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Fantasy Update: Blistering speeds lead to lineup overhaul at Sonoma

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Sonoma Raceway is blistering fast this weekend with a fresh repave. Typically, the best teams shine at the 1.99-mile road course, but the track has become unpredictable. Sure, the sight lines and nuances remain the same, but 23 cars were faster than the previous track record during practice on Friday. Track position is going to be crucial on Sunday and some teams are going to flip the stages to jump to the front to begin the ensuing stage. All that makes setting the best fantasy lineup nearly impossible. Let‘s give it a shot!

RELATED: Set your Fantasy Live lineups

Dustin Albino‘s race-day lineup:

Starter 1: Chase Elliott
Starter 2: Tyler Reddick
Starter 3: Michael McDowell
Starter 4: Alex Bowman
Starter 5: Joey Logano
Garage pick: AJ Allmendinger

NEXT IN LINE: Kyle Larson, William Byron, Daniel Suárez, Ty Gibbs

RISING: For just the third time in his career — second at Sonoma (2011) — Logano has won a road-course pole. Given where Logano is in the regular-season standings and the No. 22 team‘s track record at Sonoma, expect plenty of stage points on Sunday. Over the last three Sonoma races, no driver has tallied more points than Logano and the two-time Cup champion has backed up the finishes in two of those races, including a third-place effort last season. Stage points can go a long way in fantasy lineups, so Logano is a credible pick this weekend.

Over the course of his career, Alex Bowman has turned into a robust driver on road courses. He stands out at some of the technical tracks, such as Circuit of The Americas, or in previous seasons at the Indianapolis road course. But that speed has transitioned to Sonoma through Saturday, earning his second-best starting spot (eighth) in eight starts at the track. Moreover, I‘m putting Bowman in my lineup above Larson and Byron because of sheer starts. I‘m running low for both of those HMS drivers and in 2022, no driver scored more than 47 points in this Sonoma race (using that as an example because there weren‘t cautions for stages last year at Sonoma).

FALLING: Truex‘s advantage at Sonoma is gone with the repave being an equalizer. It took until the waning minutes of practice for the No. 19 team to post a lap that barely cracked the top 10. He couldn‘t duplicate that speed in qualifying and will start 21st. Good news for Truex fans: He‘s 132 points above the elimination line, so don‘t be surprised to see his crew chief James Small switch the strategy. Overall, four of the six powerhouse Toyota cars — Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing — will start 15th or worse.

What a difference a week makes. Austin Cindric was standing tall — quite literally, on top of his car — following last week‘s race at Gateway, snapping an 85-race winless streak. Momentum was on the No. 2 team‘s side entering Cindric‘s specialty: road-course racing. But Cindric‘s struggles from 2023 on road courses returned on Saturday during qualifying, as he posted the 28th-best qualifying lap. If the No. 2 Ford is going to be a factor on Sunday and score worthy points, crew chief Brian Wilson will need to have a brilliant strategy.

FEATURED MATCHUPS:

Ty Gibbs vs. Kyle Busch: Gibbs was one of two Toyota drivers to break into the final round of qualifying on Saturday. He‘s risen to become among the best in the series on road courses. Busch‘s trying 2024 season has moved to Sonoma, where the No. 8 Chevrolet will take the green flag from 29th. Gibbs is the clear-cut choice this weekend, as he also ranked second in practice.

Austin Cindric vs. Ross Chastain: This matchup has flipped from earlier in the week. Trackhouse seems to have brought some of its road-course pace from previous seasons to Sonoma. Both Chastain and Suárez, a former Sonoma winner, were sporty in qualifying. Cindric will be mired back in 28th position at the start of the race. Early advantage to Chastain.

Chase Elliott vs. Tyler Reddick: There have been some great matchups this season, but throw this up there as one of the toughest to pick this season. It could easily go either way. Both are exceptional road-course competitors, though Reddick has been better in the Next Gen car. Hendrick was the most equal team on the speed chart, with all four of its Chevrolets making it to the final round of qualifying. I‘m leaning towards Elliott because, though he‘s never sipped the red wine in Victory Lane, he has more success at Sonoma.

Daniel Suárez vs. Michael McDowell: Here is another challenging matchup. McDowell barely missed the final round of qualifying and his road-course prowess has been expedited with the Next Gen car. This is one of Suárez’s better road courses as well, picking up his first Cup win here in 2022. Staying with McDowell, believing the potential of his car is far better than 12th.

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