The Daily Fantasy Impact of NASCAR's Offseason Driver Changes

Kurt Busch heads to Chip Ganassi Racing, leaving a great seat behind at Stewart-Haas. How does this impact his DFS outlook for 2019?

In NASCAR, "offseason changes" don't exist. Attaching such a bland label to a period of chaos would be far from appropriate.

Instead, they call it the silly season. And, oh baby, did things get weird over this winter.

Two former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions changed equipment, rides on the sport's best teams will feature new drivers, and a handful of exciting, young faces are set to get their first full-time jobs in the Cup Series. This silly season lived up to the name.

This is going to have a pretty major impact on the way we view various drivers in daily fantasy NASCAR. Driver talent certainly plays a role in determining who will run well, but equipment is always going to prop some up while holding others back. As such, we can't view Driver A the same way we did last year if they've changed teams.

Today, we're going to run through each of the major changes across the sport and try to decipher what the impact of it will be. That's going to require a bit of hypothesizing in each instance, but that's better than ignoring the moves all together.

What moves do we need to know about prior to Speedweeks in Daytona? Let's check it out.

Martin Truex Jr. to Joe Gibbs Racing

The big name on the move this offseason was Martin Truex Jr., going from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing. Although it's the biggest name to move, it's likely also the one with the smallest impact.

The reasoning for that is that Truex's old team was already aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing over the past three years. Prior to 2016 -- the first year of the alliance with JGR -- Truex had three career wins in the Cup Series. He won four in their first season with JGR, 16 total in the three seasons, and hoisted the championship trophy in 2017.

Essentially, Truex will be driving the same equipment and will bring his crew chief, Cole Pearn, with him over to JGR. He'll just have a different number on the roof of his car.

We've already seen a driver make this exact transition before. Erik Jones was Truex's teammate at Furniture Row Racing in 2017 before shifting over to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018. Jones did improve with his new team, seeing his average driver rating increase to 84.7 from 83.1. But given that Jones was going from his age-21 to his age-22 season (Truex is entering his age-39 season), we can likely chalk Jones' gains up to increased experience.

Because of this, we should likely enter 2019 assuming Truex's performance will be on par with what it was last year. In that season, he was one of "The Big Three" all season long, eventually finishing second in the championship race. He seems primed for another run at the Cup this year.

Kurt Busch to Chip Ganassi Racing

This is where things get interesting. Kurt Busch had spent the past five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the top teams in the sport, and he won at least one race and had at least six top-fives in each of those seasons.

Now, he transitions over to Chip Ganassi Racing. The impact of that move depends on how you view his new teammate, Kyle Larson.

Larson had a solid-but-unspectacular season in 2018, logging 12 top-five finishes but failing to score a win after heading to victory lane four times in 2017. His average finish improved for the fourth straight season, and he did all of this in his age-25 season.

If you look at just Larson -- who finished one spot behind Busch in the standings -- this move doesn't look too bad for Busch. But you also have to wonder how much Larson's talent was moving the needle for that team.

In 2018WinsTop-5sTop-10sAvg. FinishAvg. Driver Rating
Kurt Busch162212.198.4
Kyle Larson0121912.695.7
Jamie McMurray02818.971.5

Larson is the higher-variance driver while Busch is the more consistent piece. In essence, the two were relatively even last year.

If you assume that Larson and Busch are equal in talent, then this move likely doesn't do much for Busch. That seems to be the best-case scenario.

But McMurray showed last year what can happen to a driver in this seat if they have less talent than Larson. McMurray was competitive at times, but the large sample was entirely underwhelming.

With all of this considered, we should likely enter 2019 under the assumption that Busch is going to take a step back. He's going from a team where multiple drivers were contending for wins each week (including Busch himself) to one where the performance had a wide split from one driver to the next. The top end of that was a driver who is widely regarded as one of the most talented racers in the sport. Unless Busch is able to duplicate the talent of Larson, things may not be as pleasant for Busch in his first year with Ganassi.

Daniel Suarez to Stewart-Haas Racing

In 2018, there were truly three premier teams in NASCAR's highest series: Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Penske Racing. Daniel Suarez is going from driving for one of them to filling the seat for another.

Suarez was squeezed out of JGR to make room for Truex, and he now occupies the seat that Busch previously had at Stewart-Haas. There's no question about Suarez's equipment. It just didn't translate into great results last year.

