Daily Fantasy NASCAR: First Data 500 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 First Data 500 at Martinsville.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Price: $14,000): Normally, we'll tackle each of "The Big Three" together in one section. But for Martinsville, it's clear that Kyle Busch is in a tier of his own.
Over the past five races at Martinsville, Busch has led 837 laps out of a total 2,505. No other driver has led more than 225. Busch has finished in the top two in four of those five races, and his worst finish is fifth. That's next-level domination.
Busch was runner-up last week, and he snapped a string of eight straight races with an average running position of eighth or worse. We no longer have to worry at all about his current form, and his track history is unquestionably the best. He's in play for DFS no matter where he starts the race.
Brad Keselowski ($13,500): Brad Keselowski's championship dreams came to an end last week as he failed to advance to the round of eight, meaning he's running these final four races without anything significant on the line. He can still snag some trophies in the process, though, and that's fully in the range of outcomes at Martinsville.
Outside of Busch, Keselowski is the only driver with a top-10 in each of the past five Martinsville races. He has logged four top-fives in that time, including a win in the 2017 spring race. Keselowski has led at least 100 laps in two of those races, both coming in 2017.
As evidenced by his failure to advance in the playoffs, Keselowski's current form isn't what it was just a month ago when he won three straight races. Still, he did finish sixth last week in Kansas, and he has had some tough luck of late. Keselowski needs to be back on our radar entering this weekend's race.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,200): Before Kyle Busch dominated Martinsville, that role belonged to Jimmie Johnson. He leads all active drivers with nine career wins at the track. We just have to ask ourselves if that's enough to overcome Johnson's wretched form.
The past few weeks have provided some hope for the pro-Johnson argument. He has three finishes of eighth or better in the past five races, including an eighth-place run at Richmond, another flatter, short track. Johnson also ran well in Kansas last week -- as evidenced by his 12th-place average running position -- but a late issue relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.
Johnson did win here in the fall 2016 race, but since then, his finishes have been 15th, 12th, and 15th, respectively. He's clearly not the dominant force he once was. But with things improving ever-so-slightly at Hendrick Motorsports, we can have some faith in Johnson if he's in position to get some place-differential points.
A.J. Allmendinger ($7,700): We typically regard A.J. Allmendinger as being a road-course ringer who tends to struggle elsewhere. Martinsville does seem to be a strong exception to that line of thinking.
Since the start of 2014 -- when Allmendinger started driving for JTG-Daugherty Racing -- Allmendinger has 7 finishes of 11th or better in 9 total races. He was eighth here in the spring and has twice been runner-up at this track, most recently doing so back in 2016. He isn't a guy who has led a bunch of laps -- just 50 in his career here -- but the finishes are much better than you generally expect.
The other plus of Allmendinger is that he has done this recently while also qualifying poorly. He has started 25th or lower in thee straight, and he has finishes of 6th, 40th, and 8th. If Allmendinger winds up starting in the middle of the pack or lower, he'll be a great place-differential candidate despite his disappointing form elsewhere.
Matt Kenseth ($7,500): When Matt Kenseth was with Joe Gibbs Racing, he finished in the top 10 at Martinsville in 7 of 10 races with 3 top-5 runs sprinkled in there. He's another driver -- like Johnson and Allmendinger -- who may be a decent place-differential option this week even with underwhelming current form.
It appeared around a month ago as if Kenseth had turned a corner at Indianapolis, finishing a season-best 12th at Indianapolis with a 14th-place average running position. But in the two races he has run since then, both his finishes and average running positions have been 20th or worse. That includes Richmond, a track like Martinsville where equipment is less important.
The one positive for Kenseth -- and what ultimately allows us to use him this weekend -- is that his Roush-Fenway Racing teammates did well at this track in 2017. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,300) was 10th in both races, and Trevor Bayne was 13th and 6th, respectively. The limitations of their cars aren't enough to keep them from running competitively at the track. Given Kenseth's stout history here, we should be willing to give him a shot if he qualifies poorly and shows any signs of life in practice.
Chase Elliott ($11,700): It's hard to get much hotter than Chase Elliott is right now. He enters the round of eight having won two of the three races in the previous round, giving him a healthy bump in playoff points in the process. He may be able to start things off on the right foot here, too, given how well he has run on flat tracks this year.
