Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Gander Outdoors 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 monitor for the Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Price: $12,500), Martin Truex Jr. ($12,500), and Kevin Harvick ($12,500): The last time the Cup series was in Pocono, "The Big Three" stole the show, claiming three of the top four spots in the finishing order. Which one should sit atop our lists entering this week?
Martin Truex Jr. is the only driver to have won multiple races at Pocono since the start of 2015, doing so both in the spring that year and in this year's June race. Truex has had a 4th-place average running position and led 31 laps in each of the past 2 trips to the track, and he has had a top-5 average running position in 4 of the past 7 races in 2018.
In that same seven-race sample at Pocono, no driver has led more laps than Kyle Busch at 210. That includes the 74 laps he led in last year's summer race, a season in which he led 54.4% of the total laps at the track. But Busch's current form isn't quite on the same level as Truex's as he hasn't topped 60 laps led since his dominant win in the Coca-Cola 600 (Truex has done so three times in that span, including each of the past two).
Pocono is one of two active tracks at which Kevin Harvick has never won as he has come up short in all 35 of his cracks here. But he has been close plenty, finishing second in four of the past eight races at the track. He had a third-place average running position in the spring and led 89 laps, most of anybody in the field. That's part of a run in which he has had a top-5 average running position in 8 of the past 10 races, so the current form here is immaculate.
Based on the way things have gone recently, it seems as if Truex and Harvick should hold a slight edge over Busch entering the weekend. But we must also be willing to adapt based on what practice and qualifying show us because the levels of separation here are minuscule.
Brad Keselowski ($11,000): Brad Keselowski hasn't won at Pocono since 2011, but like Harvick, he has been close a bunch.
Keselowski has six straight top-five finishes at this track, including a fifth-place finish in the spring race. In that one, Keselowski was mediocre in practice but used pit strategy to move up from a 17th-place starting slot. It was clear that he didn't have the fastest car, but with the role that strategy can play at Pocono with stage racing, Keselowski can finish better than his equipment would otherwise dictate.
The question with Keselowski is whether his car is strong enough to lead a bunch of laps should he start up front. If not, it may be hard to pass up one of The Big Three and go with Keselowski instead.
In this streak of 6-straight top-5 finishes, Keselowski has led a total of just 38 laps, 10 of which came in this year's spring race thanks to the pit strategy. Keselowski did, though, lead 38 laps in Kentucky 2 weeks ago, and he had a 4th-place average running position in Chicagoland at the beginning of the month. If Keselowski starts in a spot where he can get place-differential points or shows a ton of speed in practice, then he'll be worth $11,000. Otherwise, we're likely better off finding the salary to get up into the next pricing tier or to Kyle Larson ($11,500) instead.
Ryan Blaney ($10,700): Keselowski's teammate, Ryan Blaney, picked up his lone career Cup series victory in Pocono during last year's spring race. He may be just as good of a bet to lead this weekend as Keselowski despite a slightly cheaper price tag.
Blaney started on the pole here in the spring race and led 11 laps with a 7th-place average running position before finishing 6th. That's 1 of 6 races in the past 10 in which Blaney has had an average running position of 8th or better, including each of the past 2 weeks at Kentucky and New Hampshire. Both are flatter tracks, so his success should translate well to Pocono.
Blaney's a good option for place-differential points if he starts outside the top 10. But he can be in play for tournaments even if he starts higher than that thanks to the solid combination of current form and track history.
Chase Elliott ($9,500): Chase Elliott has raced at Pocono five times in his career. He has posted a top-10 average running position in 4 of his 5 races, leveraging each of those into a top-10 finish, as well. That includes this spring's rendition, making us view Elliott's disappointing season a bit differently.
In that spring race, Elliott started 11th, had an 8th-place average running position, and finished 10th. That eighth-place average running position is tied for his fourth-best run this year.
And, more importantly, a lot of those good runs have come at other flat tracks. He was fifth last week in New Hampshire, second in Richmond, and third in Phoenix. Those tracks are all much smaller than Pocono, but again, Elliott ran well here in the spring. He's a good candidate for place-differential points if he starts outside the top 10.
William Byron ($7,400): William Byron took home an 18th-place finish here in the spring race, which isn't going to turn too many heads. But he did have a 14th-place average running position before slipping at the end, and his history at the track runs even a bit deeper than that.