Here's a look at Suarez's 2018 in comparison to his teammates at JGR. Across the board, Suarez was clearly the lowest-ranking member of the squad.

In 2018WinsTop-5sTop-10sAvg. FinishAvg. Driver Rating
Kyle Busch822288.3109.3
Denny Hamlin0101712.691.4
Erik Jones191814.084.7
Daniel Suarez03918.570.5

Not everybody can be Kyle Busch. But the gap between Suarez and Jones was pretty troubling.

Suarez entered the Cup Series in a tough spot, jumping up from the Xfinity Series on short notice due to Carl Edwards' retirement. Suarez won the Xfinity Series title in 2016, his age-24 season, so he's not completely devoid of talent. We just have to decide what to think of him as we move into 2019.

Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 was stocked with experienced drivers across the board while JGR had some fresh faces in Jones and Suarez. But overall, the Stewart-Haas drivers did pump out a better performance than those at JGR.

In 2018WinsTop-5sTop-10sAvg. FinishAvg. Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick823298.8115.5
Kurt Busch162212.198.4
Clint Bowyer291613.893.0
Aric Almirola141712.888.6

All four drivers had a better average driver rating than Jones and Suarez, and three of them topped Denny Hamlin. Assuming the Ford camp doesn't take a step back in transitioning to the Mustang, this would seem to be a slight equipment upgrade for Suarez.

It also wasn't all bad for Suarez in 2018, especially down the stretch. One-third of his top-10 finishes came during the playoffs, and all three of them came at different track types (a 1.5-mile in Las Vegas, the one-mile concrete blender in Dover, and a short track in Martinsville). Suarez does provide some reasons for optimism entering his age-27 season.

Based on the way Suarez performed relative to his teammates at JGR, we have to enter 2019 viewing him below someone like Aric Almirola. But even that could be an upgrade for Suarez. As such, we should give Suarez a slight boost in our minds early on and be willing to adjust if he shows signs of improvement in his third season on the circuit.

Daniel Hemric to Richard Childress Racing

Daniel Hemric is technically older than Suarez, but he's a new face to the Cup Series, getting the promotion after two years in the Xfinity Series. Even though Hemric is yet to get a win in any of NASCAR's top three series over 118 races, he's intriguing as he moves to a team that showed improvement during 2018.

Hemric slides into Ryan Newman's old seat, joining Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing. Both Dillon and Newman had down seasons, but things got better for them down the stretch.

Average Driver RatingRaces 1-12Races 13-24Races 25-36
Austin Dillon67.570.977.5
Ryan Newman73.473.175.5

Newman closed things out with eight top-15 finishes in the final 11 races. Half of Dillon's eight top-10s came over the final 10 races, and he was 11th in three others. It's still not great, but it's definitely better than where they were prior to that.

As for Hemric, he ran well in the Xfinity Series despite not getting a win. His average finish of 9.0 was second-best among series regulars, and his 16 top-fives ranked third. He was contending for wins; he just never broke through.

Until we see Hemric get some run in the Cup Series to see where his talent lies, it's likely fair to put him in the same tier as Dillon, though a bit lower. Hemric has shown he can be competitive in the upper rungs of the sport, and he's got decent equipment. That's enough to keep him on our list.

Ryan Newman to Roush Fenway Racing

As Newman jets from RCR, he heads over to another team that had its fair share of struggles in 2018. But as with RCR, they showed improvement as the season went along.

Roush Fenway Racing brought in Matt Kenseth midway through last year to try to assess what was wrong with their cars. On one hand, it could appear to be a failure because Kenseth had just two top-10s in 15 total races. On the other, those two top-10s were in his final two races of the year.

It seemed as if Trevor Bayne -- the driver sharing the 6 car with Kenseth -- picked up as the season went along, too. Here's how they did in each segment of the season in comparison to their teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kenseth's first race was the 12th of the season.

Average Driver RatingRaces 1-12Races 13-24Races 25-36
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.72.068.373.5

In terms of driver rating, eight of the 6 car's nine best performances came in the second half of the season; the other was in the Daytona 500. Kenseth came on to help diagnose problems, and it seems as if he was successful in that endeavor.

That would seem to set things up well for Newman as he moves into this seat. As you saw earlier, he had a better driver rating for last season than his teammate, Dillon, so there's still some talent here to play with.