There are four tracks the Cup Series has run at this year that could be classified as both flat and short. Martinsville is one with Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire being the others. In five races at those tracks this year, Elliott has four top-five finishes and five top-10s. His worst finish was in Martinsville, but even there, he was still ninth. He also has a win at Watkins Glen and a fourth-place finish at Sonoma, and while those aren't shorter tracks, they do check the "flat" box.
Because Martinsville's a bit of an odd duck, you'd love for Elliott to have finished well here in the spring, as well. Ninth certainly isn't bad, though, and he had a third-place finish back in the 2017 spring race. In the fall of that year, Elliott finished 27th, but that came after he led 123 laps. With everything working in Elliott's favor right now, we have to view him as one of the favorites entering the weekend.
Ryan Blaney ($10,200): Ryan Blaney is in the same camp as Keselowski: even though he couldn't get through to this round of the playoffs, he's still running well enough where we can't simply ignore him.
The big reason Blaney failed to advance was a 29th-place finish in Talladega, understandable given the high-variance nature of the track. He was 11th in Dover and 7th in Kansas in the two other races of the round, and his 4th-place average running position at Kansas was even more impressive.
Blaney's also a front-runner, and given the emphasis on laps led this week, that's key. He has led 100 or more laps 4 times this year, including the 145 he led in the first Martinsville race this spring. If Blaney starts up front, he could be a cheap source of laps led, allowing you to get high-priced place-differential drivers elsewhere, making him a key name to monitor for tournaments.
Aric Almirola ($10,000): Aric Almirola is the diet version of Elliott with regards to runs on shorter flat tracks this year. Given the price discount between the two, that makes Almirola pretty intriguing despite a weak history in Martinsville.
In the 5 races at shorter flat tracks this year, Almirola has finished 7th at Phoenix, 14th at Martinsville, 17th in Richmond, 3rd in New Hampshire, and 5th in the second Richmond race. The New Hampshire race was the most eye-popping as Almirola led 42 laps and could have won if not for a slow late-race pit stop. It's 1 of 3 races in the past 16 in which Almirola has led at least 40 laps, and that doesn't include his win in Talladega two weeks ago.
Martinsville has never been a strong track for Almirola with just 3 top-10s in 19 career races, none of which have come in his 8 trips here. Things are different with Stewart-Haas Racing, though. His teammate, Clint Bowyer ($11,200), won here in the spring, and Almirola is among the eight drivers remaining in the playoffs. It seems clear that we need to look more at Almirola's current form than his track history when assessing him, and that current form is strong enough to make him look like a bit of a bargain.
Alex Bowman ($8,600): In his first race with respectable equipment at Martinsville this spring, Alex Bowman ran well. He had a 14th-place average running position and wound up finishing 9th. That's kind of what you expect out of Hendrick Motorsports drivers here. Bowman has been decently fast of late, as well.
We've mentioned Bowman several times recently as being someone whose runs have been better than his finishes would indicate. He finally put together a full race this past weekend in Kansas, finishing 9th with an 11th-place average running position. That makes it six straight races in which Bowman has had an average running position of 15th or better, which is super impressive for someone priced below $9,000.
Within the Hendrick stable, Bowman isn't anywhere near the same tier as Elliott, but he's likely close to Johnson's. If both drivers start in the same range, it may not be a bad idea to take the savings on Bowman under the assumption that ownership will gravitate more toward Johnson given his strong history at the track.
William Byron ($6,600): Among the Hendrick cars, William Byron is far and away the cheapest at $6,600. It's for good reason as his finishes recently have left much to be desired. Even with that being true, he may now be cheap enough to slide back onto our radar.
Some of Byron's better finishes on the season have come at flatter tracks. He was 12th in Phoenix, 12th in the first Richmond race, and 6th at the second Pocono race, all of which rank among his 5 best finishes in his rookie campaign. Although that does illustrate how disappointing of a year it has been for Byron, it also shows that his performance does tick up at tracks similar to this, and that's where we can find some pricing deficiencies.
Byron picked up experience at Martinsville in the Camping World Truck Series, finishing third and eighth in two races here in 2016. He followed that up with a mediocre 20th-place run in the Cup Series this spring. But with Byron showing some life at flat tracks this year and now being priced among the punt plays, this may be the time to buy back in.