The last short track race of the season is on the horizon as round three of the playoffs begins.
One would be tempted to describe this as a wild card if not for the fact that the last two events at Talladega SuperSpeedway and Kansas Speedway had not already been so unpredictable. After all, there are only supposed to be two Jokers in the deck.
Denny Hamlin is still widely considered one of the best short, flat track racers in the business. His reputation at Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Speedway is legendary—and it never seems to hurt that he is racing in front of the hometown crowd. There are times when one wants to concentrate on the anchor pick first and this is one of those occasions. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that his price tag of $9,200 is substantially less than many others.
That means one is going to have to be a little more judicious with the other picks. Since the short flat tracks are almost as prevalent as the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile courses, drivers with success on these are often among the most expensive. That means the bargain picks are a little more difficult to come by.
Flat tracks are drivers’ courses, however, and Chris Buescher demands some attention after scoring a top-10 last week in Kansas. Granted, some of his success came at the expense of others’ misfortunes, but the sixth-place finish will give him confidence entering the weekend.
Big announcements tend to galvanize a team. This week, one more piece of the puzzle fell into place with the announcement that Darrell Wallace Jr. would pilot the No. 43. The organization has had some of their greatest success on this course with other drivers and it is not out of the question that Aric Almirola could add another top-10 to their tally. He is certainly worth the risk at $5,900.
Now the average per driver shifts to $9,200 and many options are revealed.
Jamie McMurray has had back-to-back accidents, but neither the crash at Talladega nor Kansas were really his fault. It has contributed to a relatively low cap of $8,500, however. Look for the No. 1 team to get back on track to score top-15s and that will make them well worthwhile.
It is time to take another marquee driver. Martin Truex Jr. is great almost anywhere, but the flat tracks are not where he is expected to shine; save him for Texas Motor Speedway next week.
Instead, spend the $11,000 on Kyle Busch. He narrowly made the third round after crashing in back-to-back events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega. He ran to the front for a while last week and then faded at the end, but with the problems experienced by Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, McMurray, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., his hopes stayed alive. He’s going to want to get a win early in round three so that he doesn’t have the same concerns as during the past three weeks.
That leaves enough money to take one more playoff contender. The Wood Bros. have been great on this track with a variety of drivers—just like Petty Enterprises—and Ryan Blaney is more than capable of scoring a solid top-10. With minimal bonus points, Blaney is going to need to be almost perfect for the next three races if he wants a shot at the championship when the series rolls into Homestead-Miami Speedway. He probably won’t make it, but he is going to be a top points earner while he tries.