Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Pocono 400 Driver Preview
Two of the biggest pillars of driver selection in daily fantasy NASCAR are track history and current form. Knowing where drivers sit on both of those spectrums is going to make our lineups look a whole lot nicer at the end of the race.
By looking at which drivers have excelled at this week's track in the past and those who are currently racing well, we can know which drivers are in line to be good plays for the slate. That's what we're going to try to do today, dividing drivers into those two buckets with noteworthy track history or noteworthy current form.
Clearly, this isn't to say that all of these drivers will be great plays in this race. A lot of that will be dictated by where they start and the scoring history at that track. To read more about what strategies we need to deploy based on starting position, check out this week's track preview.
Later in the week, once qualifying is in the books, we'll go through the top plays for the race based on all of these factors. But which drivers should we be keying on for the time being? Let's check it out. Here are drivers we should be keeping an eye on for the Pocono 400.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Price: $12,000): Prior to last week's romping, Kyle Busch had never won a points-paying race at Charlotte. The same was true for Busch at Pocono entering last year, but he erased that with a pair of dominant performances.
In the first race, Busch led 100 of 160 laps with an average running position of second. He eventually gave way to Ryan Blaney, who went on to win, and Busch finished eighth, but that showed a victory at Pocono was inevitable.
Busch made good on that in the July race, leading 74 laps with an average running position of third. In all, Busch led 54.4% of the laps at Pocono in 2017, and he's obviously in solid current form, as well. Busch deserves to enter the weekend as the co-favorite with Kevin Harvick.
Ryan Blaney ($10,000): Blaney's win last year wasn't just his first at Pocono at NASCAR's highest level; it was his first win anywhere (and the only one thus far). That said, Blaney's history of success at Pocono spans beyond that one win.
Back in his age-19 season (2013), Blaney was racing full-time in the Camping World Truck Series. He had one win that year, and it came -- you guessed it -- at Pocono. He was fifth at Pocono while running a limited schedule in his age-18 season, as well.
Blaney has run four Cup series races at this track, and he has finished 11th or better in 3 of those. He was 30th last year in the second race, but he had a strong car again before running into issues.
Blaney has already led more laps this year than he did his entire time with Wood Brothers Racing, including 54 laps led a few weeks ago in Kansas. As long as Blaney carries this speed over to Saturday's practice session, he could get you low-cost access to lap-led upside and a solid finish.
Erik Jones ($9,700): Blaney isn't the only youngster who has impressed at Pocono before. Erik Jones is in just his age-22 season, but he already has a pair of top-10 finishes under his belt here.
In the spring race, Jones led 20 laps and posted an average running position of 6th on his way to a 3rd-place finish. That was after starting 15th, no less. He followed that up with an 8th-place finish in July with an average running position of 10th.
On top of that, Jones -- again like Blaney -- is running well this year. He had one of the fastest cars in Charlotte before sustaining some damage to his right-front bumper. Jones' average running position in Kansas 2 weeks before that was 10th. He's similar to Blaney in that he could provide lap-led potential and a solid finish without breaking the bank.
Brad Keselowski ($11,000): Even with all of the success that Fords have had in 2018, Brad Keselowski's year has left something to be desired. He is yet to crack victory lane, and he has just 7 top-10 finishes. Pocono has been a good place for reversing that in the past.
Over the past five races at Pocono, Keselowski's worst finish is fifth. That hasn't led to a bunch of laps led, and his average running positions won't blow you away, but getting consistently solid finishes holds value, as well.
Keselowski will be one of the key drivers to track closely in practice. If he shows speed there, then we'll be able to shrug off the mediocre current form. But if he's still sitting more toward the middle of the charts, it's fine to be skeptical of Keselowski's past performances at the track.
Kevin Harvick ($13,500): There are only two active tracks at which Kevin Harvick has never won. One of them is Kentucky, where the Cup Series will be in July. The other is right here in Pocono. But with Harvick's current form -- and some solid runs at Pocono recently -- he could easily change that this weekend.
Harvick was disappointing chalk in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 after hitting the wall and finishing 40th. But after starting 39th, Harvick had worked his way up to fourth before the crash. With five points-paying wins (and a win in the All-Star race) under his belt, nobody has been as good as Harvick this year.
