The short, flat tracks are almost as prevalent during the NASCAR season as the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile courses. Typically, these are rhythm tracks and a driver’s record is very important in handicapping the event.
Kevin Harvick has not been nearly as strong on short, flat tracks this year as we would like. Instead of challenging for the win at Phoenix this spring, he finished sixth – and then earned top-10s in only half of the remaining races on slightly-banked tracks less than a mile in length. One of these was two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, however. There is also the not-so-little matter of his six wins in the previous 10 Phoenix races and only one result outside the top 10 there since 2012. At $10,000, he is still a must have.
Ryan Newman has not had the kind of fall he would like. He got knocked out of championship contention early, but the short, flat tracks reward aggression – and Newman has that to spare. He can make his car hard to pass, which means he is likely to stay on the lead lap all afternoon. He will surge at the end and earn enough points to make his $7,100 price tag well worthwhile.
Paul Menard has not performed quite as well as we have wanted in the past several weeks, but there is still a reason to be hopeful that he will be a solid low-cap pick at $6,500. He finished 10th in last year’s edition of this race and swept the top 15 in 2015. He finished only 21st this spring, but in five of the last six seasons he has performed better in the fall, so a mid-teens finish or better should be within reach.
The average salary remaining per driver is now $8,800 and while it is not time to start thinking about another marquee driver, the slide bar can be moved to consider some higher priced options. Ryan Blaney has been outperforming in the playoffs recently with four top-10s in the last five weeks and there is every reason to believe he will keep the streak alive. A top-10 from a driver priced at $8,200 makes him worth risking – especially since he rolled off the haulers quick with a top-five speed in the first practice session.
Denny Hamlin has lost a little of his cache on short, flat tracks, but he is still a master on this course type. He came close to winning two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway and has only one more shot at making the playoffs. His most recent win on this track came in 2012. He followed that with two more top-fives in the next two races, and while he has only one more finish at the very front of the pack since 2015, his last four efforts were all top-10s.
His Martinsville combatant Chase Elliott fits the final slow at $9,300 and like Hamlin, he is highly motivated to run with the leaders. His overall average at Phoenix is not as great as it has been on other tracks, but he is running out of time to get a victory in his sophomore season. He is learning how to be aggressive and if he uses that new skill, he could bump his way to the front. So long as he doesn’t wreck anyone outright, the remainder of the field will think he is well within his rights after what happened in Virginia.
If a player does not want to load up on inexperienced drivers, however, Matt Kenseth is priced at $9,200 and could easily slot in where Elliott is placed this week. Kenseth has just two more chances to go out of a high note since he is going to take next year off from Cup competition. Never underestimate the power of pride.