Back in 2016, Byron was racing in the Camping World Truck Series as an 18-year-old rookie. At Pocono that year, Byron led 44 of 60 laps and claimed his 5th of 7 victories that season. He was dominant at that level overall, and that dominance stretched to Pocono.
Byron's finishes this year haven't been good enough to justify using him if he starts in the top 15. But he has shown some speed on flatter tracks, meaning if he starts deeper than that, Byron is a candidate for some place-differential points.
Kurt Busch ($10,300): Kurt Busch didn't have a great day in the first trip to Pocono this year, finishing 19th with a 17th-place average running position. He has been running well enough since then, though, to justify keeping an eye on him in practice and qualifying.
Busch has led at least 40 laps in 3 of the past 6 races (Michigan, Kentucky, and Loudon), churning out 4 top-10 finishes in that span. In one of Busch's poorer races -- a 17th-place finish in Chicago -- he still had a 7th-place average running position. He has been 9th or better in that metric in 5 of his past 6 races and 12 total times this year, so it's surprising that he has just 11 top-10 finishes.
Busch is in great equipment at Stewart-Haas Racing, and he's knocking on the door of victory lane. Handle Busch similar to Blaney where he can be trusted if he starts 11th or lower and is in play for tournaments even if he starts higher than that, assuming he continues to show speed in practice.
Aric Almirola ($9,700): Almirola got his first career Pocono top-10 in the spring race, finishing 7th after starting all the way back in 34th. It was a good example of why current form is more important than a driver's history at a track.
Prior to last week, Almirola had just 2 career top-10s in 15 starts at New Hampshire. But if not for a poor pit stop late, Almirola might have won the race as he led 42 laps on his way to a 3rd-place finish.
This was just a few weeks after Almirola also led 70 laps in Chicago before a loose tire derailed his day. Almirola's likely to win a race at some point this year, and we should continue to be aggressive with him until his price gets higher than where it's currently at. He's another driver to handle the same way as Blaney and Kurt Busch.
Paul Menard ($8,100): Paul Menard has had a fast car this year, and it's turning into some decent finishes that will snag your attention. He seems to have more upside than this price would indicate.
Menard has 4 top-10 finishes this year, and all of them are at tracks that are 1.5 miles or longer. His lone top-five was in Michigan, a track that is two miles in length, putting it within shouting distance of Pocono. Menard started 21st and finished 11th in the first Pocono race, so if he struggles a bit in qualifying, he could be a good candidate for place-differential points.
Matt Kenseth ($8,000): There may not be a driver with more fascinating current form to follow than Matt Kenseth. He was brought to Roush-Fenway Racing to fix issues within the team, and it seems like he's slowly chipping away at that goal.
Kenseth qualified 35th and finished 36th in his first race back in the seat in Kansas. He hopped up to 17th the next week in Charlotte and then posted a 13th-place finish the week after that. That 13th-place finish happened to come in the first Pocono race.
Then after a brief stint of having Trevor Bayne back in the seat, Kenseth returned and had a season-best 18th-place average running position at Kentucky. Last week at New Hampshire, Kenseth started 31st and finished 15th with a 19th-place average running position.
Is Kenseth going to win this week? No. He's 300/1 to win (according to Westgate) for a reason. But he's running well in the races and making up spots from qualifying, so we may be able to take a swing at him if he -- once again -- qualifies outside the top 20.
David Ragan ($6,000): As mentioned in this week's track preview, you should try to avoid punting if you can. The scoring output is flat enough where the incentive for doing so is minimal. But if you do decide to do so, you've got a decent option in David Ragan.
Ragan notched a 16th-place finish in Pocono, his 3rd straight top-25 finish at the track. Within the past few months, he has also finished 13th in Kansas and 18th in Kentucky, so he can post respectable finishes on bigger tracks.
Should Ragan qualify too high for consideration (the top 25 is likely the tipping point there), you can also consider Chris Buescher ($7,000) and Michael McDowell ($5,500). Buescher is a former winner here (though it was a rain-shortened race), and he was 17th in the first Pocono race this year. McDowell has 4 straight top-25s at this track and hasn't finished worse than 26th since April.