Harvick may not have a win in Pocono yet, but he has been close a bunch of times. Harvick has been the runner-up here in four of the past eight races, including both runnings last year. He has led just 68 laps in his career here, but he's a good bet to break through with a win soon.
If Busch and Harvick are roughly equal in qualifying and practice, ownership will likely gravitate heavily toward Busch. Harvick burned tons of lineups on Sunday, and Busch was dominant. Don't let that recency bias push you off of Harvick if he is fast again in practice.
Kyle Larson ($10,900): Kyle Larson is a driver who loves to ride high in the turns, and that's not a fruitful strategy in Pocono. So it's fair to wonder if this track will ever fully suit his style. But with how fast Larson has been recently, he needs to at least be on our radar.
Although Larson is yet to win a race this year, he has four top-five finishes. One of those was in Fontana, another large track like Pocono, though that is one where you can run up high. Larson has had an average running position of sixth or better in five separate races thus far.
This track may not fit Larson's style, but it hasn't stopped him from still posting some decent finishes. He has logged a top-10 finish in half of his 8 career starts here, and he has finished worse than 12th just once. Check out Larson's speeds in practice, and if his recent spiciness carries over, feel free to dabble in these waters once again.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,400): For this entire year, Jimmie Johnson -- and most of the other non-Larson Chevy drivers -- has struggled. Johnson has just 5 top-10 finishes the entire season, and 2 of those were at short tracks, where the driver can play a larger role than the equipment. A tide may have turned on Sunday, though, putting Johnson and others back on our radar.
Johnson got his second top-five finish of the season in the Coca-Cola 600, sitting exactly in fifth. He did that despite a mid-race spin and a 23rd-place starting position. Johnson's best finish this year at a 1.5-mile track prior to Charlotte was just 12th in Las Vegas. This was a major deviation from the norm.
Johnson's price is down to $9,400, and with how most of the season has gone, that's where it should be. But now that the Chevys have shown at least some sign of life, it may be time to buy back in. Check Johnson's speed in practice, and if he carries over the good vibes, get him on your rosters while the pricing is low.
Alex Bowman ($7,400): Alex Bowman drives for the same team as Johnson, and he showed an equivalent amount of life at Charlotte. But Bowman's crazy cheap, and he has been running decently well the entire year.
Bowman started 27th on Sunday night, but he worked his way forward to take home a 9th-place finish with a 12th-place average running position. That's way more than most of the drivers in this price range can do.
Bowman had a decent run at Fontana, as well, the other large, non-restrictor-plate race on the schedule thus far. Despite starting 28th, Bowman finished that one in 13th. Bowman could be in play starting somewhere in the top 20 if he's fast in practice, but he's an absolute stud if he slides any lower in qualifying.
William Byron ($7,000): Unlike his Hendrick teammates, William Byron did not pop at Charlotte. He wrecked in the 2nd stage and finished 39th. But he was running 14th prior to that crash, and he could be another source of value for this weekend.
Byron has just one top-10 finish in his rookie season, but he has been flirting with that range often. He was 12th in Phoenix, 15th in Fontana, 12th in Richmond, and 14th in Dover. The one top-10 came in Texas, another track where speed is required. This makes Byron look a bit underpriced at $7,000.
Byron is the lowest-priced driver for this weekend who is in dependable equipment, which is a key in Pocono. If he is in position to snag some place-differential points, he could be a really solid play with the price being as low as it is.
Michael McDowell ($5,500): As mentioned in this week's track preview, we likely want to go with more balanced lineups this week due to the flatter scoring in this race than others. That said, if you do find yourself needing to pay down, Michael McDowell is likely the top option entering the weekend.
Despite being super cheap, McDowell has had a lot of really solid runs recently. He was 18th in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, 20th in Kansas, and has had a top-25 average running position in 4 straight races.
McDowell also ran well in Pocono last year. He posted finishes of 24th and 18th, which are much better than you'd expect from a driver in this pricing range. As long as McDowell is starting somewhere around 25th or lower (and the lower, the better), he can at least be a value option. Ty Dillon ($6,400), Matt DiBenedetto ($6,000), and former Pocono winner Chris Buescher ($6,600) would be the other low-cost options should they find themselves starting near the back.