Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Consumers Energy 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 Consumers Energy 400 in Michigan.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Price: $12,700), Martin Truex Jr. ($12,500), and Kyle Busch ($12,200): For just the sixth time this year, last week's race was not won by a member of "The Big Three" in Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. Chase Elliott beat out Truex and Busch, who were in the following two spots, respectively. As we now head to Michigan, which of these three is most likely to come out on top?
It wouldn't be shocking to see Harvick get his groove back on after a middling run in Watkins Glen. Harvick arguably had the best car in the series' first trip to Michigan, leading 49 laps before ultimately finishing second as part of a podium sweep for Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick has now had a top-six average running position in three of the past four Michigan races and won this year in Kansas, a corollary track to Michigan.
Truex won the other race on a two-mile track this year, mopping up at Fontana by leading 125 of 200 laps. He struggled in the first trip to Michigan, though, starting 17th and never advancing higher than 8th on his way to an 18th-place finish. Truex's form has been great since then, though, with a pair of wins, two runner-ups, and six top-fives in seven races.
Busch hasn't had the same dominance as Harvick and Truex on the two-mile tracks this year, but he has been running up at the front recently with an average running position of seventh or better in four straight races. He also won back in Chicago, though his average running position there was lower than that of both Harvick and Truex.
Entering the weekend, it seems like Harvick should be the slight favorite thanks to his strong runs this year at Michigan and Kansas. Truex would sit second because of his win in Fontana, and Busch would check in third. The levels of separation here, though, mean we need to be flexible if times in practice tell us a different story.
Kyle Larson ($11,800): Kyle Larson has been slipping from the DFS radar of late, finishing outside the top five in five straight races with just two top-10s in that span. A trip to Michigan can do plenty to cure those ills, though.
Larson has five career wins in the Cup series, and three of them came in consecutive races at this very track. It makes complete sense, too, as Larson is willing to ride the rim, which can work brilliantly here. He finished 28th in the spring race, ending that streak of 3 straight wins, but that was after he had worked his way from a 29th-place starting spot to finish the opening stage in the 2nd position. Damage from a spin through the grass cut short what could have been another impressive run.
We can potentially overlook the current form issues, too. The past stretch of races has included plenty of flatter tracks where Larson's driving style isn't as viable (plus one restrictor-plate track and one road course). The one slight exception was in Chicago, where Larson almost beat out Busch in a thrilling finish, so we can enter the weekend assuming that Larson will be in contention for the win.
Jamie McMurray ($8,000): Larson isn't the only driver capable of running well by rim-riding around the track. His teammate, Jamie McMurray, flashed a similar strategy in the spring race and has a history of running well here.
The only two drivers to finish in the top 10 at each of the past five Michigan races are McMurray and Elliott. For McMurray, that includes a 10th-place finish in the spring and a top-5 in last year's spring race. Even when his equipment hasn't been great, McMurray has still managed to crank out awesome runs at this track.
The current form isn't bad for McMurray, either. He was 7th in Watkins Glen and had a 14th-place average running position in Pocono before slipping to 20th. McMurray's not a threat to lead laps, so he could qualify himself out of consideration, but if he qualifies in a spot where he can pick up place-differential points, he's a solid low-dollar play.
Chase Elliott ($10,600): Even before last week, it seemed like things were trending up for Elliott. He had a fourth-place average running position and a stage win in consecutive races, arguably his best outings of the entire year. Then he went out and won his first career Cup series race, so this lil pup is spewing lava right now.
And, honestly, we should have seen Elliott's breakthrough coming. NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said during Sunday's prerace show that the Hendrick Motorsports cars had gotten improved equipment recently, spurring a run of top-end finishes. They had three drivers in the top seven at Pocono, and then both Elliott and William Byron (more on him in a second) were in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.
When we see performance align with an explanation, we can be a bit more accepting of small-sample successes. It's time to get fully back in on Elliott, and we may want to consider buying up shares his teammates, as well. Speaking of which...
Alex Bowman ($8,200): Even though Elliott won a stage and led laps at Pocono, he wasn't the top-finishing Hendrick driver there. That was Alex Bowman, who notched a career-best third-place finish. It's yet another solid run for someone who has been trending up for a while.
After finishing 14th in Watkins Glen, Bowman has now finished in the top 15 in 6 of the past 7 races, the lone exception being due to a crash in Kentucky. This stretch includes a wide variety of tracks, but Bowman did finish 10th in Chicago, which does bear some resemblance to Michigan.
