took advantage of a poor showing by Kasey Kahne to climb back inside the top 16, but he is going to need for the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization to start dominating like they did in 2016 if he wants to be comfortable in the coming weeks.
A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.
A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.