The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns this weekend after a break for Easter. Sunday, it heads to Texas for the seventh of 36 points-paying races this season.
The 1.5-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway is a high-speed track paired with a newer racing surface. That should keep passing at a premium while putting a greater focus on qualifying and track position.
The factors that go into building a winning fantasy team at an intermediate track are much different than those at a superspeedway or short track. These "cookie-cutter" racetracks are where the most precise strategy is needed.
First off, it is important to find at least one dominator, a driver who leads a chunk of laps and records the most “fastest laps” in a given race. DraftKings awards 0.25 points per lap led and 0.5 points per fastest lap.
Secondly, you should look for fast drivers who suffered through poor qualifying performances. A guy who jumps from 35th to 10th on race day could make the difference on your roster more than someone who started second and wound up fourth.
Another key stat on DraftKings is position differential. A driver will gain or lose one point per position on the track. Finding the right drivers who will maintain their consistency throughout a full green-flag run is imperative.
Here are a few drivers to keep an eye on for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Kevin Harvick ($11,500)
Texas: 30 starts, one win, eight top fives, 18 top 10s
Average finish at Texas: 11.4
Harvick won the last race run at Texas in 2017, defeating eventual MENCS champion Martin Truex Jr. Harvick by no means dominated the event but took over the lead with 10 laps to go and never looked back. He finished fourth in the spring race last season and has a career top-10 TMS ratio of 60 percent.
The 2014 MENCS champ has also been the driver to beat at intermediates thus far in 2018. But with a hefty price tag, he will need the best car this weekend in order to justify adding to a lineup.
Kyle Busch ($10,400)
Texas: 24 starts, two wins, 11 top fives, 12 top 10s
Average finish at Texas: 12.0
Busch has two career wins at Texas, most recently in the spring of 2016. Last season’s 15th-place finish broke a five-race, top-five finish streak at TMS.
Busch is also the current series points leader. He has led laps in five of six races run and has four straight top-three finishes. The only downside so far is he has yet to win a race, but that will come. In fact, Victory Lane could come this weekend.
Chase Elliott ($9,900)
Texas: Four starts, two top fives, four top 10s
Average finish at Texas: 6.5
Elliott has the best average finish of all active drivers through four career starts at Texas. He has yet to finish outside the top 10 and has two top-five results.
At one point during the race at Martinsville, Elliott found himself one lap down, but he battled back to a ninth-place finish. He has been one of the only Chevrolet drivers flashing enough speed to contend for a win so far in 2018.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 - $9,400
Denny Hamlin ($9,400)
Texas: 24 starts, two wins, six top fives, 12 top 10s
Average finish at Texas: 12.2
Hamlin has been ultra-consistent through the first six races of 2018. He has the third-best average finish at 7.7 and also has three top fives. Like Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, it’s only a matter of time before Hamlin finds Victory Lane.
The Virginia native started on the front row in the fall Texas race in 2017 and led 65 laps in a third-place effort. Hamlin has two Texas victories, too, with both of them coming in 2010.
Joey Logano ($9,100)
Texas: 19 starts, one win, eight top fives, nine top 10s
Average finish at Texas: 15.4
Logano has finished third or better in three of the past four Texas races. He dominated the second event in 2016, leading 178 laps, but ultimately finished second. Logano does have one victory, back in 2014, and has earned seven top-five finishes with Team Penske.
This year, he also rebounded nicely from a disappointing 2017 season. Logano is currently fourth in the MENCS standings and has five top-10 finishes through six races.
Ryan Blaney ($8,900)
Texas: Six starts, one top 10
Average finish at Texas: 24.0
Blaney silenced some critics at Martinsville two weeks ago. He historically doesn’t run well there, but managed to lead 145 laps and completely dominate a large portion of the race. Even though he didn’t win, a third-place finish was a career high there and bumped him up to third in points.
Up until 2017, the same could have been said about Blaney at Texas. His first three starts ended with finishes of 42nd, 43rd and 29th, respectively. A finish of sixth in November was a large improvement.
Blaney has been a consistent top-10 driver through six races and has shown flashes of brilliance. Expect that trend to continue at TMS.
BARGAIN TIER: $7,900 and below
Erik Jones ($7,900)
Texas: Three starts, one top 10
Average finish at Texas: 14.7
Texas could be a breakout weekend for Jones. He has been successful at TMS in every NASCAR series he raced in. He has one Camping World Truck Series win and three XFINITY Series victories at the speedway.
In his first Cup race here filling in for Matt Kenseth in 2015, Jones finished 12th. Last season, he had runs of 22nd and 10th driving the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing No. 77 Toyota.
William Byron ($6,700)
Texas: First career MENCS start
Much like Jones, Texas could be a big weekend for Byron. Even though a win would be a stretch, this rookie can definitely be competitive. He has been improving on a weekly basis while crew chief Alan Gustafson has been masterful in making calls to give the rookie great track position late in races.
Byron also has a CWTS win at Texas. Don't be afraid to use him on your roster.
Pre-Qualifying Optimal Lineup Example:
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)