As a result, we should likely adjust our expectations for Newman to roughly around where we view Stenhouse. That was generally not the case with Bayne and Kenseth last year. So it's an upgrade for the 6 team, but for Newman overall from where he was last year, it's likely still a slight downgrade.

Ryan Preece to JTG Daugherty Racing

A.J. Allmendinger had two major specialties: road courses and restrictor-plate racing. He was able to contend at those two track types even while in lesser equipment with JTG Daugherty Racing.

Now, Allmendinger is out, giving way to Ryan Preece. Preece immediately becomes interesting for DFS both as a value play and at tracks where the equipment matters a bit less.

Preece is teammates now with Chris Buescher, another guy who excels at certain track types. Like Allmendinger, he was a killer on superspeedways and was competitive at road courses and short tracks. This means that if Preece has the talent, he'll be able to run well at certain spots. We just have to decide if the talent is there.

Preece ranked fifth on Bob Pockrass' ranking of the top prospects in NASCAR back in November, three spots behind Hemric and second among drivers transitioning to Cup this year. He ran a part-time schedule in the Xfinity Series last year, logging 10 top-10s in 15 races with 7 top-fives and a win in Bristol. That would seem to bode well for him lining up with Buescher and Allmendinger.

Unfortunately, it's hard to tell what we should expect from Preece on the restrictor-plate tracks. He had just one race in competitive equipment at Daytona or Talladega in the Xfinity Series, and he ran into engine trouble after starting on the pole. His lack of experience there will be a question mark out of the gate. But Preece seems to have some juice at short tracks and road courses, so it'll be worthwhile to keep an eye on him to start the year.

Matt DiBenedetto to Leavine Family Racing

On its face, this seems to be a pretty bland move. Matt DiBenedetto has four career top-10s in 140 Cup Series races, and he's moving to a team that has produced 7 top-10s in 184 races.

It's moreso about the possibility for upside given Leavine Family Racing's new alliance.

With Truex leaving Furniture Row Racing, the team decided to close its doors, opening room for another team to align itself with Joe Gibbs Racing. Leavine Family Racing got the nod there, bringing DiBenedetto along for the ride.

Our expectation for this alliance should not be a repeat of what Furniture Row Racing did with Truex. The year before the two teams matched up (when Furniture Row was getting equipment from Richard Childress Racing), Truex had 22 top-10 finishes and an average driver rating of 99.6. The average driver rating for Leavine Family Racing last year was 53.9. The two teams are at wildly different spots as they team up with JGR.

However, as mentioned before, the alliance definitely did benefit Truex, who didn't become his fully dominant self until after teaming up with JGR. That at least makes DiBenedetto's move noteworthy.

As a result of this, we have to enter 2019 with an open mind. If DiBenedetto impresses early on and outperforms what Leavine Family Racing did last year, we should be more inclined to accept that the success is legit. We also, though, can't jack him way up our boards until we see some sort of results on the track. So it's good to cautiously buy DiBenedetto at the beginning of the season and potentially amp that up if good finishes follow, monitoring him closely the entire time.

Matt Tifft to Front Row Motorsports

Front Row Motorsports is expanding to three teams from two this year, hiring Matt Tifft to join Michael McDowell and David Ragan. Tifft doesn't carry the prospect buzz of Hemric and Preece, but he does move into equipment that can be on the DFS radar at times.

Ragan and McDowell both had one top-10 in the Cup Series last year, and both came on restrictor-plate tracks (Ragan at Talladega and McDowell at Daytona). McDowell showed a good amount of speed on road courses, and Ragan could pop at short tracks. This is similar to Preece's situation at JTG Daugherty where the team is best at tracks that de-emphasize equipment.

This aligns well with Preece. He heads to the Cup Series with nine top-five finishes in the Xfinity Series; four of them were on road courses, and four others were on shorter, flat tracks (Phoenix, New Hampshire, and Richmond). He very much had a type.

The restrictor-plate races were a bit less exciting. His best finish was 11th in five Daytona races, though he did crank out a pair of top-10s in three races at Talladega. It seems as if Tifft skews more toward McDowell with road courses being his biggest forte.

Ragan and McDowell were at times in play as value options at other tracks, and that means Tifft is a driver we should monitor for sure. More than anything, though, he'll be in play when the circuit heads to road courses, where he can truly flex his muscle.