Daily Fantasy NASCAR: FireKeepers Casino 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 FireKeepers Casino 400.
Kyle Larson (FanDuel Price: $11,500): Kyle Larson has five career wins in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career; three of those have come in Michigan, and they have included each of the past three races at the track. He good.
Over the past two years, Larson's finishes at Michigan have been third, first, first, and first. He led as many as 96 of 200 laps in 1 of his wins and as few as 2 in another. But at the end of the race, Larson has been where he needs to be.
Larson enters with great current form, too. He has posted a runner-up finish at each of the two-mile, non-restrictor-plate tracks on the schedule this year (Fontana and Pocono), and he had one of the fastest cars in Kansas, another tri-oval track where you can run your car up near the wall. He deserves to be in the same tier as Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. entering the weekend.
Chase Elliott ($10,600): Chase Elliott doesn't have the wins of Larson at Michigan -- he's still looking for his first career Cup series win -- but he has been oh-so-close here, and his current form has been improving recently.
While Larson has three wins in the past three races, Elliott has been second in three of the past four. He was eighth in the other. Elliott has led 66 laps, and his worst average running position is 8th. He knows how to get around this place.
Elliott and the rest of the non-Larson Chevy drivers had a rough start to the year, but things have been looking up the past few weeks. Elliott's 8th-place average running position last week at Pocono was his 2nd-best run of the year, and he has finished 12th or better in 8 of the past 9 races. If he's starting near the front, Elliott will need to show speed in practice to be viable, but the past few weeks have given more hope that he could do just that.
Erik Jones ($9,600): Michigan must just be well-suited for young drivers. Erik Jones was in the running in last year's summer race, and he could be a darkhorse this weekend.
Jones wound up finishing third in that race and had an average running position of sixth. He also did well here in lower series, finishing fourth in the Xfinity Series in 2016 and third in the Camping World Truck Series in 2015.
The finishes haven't been there for Jones recently -- he has been better than 13th just once in the past 7 races -- but the speed has been. He was the fastest car in practice for the Coca-Cola 600, and he had a ton of speed in Kansas, too. Keep an eye on Jones to see if he can get back on track this weekend.
Austin Dillon ($8,500): Things haven't been going great for Austin Dillon overall recently. He has just 1 top-15 finish over his past 5 races, and his last top-10 was all the way back in Fontana. But Fontana is one of the tracks most similar to Michigan, and Dillon has also run well here in the past.
Dillon has pumped out a top-10 finish in 3 of the past 5 Michigan races, including the most recent one last summer. He has had a top-15 average running position in 5 of his past 6 races here.
On top of that strong run in Fontana, Dillon finished 12th last week in Pocono, another place where speed is a must. As mentioned with Elliott, Chevrolets have been trending up of late, and that may allow us to buy in on Dillon here as a lower-cost play.
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,000): As mentioned with Larson, the Cup series has been to two tracks at least two miles in length that do not have restrictor plates, Fontana and Pocono. Truex has won both of those races, and he has done so in impressive fashion.
There have been a combined 360 laps run on unrestricted superspeedways this year. Truex has led 43.3% of them, running out front for 125 laps in Fontana and 31 in Pocono. He could have easily led more in Pocono had an issue in the pits not pushed him back to 14th in the second stage. He has just been running on a whole different level at these tracks.
This isn't to downplay the strength of Harvick ($12,500), Busch ($11,600), and Larson. All three of those drivers were also fast in Pocono, and this group of four seems to be a tier above the rest entering the weekend. But before the cars run a lap in practice, it does seem as if Truex may have the slightest edge for this event.
Clint Bowyer ($10,100): Clint Bowyer's past five trips to Michigan have all resulted in finishes of 23rd or worse. But he did have a seventh-place average running position in the spring race last year, meaning he likely deserved a better finish, and his form this year is much better than it has been in years past.
Most of Bowyer's high-end finishes in 2018 -- including his win -- have been at shorter tracks. That, though, is also deceiving as he has had some great runs curtailed at the end of races.
Last week in Pocono, Bowyer had an average running position of 7th before a late issue dropped him to 20th. His average running position was 12th in Charlotte, 11th in Kansas, 7th in Texas, 12th in Fontana, and 6th in Atlanta. So Bowyer's running at the front, but that's not shining through in his results. If he is able to flash speed again in practice on Saturday, he'll be a driver we can feel good about in this middle range.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,800): The start of this season -- and, frankly, most of last year -- wasn't kind to Jimmie Johnson. He had just 1 top-10 finish through the first 7 races and no top-5s. But he seems to have turned a corner of late, meaning now may be the time to buy low.
Johnson's resurgence started on the shorter tracks of Bristol, Richmond, and Dover, where he finished in the top 10 in each. But you can write those off as equipment is less important at those tracks than the larger ones.
Over the past two races, though, Johnson has started to flash at larger tracks. He was fifth in Charlotte despite a mid-race spin, and he wound up finishing eighth in Pocono. His average running position was 10th in both races.
Johnson may not be a driver we can use if he starts near the front of the pack yet as he has led just two laps the entire year. But if he continues his to start races 15th or lower (as he has done in 12 of 14 races this year), Johnson's a clear candidate for place-differential points.
Aric Almirola ($9,300): Aric Almirola has been to Michigan 11 times in his Cup series career, and he is still looking for his first top-10 finish. His average finish is just 20.2, and that's not going to move the needle at this price. But with the way Almirola's 2018 has gone, we can likely overlook that.
In this year's 14 races, Almirola has finished outside the top 14 just twice. He crashed in one race and was 17th in the other. He hasn't turned that into a top-five yet, but Almirola has been knocking on the door all season.
Most importantly, some of these strong races have been at similar tracks to Michigan. He was 10th in Las Vegas, 12th in Fontana, 9th in Kansas, and 7th last week in Pocono. Almirola's like Johnson where we shouldn't count on him to lead laps, but he's always a dependable source for place-differential points when he starts outside the top 15.
Alex Bowman ($7,500): Alex Bowman has had a decently consistent season, especially for someone who is this cheap. And even last week -- when he finished 27th -- Bowman had a better car than his finish would indicate.
Bowman started that race in 14th and was running there for a good chunk of the day. But while running in 11th with 14 laps to go, he got caught up in a wreck with Denny Hamlin, effectively ending any shot at a good finish. It wasn't the first time that Bowman has had a strong car at a big track, either.
Bowman finished 13th in Fontana back in March, and he was 9th two weeks ago in Charlotte. Bowman already has 4 top-10 finishes under his belt, so feel free to give him a look if he's in position to log place-differential points.
William Byron ($7,100): Because Bowman and William Byron are priced where they are, you can likely build a lineup devoid of true punts this weekend even if you cram in two of the big studs. That should be the most desired route with how well these two are running relative to their price tags.
The finishes thus far for Byron have been disappointing as he has just 1 top-10 finish. But he had a 14th-place average running position in Pocono, 17th in Kansas (despite a crash), and 16th in Fontana. If he's able to close out some of these races, he could be a major bargain.
Byron has also had success at Michigan in the lower ranks. He led eight laps here last year in the Xfinity Series on his way to a second-place finish, and he was fourth in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016. Byron will need to start a bit deeper in the pack than Bowman to be viable, but we should start to see good results out of this youngster soon.