The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas this Sunday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The race week thus far has been eventful to say the least. Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones all wrecked their primary cars during opening practice on Friday. While Busch’s team was able to make repairs and ready the primary for race day, Elliott and Jones were forced to the back-ups.
Nine cars were unable to make it through pre-qualifying inspection. The three above mentioned drivers, as well as series points leader Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chris Buescher, Timmy Hill, and Derrike Cope. Those nine cars will be starting at the tail end of the field for the race on Sunday.
To make matters worse for Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie Johnson posted the fourth best round one time, but spun as he cooled his car down post-lap and flat spotted three tires. The No. 48 team elected to forgo the rest of qualifying and will slap new tires on the car and head to the back of the field.
The newly re-paved Texas Motor Speedway makes fantasy preparation much harder. All past results are thrown out the window as the race will be run on essentially a brand new race track. TMS is an intermediate track, so that strategy will be in place when setting lineups. Build around drivers who start up front, will run fast laps, and will lead laps.
Here are two hot-start drivers to build your lineup around.
Kevin Harvick ($10,000)
Starting Position: 1st/Pole
Kevin Harvick starts on the pole Sunday after sweeping all three rounds of qualifying on Friday. He was tenth fastest in first practice Friday afternoon. Having Crew Chief Rodney Childers back from suspension and atop the pit box will be a much needed shot in the arm for this team as it looks to bounce back from Martinsville. Harvick finished 20th at Martinsville last weekend in his absence, and the whole crew seemed lost all afternoon.
Harvick ran well on the old track surface and will look to get off on the right foot with the new surface. He has five straight top-10 finishes in the Lone Star State, and eight in the last ten Texas races. Starting up front with clean air on a fast race track should garner fastest laps from Harvick early. If he gets the hole shot as the green flag flies he will accumulate laps led points as well.
As intermediate tracks usually result in single file racing for a majority of the show, rostering a driver that you know will run up front is important. Harvick is the best bet for that after an impressive Friday.
Ryan Blaney ($8,100)
Starting Position: 2nd
Ryan Blaney will be on the front row once again for the start of the race on Sunday. Only Harvick was faster than him during qualifying, but during first practice, Blaney was the best. He ran 29 laps Friday afternoon during the opening session and came out on top of the leaderboard. Blaney was one of two drivers to post lap speeds of over 194 mph.
Blaney has gotten of to a great start so far in 2017. He has three top-10s in six races. He has recorded fastest laps in all but one race so far this season (Auto Club). Blaney’s aggressive nature has hurt him in the past, but it could play into his favor at Texas. On a new track where drivers are still feeling things out, Blaney will push the limits early. Look for Blaney to fight Harvick for the lead as soon as the race starts and throughout all stages of this race.
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