Bowman's average finish in Michigan is 30.7, but that could not matter less. Four of those six races came when he was in much lesser equipment, and only one has been as a full-time driver with Hendrick Motorsports (a 16th-place finish this spring). Bowman's likely not a driver we can trust if he starts in the top 10 yet, but he's turning into a solid value play whenever he starts 15th or lower.
William Byron ($7,700): Entering Pocono two weeks ago, Byron's best career finish in the Cup series was a 10th-place run in Texas in the 7th race of the season. But he has rattled off back-to-back finishes of sixth and eighth, respectively, meaning he's also benefiting from this new-found speed.
In those two races, Byron's average running positions have been 14th and 10th, respectively. Among drivers priced at $7,700 or lower, Ryan Newman is the only other driver with even one average running position that high in the past four races. It's safe to say that Byron won't be priced here long if he keeps this up.
It also doesn't hurt that Byron had speed at Michigan in June. He finished 13th there, but his 9th-place average running position is tied for his best run the entire year. Byron's in the same discussion as Bowman where he becomes a great play if he starts anywhere outside the top 15 or so, and he can be used in tournaments even higher than that.
Erik Jones ($9,400): Erik Jones got the headlines back in July for winning his first career race in Daytona. He was running fine before that, but it seems like he has found a whole new level of success recently.
Including the win at Daytona, Jones has now finished seventh or better in six of the past seven races. He finished sixth in Chicago and seventh in Kentucky -- two tracks with some similarities to Michigan -- and has been fifth each of the past two races. His average running position was also in the top six for both of those events.
Jones had a similar run in Michigan last year, too, turning a fifth-place average running position into a third-place finish in the summer race. We know Jones can run well at this track, and he has had top-end finishes wherever the series has gone recently. Even as the 12th-most-expensive driver on the board, he's still absolutely a name to monitor in practice and qualifying.
Aric Almirola ($9,000): Aric Almirola has cooled off quite a bit the past two races, finishing outside the top 20 in both. But we would be foolish to forget what he was doing before those two races as the Cup series gets back to a more conventional track.
In New Hampshire, Almirola led 42 laps and had a 7th-place average running position on his way to a 3rd-place finish. Three races before that, he led 70 laps in Chicago before tire issues cut his shot at the win short. He's having runs similar to what Elliott had before he broke into victory lane, but Almirola's are just a tad more spaced out.
It also doesn't hurt that Almirola has run well at tracks similar to Michigan. He was 8th in Kentucky, 11th in the first Michigan race, and 9th in Kansas. He's going to take that checkered flag eventually if he keeps leading laps, so it's worth it to keep putting Almirola in this section until that happens.
Daniel Suarez ($8,400): Daniel Suarez isn't a Hendrick driver, but his current form will certainly make it seem like he is. The past two weeks have been eye-popping for the second-year driver.
Entering Pocono, Suarez had just two career top-five finishes in the Cup series. Then he won the Pocono pole, had a sixth-place average running position, and took home a career-best second-place finish. Then he brought home another top-five last week in Watkins Glen, working his way up to 4th after starting 21st. The Watkins Glen run makes sense given Suarez's history of road-course racing, but that speed at Pocono is noteworthy.
These runs likely mean we need to discount what Suarez has done at Michigan in the past. His best finish here in 3 trips is 24th, and he was 30th back in the spring. However, his current form is much better than his price would indicate, and he did snag a win here in the Xfinity Series back in 2016. As long as Suarez doesn't qualify too high in the order, he needs to be on our radar once again.
Ryan Newman ($7,300): Slowly but steadily, Ryan Newman's current form has been improving this year. He still hasn't had a top-five finish, and we haven't seen him put it together at any of Michigan's sister tracks, but optimism should be building bit by bit.
Newman has just 6 top-10 finishes all season, but 3 of them have come in the past 5 races. We can largely ignore the eighth-place finish in Daytona, but he was sixth in New Hampshire and eighth in Pocono. Pocono may be flat, but it's also fast, which does give it some relevance for this weekend.
As recently as last summer, Newman showed he can still get around Michigan, as well. He took home a 4th-place finish in that one with an average running position of 14th. Newman can save you plenty of salary at $7,300, so if he is in position to scoop up place-differential points, we should be willing to plug him into our lineups.